Netherlands Court Rules EA’s Loot Boxes are Illegal Gambling and Upheld Earlier Fine

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the newest form of gambling in video games known as loot boxes. This particular gambling-esque mechanic was first brought forth to mainstream media because of their prevalence in EA’s Star Wars licensed BattleFront II game.  Since then, regulators all over the world have urged for studies or moved to advance legislation that regulates or bans loot boxes.  So perhaps it’s fitting that the publisher EA is again at the forefront of the battle over loot boxes in the Netherlands.  This time they have been accused of allowing illegal gambling in their world popular soccer game Fifa.  The court ruled that their loot boxes are illegal and ordered them to pay a fine. An online gaming source explains:

A Netherlands District Court this week ruled against Electronic Arts in a case over FIFA loot boxes, allowing the Netherlands Gambling Authority (Kansspelautoriteit, or Ksa) to proceed in fining the publisher €10 million for violating the country’s Betting and Gaming Act.

“The Ksa believes it is crucial to shield vulnerable groups, such as minors, from exposure to gambling,” the regulator explained. “For that reason, the Ksa supports a strict separation between gaming and gambling. Gamers are often young and therefore particularly susceptible to developing an addiction. As such, gambling elements have no place in games.”

According to the judgment, EA argued that FIFA loot boxes would not count as gambling under the Betting and Gaming Act because FIFA Ultimate Team packs (loot boxes) don’t offer items of value because they cannot be directly converted into money, that FIFA is inherently a game of skill rather than chance, and that there is no scientific evidence linking the opening of Ultimate Team packs to gambling addiction.

The court was unswayed by those arguments, noting that there are ways for people to profit from Ultimate Team cards that can be valued at nearly €2,000, and that people can ignore the proper FIFA gameplay and “play” the Ultimate Team packs as their own sort of game.

As for the lack of scientific proof, the judges ruled it not necessary that every new game of chance be proven to cause problems, because the Betting and Gaming Act is based on the assumption that games of chance carry with them a risk of gambling addiction. They also pointed to an increasing body of scientific research and experts warning about loot boxes, as well as reports made to the Ksa by individuals who had been affected by them.

Naturally, EA is expected to appeal the decision.  They asked the court to not disclose the amount of the fine, but the court’s response was “that the public interest in announcing the fines and warning the public about unlawful commercial practices outweighed EA’s interest in preserving its reputation.”

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A Brief Look at Crime 10/19 -10/25

Killer who bashed his wife to death and buried her in their backyard won’t do ANY more jail time despite stealing nearly $6m to fund his gambling habit

An accountant who bashed his wife to death with a wheel brace has been sentenced to 10 years jail for stealing $6million to fund his gambling habit. But Ahmed Dawood Seedat, 37, who is serving a life sentence for killing 32-year-old Fahima Yusuf and burying her in a shallow grave in the garden of their Perth home, will serve both terms concurrently – meaning he won’t spend anymore time in jail. A probe into his financial affairs revealed a staggering list of 20 people who fell victim to theft and fraud at the hands of the disgraced accountant. On Tuesday he faced WA District Court and was sentenced after pleading guilty to the 97 fraud and theft offences. The court heard the 37-year-old stole money from 20 family members and friends between November 2013 and August 2018, with the crimes only discovered after his murder charge, NCA Newswire reported.

Canada police charge dozens and seize $10m in assets in illegal casino bust

Police in Canada  have charged dozens of people and seized millions in assets after discovering that a sprawling mansion north of Toronto was thriving as an underground gambling den while legal casinos were shuttered due to the coronavirus lockdown. York region police announced 74 charges on Wednesday connected to a months-long investigation into illegal gambling operations in Ontario. As well as making 29 arrests, police seized more than $10m in assets, firearms, cash and high-end liquor. “This is organized crime truly exploiting and demonstrating their money, their positions and opulence thinking somehow that they are above the law,” York police’s deputy chief, Brian Bigras, told reporters. The main target of the raid was a 20,000 sq ft mansion, sitting on a two-acre property in an affluent suburb of north York. The upstairs rooms of the house were used as a bed and breakfast, but police say the basement had been transformed into a luxury underground casino and spa.

Nashville Firm’s Ex-Leader Gets 35 Months for Embezzlement

A Louisiana  man faces 35 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to embezzling more than $760,000 from Nashville-based Omnis Health Inc., where he formerly was president. Robert Burton also was ordered to pay more than $1 million combined in restitution to the company and the IRS and was fined $15,000 during his sentencing Monday, the Nashville U.S. attorney’s office said. Between December 2013 and January 2017, Burton claimed he was using personal funds to buy diabetic testing supplies. Instead, he placed them in online shopping carts and printed screen displays as receipts, the prosecutor’s office said. Burton also fabricated credit card receipts and submitted false travel expense claims, according to the office. Burton converted reimbursement checks into cash or prepaid debit cards and often used the money for gambling, court documents stated.

Backus woman admits to stealing from former employer

A 61-year-old Backus woman accused of embezzling over $100,000 from a Pine River dental office said she did it to support her gambling and shopping habits, according to court documents. According to the criminal complaint filed against Kelley, a Cass County sheriff investigator spoke June 26 with the CEO of Pine River Dental Arts. The CEO discovered discrepancies leading her to believe Kelley, The former office manager, mishandled company funds. When Kelley was employed, she was the only employee who oversaw the office financial duties, including payroll and accounts receivable. The investigator spoke with Kelley, who admitted she stole from her former employer, that it had been going on since 2013 and she did it to support her gambling and shopping habits.

