Florida State Sen. President Hopeful over New Seminole Gambling Compact Deal

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing dealings between Florida and the Seminole Tribe over gambling exclusivity in the state. An agreement was reached between the two to exclusively offer table games in exchange for monetary compensation to the state. The original compact was set up in 2010 for 20 years with a renegotiation period for table games in 2015. That time came and went without a full deal being reached. At the deadline, the Florida Gov and the Tribe reached an agreement, but given the massive amount of additional gambling expansion, the Florida Legislature failed to ratify the agreement. The two have been involved in various legal battles since, but the Seminole Tribe just won a major case against the state for violating exclusivity and not negotiating in good faith.  The court agreed that the state violated the exclusivity agreement and are now allowed to continue to allow those table games through the originally compact term in 2030. Its not surprising then, that the Legislature is even more motivated to come to terms on a new gambling compact. The Sun Sentinel explains:

During a news conference Tuesday, shortly after being sworn in as Senate president, Negron said he supports reaching a new deal with the tribe, while also taking into consideration issues affecting the state’s pari-mutuel facilities. Such an agreement likely would involve the tribe making payments to the state for the right to offer certain games at its casinos.

“I’m optimistic that we can work together with our colleagues in the House and ratify a compact, hopefully long term enough so that the state has predictability in revenue and that’s also fair to pari-mutuels, who are also involved in gaming throughout Florida,” Negron said.

Lawmakers have been unable for years to pass major gambling legislation, as the issue often pits different parts of the gaming industry and also draws opposition from many conservative lawmakers.

The Florida Legislative session doesn’t begin until March and Negron believes there is time to get an agreement reached. Both sides should be willing to engage in negotiations, but the state is now at more of a disadvantage and will need to focus on reducing gambling, not drastically expanding it like they failed to push through with the last attempt. The Sun Sentinel continues: 

Negron expressed optimism that a deal could be reached and approved during the 2017 legislative session, which starts in March. “Of course, it’s November, there’s plenty of time,” he said in response to a reporter’s question. “We were close to having the outline of a potential agreement last session, so it’s not as if we’re starting from scratch.”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, said Monday that Hinkle’s ruling benefited the tribe and “marginally” weakened the state’s negotiating position on a new deal. But he said the tribe still has reasons to negotiate a new deal with the state. “What they need is long-term stability,” Corcoran said. “And so yeah, they’re going to still come to the table, they’re going to still want that long-term stability, and we’ll see. We’ll have that negotiation and we’ll have that work itself through.”

He said any gambling legislation that passes the House would have to be “very conservative” and involve a reduction in gaming.

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A Brief Look at Crime 11/21-11/27

Former Bellagio Craps Dealer Sentenced for $1 Million Scam 

A former Bellagio Casino craps dealer has been sentenced to two to five years in prison for his role in a $1 million scam against that establishment. James R. Cooper Jr., 44, pleaded guilty to one count of theft _*in connection with orchestrating phony bets at the dice game that took place over a two year period from 2012 to 2014. Cooper Jr. was accused along with three other individuals, including a one time Major League Baseball player, of scamming the Bellagio through what the Las Vegas Review Journal described as a “one-time, high-risk oral propositions in which a player wagered that a specific number would be rolled next,” wagers that defied 452-billion-to-1 odds. Former dealer Mark Branco, one-time MLB player Jeffrey Martin and Anthony Granito were also convicted in the scheme and could serve up to ten years behind bars.

Calgary woman jailed for stealing $1.4 million from Trimac

Embezzling more than $1.4 million from her employer earned a Calgary woman four years in prison Monday. Family members of Linda Louise Miller fought back tears and anger as Provincial Court Judge Allan Fradsham agreed to a joint Crown-defence submission she spend that amount of time behind bars. Over an eight-year period, Miller stole more than $1.422 million from her employer Trimac Corp., spending 75% of it on gambling, said her lawyer Lori MacKay. “There was no lavish lifestyle being supported by this,” MacKay told court. She said Miller initially purloined money from the company to cover debts and “had every intention of paying that back.” But matters spun out of control, said MacKay, who also noted her client had pleaded guilty to fraud over $5,000 and was cooperative with authorities. 

Feds bust 9 members of Brooklyn-based Russian criminal enterprise 

Federal agents arrested nine reputed members of a Brooklyn-based Russian organized crime syndicate early Wednesday, sources said. The mobsters are expected to be arraigned this afternoon in Brooklyn Federal Court on racketeering, extortion, loansharking, drug trafficking and illegal gambling charges. The mobsters, acting under the direction of their reputed leader Viktor Zelinger, operated in Coney Island and Brighton Beach, sources said. The crime syndicate has roots in The Soviet Union and still maintains ties to the Russian homeland, a source said.

