Florida Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Major Slot Expansion Case

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing gambling expansion issue in Florida over the right of any jurisdiction to vote on allowing slot machines verses the clear intent of Florida legislators to only allow slot machines at state approved locations.  The case involving gambling expansion in Gadsden County has reached the Florida Supreme Court and arguments were presented.  Creek Entertainment Gretna lawyer claim that any referendum passed by the people should be allowed to move forward as long as there is an eligible facility to run the slots.  The implications for the case are quite vast and would allow Greyhound Racing and other pari-mutuel type facilities to dramatically, and likely drastically expand gambling in the state, which is clearly not the intent of state regulators, and the clear conclusion reached by the lower court.  The Tampa Bay Times explains:

[Jonathan Williams, deputy solicitor general for the state] said the case relies on more than grammar and semantics and urged the court to uphold a First District Court of Appeal decision which voted 2-1 to reject Gretna’s slots license because the Legislature did not authorize slot machines outside of Miami-Dade and Broward counties. “You either have to get the constitutional authorization or the legislative authorization,” Williams told the court, and Gretna had neither. 

Marc Dunbar, lead lawyer for Gretna, pointed to a rule change made by the Legislature and claim that the change opens the door for any county to move forward with the proper facility.  Not only Williams refute the claim to the Court, but the Justices themselves raised serious questions about their position:

The race track was not an operating pari-mutuel facility when voters approved the statewide constitutional amendment allowing slot machines in Miami-Dade and Broward in 2003 but, because Hialeah was located in Miami-Dade, legislators agreed to revise the law to include it among the casinos that could operate Class III slots.

The Legislature changed the law in 2010 to allow counties to authorize slot machines, but Williams said that change applies only if the Legislature or the state Constitution authorized the expansion. It does not authorize counties to hold a referendum “for the legal effect of providing an exemption to a statewide ban,” he said.

Justices grilled Dunbar and Williams about what they saw as conflicting legislative intent. [Justice Barbara Pariente] asked Dunbar why lawmakers would authorize slot machines at pari-mutuel facilities in Miami-Dade and Broward but not specifically authorize them elsewhere. “To basically say to 65 other counties you just have to have a referendum and, if you’re a home rule [county], you’re fine,” she said. “This would have been a very, very significant expansion of slot machines… and there is nary a mention in the legislative record of this kind of change.”

Florida legislators responded to questions from the Tampa Bay Time about their perceived intent during the rule change and if massive gambling expansion was really the focus:

Rep. Alan Williams, a Tallahassee Democrat and supporter of Gretna Racing, said he voted for the change to allow counties the opportunity to bring slot machines to their pari-mutuels and “our intent was never to hamstring the counties and tell them what they could not do.”

But Sen. Bill Galvano, the Bradenton Republican who has been at the core of the Legislature’s gambling negotiations for the past seven years, said Tuesday that when lawmakers adopted the change to the state gaming law in 2010, they did not intend to open the door to the expansion of slot machines as Gretna Racing and five other pari-mutuels around the state are claiming. “It was not the intent of the Legislature to open the door for counties to hold their own referendums to allow the expansion of slots,” he said in an interview with the /Times/Herald/.

He said the Legislature wanted to clarify the terms of the referendum language in the event lawmakers would ever approve of an expansion of gaming in the future. “We didn’t want the Hialeah expansion to muddy the waters,” he said. “Instead, we reiterated that if we approved legislatively expanded slots — or a legislatively constitutional amendment … we didn’t relinquish authority.”

