GUEST ARTICLE: [Florida] Lawmakers’ Rushed Deal to Expand Casinos in Miami is a Reckless Gamble

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing efforts to expand gambling in Florida by authorizing a new, Las Vegas style, destination resort casino. As recently pointed out by the Mason-Dixon poll, the vast amount of voters, 84%, want to either hold the line or actually reduce gambling expansion. When it came to gambling expansion through new casinos, the Florida legislature has typically done as the people have asked and not expanded gambling in this measure. However, that appears to be coming to an end as House and Senate are making a deal to allow a new casino to come to Miami and they are facing huge opposition. The below article is the office Miami Herald Editorial Board position:

After years of an impasse between the House and Senate on expanding casinos in Florida, comes a sudden and unseemly rush to get the job done.

The Legislature needs to slow its roll of the dice. Legislation pushed through in a hurry, without much, if any, public notice or input, is never a good thing….

House and Senate leaders appear to be closing in on a deal to radically revamp Florida’s gambling industry and strike an agreement with the Seminole Tribe in what could be a considerable expansion of gambling throughout the state — and Miami-Dade.

The measure rightly has been met with resistance from gambling opponents. This rush toward a decision in the session’s final days to allow, among other things, a new casino in Miami-Dade has that hush-hush, backroom feel — almost always unwise, and usually at taxpayers’ expense.

Count the Editorial Board among those calling for putting the brakes on this troubling quickie deal. The Board has long opposed turning Miami-Dade into a Las Vegas-style destination — and we continue to do so. Gambling, indeed, can transform communities — often for the worse. Miami-Dade is a progressive community of great accomplishment, but one, too, that already is a magnet for too many dangerous and illicit activities. Casinos won’t help…

Among the opponents of the deal is Armando Codina, one of Miami’s most prominent developers, who told Herald/Times reporter Mary Ellen Klas that he was surprised by the sudden legislative sprint. Codina, chairman of Codina Partners, LLC, a real estate investment and development firm based in Coral Gables, has long been a critic of expanded gambling in the county.

“I’m well-informed, but this surprised me how it was snuck in without any public debate,” said Codina.

He added that while the new gambling revenue would flow to the state and county, it will cost Miami-Dade dearly, leaving the community with the kind of infrastructure and social problems that it is already hard-pressed to handle. We agree. 

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION

 

 


A Brief Look at Crime 04/17 – 04/23

London attack: Terrorist was in debt from playing lottery scratchcards

Westminster terrorist Khalid Masood racked up debts feeding an addiction to Lotto scratchcards. The jihadist, 52, was struggling to pay off two payday loans when he was shot dead outside Parliament. He was also behind with his taxes and had struck a deal to cough up £100 ($125) a month. But he was so hooked on scratchcards he continued to blow a fortune on them, an ex-flatmate in Birmingham revealed. Masood, whose car and gun rampage last month killed five, also continually nipped to the supermarket for booze. Raviyar Sadiqi, who runs the store, said: “He bought scratchcards — a lot of them — and smelt of alcohol.” The killer’s former flatmate confirmed: “He had a problem with gambling and booze.

21 charged in casino-based money laundering scheme

Federal authorities are moving to dismantle what they describe as a multistate, multimillion-dollar money laundering operation with the indictments of 21 people accused of using counterfeit cards and stolen account numbers for cash withdrawals and retail purchases at casinos and luxury stores. The case is the latest in an FBI crackdown on money laundering in Las Vegas, but the alleged criminal behavior extended far beyond city borders, according to the 47-count indictment unsealed last month in federal court. Eleven of the defendants are in custody, being held on money laundering and related charges, and 10 are fugitives. Authorities say the scheme lasted from 2013 until the arrests, which occurred earlier this year in several states across the country. Prosecutors are seeking upward of $6 million in forfeiture — a response, they say, to fraudulent proceeds obtained through the use of counterfeit cards and “card skimming” technology. The indictment details a lavish lifestyle enjoyed by those charged in the conspiracy, and legal filings reveal that Las Vegas served as the operation’s home base.