Florida man charged with scamming investors out of $6.8M in crypto trading scheme 

A Florida businessman has been charged with scamming investors through a $6.8 million digital asset trading scheme, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced on Tuesday. According to the court complaint filed in federal court in Miami, Thomas J. Gity allegedly received funding from at least 18 investors by pretending to be a “high-profitable asset trader who never lost money during a trading day.” Gity was accused of providing fake account statements to investors to trick them into thinking he was managing as much as $100 million in assets. Per the complaint, Gity told investors he would use their funding to trade digital assets, but only transferred $970,000 of the $6.8 million he received into trading accounts. Gity allegedly transferred over $1.8 million of the funds to his son and for personal expenses and gambling. Gity is facing charges for violating multiple securities laws, including the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The SEC is seeking a civil penalty and is moving to prevent Gity from taking part in securities offerings.

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

Apple & Google face Federal Lawsuit for Allowing Gambling-esue Apps in their Play Stores

Casino Watch Focus has long reported on the development, recognition and battles over loot boxes as a new gambling mechanism in video games, including a pair of recent California based lawsuits against Apple and Google.  Those suits centered around popular gaming apps that had loot boxes inside an otherwise normal looking game like EA’s Fifa soccer or Nintendo’s Mario Kart Tour.   A new Federal lawsuit, however, alleges that same access to loot box type gambling, but in a more obvious gambling related app.  An online Alabama new source reports:

Two federal lawsuits filed Wednesday seek refunds for Alabama residents who downloaded games from app stores that the plaintiffs say are illegal gambling under state law. The potential class action lawsuits were filed against tech giants Apple and Google by two Shelby County residents who purchased the app-based games and paid money for more playing time. The suit specifically deals with games that begin with offering the player a set number of free starting “coins” to play the slots, blackjack, roulette, poker, keno, bingo, and other card and gambling games.

A loss results in a loss of the coins, but the customer has the chance to win more coins. When a customer runs out of coins, the player is prompted to use real money to buy more coins to keep playing. Both suits list 200 games available through Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store that feature casino-type gambling.

“Apple and its chief mobile device software competitor, Google, both allow customers to purchase games that are no more or no less than casino-style slot machines, casino-style table games, and other common gambling games,” one suit alleges. The suit contends that under Alabama’s gambling statutes, paying money in a game for a chance to win more playing time constitutes illegal gambling. 

The suit brings up state law’s definition of “something of value,” which it says is not limited to games where one gambles in the hopes of winning actual cash. “Rather, ‘something of value’ specifically includes ‘extension of a service entertainment or a privilege of playing at a game or scheme without charge.’ As a matter of law, paying money to get ‘coins’ one bets hoping to win more ‘coins’ so as to gain the ‘privilege of playing at a game or scheme without charge’ is gambling a thing of value under Alabama law,” the suits contend.

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

A Brief Look at Crime 10/12 – 10/18

Tourists, employees talk about violent incidents on the Las Vegas Strip

People vacationing in Las Vegas say their visits are not the same as they used to be. With more than 1,100 recent arrests, many say they aren’t comfortable going out at night. And it’s not only people visiting who are concerned, it is also employees who work in the tourist corridor. They say it is different, and they hope something is done before it gets worse. “It is scary, you know,” said Joe Won, visiting from Texas. “After 9’clock, a different type of crowd comes out, and it is just uncomfortable with me and the family.” Randy Bennett, visiting from Florida, said, “It feels a little differently right now. I don’t see as many of the security people as what used to be I felt on bicycles.”

“We have been noticing a trend out there since August,” said Sheriff Joe Lombardo in an interview earlier Wednesday. “We have increased substantially the officers that are present throughout the weekends, on Fridays and Saturdays,” Lombardo revealed. He says he believes they have mitigated a lot of problems: “We have effected over 1,000 arrests since we have been concentrating on those two particular areas. And interesting enough, sad enough, we have recovered over 60 firearms.” Lombardo says 40% of the arrests were felonies. On Facebook Live Wednesday, we asked people if they feel safe. Strip workers responded. One restaurant waiter wrote: “There are people who are clearly carrying firearms and using them, and fights are a daily occurrence.”  A cab driver said: “The clientele we have been receiving lately is making us cab drivers feel unsafe and on edge … I’ve had countless customers say that they will not come back to Vegas because they don’t feel safe.”

Man defrauded employer out of more than $9 million

A Wisconsin man will serve three years in prison after he defrauded his former employer out of millions of dollars, spending the funds on vacations, college tuition, online gambling and more, federal authorities said. Gold, who ran the company’s accounting and billing systems, was linked to two separate schemes that defrauded his former employer out of more than $9 million, authorities said. Finkle worked in sales.  From February 2015 through December 2018, Finkle conspired with Gold and Kenneth Pedroli, another employee, to defraud the company, authorities said. Authorities said the trio hatched a plan to buy electronic components that Pedroli made from JST for a business he ran in New York. As part of the scheme, authorities said, Finkle told Pedroli to put his orders and list prices at a fraction of JST’s published prices. Once Pedroli’s orders were submitted to JST at the discounted prices, the products were shipped to him. Finkle told Pedroli to pay only a portion of the invoice price and make the payments directly to him, authorities said.

Online gambling cyberattacks spike during pandemic lockdown

Malicious cyberattacks against online gambling sites soared during the pandemic lockdown as scammers looked to take advantage of the sites’ increased popularity. Technology analytics firm Neustar Security recently released its /Cyber Threats & Trends Report: Jan-Jun 2020/ which details a 151% surge in the number of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks in the first half of 2020 compared to the same period last year. Worse, these attacks are getting more powerful and lasting longer. While attacks at the lower end of the scale involving 5 Gigabits (Gbps) or lower per second were up over 200% year-on-year – and such attacks represented over 70% of observed attacks – those at the other extreme (involving 100 Gbps or more) were up around 275%.