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A Brief Look at Crime 6/20-6/26

Poplar Bluff man sentenced to life in prison for murder of St. Louis hotel night manager

A man convicted of robbing the night manager of a St. Louis hotel of $97 and killing him was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison without parole, plus 40 years. Joseph Bowens, 45, of Poplar Bluff, Mo., was found guilty in April of first-degree murder and robbery in the death of Scott Knopfel, 50, of St. Louis, during a robbery. The jury also found him guilty on two counts of armed criminal action. Life without parole is the mandatory sentence for a first-degree murder conviction if prosecutors elect not to seek the death penalty. Circuit Judge David Dowd accepted Assistant Circuit Attorney Mary Pat Carl’s recommendation to add 40 years to the sentence for what he described as a “brutal” and “senseless” crime. Carl said Tuesday that Bowens had been at the Lumière Place casino downtown before coming to the hotel but authorities don’t know if he lost money there or if that could have factored into his decision to rob the Drury Inn. Bowens had been convicted in drug, robbery, assault, DWI and gun cases. Court and prison records showed he had repeatedly violated the terms of his probation or parole. Knopfel was a lifelong resident of south St. Louis and graduated from Southwest High School in 1983. He worked as a ticket agent for TWA before joining the Drury Inn about three years before his death, according to his younger brother, Michael Knopfel. “He was a champion for the city of St. Louis,” Michael Knopfel said in court Tuesday. “He was the kind of guy this city needs. He was all about St. Louis.”

Andrew Caspersen, Charged in $40 Million Fraud, Had Gambling Addiction, Lawyer Says

Federal prosecutors claim that Andrew Caspersen ran a Ponzi-like scheme  to defraud friends, family and a hedge fund foundation of nearly $40 million over an 18-month period. But on Tuesday, Mr. Caspersen’s lawyer contended that his client, a former Wall Street executive with an Ivy League pedigree, was the victim of an uncontrollable gambling addiction that drove him for more than a decade. So gripping was Mr. Caspersen’s addiction, the lawyer said, that he checked his phone throughout the day for updates on the stock market’s direction and his “all in” bearish bets that ran into tens of millions of dollars. Dressed in a black suit and pink tie at his arraignment in a Manhattan federal courtroom Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Caspersen, 39, told a judge that he had been treated for “compulsive gambling and mental health illness” issues since his arrest in March.

IRS report says Central Iowa casino owes up to $60M 

An IRS report says that a central Iowa casino owes up to $60 million in back taxes and penalties. The Des Moines Register reports that Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino’s board of directors released a 93-page IRS report Wednesday that threatens to revoke its tax exempt-status and a letter protesting federal agency’s actions. Prairie Meadows has operated as a tax-exempt nonprofit since 1989. Casino officials learned about the IRS’ plans to take away its tax-exempt status May 12, following a year-and-a-half investigation. The IRS audit found that Prairie Meadows is operating more like a business than “exclusively for social welfare purposes” and that it lacks Polk County oversight. The appeal outlines the ways the casino “continues to be a valid social welfare organization.”

Ex-JPMorgan Advisor Must Pay $27 Million Restitution

Former JPMorgan advisor *Michael Oppenheim* has been ordered to pay $27 million in restitution for clients’ money that he gambled away, Law360.com writes. The fine is in addition to a five-year prison sentence and three years of supervised release Oppenheim received earlier this year, according to the legal news website. In November, Oppenheim pled guilty to stealing more than $20 million from 10 of his largest clients, as reported previously. He had originally pleaded to a sentence of up to 10 years in prison but U.S. District Judge *Analisa Torres* cited his gambling addiction and his care for a disabled daughter as reasons for a reduced sentence announced in March, according to Bloomberg. Oppenheim, who at one point managed close to $90 million for around 500 clients at JPMorgan, had been wagering on football games as far back as 1993 and began stealing from his brokerage clients after losses of hundreds of thousands of dollars, the newswire writes.

