Monthly Archives: April 2013

Florida Legislature Appoints Controversial Company to Head Gambling Expansion Study

Casino Watch Focus reported that the Florida legislature cut $400,000 from programs designed to treat those who suffer from compulsive gambling.  Then they approved $400,000 to commission a gambling study.  It was clear at the time that the intent of the study was to promote gambling and not actually evaluate the data that would expressly demonstrate the harm to Florida families. Gov. Rick Scott didn’t veto the bill despite urging to do so, but the the Senate Gaming Committee’s decision to make the study a two year period at least delayed immediate gambling expansion efforts by the mega resort casino companies.  Now, with the appointment of the company to conduct the study, it’s clear that the advantage of such a move for Florida’s families has past.  The Miami Herald Explains:

Despite hours of testimony hearing about the state’s gambling industry, and two years debating whether to open Florida to resort casinos, the Florida Legislature this year decided to spend $388,000 in taxpayer money to hire an outside consultant to study the state’s gambling market.

Senate Gaming Chairman Garrett Richter, a Naples Republican who has never served on a gaming committee, said the study was necessary to help lawmakers next year in their efforts to conduct comprehensive rewrite of the state’s gambling laws. Senate leaders persuaded the House to go along and the contract was signed last week with Spectrum Gaming Group, a New Jersey-based gambling consulting company, and announced on Tuesday.

Sowinski noted that Spectrum’s business portfolio includes broad services to the casino industry and Spectrum is affilated with Spectrum Gaming Capital, which helps finance casinos. “So every casino built is a potential Spectrum client down the road,” he said. “The people of Florida deserve an honest assessment by objective analysts, not a taxpayer funded propaganda tool for casino interests,” Sowinski said. “The Legislature needs to either change course, or know that $400,000 of taxpayer money will be wasted on a report that no objective observer will believe.”

Leaders of various anti-gambling organizations, including Florida Casino Watch, immediately recognized the danger to Florida families if such a company were allowed to keep the contract.  The Herald provides information from two such groups:

“Spectrum is part of the roll-out team for a casino expansion,” said Les Bernal, Executive Director of Stop Predatory Gambling, a national opposition group to government-sponsored gambling based in Washington, DC.

“Their phony jobs and revenue numbers will be used to rationalize a bigger government-gambling program for Florida. And then later, like what happened recently in Massachusetts, they’ll get a consulting contract about how to set up Florida’s casino regulatory program after the expansion is passed.”

John Sowinski, president of No Casinos, a gambling opponent supported by Disney and Universal, and Mark Andrews of Florida Casino Watch, question how independent Spectrum’s report will be.

“We need help in understanding what the effect on families and life style will be if we embrace mega casino expansion,” wrote Andrews in a statement. “Doesn’t a ‘gaming company’ specialize in casino success? How can they address the problems of addiction, bankruptcy, expanded crime and suicide?”

“…Can we expect to see a candid study of gambling’s devastation to families by an academic group supported heavily by casino money?”

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


A Brief Look at Crime 04/15 – 04/21

Hunt On for Military Police Captain Who Killed NGO Worker

Cambodia – Military police say they have launched an investigation into the murder of a staffer from legal aid NGO International Bridges to Justice (IBJ), who was shot in the neck and killed by one of their own military police officers in Kandal province’s Takhmao City on Friday night. The victim, IBJ provincial investigator Houn Bunnith, 33, had attended a party with military police captain Reab Bun Song, 30, at the officer’s snooker hall in Takhmao City. A witness told police that Houn Bunnith, a father of three, allegedly accused the military police officer of operating an illegal gambling business from his snooker hall. Shortly after, Houn Bunnith was shot in the throat and critically injured before being left in front of a nearby medical clinic by the officer, who has since fled.

 ‘Poker Madam’ Who Arranged Illegal Games For Top Hollywood Stars Indicted In New York’s Organized-Crime Gambling Ring

Notorious Hollywood poker madam Molly Bloom is one of nearly three dozen people who face federal charges in connection with a high-stakes illegal poker ring that stretched from Tinseltown to New York and involved some of Hollywood’s biggest names, drugs, and even alleged Russian mobsters. Bloom was previously sued and charged with helping organize illegal Hollywood poker games that included Tobey Maguire, Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio. Radar broke the story about Hollywood’s illegal A-list games and detailed how Bloom arranged dealers and coordinated players for the events, charges she denied but were supported by multiple sources who spoke to Radar. We also were first to reveal that alleged Russian mobsters played in some of her games and now the Feds have indicted her on related counts.