Schuylkill Co. mini-casino accused of using illegal gambling machines

Across the street from Minersville’s Spin City, former U.S. Congressman Tom Marino called for its shutdown. “This place has illegal slot machines. We at Pace-O-Matic, our games are legal. We have skilled games not like a slot machine,” said Marino. He now works for Pennsylvania Skill and conducted an investigation on Spin City with former prosecutors, and delivered their report to the Schuylkill County DA’s Office. “Eighty percent of the market across Pennsylvania has illegal poker machines and the only ones legally allowed to have slot machines are casinos,” said Marino.

Vegas casinos on notice after Boyd levied $300,000 fine

The Nevada Gaming Commission (NGC) is sending a message – a loud and expensive one – to casinos in Las Vegas and elsewhere across the state. Last week, reports surfaced that a couple of security officers at Boyd Gaming’s Fremont Hotel & Casino had gone all Rambo-like on a patron who had been accused of stealing from another. Instead of taking the high road and handling the situation with civility, the officers reportedly jumped into full tactical mode and are said to have acted like they had captured an Al-Qaeda operative. After the Nevada Gaming Control Board (NGCB) got involved, it conducted and forwarded its findings to the NGC for the final resolution. The commission has now spoken and has slapped Boyd with a $300,000 fine.

MGC Chairman John Moran Jr. said after the commission met last Thursday to go over the NGCB’s findings that he was “very troubled” by what had transpired, but was reluctant to support the NGCB’s recommended fine. He was reluctant because he didn’t feel it was enough. He would have been happy to sign off on a more severe punishment and will in the future if similar events are reported. He warned casino operators to toe the line appropriately, stating, “I am not going to support only a $300,000 fine. It’s going to be a lot more.”

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

Local Councilman Introduces Casino Smoking Ban Ordinance for Missouri Facility

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the recent decision of many casinos to, at least temporarily, support a ban on smoking in their facilities.  Covid-19 is clearly an airborne virus and not only do smokers need to remove their masks to smoke, but the act of smoking clearly demands they blow the smoke out and away from them, contaminating the air all around them.  A Kansas City area councilman has offered an ordinance to effectively ban smoking as the casino and local health officials, according to the councilman,  don’t seem to want to put public safety over monetary gain.  An online source reports:

St. Joseph City Councilman PJ Kovac is introducing an ordinance that would effectively ban smoking inside the St. Jo Frontier Casino during the coronavirus pandemic, a model hundreds of casinos have followed. Kovac also accused the city health director of turning a “blind eye” to the health of those who visit the casino. “You know, we don’t want to hurt our revenue,” Kovac said sarcastically, referring to tax dollars the city receives from the casino. “So is it about money or is it about health? To all the other businesses, it’s about health.”

Kovac said he has witnessed casino patrons removing their masks indoors while smoking in close proximity to others. “A guy rolled up right next to me smoking the entire time,” he said. “He’s blowing smoke right at me, then he gets done, cigarette in his mouth with his mask down, goes all the way up the casino floor.” Bradley told News-Press NOW that health department staff has visited the casino in regards to enforcement of the mayor’s mask order, but that no one has been fined or sanctioned.

A spokeswoman for the Missouri Gaming Commission, the state agency that generally regulates casinos, said that it’s up to individual cities to regulate smoking inside the establishments. According to CDC Gaming Reports,125 casinos across the country that previously allowed smoking have banned the practice during the coronavirus pandemic, though it’s unclear how many of those will make the ban permanent.

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

A Brief Look at Crime 10/05 – 10/11

Shooting on Las Vegas Strip injures 2; several arrests made

Several people have been arrested after two people were injured following a shooting on the Las Vegas Strip, authorities said. Metro Police said the shooting occurred about 2 a.m. Saturday on the sidewalk in front of the Paris Las Vegas Hotel and Casino. Officers arrived and reported finding a man and woman with non-life threatening injuries. Both victims were taken to a hospital for treatment. Police said the shooting was a result of an altercation between two groups of people and one man opened fire. They said multiple people including the shooter have been arrested, but didn’t immediately provide exact numbers or release any names.

FBI investigating fatal shooting in Emerald Queen Casino parking garage 

Puyallup Tribal Police responded to a report of a shooting at the south parking garage of the Emerald Queen Casino in Tacoma just before midnight Friday night. Tribal officers and Emerald Queen security performed CPR on the male victim. The victim was pronounced deceased early Saturday morning. Tribal police say a male suspect fled the scene on foot. Police believe the shooting did not appear to be a robbery. Following standard procedure for major crimes on the Puyallup reservation, the FBI is now investigating the shooting.

Felon charged in Palm Springs Casino parking garage shooting; Police search for second suspect

An attempted murder charge was filed today against a felon accused of shooting a man inside a Palm Springs casino parking garage last week. According to the Palm Springs Police Department, the victim was leaving the casino shortly after 3 a.m. when they were approached by two males in the parking structure. “A conversation transpired and the victim was shot multiple times. Both male subjects fled the location,” reads the news release by PSPD. Police did not offer a possible motive or said whether the men knew each other. Along with an attempted murder charge, Gomez faces sentence-enhancing allegations of discharging a firearm causing great bodily injury, and committing a crime while out on bail.

Casino Parking Garages Continue to Be Settings for Violent Crimes

Multiple US gaming property garages were the scenes of shootings inn recent months. It is not surprising these crimes take place in parking garages, said Brad Bonnell, a principal of the Hotel Security Group, given their “isolation” and how they provide criminals “anonymity. Predators know that casino-hotel garages … [have] well-funded tourists.” Bonnell is a former vice president of loss prevention for Extended Stay America, and ex-global director of security for InterContinental Hotels. Earlier, he was chief of staff for the Georgia State Patrol and an agent for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. He says that a garage’s design can make a property more inviting for criminals. Bonnell notes how many garages are enclosed, have multiple levels, and sloping ramps. They have stairwells and elevators, he added. The large number of parked cars can make a garage darker by blocking light. Most garages are open to the public, Bonnell said, so entry and exit are easier.