Three Men Shot at Underground Cockfighting Ring Near Mexican Border 

Three men are recovering from bullet wounds sustained during a shooting at an underground cockfighting ring near the Texas border with Mexico.The shooting took place Friday night at a rural home in the northeastern part of Hidalgo County near the city known as Edcouch, information provided to Breitbart Texas by the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s office revealed. Authorities began to look into the case when they received notification about three shooting victims at three separate local hospitals.Sheriff’s investigators were able to learn that the three men had all been shot at a home near Edcouch. Authorities obtained a search warrant from a local state judge before going to the property. The house served as a cover for a large cockfighting arena.Because the investigation in still in the early stages, as of Saturday night, investigators were not able to release additional details about the case. Cockfighting refers to the practice of tying blades to the spurs of roosters in order to fight them to the death. Onlookers gamble on who will be the winner. The practice is outlawed in Texas. Even being a spectator could result in a fine or charges. In Mexico, on the other hand, the practice is common and still very popular.

‘Iconic figure’ in Lonsdale community also an ex-con who ran a $20M gambling operation

A 72-year-old grandfather considered by many in the Lonsdale community to be a leader and benefactor, McDowell is also an ex-con who kept a gun in his liquor store to protect the $20 million gambling operation he helped run, as well as an apparent cocaine user. Chief U.S. District Judge Tom Varlan openly struggled with the contradictory portraits of McDowell as he considered McDowell’s punishment as one of three men — the other two were McDowell’s son and Knoxville fashion designer Marcus Hall — who for at least six years ran a numbers racket known as “butter and eggs” in the Lonsdale community. He said McDowell was an “iconic figure” in Lonsdale, who mentored children and young black men and helped organize the community’s annual homecoming festivities. Assistant U.S. Attorney Anne Marie Svolto noted McDowell was convicted in 1981 on a federal charge of selling cocaine and tested positive for the drug after being charged in the gambling case. He was barred from possessing a gun as a result, but the IRS Criminal Investigation Division seized three guns from him — one at the liquor store and two at his home. McDowell told Varlan he was “not a violent person” and said he was lured into the gambling venture after a divorce and bankruptcy.

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


NHL Awards Las Vegas New Expansion Team

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the relationship between pro sports organizations and gambling countless times.  In almost all cases, the NHL has taken the position that its wise to distance their organization from the problems associated with sports gambling.  Most of their visible advocacy has come in the way of preventing sports betting from expanding into jurisdictions outside of Las Vegas.  The most notable has been their ongoing opposition to New Jersey’s attempts at making sports betting legal.  The common believe has been that it’s a bad idea to have those involved in sports betting, and those who could potentially corrupt the games for financial gain, to be too close to the organization.  That’s why it comes as a bit of a surprise the NHL has awarded an expansion franchise to Las Vegas.  The NHL Commissioner seems to believe that due to a much smaller volume of sports betting on hockey than is seen with the NFL or College basketball, that concerns for corruption are unwarranted. Fox News Sports reports: 

The National Hockey League’s 31st franchise will play in Las Vegas beginning in 2017, Commissioner Gary Bettman announced Wednesday. Sports leagues once rejected the city outright due to concerns about corruption from Vegas’ massive sports betting economy, but the NHL and the NFL no longer share those worries, with Bettman calling his sport “less susceptible” to gambling interests due to the small volume of bets placed on hockey.

Not everyone shares the Commissioners outlook on placing a team in Las Vegas.  Former President and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment stated that the move was a “bad mistake.  The NHL owners are going to regret it.” His reasons were more market and economically driven, more so than potential corruptions driven, but others, including the Washington Post have pointed out the unique nature of a team actually playing in Las Vegas:

[T]he announcement that the National Hockey League had awarded an expansion franchise to a group based in Las Vegas was, to some, a shock. This was the first big league to base a team in Las Vegas, a city that, thanks to its gambling and sports betting associations, was for many years taboo. The NFL has even refused to air commercials touting Las Vegas — scrubbed of all gambling references — during the Super Bowl. We accept that big-league sports are deeply woven into the fabric of the United States. And we are just starting to realize that big-league gambling is now, too. The difference, the NFL might say, is that Nevada allows straight-up sports betting, which no other state in the nation does, and in Nevada casinos, alongside the slots and crap tables, one can bet against the spread.