Woman gets 33 months in federal prison for embezzling tribal funds

A former elected officer of the Heipa/Veblen District of the Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Oyate who, with others, stole nearly $350,000 from the district was sentenced Tuesday to 33 months in federal prison. Earlier this year, Wanna was found guilty by a jury of a felony count of aiding and abetting misapplication of funds from an Indian tribal organization. Three other tribal district officials pleaded guilty in the same case. Collectively, they and Wanna will have to make $345,965 in restitution for the money they stole between January 2007 and January 2009. Kornmann said the four would meet at a casino, issues checks for more than they were entitled to for their service, then cash the checks at the casino. He said it’s unclear what happened to the money the former board members paid themselves.

Horseshoe Casino Cleveland is slapped with $180,000 in fines

The Horseshoe Casino Cleveland will pay $180,000 in fines for violating security and operating rules set by state law, regulators announced Wednesday. Offenses include use of unapproved dice, mishandling keys, failing to post a problem-gambling hotline on promotional posters, encouraging cocktail servers to enter a restricted area between table games, replacing chips with quarters and improperly storing and shipping slot machines.  “The Casino Control Act exists to ensure the integrity of gaming in the State of Ohio,” Jo Ann Davidson, chairwoman of the Ohio Casino Control Commission, said in a news release. “In the case of these sanctions, we as regulators found  Horseshoe Casino Cleveland failed to adhere to Ohio law and their internal controls, not just once, but repeatedly.

Former bookkeeper sentenced for theft from Mount Laurel law firm

A Gloucester County woman was sentenced to three years in state prison Friday after admitting she stole nearly $150,000 from a Mount Laurel law firm, where she worked as the bookkeeper and office manager. “As we have come to understand, her major issue was gambling,” Burlington County Assistant Prosecutor Andrew McDonnell said in the Burlington County Courthouse. “Hopefully, while in prison, she will get some help and address some of her mental health issues.” In addition to the prison term, Judge James W. Palmer Jr. ordered McKinlay to pay full restitution to the victim, David Apothaker of Apothaker & Associates PC, or his insurance company if the losses have already been covered. McKinlay, formerly of Folcroft, Pa., wrote dozens of checks to herself, putting in the memo field “court costs” and then using the ill-gotten money to gamble at the Showboat and Resorts casinos in Atlantic City, and Harrah’s in Chester, Pa.

 Former Full Tilt Poker CEO pleads guilty

A former chief executive of Full Tilt Poker, an online poker company, pleaded guilty on Monday to violating U.S. anti-Internet gambling laws, but he avoided prison time due to his failing health. Raymond Bitar, 41, is suffering from “severe heart failure,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Arlo Devlin-Brown said at a federal court hearing in Manhattan. In an expedited court process, Bitar was also sentenced to time served and ordered to forfeit $40 million. Bitar was one of 11 people, including the owners of two other online poker companies, who federal prosecutors charged in 2011 with illegal Internet gambling. He pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act and one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud. Bitar admitted to lying to customers about the safety of their money with the company. At one point, there was a $350 million gap between what Full Tilt owed customers and how much cash it had available, Devlin-Brown said at the hearing.

Russian gambling ring exposed across US

Thirty four people have been charged across the US over alleged links to  Russian criminals and a high stakes illegal gambling circuit catering to  multimillionaires. Clients, including Russian oligarchs, wracked up debts worth hundreds of thousands and even millions of  dollars, the Justice Department said in a statement on Tuesday night  Faced with the wrath of the Russian mob, the gamblers paid up, the statement  said, citing one client, who lost some $2 million (£1.3 million) and  surrendered his plumbing company as payment. The money was laundered through bank accounts and shell companies in Cyprus  and the US. The charges “demonstrate the scope and reach of Russian organised crime,”  said FBI New York assistant chief George Venizelos. The gambling was done through web sites and in high stakes poker rooms in and  around New York City.  Arrests were made in New York, Philadelphia, Detroit and Los Angeles, but at  least four defendants remained at large.

