Florida Mayors Come Out Against Gambling Expansion in New Campaign

Casino Watch Focus has reported the new push to expand gambling in Florida during this year’s legislative session is through decoupling, or allowing dog and horse race track owners to offer mini-casinos without any dog or horse racing. Major opposition exists and the newest group to come forward has done so with a new anti-gambling campaign. Click Orlando reports: 

Mayor Buddy Dyer has come out swinging against a set of bills that could see more casinos being built in Florida.

He and three other mayors appear in a new commercial, urging state lawmakers to reject the bills. The commercial was produced by the political action group called protecting Florida’s Future.

They’re against a bill that would relax rules on greyhound racing opening the door for other gaming on-site. “I think there is certainly enough gaming for anybody — if that’s what they want to do,” Dyer told Local 6. “But I think people come to Orlando because we’re a family friendly destination, and the expansion of gambling would not add to what we have here.”

The full story with part of the television advertisement can be seen HERE or below

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


Brief Look at Crime 04/13 – 04/19

South Whitehall $845K embezzlement trial halted by plea deal

Court officials on Monday confirmed that Nancy Tonkin, South Whitehall’s longtime utility manager, and her husband, will plead guilty this week in an $845,000 embezzlement scheme. Prosecutors say Nancy Tonkin stole $845,000 in taxpayer money and, along with her husband, used the cash to finance a gambling habit. Investigators say the money was stolen through a “lapping” scheme, where Nancy Tonkin pocketed payments from township residents who used cash to pay for their water, sewer, trash and recycling bills, and then used payments from other residents to cover the losses. She and her husband then deposited the cash into their personal bank accounts, prosecutors allege. They lost more than $116,000 in slot machines alone, according to the grand jury, and withdrew $20,000 from casino cash machines from 2009 to 2012.

Hillsdale man gets 2 life terms for robberies to fund gambling addiction

A 39-year-old Hillsdale man who already faced 70 years in prison for a string of robberies in St. Louis County has been sentenced to two life terms for robberies in another county. Authorities say Darrell Bolden committed the robberies to support a gambling habit. He was arrested after an attempted robbery at a St. Louis County mattress store. An employee was able to remove Bolden’s mask before he fled. DNA from the mask later connected Bolden to the crime, and he confessed to police. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports Bolden was convicted last month in two St. Charles County robberies. A judge sentenced him Monday to the life terms, as well as 25 years each for two counts of armed criminal action. The sentences will run consecutively.

Man gets 5 years in prison for embezzling almost $2 million

A man has been sentenced to just over five years in prison after admitting in federal court in San Antonio to spending most of the almost $2 million embezzled from his employer on strippers, luxury vehicles and gambling. Prosecutors say 41-year-old Michael Dennehy was sentenced Monday to five years and three months in prison. He was also ordered to pay restitution of about $1.9 million to his employer. He pleaded guilty Dec. 17 to a single count of bank fraud, admitting he forged numerous company checks over six years. Court records show he wrote checks to himself and deposited them in his personal banking accounts. He also wrote company checks to pay his credit card bill.

SC brothers sentenced in killing of relative over gambling dispute 

Two Rock Hill brothers — including one with 12 children — were sentenced to prison time Tuesday for killing a cousin after a gambling dispute. Johnny Lee Ellison, 34, a longtime worker at Southern Salads, was shot and stabbed on Green Street in Rock Hill in September 2013 after a night of drinking and gambling. Ellison and his cousins, David and Jaris Williams, argued at some point after which Ellison was shot and then stabbed by the brothers. David Williams, 34, who said in court he has 12 children “from 16 to 2,” pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 14 years in prison by visiting Judge DeAndrea Benjamin. David Williams currently is on federal probation for other crimes.

Kansas City Man Pleads Guilty to $4 Million Illegal Gambling Operation 

A Kansas City, MO, man pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to operating an illegal gambling business that generated nearly $4 million in bets placed during its final year of operation.By pleading guilty, Pham admitted that he operated an illegal gambling business from at least 2008 to February 2012. Pham used Costa Rican Web sites to run his bookmaking operation. The gross revenue of Pham’s illegal gambling business exceeded $2,000 per day on multiple days during the operation of the business. Evidence obtained during the course of the investigation indicated that, in approximately a one-year period from Jan. 1, 2011, to Feb. 9, 2012, bets totaling $3,788,635 were placed in Hoang Pham’s operation.