Two greyhound owners banned from racing in Iowa as animal torture probe continues

Iowa greyhound racing regulators have revoked the licenses of two out-of-state dog owners after videos showed them training dog  using live rabbits as lures, a banned practice, says Brian Ohorilko, administrator of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission. The license revocations for Wesley Parvin of Keota, Oklahoma, and Ursula O’Donnell of Abilene, Kansas, bar them for five years from racing dogs at Iowa’s sole pari-mutuel dog track, Iowa Greyhound Park in Dubuque. The videos released by GREY2K USA, a group opposed to greyhound racing, showed handlers pulling rabbits from cages, dragging them in front of the dogs and then releasing them to be chased, maimed, and often, killed. Live lure training is banned in every U.S. state. Under Iowa gambling rules, no greyhound that has been trained using a live lure or live bait can be entered in a race. 

Animal cruelty investigator Pete Paxton shot the footage in Texas and Oklahoma with the permission of nearby landowners, according to GREY2K USA, which has been involved in other probes of greyhound abuse around the world. GREY2K USA gave the videos to authorities in the states where they were taken, as well as in Iowa, Arkansas, Florida and West Virginia, the states where racing is still legal. Jerry Crawford, who is also an attorney for the Iowa Greyhound Association, said the group does not condone the training and would support federal legislation to criminalize it.

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

Harsh Criticism over Las Vegas Covid-19 Workplace Exposure Reports Coming to a Halt

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing impact of coronavirus in the Las Vegas area.  First the area was reluctant to shut down with the rest of the country.  Then they shut down and there was a dispute between the mayor and Nevada Governor over opening. A report also came out that showed those traveling to the area were potentially responsible for a super Covid-19 super spreader event.  Then there was a rushed opening that caused lawsuits due to the lack of proper protective equipment.  Now, it’s been reported that state officials have decided to simply stop sharing specific coronavirus exposure data.  This data has been critical to proper reporting and understanding of these situations.  The Review Journal explains:  

This summer, nearly a third of a local manufacturing company’s workforce caught COVID-19. But the case cluster did not become public knowledge until the Review-Journal obtained government reports on disease investigation analyses through a records request in mid-September.

The reports revealed the first detailed look at possible disease spread in Clark County other than at communal living facilities. Listed were businesses most frequently visited by infected people during the time in which they probably caught COVID-19, although the reports did not conclusively identify where transmission occurred. Now, health officials say they no longer will compile the reports even as new cases are again rising in Nevada, effectively severing the public’s access to the exposure data.

The state’s position is puzzling as they claim having specific contact data wouldn’t provide much data given the entire community is experiencing exposure and virus spread.  They believe the reports simply  demonstrate which businesses have the most foot traffic, but those specific communities know how to manage their own situation. Of course these reports pointed to the casinos, so it’s possible to conclude they are simply attempting to keep people away from such information so they continue to show up and gambling.  It also pointed to other key facilities like the Amazon Warehouse.  Naturally, this decision drew harsh criticism.  The Review Journal continued:  

Nevada Press Association Executive Director Richard Karpel criticized the decision, saying it was a step backward in government transparency. Before the reports were released, state health officials had only generally referenced “backyard barbecues” and “family gatherings” as primary causes of new infections. “It’s not all about mandates, directives and closures,” Karpel said of the state’s COVID-19 response. “It’s about giving people information and allowing them to make decisions on their own.”

The reports also pointed to nonpublic-facing businesses and job sites in Clark County, like Spacecraft Components Corp. and Amazon warehouses. The massive online retailer announced this month that almost 20,000 of its U.S. employees have tested positive since March. Nevada had the third-highest rate of cases among the company’s workers, compared with other states, according to a report released by Amazon. Many of the ill employees at Spacecraft Components Corp. were family members who shared households, said company controller Holly Wiseman.

Key regulatory groups need access to this information.  It was initially buried and only known after the Review Journal publicly published them.  But those responsible for workplace safety of casino employees can’t receive this critical data and cutting off the reports prevents journalists from getting this critical information to those in need.  The Review Journal concluded:  

What did regulatory agencies know? Nevada OSHA, responsible for enforcing workplace safety guidelines, began using the reports after the Review-Journal published them to help the agency prioritize where it conducts inspections, agency spokeswoman Teri Williams wrote in an email.

The Nevada Gaming Control Board, which has issued complaints against hotel-casinos for not following COVID-19 guidelines, “does not receive or track COVID information at casinos,” spokesman Michael Lawton wrote in an email on Sept. 18. Lawton did not respond to a request for comment this week.

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

A Brief Look at Crime 9/21 – 10/04

7 Accused of Stealing $390K Through PPP Loan, Casino Money Laundering Scheme, SC Feds Say

Three South Carolina residents and four Georgians were charged this week with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering in a major scheme involving a casino, drugs, and stealing hundreds of thousands through a Paycheck Protection Program loan, U.S. Attorney for South Carolina Peter M. McCoy announced Thursday. The seven individuals are accused of laundering more $*750,000* of fraudulently obtained funds, which includes more than $*390,000* from a PPP loan (which is a part of the CARES Act to provide economic relief to businesses suffering in the COVID-19 pandemic), according to the release from McCoy’s office. “The defendants used a variety of methods to launder the money, including laundering the money through a casino,” the release from McCoy’s office said.

Dice Games Linked To Deadly Shootings In Baltimore, Police Commissioner Says

Disputes stemming from dice games led to several violent crimes in Baltimore last week, police commissioner Michael Harrison said. Baltimore Mayor Jack Young and the commissioner were asked about the recent surge in violence leading to the deaths of at least 15 people and injuring 35 others. The police commissioner said many recent shootings have had multiple victims and are linked to illegal activities. Harrison linked a quintuple shooting Friday and a quadruple shooting Saturday to dice games. “So we’re working to make sure that no. 1, we can be where we need to be to prevent it and then are working to identify those people to hold them accountable,” he said. “What we need is community help to help identify these people because in many, if not most of them, people are out there and saw what happened and we really need members of our community to help us identify these bad actors who are causing harm and killing our people.” Harrison said city police are working with state and federal partners to solve these cases.