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A Brief Look at Crime 6/13-6-19

Man convicted of 3rd-degree murder in slaying of friend 

A man has been convicted of third-degree murder in the beating death of a friend in northwestern Pennsylvania two years ago. The Erie Times-News reports that jurors in Erie County deliberated for a little more than five hours before convicting 26-year-old Joshua Walker on Friday. Jurors also convicted Walker of aggravated assault but rejected the prosecution’s call for a first-degree murder conviction and acquitted Walker of possession of an instrument of crime. Before deliberations, the judge granted a defense request to dismiss robbery and theft counts. Prosecutors said Walker killed 39-year-old David Tate in a dispute over money in August 2014 because he wanted cash to have his electricity turned back on and to pay gambling debts. Walker testified that he had nothing to do with the killing.

Salina woman accused of fatal stabbing owed money to victim

Police were told that a Salina woman accused of a fatal stabbing who was arrested at a casino had a gambling problem and owed about $8,000 to the woman she allegedly stabbed, according to an arrest affidavit. Saline County District Court Judge Jared Johnson, at the request of the Salina Journal, released a redacted version of the affidavit written by law enforcement requesting charges against Thuy “Linh” Thi Duong. The affidavit gives this account: Police and emergency medical personnel were called at 9:34 a.m. May 12 to the 700 block of Max Avenue after a woman later identified as Loan Thanh Nguyen-Lovelace arrived at a neighbor’s house asking for help. Nguyen-Lovelace had a large wound that appeared to be a stab wound in her upper chest. She was transported to Salina Regional Health Center, where she died about two hours and 45 minutes later. The neighbor saw a light blue Hyundai or Honda car driving south from the area at a high rate of speed. She asked Nguyen-Lovelace who stabbed her, and Nguyen-Lovelace said, “Linh.”

Northern Wisconsin man charged in killing, arson at tavern 

A northern Wisconsin man is charged with killing a bartender and burning down the tavern to make it look like she died in the fire. Forty-four-year-old Donald Rick of Saxon faces charges including first-degree intentional homicide, armed burglary, arson and mutilating a corpse. According to the complaint, Rick told investigators he stabbed 52-year-old Lisa Waldros while burglarizing the Bear Trap Inn in March. KBJR-TV reports the complaint says Rick was trying to regain money he’d lost gambling. Authorities allege Rick entered the Bear Trap after closing and ordered Waldros at knifepoint to open her purse. The bag contained $194. The complaint says there was a struggle and Rick stabbed Waldros in the throat. Rick then allegedly got a gasoline container from his truck and set the bar on fire.

Gambling addict hanged himself at Chafford Hundred nature park

Mr Czarnota’s body was found in Chafford Gorges Nature Park. A 29-year-old man hanged himself from a tree in Chafford Gorges Nature Park in Chafford Hundred, an inquest heard. An inquest into the death of Ireneusz Czarnota was held at Chelmsford Coroner’s Court yesterday. Coroner’s officer Stewart Malcolm told the court how the body of Mr Czarnota, who had no fixed address, was found by a park ranger on the morning of November 6, 2015. He said: “A ranger from the Essex Wildlife Trust found him on the ground with a ligature around his neck. “He did have a severe gambling addiction. “A friend did see him on November 3 and described him as looking very well and happy.

Man gets life in illegal gambling house killing

Man arrested in connection with July homicide in south Fulton County
Travis Smith. A man will spend the rest of his life in jail after shooting and killing a man over money at an illegal gambling house. Travis Smith, 37, was sentenced to life in prison with no parole after police say he shot and killed  24-year-old Cortez Dowell according to a release from the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office. Smith and Dowell were gambling about 3 a.m. at a southeast Atlanta home used as an illegal night club in July 2014. The two men were arguing over who won the money when Smith pulled out a gun and shot Dowell multiple times in the chest, according to the release. One witness told police she saw Smith walk from the house with a gun and overheard someone ask him why he shot Dowell. Dowell was taken to Grady Memorial Hospital, where he later died. Smith was charged with murder, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and other charges.