Man sentenced for bilking NFL players in horse racing scheme

An Ohio man has been sentenced to nearly two years in federal prison after pleading guilty to bilking four NFL players out of more than $350,000. Prosecutors say he spent the money on a luxury SUV, sports tickets and gambling. A federal judge in Cleveland also told Jonathan Pippin to pay back more than $358,000 and undergo addiction treatment. Pippin apologized in court Monday while blaming his lavish lifestyle and alcoholism. Authorities say Pippin ripped off the players in a horse-racing investment scheme. An investigation into the Logan man began in 2012.

Ex-fire company treasurer charged with stealing nearly $400K  

A former Pennsylvania volunteer fire company treasurer who received a $400 annual stipend has been accused of stealing nearly 1,000 times that much from the organization. Fifty-one-year-old Agnes Patterson, of Hellertown, surrendered Wednesday on charges she stole more than $395,000 from the Dewey Fire Company since 2009. Patterson had been the group’s treasurer since 2002. Patterson was removed as treasurer in July after an audit turned up the missing money. An audio recording of a fire company meeting in July that was played for a grand jury includes Patterson acknowledging she “betrayed the people and their trust.” Authorities say Patterson spent most of the money on gambling and entertainment at casinos in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey. 

Yardley accountant gets 3 to 6 years for stealing $378K from elderly women

Jeanne Swain, 59, was sentenced Monday in Bucks County Court to serve three to six years in a state correctional institution, or SCI, for thefts totaling more than $378,000. Judge Wallace H. Bateman Jr. also sentenced the woman to 10 years of probation concurrent to her prison term. Prosecutors say Swain between December 2008 and September 2015 used her role as the women’s accountant and power of attorney to make a number of unauthorized payments to herself from their accounts while in control of their finances. She offered a gambling addiction as an explanation for her actions, but said that was not an excuse. “I blame no one and nothing else for what I have done,” she said. With three of her victims deceased and the fourth living with Alzheimer’s disease in a nursing home, Swain directed her apologies to the families of the women she fleeced.

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UPDATE: Judge Rules Florida State Violated Seminole Gambling Compact and Allows Them to Offer Table Games through 2030

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing dealings of the exclusive gambling compact between Florida State and the Seminole Tribe. The compact granted the Seminoles exclusivity of table games in exchange for direct monetary compensation to the state. This limited table games like blackjack to their casinos, despite other state approved gambling venues existing and often expanding over the years. The case at hand involves the allowance of table games at various pari-mutuel locations since 2011. The South Florida Reporter explains:

The state of Florida’s misplay of allowing “designated player” games at racetrack card rooms has turned out to be quite fortuitous for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, but it also might provide the spark needed to goose along a long-term gambling deal statewide.

A U.S. judge ruled on Wednesday that that state violated terms of its deal with the Seminoles, which allowed the tribe exclusive rights to blackjack and other table games.

Judge Robert Hinkle ruled that when racetrack card rooms started their versions of Ultimate Texas Hold ‘em, 3-Card Poker and Texas Hold ‘em, 3-Card Poker those games cut into the $250 million annual monopoly the tribe negotiated with the state. The state has permitted banked card games since 2011, and formally approved them in 2014, Hinkle wrote.

When the compact was originally signed in 2010, the blackjack portion was for only five years. It expired in July 2015, and the Seminoles have filed suit saying the state has not negotiated in good faith.

The judges ruling viewed those card games as a direct violation of the agreement and he is allowing them to continue providing those games until 2030. An appeal of the ruling doesn’t seem likely. The South Florida Reporter continues:

“The order declares that the exception has been triggered — that the tribe may conduct banked card games for the compact’s 20-year term,” Hinkle wrote. For those lacking a calendar, that means blackjack until 2030.

Hinkle called the games, in which a player stands in for the bank, an “egregious example of the cardrooms’ attempt to evade the prohibition on banked card games.” They are offered in about half of Florida’s card rooms and take in an estimated $15 million of the state’s $147 million annual poker revenues.

Don’t look for an appeal. Hinkle’s ruling was carefully worded, and covered every point. It was almost as though he were trying to write an appeal-proof ruling, although state officials say they are reviewing it.