Addiction to scratch-off tickets plagued suspect in fatal gas station robbery

Relatives say an overwhelming addiction drove Robert McGrane to grab a gun, rob a gas station and kill a clerk. The addiction? Not booze. Not drugs. Lottery tickets. To be specific, scratch-offs. Over the past two years, the 48-year-old had been spending as much as $600 a week on instant lottery tickets, relatives say. “It was an addiction,” says father Jack McGrane, 68, of Cazenovia. “He started doing it, and it just snowballed.” “He had a problem with scratch-offs,” Allen says. “But you just don’t win with lottery tickets.” He pauses, then shakes his head, pondering the robbery and murder. “We just don’t understand what happened,” Allen says.

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


Guest Article: Decoupling is Harmful Gambling Expansion that is No Good for Florida

Casino Watch Focus has reported that recent efforts to expand gambling in Florida through new mega-resort casinos has failed for another year. However, the major push this session is to decouple dog and race tracks so they can offer mini casinos instead. This effort is being pushed in the major gambling bill in the house and through an amendment to the bill that seeks to expand the existing gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe. Given the large push, its important to truly understand what is at stake. The following words come from Jeff Kottkamp, who served as Florida’s 17th lieutenant governor, is the president of Jeff Kottkamp, P.A. and represents Florida Casino Watch:

 

April 8, 2014|By Jeff Kottkamp

Florida has always been a very conservative state when it comes to gambling. Voters in the state rejected casino gambling in 1978, 1986 and 1994. The state aggressively challenged the Seminole Tribe when they opened a high stakes bingo parlor in 1979. Even the state lottery was not approved until 1984.

Pursuant to Article X section 7 of the state Constitution — the expansion of gambling in Florida is prohibited. The only way to legally increase the reach of gambling is by constitutional amendment. Despite this constitutional roadblock — there is currently an effort underway at the state Capitol to push the largest expansion of gambling in Florida’s history.

Supporters of gambling expansion call their effort “decoupling.” They want to “decouple” greyhound racing and dog racetracks. Or, put another way, they want to operate as gambling facilities without having live greyhound races as is currently required by law. In reality, they want to create 14 mini-casinos in Florida — all without voter approval.

Those pushing decoupling use two arguments to support their position. First, they say that requiring dog tracks to have dog races violates free market principles. Let’s be clear — there is nothing free market about gambling. It is a highly regulated industry for a reason.

Today’s racetracks were “grandfathered” when the state’s current Constitution was passed in 1968. A handful of dog tracks have been given the exclusive privilege to operate their facilities, have received millions of dollars in tax breaks, and have made billions of dollars in profits all without competition. In exchange for this exclusive privilege the tracks agreed to operate under a certain set of rules — rules they now want to drastically change. Decoupling is not really about the free market — it’s about gambling permit portability. If racetracks are free to operate as gambling facilities without being required to have live races — the very purpose for their existence — in a very short period of time we would see a massive expansion of casino-style gambling in Florida as the racetracks cut deals with casino operators.

Next those supporting the expansion of gambling through “decoupling” argue that greyhound racing is losing money. Frankly, there is really no way for anyone to know exactly how much is currently being wagered on greyhound racing let alone how much tracks are making. That’s because as much of half of the wagers are being diverted from the counters of racetracks to a system of gambling called Advanced Deposit Wagering, or ADW. Not only does ADW distort the amount being wagered — it robs the taxpayers of Florida since no taxes are paid on bets made using ADW. At least one estimate indicates that Florida is losing as much as $100 million in tax revenue as a result of ADW. It raises the question — is ADW being used to distort the numbers so gambling expansion supporters can argue decoupling is needed because race tracks are losing money?

Those supporting the expansion of gambling through decoupling say Florida is already a gambling state — so what’s the harm in having more gambling? In reality, Florida is a family friendly state that happens to have some forms of gambling. We will have more than 100 million visitors again this year because we are a destination for family vacations, not because of gambling. Expanding gambling through decoupling would seriously jeopardize our family friendly atmosphere and in turn would cause great harm to our state’s economy. For that reason alone decoupling is a very bad idea.