Tax preparer pleaded guilty to filing false returns 

A Gulfport woman has admitted to filling false returns with the IRS and then using the money to gamble at casinos. News outlets report 65-year-old Doris Kelley, who was a tax preparer, pleaded guilty Monday in federal court to obstructing the IRS and filing false returns, causing the government an almost $500,000 loss. Officials say Kelley used the money to gamble at coast casinos. According to a release, Kelley provided copies of accurate returns to her clients, but did not file the returns with the IRS. The release says in some cases she filed returns in clients’ names without their knowledge. Kelley faces a maximum of three years in prison on both counts. She also could face supervised release, restitution and monetary penalties as part of her sentence.

KY construction employees sentenced to 3-year prison term for $2M fraud scheme 

Two former employees of a Louisville, KY, construction and engineering firm were sentenced to three years in prison for embezzling approximately $2 million from the company and stealing government funds, according to WHAS 11. Prosecutors said Frank Burks Jr. and Pamela Duvall defrauded RAM Engineering and Construction by writing themselves unauthorized checks and exploiting Duvall’s position as bookkeeper. The two also misstated a portion of Burks’ income as nontaxable, which resulted in an overpayment from the Social Security Administration of more than $11,000. Burks and Duvall reportedly carried out their scheme over a period of 13 years in order to pay for their own business undertakings and gambling habits.

Woman to change plea in $3 million fraud case 

Thy Minh Phan is charged in federal court with Conspiracy to Commit Mail and Wire Fraud, Mail Fraud, Wire Fraud, Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering and Money Laundering. To entice the victim into loaning them to the money, Phan and Van said they would pay interest on the money that was given to them, record show. However, investigators learned that Phan and Van used the victim’s money to gamble at casinos in Las Vegas. Phan and Van spent about $2.5 million at casinos. Records show that Van acted as if his financial circumstances were so dire that he was thinking about suicide, according to the indictment.

Two dead, one hurt after DeKalb County shooting 

Two men are dead and another was hurt after a shooting that DeKalb County police believe is the result of a murder-suicide. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports police found evidence of gambling in a garage and also discovered the bodies of a 28-year-old and a 35-year-old late Friday. Maj. Stephen Fore, spokesman for DeKalb Police, said Saturday that it appears the younger man shot the older man and then shot himself. Fore says a 25-year-old man, who was shot in the leg, was taken to Grady Memorial Hospital in stable condition. A preliminary investigation shows a fight over money started between the two dead men, whose names are being withheld pending notification of relatives.

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION


Florida Initiative Petition Amendment to Require Voters to Approve Gambling Expansion clears Florida Supreme Court Challenge

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing gambling amendment proposed by Voter’s in Charge. The petition seeks to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot giving voters the last vote on gambling expansion. As it stands now, the Florida legislature can pass gambling expansion even when the vast majority clearly supports leaving gambling where it is or ever reducing current gambling levels. The amendment would leave the final decision to the voters. The petition was challenged and the Supreme Court reviewed submitted briefs. After entertaining all arguments, the Supreme Court has ruled the petition doesn’t violate any state provisions and can proceed to the voters once the appropriate amount of signatures are gathered. The SunSentinel explains:

The court ruled 4-2 that the amendment’s wording was not misleading and sticks to one subject. The amendment gives Florida voters the “exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling.”

Backers of the amendment will still need to gather more than 700,000 signatures to make the 2018 ballot. They had submitted 74,626 signatures as of Thursday, according to the state Division of Elections.

Each chamber has passed their own gambling bills this month and they differ quite a bit. When that happens, they come together to produce a final bill that both sides can agree on. This ruling has caused the Florida legislature to cancel plans for a conference between the House and Senate to discuss their respective gambling bills. The SunSentinel continues:

Both the House and Senate have passed gambling bills this session, which ends May 5. The two bills are vastly different, forcing the two chambers to go into a conference to iron out the details.

That conference had been tentatively set for 4 p.m. Thursday, but the court’s decision to allow the constitutional amendment to go forward indefinitely postponed it, according to sources familiar with the negotiations.

“The Supreme Court ruled today on voter control of gaming. I want to digest the decision before moving forward,” said conference chairman Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton.

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION


A Brief Look at Crime 04/10 – 04/16

Gambling Disagreement Leads to Shooting in Little Rock

Police in Little Rock say a man has been critically injured in a shooting that apparently stemmed from a gambling disagreement. Investigators say the man was injured at a residence about 8:25 p.m. Saturday. Officers who responded to reports of a shooting say no one was at the scene when they arrived but they found a shattered glass door, empty shell casings and a hand gun. Officers then learned that a victim had been taken to a local hospital and was in critical condition. Witnesses told police they were gambling inside the residence when the suspect lost, got mad and shot at the victim. The suspect then ran from the house. Authorities are unsure if he was also injured.