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A Brief Look at Crime 11/14-11/20

Buffalo poker player pleads guilty in $31 million debt collection fraud case

The owner and CEO of a Buffalo debt collection firm pleaded guilty in federal court in New York Tuesday to two felony charges in connection with a scheme that coerced thousands of victims nationwide into overpaying their debts by at least $31 million. Thomas is a professional poker player who, as of a year ago, had $510,885 in tournament earnings as well as two World Series of Poker gold rings, according to the Poker News website. “As he admitted today, Travell Thomas ran a massive, fraudulent debt collection scheme through which he and his cohorts stole over $31 million from his vulnerable victims,” said Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. “Thomas instructed his debt collectors to threaten, intimidate and lie to their victims by overstating their debts and making false claims about what would happen to them if they didn’t pay up.”

More than $1M seized after illegal game room arrests 

Authorities in Houston say they’ve seized more than $1 million after shutting down an illegal game room. The Harris County District Attorney’s office says the game room’s owner, 59-year-old Chang Choi, was arrested Friday after a months-long investigation. Choi was charged with engaging in organized crime. Court records did not list an attorney for Choi. Two others were also arrested and charged with engaging in organized crime. Police say the business does have a valid game room license, but it’s not licensed for gambling. The investigation is part of a larger effort in the county to regulate game rooms. Police say they bust game rooms about once a week, but they rarely see this much money associated with one business.

Man Charged With Embezzling More Than $124,000 from Menomonee Falls Business

A Wauzeka man has been charged after police say he embezzled more than $124,000 from a Menomonee Falls construction business. James Denk, 38, has been charged with theft in a business setting and faces up to five years behind bars if he is convicted. According to Denk’s criminal complaint, the owners of Neu’s Building Center, N95 W16915 Falls Parkway in Menomonee Falls, reported to police that Denk was responsible for embezzling approximately $124,150 from the business between October 2014 and February 2016. According to his criminal complaint, company officials began to look into Denk’s behavior and pulled till reports for cash deposits. When they did, they found a pattern of shorted deposits that were created by Denk, and then turned over to a secondary employee for a deposit at the bank. Further investigation into Denk’s dealings revealed that Denk manipulated the till reports on several occasions by adjusting the cash deposit amount on the till reports. According to the criminal complaint, online gambling activity was also noted on Denk’s former computer.

Beaver County tax collector who stole, gambled away $1M to serve 3 years in prison 

A former constable from Beaver County will spend three years and one month in prison for stealing more than $1 million from Baden and the Ambridge Area School District while he was acting as their tax collector. Keith Kristek, 57, of Baden admitted in June that, while acting as a deputy tax collector, he pocketed money that was supposed to pay for textbooks, teacher salaries and road paving and gambled most of it away. He pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud and one count of filing a palse tax return. U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab also sentenced him to three years of probation and ordered him to pay $1 million in restitution to the school district and $46,000 to the borough.

Ex-Treasurer Sentenced for Embezzling $125,000 from Search and Rescue Group

An Ohio man who authorities said embezzled more than $125,000 from a Kensington, Connecticut non-profit that uses search and rescue dogs to look for missing people was sentenced to home confinement and probation. Recck, a former New Britain resident, was the treasurer for Connecticut Canine Search and Rescue, Inc., a volunteer-based organization that searches for and rescues missing and lost people in the United States by using trained search and rescue dogs, according to federal authorities. In his role, Recck had access to the non-profit’s bank accounts and he was accused of transferring more than $125,000 from the non-profit’s accounts to his own for gambling and personal expenses between January 2008 and August 2012, according to officials, who said he also never reported the stolen funds on his federal tax returns. Recck pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of filing a false tax return and was ordered to pay $125,649.77 in restitution, as well as back taxes, penalties and interest for the 2008 through 2012 tax years.

Columbus man pleads guilty to dog fighting conspiracy charges 

A Columbus man pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to two charges related to a dog fighting ring found on the west side of the city in April. Charles A. Granberry, 40, pleaded guilty to conspiring to participate in a dog fighting ring, and to illegally possessing a firearm. Dozens of dogs were seized at five different Columbus homes, back in April, and several people were arrested. Authorities said Granberry is just the tip of the iceberg, conspiring with others in an interstate operation to train, fight and sell dogs that were also used for gambling. In April, 20 pit bull terriers were taken out of a house on Clarendon venue. In one backyard, investigators found car axles embedded in the ground with heavy chains to hold dogs in place. Other devices were used to train them to fight. “The biggest one that garnished the most attention is the treadmills that they strapped the dogs onto, strapped the collar to, sometimes the dog can run for hours on it,” said Elysse Rathbone, a Humane Agent for the Capital Area Humane Society. 