Center audit alleges $316,887 embezzled

Missouri auditors alleged on Wednesday that the former city clerk of Center siphoned at least $316,887 of taxpayer dollars for personal use from 2015 to 2019. Auditors said another $87,691 of questionable payments made by former City Clerk Tracey Ray were uncovered by staff from the Public Corruption and Fraud Division of Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway’s office. Galloway said Ray’s alleged personal use of taxpayer money was a “serious breach of public trust and exposed dishonesty at the expense of taxpayers.” She said Ray paid personal expenses on unauthorized city credit cards, including trips to Las Vegas and Branson, concert tickets and numerous other vendors, including 666 separate purchases from Amazon.

Head of Pittsburgh area gambling ring, son, plead guilty to running numbers

The 90-year-old patriarch of a Pittsburgh family connected to gambling operations in Western Pennsylvania for more than a half century agreed to pay $300,000 to resolve charges the family operated a sports betting and numbers running business dating back to 1994. Robert “Bobby I” Iannelli, of Pittsburgh, along with his 60-year-old son, Robert “Rusty” Iannelli of Wexford, pleaded guilty Wednesday in Westmoreland County to overseeing a corrupt organization and operating illegal lotteries in Allegheny and Westmoreland counties.

Both were sentenced by Judge Meagan Bilik-DeFazio, under terms of negotiated plea bargains, to serve 10 years on probation. Both were ordered to pay $225,000 as a forfeiture of money they earned from the illegal betting as well as an additional $75,000 to cover the costs of five wiretaps used by state investigators during a six-month portion of the probe that ended in April 2017. “They’re in the gambling business. It’s lotteries and bookmaking. It’s a lucrative job,” said Deputy Attorney General Mark Serge. “This part of the operation spans Pittsburgh, eastern Allegheny County and into Westmoreland County. It was a substantial operation.”

Arrest made in weekend shooting at Agua Caliente Casino Palm Springs

A man was arrested Thursday in connection with a shooting early Monday in the parking garage at the Agua Caliente Casino Palm Springs. Palm Springs police were dispatched to the scene around 3:15 a.m. and found a man suffering from gunshot wounds in the casino’s parking structure. The man is expected to recover from his injuries, officials said. Lt. William Hutchinson said Thursday that investigators arrested Jose Arlando Gomez, 28 of Palm Springs, in connection with the shooting. Hutchinson said the incident is being investigated as an attempted homicide. Whether the two men knew each other and the exact nature of their interaction leading up to the shooting are still being investigated, he said.

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

Unregulated Slot Machine Manufacture Found Guilty of Illegal Gambling in Western Missouri

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing struggles to properly regulate illegal slot machines outside of casinos in Missouri.  These slot machines, often referred to as pre-reveal machines, have been popping up all over the state claiming to be legal games and not slot machines.  The regulatory problems have mostly stemmed from disorganization regarding who needed to be regulating these machines.  Local prosecutors had to take the lead and bring charges in their individual jurisdictions while the Missouri Legislature debated how to handle the situation.  The results of the first prosecution attempt are in and as expected, the machines were deemed illegal. The St. Louis Post Dispatch reports:

A Platte County Circuit Court judge on Tuesday found a Kansas-based company guilty of promoting illegal gambling in the first degree, a class E felony that carries a fine of up to $10,000.

The ruling against Shawnee, Kansas-based Integrity Vending LLC likely will have wide-ranging consequences: gaming companies have long argued that their machines are legal under Missouri law; the Missouri Highway Patrol and some county prosecutors have disagreed, saying the machines are illegal gambling devices. Observers had long awaited Judge Thomas Fincham’s ruling for clarity on what kind of games Missouri law actually allows.

The unregulated machines — state officials estimated last year there were about 14,000 of them in gas stations, bars and clubs across the state — have come under fire because of the stealth nature by which they were deployed.

Unlike regulated gaming, no proceeds are diverted to education. There are also no government-sanctioned resources for addicted gamblers or rules to protect consumers from low payouts.

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


A Brief Look at Crime 9/14 – 9/20

Man Admits Killing Brother at Atlantic City Casino Hotel

A Philadelphia man who fatally beat his younger brother in an Atlantic City casino hotel room last year has pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter. John Villante, 39, entered his plea Thursday, according to Atlantic County prosecutors. He’s scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 26. Villante’s younger brother, Joseph, was found May 28 in a hotel room at Harrah’s casino. An autopsy determined the 32-year-old Philadelphia man died from numerous injuries, including blunt force trauma to the head. Investigators also found defensive wounds on the victim’s hands. Villante was arrested two days later in Philadelphia. At that time, he denied any involvement in the death, telling police his brother must have fallen in the shower.

Arizona woman arrested for allegedly stealing $1 million from international poker star

An Arizona woman accused of stealing $1 million worth of gambling chips, cash and other valuables from the home of a professional poker player has been arrested in Nevada. International champion Antonio Esfandiari and his father, Bejan Esfandiari had just returned home from a trip to California on July 13,m when they discovered $150,000 in cash and another $300,000 to $500,000 in poker chips were missing from their safe inside the Panorama Towers condominium near the Strip, according to the Las Vegas-Review Journal. Police said a platinum diamond bracelet worth $350,000, a Hublot Aerofusion watch worth $35,000, a Cartier watch worth $6,000, a Gucci silver watch worth $2,000, a Patek Philippe watch valued at $7,000 and a gold suitcase were also taken. Esfandiari, who has been on the poker-playing scene for more than 20 years, told authorities that only one other person, a woman identified Svitlana Silva, had access to the residence. The 46-year-old suspect had been living with Esfandiari and his father on and off for a few months, the Journal reported. She also had regularly used his iPhone and iPad which had similar passwords to the key code on the safe, according to the police report.