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


UPDATE: Lawsuit Filed Against the Recent Ban of Florida Internet Cafés

Casino Watch Focus reported that the Florida Legislature passed a bill to ban the controversial internet cafes that were featured in the multi-agency, multi-state, multi-year investigation.  After the danger of these gambling parlors became so widely reported, the Florida Legislature and Governor forged ahead to close the loopholes that allowed for the essentially unregulated strip-mall casinos.  Some believed the law went too far by closed gambling parlors that they operated in a more “legitimate” light.  As such, a new lawsuit has been filed:

The owners of two senior arcades in Broward County filed a lawsuit Thursday challenging Florida’s new law that tightens the rules prohibiting them from operating slots-like games.

The arcade owners, represented by constitutional law expert Bruce Rogow and Michael Wolf of the Florida Arcades Association, are asking the court to block a portion of the legislation that passed as a result of the federal and state investigation into Internet cafes operated by Allied Veterans of the World.

The arcades, Boardwalk Brothers Inc. of Tamarac and  Play It Again Florida of Davie, say they were unfairly targeted and argue the language governing adult arcade games is “arbitrary, irrational and not reasonably related to a legitimate governmental purpose.’’

It was reported that law enforcement officials believed all of these machines to be illegal and that they only existed due to legislative loopholes.  Now that the Legislature has clarified those laws and put an end to their operations, the sponsors of the bill feel confident the lawsuit wont be successful:

Rep. Carlos Trujillo, a Miami Republican who sponsored the bill to outlaw the machines, told the Herald/Times he considers the lawsuit a long-shot attempt to salvage the industry.

“Bruce (Rogow) is an exceptional lawyer but I think he is definitely wrong on this one and the court will see it that way,’’ he said.

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

 


A Brief Look at Crime 04/08 – 04/14

Voracious ‘Veterans’ Casinos Face RICO Claim

“Allied Veterans” Internet casinos raised $290 million by claiming “most” of the money would go to veterans’ charities, but kept more than 98 percent of it, consumers claim in a RICO class action. Lead defendants Allied Veterans of the World and Affiliates, Allied Veterans Management Group and International Internet Technologies are among dozens sued in Federal Court by lead plaintiff Linda Stepps. Stepps claim the defendants ran their scam from 2007 to 2012. The complaint states: “Defendant Allied Veterans of the World Inc. and its associated defendant companies participated in a multi-state and multi-county business that conducted illegal gambling in Internet casinos under the guise of legal electronic sweepstakes. To promote their business, defendants and others operated the Internet casinos utilizing the trade name of ‘Allied Veterans’ and represented that they donated anywhere from ’70 percent,’ ‘most’ to ‘all’ of the net proceeds or profits from their gambling operations for the benefit of American war veterans. “This class action is brought for actual damages, treble damages and attorney’s fees to redress violations of Federal law, Florida law, and deceptive and unfair trade practices arising out of defendants’ illegal business operations.” Stepps seeks class certification and punitive damages for RICO conspiracy, deceptive trade, breach of contract and other charges.

Embezzling hockey group treasurer gets 8 months for tax evasion

To Steven Brier, it seemed a sure-fire plan. Feeling guilty for embezzling from the state’s amateur hockey association, he planned to quietly repay the money before anyone noticed it was gone.  His plan: Win the money back at the casino. The flaw in his plan: Gambling was why he’d taken the money in the first place, and gambling was how he had lost more than $384,000 of it.  Brier, 55, of Oakdale, was sentenced to eight months in federal prison on Wednesday, April 10 — not for embezzling, but for tax evasion. He’d failed to report the money he’d stolen as income. “I’m terribly, terribly sorry for everything I did,” the former insurance agent and treasurer for District 2 of Minnesota Hockey told U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle in St. Paul. “The defendant used the District 2 account as his own personal expense account, primarily to fund his gambling activities,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Ueland wrote in his pre-sentencing memo.

 New London woman sentenced for thefts

A New London woman who stole and helped others steal at least $350,000 from casinos, stores and places she worked across the region was sentenced Tuesday to three years in prison. Shauntay Ellis, 26, was involved in a variety of schemes, Assistant State’s Attorney Lawrence Tytla said, including helping her father, Joseph Ellis of New London, use fake Discover cards to get cash and merchandise from local businesses. She used a credit card with her name but someone else’s account number to buy items for herself. Ellis also stole from a store where she worked by reporting phony returns and pocketing the cash for them, Tytla said.