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New Jersey Begins a Third and Possibly Reckless Attempt at Legalized Sports Betting

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the many failed attempts by the New Jersey Legislature to legalize sports betting in their state. These attempts have been opposed by all the major sports leagues, including the NFL, NBA and MLB and have been stopped at various legal levels including the Supreme Court. After four years and so many failures, its somewhat surprising that New Jersey legislators are, once again, looking for a way to become the Las Vegas sports betting of the east. An online source explains the path of past failed attempt:  

New Jersey has seen its two previous attempts to allow sports betting fail in the courts. In the first attempt, New Jersey simply passed a law allowing sports betting at casinos and racetracks in 2012. The bill was quickly challenged by the professional sports leagues which cited the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Betting Act of 1992, which prohibits sports betting.

The state challenged PASPA as unconstitutional saying it imposes on state’s rights and unfairly carves out exceptions for states that had some form of sports betting before the ban—most notably Nevada.

In losing appeals for that case, courts said New Jersey may be able to get around the ban by allowing self-regulated sports betting with no state control. That led to the second attempt which would have allowed self-regulated betting at casinos and racetracks.

But courts also struck down that law, saying that by restricting where sports betting would be allowed, the state was still regulating the practice. A federal appeals court upheld that ruling in August, leading to the state’s Supreme Court Challenge. The Supreme Court declined to hear New Jersey’s appeal of its first sports betting law.

The conclusion lawmakers have drawn from these rulings is quite surprising. They believe that the key then, is to pass a law that repeals any and all state regulation pertaining to sports gambling. The implications are not only extreme, but borderline reckless given the law would even allow children the opportunity to place sports bets. Assumptions are being made that after the rule passes new laws to shore up its short comings would be allowed. Its narrow thinking, based on the opinion of one dissenting judge, and those involved are at least seemingly aware that no one actually knows how to do it yet. The online source continues:

The bill makes clear that New Jersey is removing every prohibition or regulation of sports betting—something the federal government acknowledged the state has the power to do, supporters told the /AP/. However, the bill as stands would also mean that children could place bets as well as allow anyone to open their own sports book.

That’s why the state would likely have to add “limited restrictions” afterward, as envisioned by a federal judge who issued a dissenting opinion that sided with New Jersey.

“There have got to be things added to this,” Caputo told the /AP/. “A lot brighter people than me have worked on this and they haven’t found the ultimate answer yet.”

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A Brief Look at Crime 11/07-11/13

FanDuel and DraftKings will each pay $6 million to resolve lawsuits over their advertising practices

Fantasy-sports websites FanDuel and DraftKings will each pay $6 million to resolve lawsuits in New York over their advertising practices, state attorney general Eric Schneiderman said Tuesday, resolving a year-long legal battle over the popular online games. According to the settlement agreements, both companies misled players about their services, including the advantages professional players had over other users, the likelihood of winning money and “the addictive nature” of their games. The agreements require the companies to make public, in their marketing and promotional materials, statistics about rates of user success and provide resources for gambling addiction.

Driver in deadly California bus crash didn’t brake before hitting big rig

Ana Car didn’t remember the sudden impact, only that she woke up among dead and injured passengers in a dark tour bus filled with screams of terror and agony. The retired factory worker had spent an evening gambling at a desert casino and was sound asleep when the bus heading to Los Angeles smashed into the rear of a slow-moving tractor-trailer. The crash killed the bus river and 12 passengers and injured 31 other people. “I can’t believe how many died,” she said, sobbing Monday as she recovered from bumps, bruises and a sore back. “It was so horrible. These images are going to stay in my head for life.” The National Transportation Safety Board was investigating the collision, which is one of the deadliest wrecks in California history.The NTSB said it would be on the scene for up to a week. The team planned to look into the history of the bus, its owner-driver and other circumstances, such as what the driver was doing during the four to five hours the bus was at the Red Earth Casino in the desert town of Thermal before making the 135-mile trip back to LA.

Bank of America to pay $13 million to D.C. in settlement of ‘Mother Harriette’ fraud case

Before her arrest in 2007, Harriette Walters, a midlevel D.C. tax office manager known as “Mother Harriette,” stole more than $48 million from the city, issuing fraudulent tax refunds for almost two decades. She gambled, making more than 45 trips to Las Vegas and Atlantic City. She spent more than $2 million at high-end shops such as Neiman Marcus. And she hoarded luxury watches in her Northwest Washington home. Walters was sentenced to more than 17 years in prison in 2009. But her scheme was partly facilitated by Bank of America, where a bank manager deposited almost $18 million in Walters’s refund checks. Now, eight years after D.C. sued the bank to get its money back, Bank of America is settling the suit for $13 million, the city’s attorney general said Tuesday.