Man shot, robbed in Las Vegas casino parking garage

Las Vegas police say a man was shot and wounded after suspects robbed him in the parking lot of the Palace Station  casino. The victim was taken to the hospital with critical injuries after the early Thursday incident. He was reported to be in stable condition later in the day. Police say three men had approached the victim as he was parking his motorcycle. They stole the man’s cellphone and wallet before shooting him in the torso. The suspects are believed to have fled the scene in a white sedan with tinted windows.

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


Voters In Charge Ballot Initiative Opponents Attempt to Block Amendment

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing efforts to pass the Voters in Charge Ballot Initiative in Florida.  The ballot measure seeks to add a constitutional amendment that requires a final vote of the people prior to any gambling legislation being implemented.  The ballot has received the appropriate signatures to have its language reviewed by the Florida Supreme Court and those opposed to the ballot initiative has submitted a brief to the Court.  The Tallahassee Democrat reports:

It was just a slip of the pen, but a legal brief filed in the state Supreme Court last week contained an amusing admonition about casino gambling in Florida. “To recognize this change,” wrote attorneys for some dog tracks hoping to block a constitutional amendment from the 2018 ballot, “a voter must be in tune with the nuisances of Florida’s current gaming laws….” Surely, they meant “nuances.” The nuisances of Florida law are found, in pinstriped profusion, in the House and Senate, and in the lobby between them, 60 days a year.

The Supreme Court doesn’t rule on the pros or cons of a petition initiative. Once sponsors reach 10 percent of the required number of signatures, the attorney general requests a ruling on only two questions: Does the proposal deal with a single subject, and does its ballot summary adequately inform voters what it’s about? Lawyers then make a lot of money trying to convince at least four justices that the amendment should be blocked from the ballot, or should proceed.

It’s fairly clear that the amendment does deal with a single subject, but that the majority of the focus of oppositional lawyers.  Once that issue is concluded however, the path to passage is still long, and will require a lot of community to support.  The Tallahassee Democrat continues:

If the Supreme Court finds that the “Voters In Charge” amendment deals with a single subject, and that it’s ballot summary is sufficient, the proposal will still face long odds. First, it will need to get enough voter signatures to get on the 2018 ballot, where it will compete for attention with races for governor and the U.S. Senate — as well as, possibly, a referendum on solar energy, and who knows what else.

The gambling interests have tons of money to fight the amendment, which will require 60 percent public approval for passage. The last thing they want is to have to win a statewide referendum, every time they want to expand gambling, rather than just spreading campaign contributions among a relative handful of top legislators to get their way.

The first sentence of the pending ballot summary is a strong selling point. It says, “This amendment ensures that Florida voters shall have the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling by requiring that in order for casino gambling to be authorized under Florida law, it must be approved by Florida voters pursuant to Article XI, Sect. 3, of the Florida Constitution.” That is, the section providing for a statewide referendum. It’s very tempting. Who wouldn’t want to give the public control of gambling, considering the great job the Legislature has done with it up to now?

To learn more about Voters in Charge and this voter empowering amendment, please visit their Facebook Page Here and visit No Casino website Here

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A Brief Look at Crime 5/30-6/12

Two dead after fight, police shooting at North Las Vegas casino 

Two North Las Vegas casino employees are dead, including a rampaging man who police said appeared to have had a “chaotic episode” before he was shot by a police officer in an employee-only area of the Silver Nugget casino, police said Thursday. A third employee was hurt when he scuffled with the 30-year-old who then brawled with and killed a 64-year-old co-worker, North Las Vegas police Officer Ann Cavaricci said. None of the men was immediately identified. The age of the injured employee wasn’t immediately made public. Cavaricci said his injuries weren’t life-threatening. Patrol officers tried to use a stun gun “which failed to stop the suspect from attempting to attack them” before an officer shot him a little after 5:45 a.m. Thursday, according to police accounts. “The suspect was described as a person who was having an agitated chaotic episode,” Cavaricci said in a police statement.