Giants’ DeAndre Baker hit with $100K civil suit alleging he stole $74K from three men at gunpoint in Florida

Giants cornerback DeAndre Baker is now facing a $100,000 civil lawsuit from three men alleging he robbed them at gunpoint on May 13. Meanwhile, Judge Mariya Weekes has pushed the arraignment for Baker’s criminal case, with regards to the same incident, from September 15 to January 20, 2021, which is well after the 2020 NFL regular season is slated to conclude. The 22-year-old already faces four charges of armed robbery for allegedly robbing four men at gunpoint and pushing an accomplice to shoot one of them at a gambling party in Miramar, Florida.

As reported by the New York Daily News, Baker is on the NFL’sCommissioner Exempt List — which means Baker wouldn’t be able to play in the NFL this season unless he resolves his case in some other way at an earlier date. While the Giants have not released Baker or assigned another player his famous jersey No. 27, insiders told the Daily News in July that they did not expect him to remain a part of the team much longer. That said, the new lawsuit filed in Broward County Court on Monday, August 31, includes a civil action summons requiring law enforcement agencies and Baker to supply all relevant information and a written defense respectively. All three plaintiffs have reportedly demanded a jury trial.

Colchester, Connecticut Woman Sentenced to Prison for Gambling Motivated Embezzlement 

John H. Durham,United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, announced that [a Colchester woman] was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Kari A. Dooley in Bridgeport to six months of imprisonment, followed by two years of supervised release, for embezzling from her employer. According to court documents and statements in court today, [she] was employed as a bookkeeper for Greylock Property Group LLC and its owner. Between approximately July 2017 and August 2018, [she] used her access to her employers’ bank accounts to embezzle $413,180 of their money by making withdrawals at ATMs, writing checks to herself, and transferring funds to her own accounts. Judge Dooley ordered [her] to make full restitution, and to participate in mental health treatment and a gambling addiction treatment program while she is on supervised release.

Guns and gambling: New details in the mysterious disappearance and death of Vida Smith

The mystery surrounding Vida Smith’s disappearance and death involves gambling and guns, CBC News has learned. Kevin Barton, 60, is charged with manslaughter, accused of killing Smith, 69, who was his friend and business partner. Her body has not been found since her disappearance in Calgary earlier this summer. The relationship between the accused and his alleged victim involved blackjack card counting with ties to casinos across the country and in Las Vegas, according to sources. Barton is now also charged with 27 firearms-related offences. The offence date listed on court documents is July 30, the day Barton was arrested. Some of the charges involve allegations that five guns — two rifles and three handguns — were found in a Cadillac Escalade, the same vehicle police allege Barton travelled to Edmonton in the day after Smith was last seen. CBC News has agreed not to identify members of Calgary’s gambling community, casino employees and police officers connected to the investigation who spoke about Barton.

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Whistleblower Lawsuit Alleges Caesars Rushed to Reopen during Covid-19 Pandemic Which Violated California Labor Law

Casino Watch Focus has long reported on the ongoing impact the coronavirus has had on the gambling industry.  The pandemic has been understandably disruptive, but the goal of the government and community leaders has been to balance keeping people safe and preventing the spread of the virus against keeping the economy from collapse and keeping people employed where possible.  Unfortunately, the gambling industry isn’t in any way viewed as essential, which places its employees in an incredibly tough position.  However, maintaining a balance isn’t just about doing what’s morally correct, but it’s also about following the various laws of each jurisdiction.  This year has already seen a casino close properties it had just opened after not having or enforcing proper PPE equipment which lead to an employee’s death.  Additionally, a suit was filed by Las Vegas hospitality workers claiming they didn’t have proper protections. Now, a new southern California whistleblower lawsuit has been filed by a casino executive that alleges he was forced to quit for opposing a rush to reopen.  The San Diego Union – Tribune reports:

A Harrah’s Resort Southern California  executive who resigned before the casino reopened in May has filed a lawsuit against the parent company, Caesars Enterprise Services, alleging the tribal casino rushed to reopen despite safety concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Darrell Pilant, who had served as the senior vice president and general manager, worked for the company for 23 years. He alleges that he was forced to resign  from his position because he said he didn’t want to follow the direction of his employer to reopen because doing so posed a threat to employee and customer health, according to the lawsuit filed Aug. 31.

This suit isn’t simply about an executive being pushed out of the organization.  This suit alleges that Caesars has violated California laws aimed at protection in order to place business and profits first.  The The San Diego Union – Tribune continues:

The lawsuit, which declares it is a whistleblower action, claims that in reopening during the pandemic, the casino violated the California Labor Code and Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations for the health and safety of employees.

“Pilant, among other things, alleges that Caesars constructively terminated his employment because he opposed and refused to carry out Caesars’ directive to reopen Harrah’s Resort Southern California,” the lawsuit states. “Rather than carry out the illegal and dangerous directive of his employer, Mr. Pilant had no alternative but to resign his long-time employment with Caesars.”

Harrah’s Resort Southern California is operated by Caesars Enterprise Services, but is owned by the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians and located on its 5,000-acre reservation in North County. Tribal Chairman Bo Mazzetti said profits from the casino make up about 85 percent of the tribe’s budget during an interview in April.

“The disregard for public health and safety outlined in this lawsuit is consistent with the arrogance we’ve grown to expect from many tribal casino operators in California,” Kirkland said. “By remaining open while other indoor recreational facilities have been forced to close, they have demonstrated a lack of concern for the health of their employees, guests and the surrounding communities in the pursuit of slot machine profits.”