Pair to plead guilty in Mohegan Sun Pocono Players’ Club card scheme

Two men who gambled on getting away with a scheme that bilked Mohegan Sun Pocono out of more than $420,000 will plead guilty. Plea agreements filed Wednesday in federal court say former casino Vice President of Player Development Robert J. Pellegrini and gambler Mark J. Heltzel will admit to their roles in the high-stakes scam, in which stolen rewards cards that were duplicated and loaded with bogus credits reeled in $422,147. Pellegrini, 50, of Fairview Township, and Heltzel, 52, of Dallas, will each plead guilty to one felony count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, the plea agreements say. According to prosecutors, the charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and fines totalling $500,000. Poszeluznyj, prosecutors say, stole the PINs from patrons to whom she served drinks and provided them to Heltzel, with whom she had “an ongoing personal relationship.” Gamblers use the cards in slot machines and acquire points that can be used to claim free perks ranging from drinks to hotel rooms, according to the casino’s website. Heltzel then gave the PINs to Pellegrini, who duplicated the cards and loaded them with free-play credits.

Frequent fatal casino bus crashes draw attention from feds 

Fatalities involving casino buses have become so frequent that the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates major crashes, is studying them for common patterns, said Earl Weener, an NTSB board member overseeing the crash probe of the USA Holiday bus. As casinos have proliferated, buses ferrying gamblers have become a fixture. Many, like Ruiz, travel from big cities to out-of-the-way casinos and stay for as little as four hours before the buses head home. Concerned that casinos were targeting vulnerable elders in San Francisco’s Chinatown, a health care organization there tried unsuccessfully to distribute brochures about problem gambling on buses and at tour bus offices. The companies wouldn’t cooperate, so workers hand out literature on sidewalks near the buses. “For so many of our clients, that trip to the casino represents hope,” said Michael S. Liao of NICOS Chinese Health Coalition. The reality is that most of those people end up losing, and some carry huge debts. “It’s not about how much you lose, but how much you can afford to lose,” he said.

Woman convicted for scamming Missouri woman’s lottery prize

A federal jury convicted a former Kansas City woman of defrauding another woman out of hundreds of thousands of dollars from lottery winnings. Federal prosecutors say 43-year-old Freya Pearson used the money to support a gambling habit and for personal extravagances. Pearson also improperly received federal housing benefits and didn’t pay income taxes, causing a total loss of more than $640,000. She was found guilty Thursday of nine counts arising from the schemes. Prosecutors say she convinced a woman who won $2.4 million in the Missouri Lottery in 2008 to transfer money from an annuity to Pearson’s account. Pearson didn’t tell her victim that she intended to use the money for such things as gambling, buying cars and travel. She faces up to 100 years in federal prison without parole.

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Florida Counties Vote to Expand Slots but Florida Supreme Court Ruling Likely to Prevent Implementation

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing impact slot machine gambling and its possible expansion has on Florida. Slot machine gambling has long been limited in Florida. Over the years, various Legislative expansions have taken place, as well as locations being legalized by constitutional amendments.   In 2010, the Florida legislature allowed counties to vote for slot machines, but only if prior approval by constitutional amendments or Florida Legislature were obtained. In this year’s election, two counties have voted to expand gambling by way of slot machines, but major hurdles still exist before such expansion can take place. Local Jacksonville Fox affiliate WOKV reports:

A major legal hurdle remains before voter-approved slot machines will be available to play in Jacksonville.

While Duval County voters resoundingly approved 2,000 slot machines for the bestbet pari-mutuel facility in Arlington, the Florida Supreme Court is still determining whether a state statute permits counties outside of South Florida to expand gambling through a referendum.

The referendum – passed with 54 percent support in the Nov. 8 general election – cites a 2004 constitutional amendment allowing slots machines at certain Miami-Dade and Broward County pari-mutuel facilities through a constitutional amendment to mean voters in Duval county have the same right.

Many believe the negative impacts of slot machines weren’t adequately represented during the election, but non the less, the Supreme Court is likely to void the results as prior approval is needed outside of just the county and the Legislature hasn’t approved the venues. WOKV continues:

The group No Casinos, an opponent of gambling expansion in Florida, says only one side of County Referendum No. 1 was represented – through millions of dollars put up by the owners of bestbet. “It’s not a full picture of what happens when slot machines come to a community,” said Paul Seago, referencing the touting of new jobs and government revenue from slot machines by proponents.

Seago believes the Florida Supreme Court will determine slot machines are only allowed in South Florida, per the state statute, or that a constitutional amendment is necessary for expansion of slot machine gaming in the state. Seago’s opposition to slot machines stems from the rejection that this form of gaming brings new revenue to cities. He says, money used on slots is actually taken away from local businesses. In the meantime, slot machines are on hold outside of Miami-Dade and Broward Counties.

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