New Charges Leveled Against Mayor Accused of Hosting Underage Strip Poker Game

The former mayor of Stockton, California, pleaded not guilty to embezzlement, grand theft and money laundering on Monday, charges that were in addition to an earlier arrest for allegedly playing strip poker with minors at a youth camp, prosecutors said. Bail for Anthony Silva, 42, was set at $1 million by a Superior Court judge, who said he posed a potential flight risk in the case. Silva was ousted as mayor of Stockton, located in California’s San Joaquin Valley breadbasket, in November after his arrest for allegedly playing and recording a game of strip poker with teens at a camp in Amador County east of Sacramento.

Complete betrayal’: Ex-SPCA director put shelter at risk for gambling addiction

The disgraced ex-director of the CNY SPCA who stole almost $600,000 nearly took the animal shelter down with him, the non-profit’s board chair said today. Paul Morgan, 46, of Salina, betrayed the animals, the community and put the future of the shelter at risk, Carole Marsh said “The level of suffering is truly immeasurable,” she added. But Morgan said he never meant to hurt the animals. He had a gambling addiction that left him without any money to repay the shelter. Morgan was sentenced today to 4 to 12 years in prison for his thefts from May 2010 to August 2016. Two co-workers — Taylor Gilkey and Nicole Cafarchio — have also admitted stealing from the organization and will be sentenced in the coming days. All told, the trio stole nearly $900,000 from the SPCA. Gilkey will also be sent to state prison while Cafarchio, who stole a far smaller amount, will get probation. “Gambling destroyed my life,” Morgan said at sentencing today. “My intention was never to harm the organization in any way and I apologize for my actions.”

GE engineer killed by man he treated ‘like a son’

Two days before prosecutors say Donald Dawson-Durgan fatally shot Singh in the garage of Singh’s Symmes Township home, Singh began receiving anonymous, threatening text messages. Singh was killed the morning of May 4, 2016. Dawson-Durgan – a man who helped manage the properties and who Singh treated “almost like a son” – has admitted sending those texts. But he says he didn’t kill Singh Gibson told jurors Dawson-Durgan had “a raging gambling problem.” About a month before the killing, Gibson said his losses at what was then called the Horseshoe Casino in Downtown totaled about $50,000. “He was a desperate man who needed money,” Gibson said, “and he saw Mr. Singh as a way to get that money.”

Teen accused of killing Petersburg man during dice game

The first day of trial for a teenager accused of killing a father during an apparent robbery in 2016 began in Petersburg Circuit Court Tuesday. Daekwon Castelle, 18, is facing murder, robbery and multiple gun charges. Officers responded to an emergency call at the Jefferson South of the James apartment complex in the 1800 block of Boydton Plank Road during the early morning hours in February 2016. Police arrived and found 22-year-old DeShawn Shaw and his 20-year-old brother, Dontavia Shaw, suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. Paramedics rushed them to Southside Regional Medical Center where DeShawn Shaw died and his brother suffered non-life threatening injuries. Dontavia Shaw told CBS 6 that his brother died trying to shield him from a barrage of bullets. The Commonwealth’s Attorney told the jury during opening statements that the Shaw brothers, Castelle, and a 17-year-old were playing dice and gambling before the shooting.

Ames woman pleads guilty to theft from mother-in-law

An Ames woman accused of stealing nearly half a million dollars from her mother-in-law over the course of seven years has pleaded guilty to theft. The Carroll Daily Times Herald reports that 66-year-old Myrna Hockemeier pleaded guilty to the charge. In exchange, state prosecutors on Tuesday dropped a more serious charge of ongoing criminal conduct. Hockemeier faces up to 10 years in prison when she’s sentenced at a later date. Her ex-husband tells the newspaper that Hockemeier obtained a debit card from his mother’s bank back in 2007 and spent the Ogden woman’s life savings of about $484,000 on gambling and clothes. He discovered the theft in 2014 and filed for divorce.