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A Brief Look at Crime 9/07 – 9/13

2 Charged In Alleged $4 Million Gambling Scheme Involving Livermore Casino Dealer

Two people have been charged in an alleged Livermore gambling scheme involving a theft of about $4 million, state prosecutors said Monday. Husband and wife Eric Nguyen and Khan “Tina” Tran were charged and arraigned in connection with the alleged theft from the 580 Casino in Livermore where Tran worked as a Baccarat dealer. Prosecutors allege that the pair conspired to cheat at Baccarat between 2015 and 2017. Allegedly Tran would look at the sequence of cards and disclose that sequence to Nguyen who would place large bets when he saw the sequence. Prosecutors charged Tran and Nguyen with felony grand theft, conspiracy to commit grand theft as well as an enhancement that alleges a theft of more than $500,000. The pair was arrested May 6 in Harris County, Texas.

The ‘Lottery Lawyer’ promised winners he’d protect their money. Then he stole millions, feds say

For nearly a decade, Jason Kurland promoted himself as the go-to lawyer for lottery winners. If his self-proclaimed moniker of the “Lottery Lawyer” wasn’t enough, he also did endless interviews and tweeted at winners, always with the hashtag #callme. His promise was simple: He would help them navigate the lottery system and protect big winners from the predators coming for their cash. In fact, Kurland was the one stealing tens of millions from his clients, federal prosecutors said on Tuesday. And he allegedly worked with a known mob associate to execute his scheme. An indictment from the U.S. attorney of the Eastern District of New York alleges that Kurland, 46, defrauded three lottery winning clients out of $107 million. One of his alleged partners was Christopher Chierchio, 52, who prosecutors say is a known soldier for the Genovese crime family. “The defendants callously thought they could line their pockets with lottery winnings without consequence, but today their luck ran out,” said Seth D. DuCharme, the acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, in a news release.

Nearly 60 Gaming Machines Seized in Illegal Gambling Raid

Pennsylvania State Police along with Berks County law enforcement officers seized nearly 60 electronic gaming machines during a raid on a business, authorities said Friday. Berks County District Attorney John Adams announced Thursday’s operation during a news conference, saying almost $68,000 had been confiscated along with the machines from the 777 Casino in Kenhorst, Pennsylvania, operated by Windfall Amusements. No charges had been filed as of Friday in what Adams said was an ongoing investigation. Adams said the tip about allegedly illegal gambling machines came from an anonymous source who contacted the State Police. He said investigators read about the business in newspaper articles because the operators had sought approvals from several borough entities to adjust its hours of operations and to add additional gaming machines. Capt. James Jones with the State Police said it’s not unusual for gaming facilities to operate in the open.

Woman stole nearly $246,000 from employer, charges say

A Montgomery woman is accused of embezzling nearly $246,000 from her employer over the past five years to pay for personal items, trips and gambling. Anderson Engineering is an engineering and investigation services company in New Prague. The company said funds were stolen over various time periods between 2015 and 2020. Whiteis said that when confronted with the accusations, Mills resigned and allegedly admitted to the embezzlement. The complaint said Mills stole the funds by paying herself more via payroll, personal charges on company cards, theft through PayPal transactions and thefts from bank accounts. Authorities said that in a taped interview, after being advised of her rights, Mills said she used the money for personal purchases and trips and that she gambled. Mills allegedly said she intended to pay back the funds but that “it got completely out of control.”

Third arrest made in murder case linked to ‘illegal gambling den’ in Paradise Hills home

Homicide detectives have arrested a third man suspected of taking part in a June killing at a Paradise Hills home where two of the suspects, who are brothers, were allegedly running an illegal gambling den and cannabis grow operation.  Investigators arrested the third suspect, 30-year-old Joshua Barnum, on Tuesday on suspicion of murder, according to San Diego police homicide Lt. Andra Brown. Barnum is accused of taking part in the June 5 slaying of 44-year-old San Diego resident Sean Heidleberg Nixon, who was strangled with a strap from a tent used for growing cannabis, prosecutors said. During court hearings in July and last week for the Sales Montano brothers, Deputy District Attorney Michael Reilly described what allegedly led up to the June 5 slaying. Reilly said the brothers were running the gambling den out of the garage of a home on Freed Manor Lane, south of Bullock Drive, in Paradise Hills. According to the prosecutor, Nixon attempted to take a fanny pack containing $30 and was initially kicked out, but was later allowed back inside. Later that night, the brothers “launched a surprise, coordinated attack” on Nixon while the victim’s back was turned, Reilly said.

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Miami Florida Area Poker Room and Jai Alai Fronton Gambling Expansion Opposition Suit Allowed to Proceed

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing efforts to secure a new casino in the Edgewater district near Miami, FL.  The community has opposed such a casino and other smaller gambling expansion attempts by the existing casino such as a proposed jai alai fronton and poker room in the Edgewater neighborhood.  Those in charge made zoning changes in the city area to ensure the Edgewater proposal couldn’t move forward.  This action was challenged in court and several subsequent political maneuverings took place to try to keep the project on course, including a questionable settlement.  The Miami-Herald explains:

Under the agreement, West Flagler could apply for a permit for a summer jai-alai facility. The casino agreed to not operate slot machines at the fronton and to not seek legal fees from the city. If West Flagler wanted to open a card room in the facility in the future, it would need approval only by three of five Miami commissioners.

That settlement was based on questionable grounds, according to the judicial order, which stated that the City of Miami settled with West Flagler because its zoning administrators gave the casino operator letters in 2012 and 2018 saying that it could operate a jai-alai and card room in Edgewater. But Hanzman said the letters may or may not have been issued legally.

“If the Settlement Agreement resulted from a lawful exercise of discretion it will remain enforceable and West Flagler will be permitted to operate in accordance with its terms and conditions. If it is an illegal contract that is void, it will be West Flagler’s prerogative to decide whether to pursue claims against the City based upon its alleged reliance on the Letters, or any other viable theory,” Hanzman said in his order.