Regulators approve $2 million fine against Las Vegas Sands

Nevada regulators have approved a $2 million fine against Las Vegas Sands Corp. to settle a complaint that the casino company didn’t properly account for millions of dollars paid to a Chinese consultant and received from a high roller. The Nevada Gaming Commission  approved a settlement Thursday on a two-count complaint that the Nevada Gaming Control Board unveiled last week against billionaire Sheldon Adelson ‘s company. The Nevada complaint points to a federal Securities and Exchange Commission order from April that found the Sands didn’t properly document several major money transfers to Chinese entities over the last decade.

Vegas sports-book operator accused of chiseling

Nevada gambling regulators have accused one of the state’s largest sports-book operators of a series of violations, including underpaying winners, accepting bets after a match and knowingly withholding information even after authorities warned them two years ago after a record $5.5 million settlement involving a separate case of illegal sports betting. CG Technology was hit with the six-count complaint filed by the Nevada Gaming Control Board earlier this week. The company has 30 days to formally respond to the state. It couldn’t be reached by The Associated Press for comment Wednesday. The state’s Gaming Control Board acts as both the regulators and prosecutors who investigate and file complaints for disciplinary action against gambling-operation license holders. The cases are sent to the Nevada Gaming Commission, whose members serve as the judge and jury in determining action, including license revocation. That’s exactly what the commission threatened in 2014, when it approved a settlement that fined CG Technology $5.5 million, which remains the largest settlement of its kind in state history.

Las Vegas Sands to Pay More Than $75 Million to Settle Suit Filed by Former Macau CEO

Las Vegas Sands Corp. has agreed to pay more than $75 million to settle a lawsuit by its former top Macau executive, whose allegations prompted federal bribery investigations into the company, according to a person familiar with the matter. The confidential settlement, reached Tuesday, resolves all legal claims brought by Steve Jacobs against the company, its subsidiaries and its controlling shareholder, Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson  , according to a statement from the company’s Macau unit to the Hong Kong stock exchange. The Jacobs settlement involves between $75 million and $100 million, according to the person familiar with the matter. The company’s Hong Kong filing didn’t specify a figure or elaborate on the terms of the deal. The wrongful termination lawsuit brought by Sands’ former Macau chief executive, in which he had alleged the company fired him for objecting to illegal demands from Mr. Adelson, had been set to go to trial in Nevada in September.

Missouri Trooper Shot Outside Casino

KMBC reports that a Missouri Highway Patrol trooper is recovering after he was shot late Friday night outside Harrah’s Casino. The Highway Patrol said a security guard called authorities about 11 p.m. and reported a man acting suspiciously in the parking garage. Troopers assigned to the gaming division arrived and found the man had an active municipal warrant. When they tried to arrest him, the Highway Patrol said the man pulled out a gun. A struggle occurred and the suspect shot a trooper. Another trooper that was on scene returned fire, striking the suspect. The trooper, a 26-year veteran, was in stable condition. The suspect, identified as a 35-year-old Kansas City man, was in serious, but stable condition.

Four plead guilty in Orlando-based poker payment ring

Four defendants have pleaded guilty, in two separate cases, in an Orlando-based cyber crime ring that authorities said provided payment services for illegal offshore gambling websites. The group was responsible for at least $8.5 million in illegal payments, the charges said. Jason Neiman of Costa Rica pleaded guilty May 19 in Orlando federal court to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Earlier this year, three Orlando area men previously pleaded in a related case: Theron Dwight Barron, Christopher Paolini and Eduardo Berdum. The group used shell companies to help offshore gambling websites to process payments from U.S. citizens, according to an indictment. Barron, Paolini and Freeborn used company names like MoneylineWallet.com and e-trustcheck.com. Neiman, Stewart and Freeborn used company names like Web Pay TV, eGoldWallet and DoughFlow, according to the charges. The IRS investigated along with a cyber crime task force of the U.S. Secret Service that included local law enforcement. IRS Special Agent Robert Crockett confirmed the matters are related.