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION


New Slot Machines Could Significantly Expand Gambling in Florida and Damage the Seminole Gambling Compact

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing gambling negotiations between Florida state and the Seminole Tribe regarding the new gambling compact. The compact impacts the expansion of gambling and the flow of money into state coffers by providing exclusive rights to certain gambling games to the Seminole Tribe at there casino’s in exchange for guaranteed payments to the state. This effectively limits the type of gambling around the state and helps limit it to certain geographic areas. A recent case was already adjudicated in favor of the Seminole Tribe that ruled the Florida Government has violated the exclusivity of the compact by allowing table games at other venues. That issues appeared resolved when an Judge declined the appeal by the state. However, a new issue involving a new type of slot machine has emerged that once again speaks to the issue of expanded gambling possibly violating the compact. The Saint Peters Blog explains:

If it looks like a slot machine, and plays like a slot machine, it’s a slot machine, the *Seminole Tribe of Florida is telling state leaders. An order by a Tallahassee judge, first reported by FloridaPolitics.com, declared that certain slot machine-style entertainment devices aren’t slot machines under state law.

The Tribe disagreed. It now says those games violate a deal between the Tribe and the state, known as the Seminole Compact. That could have “massive consequences costing the Tribe and the State to lose multi-billions of dollars,” according to the Tribe’s recent court filing. In a letter sent last Wednesday to Gov. Rick Scott, Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Tribal Chairman Marcellus Osceola said the games were “an expansion of gaming” and a “serious violation” of the compact, which guarantees the Tribe exclusive rights to slots outside of South Florida. 

So what are these machines and why is there a question as to how they are or are not slot machines?   These slot machines are different because they have a “preview” screen. The player presses a preview button and it will show the outcome of the next spin. The Judge rationalized that knowing the outcome means its not a game of change but a game of skill. Those that understand the psychology of what is really going on argue that even though the player knows that move, they still press the button and take the loss or win so they can see if they win big on the play after. They may see that the next pull will lead to a loss, but they gamble that the next pull could be the big win. So its still very much a game of chance as the player is taking a change on the unseen move one ahead. Florida Politics explains the implications: 

Players must “press a ‘preview’ button before a play button can be activated,” the judge’s order explained. The outcome of the next game is always known, thus it’s not a game of skill or chance, he said. You always know you’re a winner or a loser.

*Kathey Bright Fanning*, head of the [Gator Coin] company, said she was “pleased” with the ruling. “It’s all about innovation,” Fanning said.

Whether the innovation in pre-reveal games runs afoul of the Seminole Compact could be a court fight for another day. Some attorneys says pre-reveal is a form of “*electronically-assisted pull-tab game that the Compact says is a “gaming expansion” against its terms.

Nonetheless, “I see a giant wave coming,” said one person in Florida’s gambling industry who asked not to be named. “My phone is blowing up from people (at pari-mutuels) who want these” pre-reveal games.

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION


A Brief Look at Crime 04/03 – 04/09

Paul Hobbs ex employee charged with embezzlement 

A former bookkeeper of US winemaker and consultant Paul Hobbs has been charged with embezzling more than US$190,000 while working at his winery in Napa Valley, according to court documents filed on Wednesday. Turner stands accused of taking money in sums of about $1,000 on a regular basis over a six year period, from 2010 to 2016. The theft was uncovered by another employee last spring and Turner was later fired and arraigned on embezzlement and forgery charges. Turner admitted the theft to her ex-employer and has already paid back the money, claiming that the embezzlement was driven by her addiction to gambling.

Gambling addiction connected to embezzlement charges

[T]he woman accused of embezzling more than $257,000 from the Hepzibah Public Service District, has struggled with an addiction to gambling, her attorney claims. Tom Dyer also says that his client will not dispute the charge. People in the community say Metz was always a friendly face at the PSD and someone who donated to the local church. “She seemed like a nice lady when you go down and pay her the bills,” Louie Marra said. “I was shocked this morning when I saw it.” Behind the shock, sits anger. “I don’t think [gambling] should be an excuse for her to take it from the people who are trying to make it out in the world,” said Joyce Jones, who pays her utility bills with cash.