As a result of the settlement, a local business claimed standing and pushed forth a lawsuit.  Naturally, the suit that challenged, however, a local judge is allowing the lawsuit to move forward.  The Miami-Herald explains:

A legal challenge to a jai-alai fronton and poker room planned for Edgewater remains in play.

Miami-Dade Circuit Civil Judge Michael Hanzman ruled in August that a lawsuit against the City of Miami and West Flagler Associates, owner of Magic City Casino, can proceed. The suit, filed in March by auto dealer Norman Braman and developer Jorge Pérez, seeks to block the gambling facility set for Biscayne Boulevard in the burgeoning neighborhood between the Omni and the Design District.

Braman and Pérez are able to sue, Hanzman ruled, because a February settlement agreement between the City of Miami and West Flagler was not decided by a court and can be challenged by parties that are impacted by the plans. The settlement was vetoed by Miami Mayor Francis Suarez.

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A Brief Look at Crime 8/31 – 9/06

Man shot and killed outside Tacoma’s Emerald Queen Casino

A man was shot and killed inside a parking garage at Emerald Queen Casino in Tacoma on Friday. Puyallup Tribal Police responded to the shooting just before midnight, saying the suspect ran from the scene. Tribal police have called the FBI to investigate, which is standard procedure for major crimes on the Puyallup reservation. Police have not given a suspect description. At this time, it is unknown if the shooting was random or targeted. Tribal officers and casino security performed CPR on the victim. He was pronounced dead just after 1 a.m. Saturday.

Illegal Sports Book Arrests Made In Ontario

Illegal gambling and sportsbook operations remain a major challenge for Canadian lawmakers. This once again made news headlines when Ontario Provincial Police charged several people following an illegal gambling ring raid conducted provincewide. The Canadian Revenue Agency within a matter of weeks executed at least 12 warrants leading to assets to the value of CA$24 million being effectively seized by government. The operations raided are all assumed to be somehow connected to notorious motorcycle corporation, the Hells Angels. He recently seized assets include three residences, a vacant property, eight passenger vehicles, and a motorcycle. Police also managed to seize CA$82,590 and US$25,398 in cash, along with Psilocybin and Marihuana with a street value of CA$66,986.

Man sold fatal dose of fentanyl at Ameristar Casino in St. Charles, feds say 

A man from Wright City has admitted selling a dose of fentanyl at the Ameristar Casino that killed someone Sunday, the U.S. attorney’s office said. Ledra A. Craig, 43, was charged by complaint in U.S. District Court in St. Louis on Tuesday with distribution of fentanyl. The investigation began after two men passed out in a car Sunday morning. The car rolled down a St. Charles street and into someone’s yard, charging documents say. Police and medical personnel were only able to revive one of the men, who later told investigators that the pair bought what they thought was cocaine from someone at the casino. Police found surveillance video showing Craig selling something to the two men, charging documents say, and an undercover officer then bought $400 worth of fentanyl from Craig. After police arrested Craig, he said he sold fake fentanyl to the officer, charging documents say. He said he met the men in the casino elevator and admitted selling them fentanyl, but said he told them what it was and that it was not cocaine, the charges say.

Thousands of cockfighting roosters found during raid on L.A. property 

California authorities are crying foul against occupiers of an L.A. property after approximately two to three thousand roosters were found being bred for cockfighting. On Monday, L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies served a search warrant on a multi-acre property in the Chatsworth neighborhood as part of an investigation related to animal cruelty and possession of game fowl for fighting purposes, according to a news release. Police also found several hundred livestock on the property in “various states of health,” the sheriff’s department said. Pictures from the scene showed roosters packed into cages, as well as dogs and even a horse with what appeared to be blood on its legs. Several people at the property were detained and all animals will be inspected and documented by Animal Care and Control officers, the department said.

Grandma gets 17 years in prison after 5-year-old dies in hot car while she gambled at Oklahoma casino

A reckless Oklahoma grandma was sentenced to more than 17 years in prison Thursday after a 5-year-old boy who was in her care died inside a hot car while she gambled. Alanna Jean Orr, 50, left the victim in a casino parking lot for six hours on June 21, 2018, as the temperature in the city of Harrah reached as high as 90 degrees, federal authorities said. She called 911 after discovering the child unresponsive in her vehicle around 7 p.m. that day, but first responders could not revive him, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Oklahoma. A grand jury returned an indictment in April 2019 charging her with second-degree murder by child neglect. The Oklahoma City woman pleaded guilty in July, but her sentencing hearing only happened this week, nearly a year later.

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NFL Player uses Coronavirus Loans Illegally at Hard Rock Casino in FL

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the various complications and disruptions of how Covid-19 is impacting the gambling industry.  Some of those stories have also involved criminal activity ranging from illegal gambling venues that opened up after regulated casinos were shut down due to lockdown, to casinos not enforcing new guidelines to not providing the proper mandated PPE equipment for employees.  Now a high profiled loan fraud case is front and center as an NFL player has taken money from the government and spent it at the Hard Rock Casino in Florida.  A local news agency reports:

Investigators say that Josh Bellamy, a wide receiver from St. Petersburg who was released by the New York Jets earlier this week, was among a group of people who filed fraudulent Paycheck Protection Program loan applications for more than $24 million.

He has been charged in South Florida federal court with wire and bank fraud in addition to conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud. Bellamy allegedly got more than a million dollars for his own company, Drip Entertainment.

Investigators say he then bought $104,000 worth of luxury goods from designers like Dior and Gucci. They also allege that he spent more than $62,000 of the loan at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Broward.

Bellamy is accused of trying to get PPP loans for family members and Associates. The payments were part of the CARES Act, a federal law enacted in late March to provide emergency financial assistance to millions of Americans suffering the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

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