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


Brief Look at Crime 04/06 – 04/12

Woman Convicted of Killing Gambler for $10K Casino Winnings 

A woman has been convicted of killing a gambler she followed after he won $10,000 at a Southern California casino. The Orange County Register says 51-year-old Barbara Ann Hamel was convicted Monday of first-degree murder and robbery. Hamel originally pleaded guilty and faced a sentence of 15 years to life in prison, but she later withdrew her plea. She now faces life in prison without parole when she is sentenced May 29. Hamel’s accomplice, Tad Allen Carroll, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 25 years to life. Prosecutors say the pair followed 55-year-old Chi Bui after he won $10,000 at the Hawaiian Gardens Casino in 2010. Prosecutors say Carroll knocked him down, and Hamel drove over his head, killing him instantly.

Jacksonville, Fla. Police Union President, VP Plead Guilty in Slot Machine Scam

It was a scam that was the talk of Florida. And two cops, both leaders in their police union, played no small part in making it happen. This past January, Nelson Cuba, former president of the Jacksonville Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), pleaded guilty to three charges related to his transferring more than $500,000 from an illegal gambling enterprise to his own use. Ex-FOP Vice President Robbie Freitas had pleaded guilty last April. The convictions were part of a state probe into a gambling and money-laundering operation nominally run by a charity. Participants netted nearly $300 million until the ring was busted two years ago.

Montco check-cashing couple gets 5 months for role in betting ring 

The husband and wife owners of a Philadelphia check cashing business have been sentenced to five months in prison for laundering money from a multimillion dollar sports gambling operation run by a former mayor’s son-in-law. A judge Monday also sentenced 71-year-old Joseph Vitelli and 67-year-old Anna Rose Vitelli to five months of house arrest once they’re released. The Conshohocken couple pleaded guilty last year to laundering more than $500,000 and giving the betting ring an office. Harry Murray, a 62-year-old Florida bookmaker who pleaded guilty to laundering money through the Vitellis, was sentenced to eight months in prison and eight months of house arrest.

Ex-treasurer of Houston health firm gets 5 years for fraud 

The former treasurer of a Houston-based health care system has been sentenced to five years in federal prison for embezzling nearly $3 million. Joseph S. Antonucci of Houston was sentenced Tuesday and ordered to repay the stolen funds. Antonucci last fall pleaded guilty to 15 counts of wire fraud, five counts of money laundering and to making a false statement to law officers. Prosecutors say the 42-year-old Antonucci used money from Patriot Managed Health Care Systems Inc. for private jet travel, gambling in Las Vegas and to pay off his credit card bills. Investigators say the fraud happened from 2007 through September 2012. Antonucci created false documents and sent emails with bogus financial data to help conceal the embezzlement.

Local Businessman Pleads Guilty to Fraud Totaling $3 Million

United StatesAttorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced that a Springfield businessman pleaded guilty in federal court Apr. 3 to engaging in fraud, even after he was under indictment and while incarcerated totaling more than $3 million in losses. Gregg was the principal shareholder and a director of Southwest Community Bank which closed May, 2012. In the plea agreement Gregg admitted that he directly contributed to the failure of the bank. Southwest Community Bank lost $679,399 on Gregg’s personal line of credit and $871,125 on a commercial real estate fraud scheme perpetrated by Gregg, with loses totaling $1,550,524. On Jan. 3, 2012 Gregg presented five checks, payable to Buffalo Run Casino in Miami, Okla., each in the amount of $10,000, knowing his credit union account contained insufficient funds to cover those checks. Between Feb. 16 and March 1, 2012, Gregg presented five checks payable to Downstream Casino and Resort in Quapaw, Okla., in the total amount of $60,000, knowing his bank account contained insufficient funds to cover those checks.