 57 Charged With Operating Illegal Sports Betting Ring

Thirty-four individuals and 23 entities have been indicted and accused of operating an illegal sports bookmaking business that solicited more than $1 billion in illegal bets, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma Sanford C. Coats. Legendz Sports out of Panama City, Panama is named in the indictment along with other individuals connected to the sports betting operation. The indictment alleges that Legendz Sports sought to maximize the number of gamblers who opened wagering accounts by offering both “post-up” betting, which requires a bettor to first set up and fund an account before placing bets and “credit” betting, which allow the bettor to place a wager without depositing money in advance through face-to-face meetings with bookies or agents.

 Clerk who stole $400K gets jail time

A woman who stole  $400,000 from the La Crescent-Hokah School District to fuel a gambling addiction has reached a plea deal with prosecutors and will pay back some of the money. Mary Chris Turner will also serve one year in jail and be placed on probation for 20 years. She’ll be sentenced May 8. An accounts-payable clerk in the district, Turner stole the money over 10 years by making cash withdrawals on district credit cards and cashing checks written to herself. Turner told Judge James Fabian she used the stolen money to sustain her gambling habit, which, according to police reports, included trips to a local casino and bingo at Church of the Crucifixion in La Crescent. Turner said she is being treated for her addiction, something she’ll continue in jail. She’ll also have work privileges.

 Jail officers arrested in sprawling gambling probe

Two correction officers implicated in an illegal gambling investigation were arrested shortly after they arrived for work Wednesday at the Albany County jail. The arrests are part of a broader, multi-state investigation that began in Albany three years ago. Carucci, known as “Oink,” was busted in 2008 as one of two ringleaders in the largest gambling case in Albany County history. In that case, which involved a $56 million Syracuse-to-Albany Internet betting ring, Carucci operated out of the private Veteran Friendship social club on Route 9 in Latham. Arrests also are taking place in Oklahoma, Florida and New Hampshire.

Disbarred N.Y. lawyer charged with stealing clients’ money

A disbarred attorney accused of making “preposterous excuses” to defraud clients out of hundreds of thousands of dollars has been indicted for grand larceny and fraud, Manhattan prosecutors announced Tuesday. Prosecutors allege that Brian Reis, 52, stole $213,000 from settlement and retainer funds entrusted to him by clients. When the clients inquired about the money, he came up with increasingly outrageous excuses to dodge their questions, claiming on separate occasions that he had hit a moose with his car and that his car had exploded, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said in a statement. Court documents filed by the prosecution indicate that between 2007 and 2012, Reis also withdrew more than $350,000 in cash from client escrow accounts, transferred $640,000 to online gambling sites and transferred $74,000 to his wife.

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


UPDATE: Florida Senate Passes Ban on Internet Cafés, Gov Signs into Law

Casino Watch Focus reported that in the wake of the major investigations of Florida’s internet cafés, the Florida House of Representatives passed a bill to ban the gambling parlors.  Further investigations revealed that these strip mall casinos were so under regulated, that no background checks were required and those with criminal pasts were running those facilities.  As expected, the Senate has joined the House to ban internet cafés.  The Miami Herald reports:

After a rigorous debate, the Florida Senate sent to the governor on Thursday a fast-tracked bill designed to clarify that slot-like gambling machines operated in Internet cafes, South Florida’s adult arcades and Miami’s maquintas are outlawed in Florida.

The measure is a reaction to a federal and state investigation into Allied Veterans of Florida that has led to 57 arrests for illegal gambling, money laundering and racketeering. Police allege that that the pseudo veterans group made $300 million in profits by operating the illegal machines, but allegedly donated only 2 percent of its proceeds to charity. Legislators responded by concluding that the vague state law that allowed the gaming centers to operate needed to be clarified to give law enforcement more tools to shut down the illegal machines that have proliferated in strip malls throughout the state.

The Senate voted 36-4 for HB 155, which was approved two weeks ago 108-7 by the Florida House.

 Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill into law, making it effective immediately.  The Herald provided comments given by Gov. Scott:

“I think the House and Senate did the right thing to crackdown on illegal gaming, especially in light of the Allied Veterans multi-state criminal conspiracy,’’ Scott told reporters on Wednesday.

The law becomes effective immediately, giving law enforcement new definitions on illegal gambling machines. It also imposes new restrictions on arcade games and bans all electronic casino look-alikes, including maquinitas in Miami and Hialeah.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who praised Scott and state lawmakers for passage of the bill, wasted little time in directing county law enforcement authorities to take action.

“I have already directed Miami-Dade Police Director J.D. Patterson to begin enforcing the law,” said Gimenez in a statement. “There is no longer any ambiguity about the fact that these machines and operations are illegal, and the newly-signed law will help deter the continued growth of illegal activities in Miami-Dade County and throughout the State of Florida.”