46 arrested, $2M seized in NJ, NY, FL gambling operation 

Authorities say they have seized $2 million in cash and arrested 46 people in New Jersey, New York and Florida on sports gambling and other charges. The Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office said Wednesday the arrests came as part of an investigation into a large-scale gambling, racketeering and money-laundering operation. Authorities say Robert “Elvis” D’Alessio, of Totowa, ran the operation with the help of a Costa Rica-based office, which bettors called to check or place bets.


Florida’s “Player-Banked Card Games” become Major Legal Focus

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the exclusive gambling agreement the Seminole Tribe has with Florida.  The state allows the Seminole Tribe to hold exclusive rights to various table and card games in exchange for guaranteed revenue for the state. A few years back, gambling regulators authorized a type of card game known as “player-banked card games.”  Various card games were made legal if the players played against themselves, not the house.  Now several years removed from the initial regulations, its become a major legal focus for the industry, as pari-mutuels are clearly taking part in the games by acting as the bank instead of the players.  The Panama City News Herald reports:

Gambling regulators and a pari-mutuel operator at odds over the legality of popular card games, first authorized by the state more than four years ago, pitched their cases to an administrative law judge on Tuesday. The issue involves “designated-player card games,” also known as “player-banked card games,” which include a hybrid of three-card poker and resemble casino-style card games but are played among gamblers instead of against the house.

State regulators contend that the card games themselves are legal, but the way they are being operated is too much like “banked” games, which are illegal anywhere in Florida except for the Seminole Tribe’s casinos.

State regulators filed legal action over a year ago that extended to seven pari-mutuels.  This specific legal action is a test case involving just one operator, Bestbet Jacksonville.  The issue seems to clearly boil down to the intent of what legislators authorized versus the process the pari-mutuels have implemented.  The News Herald explains:

According to regulators, the designated players —- who have a “break room” at the Jacksonville facility and never touch the cards —- are actually employees of unlicensed, third-party companies, something not envisioned when the state first approved the games. “They text. They talk. They don’t play the games at all. Sometimes the designated player will get up and leave in the middle of a hand and be replaced by another designated player,” Department of Business and Professional Regulation lawyer William Hall said during opening arguments Tuesday.

Some pari-mutuels require players to put up $50,000 in order to serve as the designated player, indicated by a “button” on the card table. And some require five times that amount in order to pass the “button” to another player, Hall said Tuesday. The designated player companies are “basically running a business in the card room,” Hall told Administrative Law Judge Suzanne Van Wyk, likening the “button” used to identify the designated player at the Jacksonville facility as “a glorified paperweight” used “to hold the cards down.”

“Our theory is that they have established a bank” in which the designated player is “really not a player,” Hall said. “It’s just someone sitting by chips so that the dealer can pay out of them. If that’s not a bank, I don’t know what is,” he said.

The position taken by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation is fairly simple, if the action is illegal and clearly not the intent of state regulators, then it needs fixed even if they have operated this way for the past four years.  News 4 Jax explains:

Even if state regulators signed off on a popular type of card game years ago, that doesn’t make the games legal, a Department of Business and Professional Regulation attorney told an administrative law judge on Wednesday. “If the petitioner (the department) allowed something that should not have been allowed, shame on us,” Department of Business and Professional Regulation lawyer William Hall told Administrative Law Judge Suzanne Van Wyk during closing arguments Wednesday.

Regulators in February sent cease-and-desist letters to six designated-player companies, ordering them to “cease conducting business activities related to the providing of designated players for the establishment of a bank in licensed cardrooms in this state.” “By providing this service your business is assisting the cardrooms in establishing a bank, and violating the law. Although individuals are free to participate in authorized games within licensed facilities, your business interest and active participation in the establishment of a bank is strictly prohibited,” the letter read.

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