Lincoln pharmacist accused of bilking Medicaid for $2.5M

A judge said a Lincoln pharmacist jailed on suspicion of bilking Nebraska’s Medicaid program out of nearly $2.5 million is a flight risked and ordered him to remain jailed. Assistant U.S. Attorney Alan Everett said during a detention hearing for Tran on Friday that the FBI had learned Tran had wagered more than $11 million since 2006 at Harrah’s and Horseshoe Casino in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and was allowed to make bets of as much as $20,000 a hand on blackjack. Tran spent more than $800,000 at the two casinos between Dec. 1 and Feb. 27, Everett said. Tran’s defense attorney, John Berry Jr., argued for Tran’s release, saying he has significant ties to the community. “Gambling, like any addiction, is a problem, but it’s treatable,” Berry said.

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


UPDATE: Efforts to Pass Resort Gambling Casinos though the Florida Legislature Ends

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing efforts to expand gambling in Florida by way of new Vegas-style Resort Casinos. As previously reported the gambling expansion bill that was proposed by the Florida legislature looked to be a hard sell. Resent opposition came from many sources and it appears those efforts have paid off. An online source provided the Associated Press’ report: 

A push to bring Las Vegas-styled resort casinos to South Florida is once again being rejected by the state Legislature.

The idea was a long shot from the start, but a top House Republican on Tuesday filed a revamped gambling proposal that drops any mention of casinos.

House Majority Leader Dana Young kicked off the 60 day session with a proposal to upend the state’s entire gambling industry. It called for two massive casinos in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, while allowing slot machines at racetracks in Palm Beach and Lee counties.

 But the proposal, which also called for setting up a new commission to regulate gambling, failed to gain any traction among either Republican or Democratic legislators.

Young said her initial 300-plus page bill was a “work in progress,” but now she viewed her latest proposal (HB 1233) as the “final consensus product” reached after discussing gambling issues with other legislators.

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


Brief Look at Crime 03/30 – 04/05

Marlins pitcher in MLB probe over ‘gambling’ ties

Marlins pitcher Jarred Cosart is the subject of an MLB investigation into alleged gambling activity following an online exchange Tuesday night in which Cosart allegedly wrote “I bet LARGE” in a direct message and later deactivated his Twitter account as the scrutiny mounted. MLB spokesman Pat Courtney confirmed to the Miami New Times the league is looking into the allegations. The claims — and at this point, that’s all they are — began with user @GhostFadeKillah, a self-proclaimed online sports betting expert, when he published an alleged message exchange between Cosart and another online gambling shark.

Grandview Business Owner Pleads Guilty to Extortion, Money Laundering Scheme

The owner of a Grandview, MO, lawn care company pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to a $3 million extortion and money laundering scheme that began when a cocaine deal went awry. After receiving the money from his victim, Lewis repeatedly engaged in a series of financial transactions involving the proceeds of a criminal offense. For example, Lewis paid $167,000 for a 2012 Lamborghini Gallardo, $61,000 for a 2005 Bentley, $65,500 for a 2007 Aston Martin, $45,595 for a 2011 Aston Martin and $23,000 for a 2013 Chevrolet Camaro; made multiple cash withdrawals at the Bellagio Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, Nev., totaling more than $137,000; spent $27,708 to purchase jewelry, sunglasses, perfume and clothing from Gucci in Las Vegas; purchased a Rolex watch; and paid $100,000 to pay off a mortgage. Under federal statutes, Lewis is subject to a sentence of up to 30 years in federal prison without parole, plus a fine up to $500,000. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the United States Probation Office.

Former Station Casinos manager sentenced to prison for under-the-table payments

A former Las Vegas casino company employee was sentenced to 366 days in federal prison Thursday after his conviction in a tax evasion scheme. Anthony M. Cirulli, 75, who pleaded guilty in September to one count of tax evasion, also was placed on three years of supervised release after prison and ordered to pay the IRS $351,039 in restitution. Between 2005 and 2008, Cirulli hid hundreds of thousands of dollars he received under the table while reviewing printing contracts as a production manager in the corporate advertising department of Station Casinos, according to authorities. For the 2007 tax year, Cirulli willfully filed a false tax return, which omitted the income, his plea agreement states. He admitted hiding the money in two “nominee” bank accounts that conducted no business activity.

Couple robs Tobago casino of $500,000

Half a million dollars in cash has been sto­len at gun­point from the Silver Dollar Casino in Tobago. The incident occurred at around 10.30 a.m. on Friday. A woman posing as a cus­to­mer approached the door of the Shirvan Plaza casino, which was not yet open. The administrative man­ager was speaking to the wo­man when she was confron­ted by a masked man, brandishing a fire­arm. The couple then deman­ded money. Staff were ordered to open a vault and $500,000 was sto­len. The two then made their es­cape in a waiting vehicle. General manager Bis­wajit Bakshi said there was no security present at the casino when the incident occurred. Contacted for an up­date on the matter, acting Senior Superin­ten­dent of Police, Tobago Joanne Archie said offi­cers are on the case. “The matter is at a sen­sitive stage at this time, however, officers are working on several leads in bringing the per­pe­trators to justice,” Archie said.

Lewis-McChord hotel worker gets 2 years for embezzlement

A longtime employee at a military hotel on Joint Base Lewis-McChord has been sentenced to two years in prison and treatment for a gambling addiction after she stole at least $250,000 in government funds. Gail Moody had worked for 27 years at the Rainier Inn which provides affordable housing for military personnel and their families. From 2010 to 2012 she stole more than $250,000 in cash receipts. The U.S. Attorney’s Office said the amount might have been more: It was impossible to determine if any thefts occurred before 2010 because the computer system had been changed. Staff noticed discrepancies between the cash receipts and what had been deposited in the hotel’s bank accounts when she took a leave in 2012. In a letter, Moody told U.S. District Judge Ron Leighton she was ashamed and that she intends to pay the money back.

Pittsfield jeweler sentenced for defrauding customers

A Pittsfield jeweler who defrauded his customers out of $350,000 to fuel his gambling and drug addictions has been sentenced to up to five years in prison. The Berkshire Eagle reports that Mark Yannone was sentenced Monday after pleading guilty to 16 charges, including 14 counts pf larceny. Authorities say the 32-year-old Yannone, while operating M. Joseph Jewelers at times accepted money for purchases, only to ship customers empty boxes or nothing at all; took customers’ jewelry on consignment and failed to pay them a share of any sale; and in one case sent worthless metal painted gold to a customer who had paid for $25,000 for gold bars.

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


Florida Seminole Gambling Compact Extension Bill Could also Produce Free Standing Casinos by way of Decoupling

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing efforts to prevent expanded gambling in Florida by renewing the existing gambling compact with the Seminole tribe. The compact provides exclusive rights to certain gambling games to the Seminoles in exchange for specified revenue to the state. Outside gambling interests have been maneuvering to build and operate full scale Vegas-style casinos in Florida for some time, but the compact has kept them at bay. The compact is up for renewal and a bill has been introduced in the Florida Legislature to extend the compact. However, as pointed out by the St. Peters BlogAmendments were added that would attempt to expand gambling in a more unique way than the bill intended:

The Compact is a gambling revenue-sharing deal, with a significant portion set to expire July 31. Bradley proposed allowing the Seminole Tribe of Florida to continue offering banked card games, such as blackjack and baccarat, until July 2016, allowing for negotiations for a new deal.

State Sen. *Maria Sachs* convinced committee members to include her proposal, which lifts the requirement for dog tracks to schedule a minimum number of races to keep what state Sen. *Kelli Stargel* called “mini-casinos.”

State Sen. *Joe Abruzzo* supported the final bill because he favors greyhound decoupling, saying the sport has lost its audience and people of his generation would not be attending dog races after retirement.

The idea of allowing greyhound operators to keep gambling while eliminating the greyhound races is puzzling for sure. This is a blatant attempt to expand gambling in the face of a dying industry. The St Peters Blog explains the obvious rational of the opposition: 

[Sen.] Stargel, in opposition, said if tracks no longer wanted to offer racing, return their racing licenses to the state and give others a chance with the sport.

“Decoupling is a similar issue to bowling alleys,” she said. “We allow them to have a liquor license and now they want to get rid of bowling and be bars.

“The same thing with the dog tracks. A dog track license allows them to do card rooms and now they want to get rid of dog tracks and have a mini casino.”

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


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