Because of the broad stroke used in the legislation to end these types of machines, there are groups that believe their type of gambling machines should have been allowed to operate.  Prosecutors have long held that these machine only existed because of various loopholes and now those loopholes are closed:

Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger, who anchored the federal and state investigation called “Operation Reveal the Deal,” told the Herald/Times that the governor’s actions validated his efforts.

For years, Eslinger was among a handful of sheriffs that urged lawmakers to tighten the law to make it easier for law enforcement to crackdown on the illegal games only to have their proposals languish and Internet Cafes proliferate. In the meantime, the industry donated millions to legislative campaigns, estimated at more than $2 million in the 2012 election cycle alone.

“It wasn’t a loophole in the law,’’ Eslinger said Tuesday. “The law was complex, difficult and expensive to investigate — and this will certainly will enhance law enforcement efforts.’’

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


A Brief Look at Crime 04/01 – 04/07

Woman found shot to death in garage at Majestic Star Casino

A 76-year-old woman was found shot to death early this morning in a parking garage at Majestic Star Casino in Gary, Ind., officials said. Austgen was found in the 2D parking garage located at 1 Buffington Harbor Dr. with a gunshot wound to the lower left torso. She was pronounced dead on the scene, the release said. The coroner has ruled her death a homicide. There was no immediate information available about the slaying from police, but the Lake County Crime Lab, the Gary Police Department and the Griffith Police Department were investigating.

 Kansas Woman Sentenced for Fraud Scheme

A Leavenworth, KS woman was sentenced in federal court today for a bank fraud scheme in which she embezzled more than $561,000 from her North Kansas City, MO employer. On Oct. 10, 2012 Cathey pleaded guilty to 15 counts of bank fraud. Cathey was employed from Sept. 7, 1997, through March 31, 2011, as the controller for Mega Industries Corp., a heavy highway and general contractor construction company in North Kansas City with approximately 25 employees. Cathey admitted that she embezzled approximately $561,552 as a result of her fraud scheme. Cathey obtained checks from the office of a subordinate, wrote unauthorized checks to herself and, without the knowledge or consent of the company presidents, forged their signatures on the checks. Cathey deposited the checks in her personal bank account and used the money largely for gambling.

 Dawson gets 60 months in prison for stealing $6.2 million

An Autauga County man that was accused of stealing more than $6.2 million in government funding, $799,000 from the West Dallas County Water Authority, was sentenced to 60 months in the United States Bureau of Prisons. According to the United States Attorney’s Office former USDA employee Ricky Nelson Dawson was found guilty of stealing more than $6.2 million from various water authorities in Alabama by writing fraudulent checks payable to the federal government. A restitution hearing is set for June 5. Attorney for the West Dallas Water Authority, Prince Chestnut, said it was recommended by the Bureau of Prisons that Dawson be, “designated to a facility near as possible to Montgomery,” and that he “be designated to a facility where residential gambling treatment is available.”

 Ex-banker says gambling drove him to rip off $1.3-million

A former Sidney bank executive now says a gambling addiction drove him to steal more than a million dollars. Matt Monheiser pleaded guilty in federal court last week to embezzling more than $1.3 million from what is now known as Points West Community Bank in Sidney. He shared how deep the addiction became saying, “The best way I can explain it is that it consumed me as much as someone who does drugs, alcohol or smoking. Gambling took my career and almost my life away from me. I needed treatment in the worst way, but like most addicts you don’t know you need help until you hit rock bottom.”

Man tried suicide after strangling wife

A man tried to kill himself by staying outside in the freezing mountains for three nights after strangling his wife, court documents obtained Friday state. David Wayne Reathman, 65, of Golden was charged Thursday with first-degree murder in the death of Barbara Reathman, 70.  It could not be immediately determined if he had a lawyer. Police found her body on March 25 in a closet in the couple’s home with her ankles and wrists bound with duct tape. She also had a strip of tape covering her mouth, police said. David Reathman was missing but later surrendered. Investigators said he told them he believed murder-suicide was the only way to escape financial problems caused by the couple’s gambling addiction, and that his wife had joked that he should choke her in her sleep. Police also say Reathman exaggerated the severity of his lung cancer prognosis and lied about a life insurance policy to get his stepdaughter to help him commit suicide.

 Former doctor among eleven people charged for forging prescriptions

A former cardiologist with the Penn State Hershey Medical Group and ten other people have been charged in an alleged prescription forgery ring that operated in Cumberland, Dauphin, Lancaster and York Counties.  The arrests come on the recommendation of a state Attorney General’s grand jury  The investigation started last February and ran through April of 2012.  Agents identified 26 fraudulent prescriptions. Those prescriptions were for the sale of 4400 oxycodone pills.  The street value for those pills is a whopping $110,000. “They’ve replaced a lot of street drugs because in the perception of the users they’re safe,” explained Lower Paxton Police Lieutenant Gary Seefeldt.  “Obviously they aren’t.  They’re safe for the person they’re prescribed to for the reason they were prescribed for.”  The presentment indicated that the doctor was having money problems due to a gambling addiction.  The Attorney General’s office says Dr. Fanelli was a former cardiologist working out of a group office in Camp Hill.

 NY gambling nun admits taking $128K from churches

Roman Catholic nun with a gambling addiction has pleaded guilty to stealing nearly $130,000 from two rural western New York parishes. The Daily News of Batavia reports that 68-year-old Sister Mary Anne Rapp pleaded guilty Monday in Orleans County Court to grand larceny. She admits she stole the money from St. Mary’s Church in Holley and St. Mark’s Church in Kendall from March 2006 to April 2011. Rapp faces up to six months in jail when she’s sentenced July 1. She’ll also be required to pay restitution that would be worked out at a later date. Rapp was arrested in November after discrepancies were found during an audit. Investigators said she stole the money to feed a gambling addiction and spent the money at western New York casinos.

 Missouri woman faces federal charges, accused of embezzling to fund gambling

A northwest Missouri woman faces federal charges accusing her of bilking a company out of about $2.6 million to fund gambling, travel and other expenses. The U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri says 54-year-old Laura Dejong was charged Wednesday with mail fraud and filing a false tax return. Her husband, 55-year-old Craig Dejong, is charged with filing a false tax return. The prosecutor’s office says they’ve pleaded not guilty. Laura Dejong is accused of embezzling about $2.6 million from a metal fabrication company, Kansas City Screw Products, where she was secretary and bookkeeper. The prosecutor’s office says in a release the Dejongs used the embezzled money to pay for cruises, vehicles, tickets to sporting events and for gambling that was well “into the millions of dollars.”

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


Florida Internet Cafés’ Lack of Background Checks Allow Criminals to Operate Gambling Dens

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing saga of the Florida gambling dens known as internet cafes.  These cafes are essentially unlicensed mini slot parlors/casinos that represent danger to Florida families.  Casino Watch Focus reported that the Florida prosecutors, in a multi-agency investigaton, arrested over 50 people and revealed the sinister nature of how some of these companies operate.  The Florida House immediately passed a bill banning these cafés.  Then the Florida Senate Gaming Committee held meetings to investigate and they revealed some very troubling news.  Namely, that criminals can operate these gambling centers.  The Miami Herald explained:

Three operators of Internet cafes stood before the Florida Senate Gaming Committee last month and urged them to have mercy on their industry.

They told them of the job-creating potential of their business, their practice of offering free meals and free food to patrons, and how their gaming centers were favorite destinations for senior citizens.

What they didn’t tell them about was their past brushes with the law — from larceny, grand theft, check kiting and witness tampering to arrests for operating illegal gambling houses in violation of Florida law.

Under Florida law, owners and operators of Internet cafes do not have to pass any criminal background checks to be in business. And only those companies that operate electronic sweepstakes games with prizes valued at more than $5,000 must register with the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Adult arcade operators do not have to register at all.

At the time of the testimony, many members of the Senate were unaware of criminal records of those very operators testifying to keep them open.  The Miami Herald continued:

Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, the chairman of the Senate Gaming Committee, said he was unaware of the criminal record of some of the people who testified before his committee but said it serves as another reason to pass the legislation.

“These are not legitimate operations,’’ he said. “We don’t know who’s running them or who owns them.”

Bill Bunkley of the Florida Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee said that the absence of regulation makes it impossible for anyone to know whether people with criminal records are clean operators or “preying on vulnerable people.”

“It’s an embarrassment that this has been operating under the radar,’’ he said. “Part of the branding of Florida is its retirement-safe community, but we’ve got an ever-increasing population that is vulnerable and you have to wonder how many of them are getting taken advantage of.’’

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