Former Bank Manager Who Stole Money Gets Federal Sentence

A former senior manager at First Tennessee Bank who unlawfully obtained nearly $1 million in funds to feed his gambling habit was sentenced to a three-year prison term Monday in U.S. District Court in Greeneville. Miller was sentenced by Judge J. Ronnie Greer. He remains free on bond and will begin serving his prison term when he is assigned to a facility by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. Miller lost more than $967,573 gambling on sports betting websites like DraftKings and FanDuel, diverting funds from bank accounts to gamble on a daily basis, according to statements today at his sentencing hearing in federal court. As part of the plea agreement with the government, Miller was ordered by Greer to pay restitution of $1,086,287. Miller was also sentenced to five years of suervised release after he gets out of prison.

Suspect in theft of nearly $100K from U.S. Navy casino in Japan is found in KC area

A woman arrested in Overland Park has been charged in federal court with stealing nearly $100,000 from a casino on a U.S. naval base in Japan.When federal authorities arrested Creseni this year, they first detained her for allegedly overstaying her visa. On Monday, she faced a federal charge of theft of public money, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Missouri. According to court documents, Creseni, a Filipino national, had worked at the naval base in various positions since 2000. In 2015, she was the lead cashier in the game and slot room at the base’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation center. The Yokosuka base is the Navy’s largest in Asia. A similar theft at another base was reported in 2010, when $67,000 went missing from a club at Naval Air Facility Atsugi in Japan, according to the Stars and Stripes newspaper.

Solicitor who ‘borrowed’ £1.2m from client account struck off for dishonesty

A solicitor with an unblemished 38-year career has been struck off the roll after the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal found he had acted dishonestly when using money on his firm’s client account to feed a sudden and short-lived gambling addiction. In 2016, following the deaths of a colleague and of a close friend, mounting work pressures and difficulties in the wake of a negligence claim against the firm, Sedgley turned to online gambling. In the space of two months between 15 February and 16 April 2016, the 66-year-old solicitor made 59 transfers totalling more than £1.2m from the firm’s client account to his own personal account. ‘A serious aggravating factor, of course, was that the respondent’s conduct had been dishonest. It was deliberate, calculated, and repeated,’ the tribunal said.

Kingman, Arizona, Says Official Embezzled $1.1 Million

Kingman, Arizona, has sued its former interim finance director for $1.1 million it claims she embezzled during eight years to pay off gambling debts at Nevada casinos and other bills. Investigations began in September 2015, after Richards’ bank tipped off the Arizona Attorney General’s Office and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations to “highly unusual activity involving Ms. Richards’ bank accounts,” according to the complaint. When in November 2015 the state and feds informed the city of widespread fraud, it fired Richards immediately and fired Heinfeld & Meech a week later.

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION


Vast Majority of Florida Voters Want to Maintain or Reduce current Gambling Levels

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing gambling expansion attempts in Florida. Many times over the years Florida voters have had a say in the expansion of gambling in Florida, but most of the time, Florida families are at the mercy of the legislature. If the Florida House and Senate agree to expand gambling due to special interest influence, citizens and families often lack recourse other that perhaps trying to elect new officials into office. Because of such strong pro-gambling interests, an initiative petition is in the works to give the power back to the people. So what do the people of Florida think about gambling? Do they approve of the gambling expansion efforts at the State Capitol? Are they fine with all the lobbing dollars from special gambling interests flowing through the Florida Legislature? Or do they believe gambling expansion should be stopped, or even reduced? A new poll seeks answers and the results should open the eyes to legislators who are representing their constituents. Florida Politics online explains:

The vast majority of Florida voters — 84 percent— “want to reduce or hold the line on gambling” and 60 percent also “are less likely to support a candidate … that votes to expand gambling,” a new poll released Monday shows. The latest Mason-Dixon poll included questions on gambling, according to a news release from No Casinos, Florida’s anti-gambling expansion group.

The anti-expansion “feeling among Floridians carries across all regions of the state: North Florida (87 percent), Central Florida (92 percent), Tampa Bay (81 percent), Southwest Florida (84 percent), Southeast Florida (78 percent),” the release said.

“Tallahassee politicians need to get the message that only 8 percent of Florida voters want gambling expanded, and 84 percent want it left alone or reduced,” said John Sowinski, president of No Casinos. “It’s time to stop listening to gambling lobbyists and listen to the people.” In addition, he said most “Floridians don’t want their elected officials to expand gambling, because they know that more gambling hurts the quality of life for them and their families.”

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION