Monthly Archives: August 2015

UPDATE: Seminole Compact Negotiations resume with Florida State Government, but with a Possible Dangerous Twist

Casino Watch Focus has reported that the gambling compact between Florida and the Seminole Tribe to exclusively allow table games at their tribal casinos came to an end. The next move was for the Florida legislature to reach out and ask when the Seminoles planned to stop offering the table games. The Tribe’s position was that they are allowed to continue to offer the games because the state allowed video versions of the table games at other locations.  However, they said they wanted to negotiate and planned to keep paying the state as an act of good faith. Now, the Sun-Sentinel is reporting that negotiations are back on track, leaving those involved hopeful of a resolution: 

A stalemate between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida about the tribe’s right to offer blackjack and other games at its casinos appears to have thawed, according to a top Senate negotiator.

In the recent detente, Scott’s general counsel Tim Cerio, House Regulatory Affairs Chairman Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami and Bradley have held meetings with tribal representatives over the past three weeks, Bradley said. Scott’s administration confirmed that negotiations are continuing.

“We are making progress in discussions with the tribe. I’m hopeful that we can reach a point where we have something to offer to the membership to consider and debate,” Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said Friday. 

Time will tell if this deal will accomplish the original goal of preventing gambling expansion by keeping the more advanced, non-slot related gambling to just the existing Seminole casinos. A renewed compact has been a big push to help keep other full-blown, Vegas-style casinos out of the state. However, these new negotiations are looking at the idea of letting the Seminoles add more casinos to the Florida landscape. The Sun Sentinel explains:

Specifics of the current talks remain under wraps, but the Seminoles have expressed an interest in adding roulette and craps and expanding the number of casinos — now limited to five of their seven facilities — where they can offer banked cards. In exchange, the state would want more than the $250 million minimum annual payment now guaranteed by the tribe. Any agreement, however, would have to include some sort of “exclusivity” for the tribe and would have to be approved by the federal government.

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


Brief Look at Crime 08/17 – 08/23

Casino San Pablo gambler killed in robbery gone bad 

A gambler riding a hot streak was lured from Casino San Pablo by two women who led him to a hardscrabble Richmond street where he was fatally shot during a botched robbery attempt, a prosecutor told a Contra Costa jury Wednesday. “It was a brutal slaying of an unsuspecting victim,” Deputy District Attorney Chad Mahalich said during opening statements in the murder trial of three Richmond residents. Kevin Vilayngeun, 34, who allegedly shot Rodell Sarmiento, 43, on May 4, 2013, is charged with murder, conspiracy to commit robbery, attempted second-degree robbery and shooting at an occupied vehicle, plus enhancements. Brittany Bernard, 26, who had a child with Vilayngeun, and Boonsy Manivan, 32, Vilayngeun’s cousin, are both charged with murder, conspiracy and attempted second-degree robbery.

178 video gambling machines seized after 9-month investigation

Pennsylvania State Police and the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement served search warrants to 39 liquor licensed establishments in Westmoreland and Fayette counties for illegal video gambling. This was part of a nine-month investigation by the Gambling and Audit Unit. During the operation, officers seized a total of 178 video gambling devices and $389,214. Police say all the machines seized have been determined to be illegally designed and operated even in jurisdictions and venues where video gambling is permitted by statute and license.

Pittsburgh casino owes waitress $150K for harassment

A federal jury says Pittsburgh’s Rivers Casino sexually harassed a cocktail waitress by rescinding a lifetime ban against a high-roller accused of sexually harassing her. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports the jury awarded Allyson Pelesky $150,000 after Wednesday’s verdict. The jury will hear more evidence Thursday on whether she deserves punitive damages, too. Pelesky says the high-roller put a $1 chip into her bra and touched her breast while she was working in April 2014. State police investigated, but Pelesky agreed not to press sexual assault charges after the casino banned the player. But 40 days later, the casino rescinded the ban and, since then, Pelesky says she’s been ridiculed by other workers.

Man admits bringing counterfeit chips to poker tournament 

A man admitted Thursday that he brought millions of dollars in counterfeit poker chips to use in a casino’s poker tournament, a scheme that was uncovered when he clogged a pipe by flushing the chips down the toilet in his hotel room. Christian Lusardi, 43, of Fayetteville, North Carolina, pleaded guilty to trademark counterfeiting and criminal mischief. Under terms of a plea agreement, Lusardi will be sentenced to five years in prison. Lusardi will be required to pay the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa $463,540 for the revenue it lost when it canceled the 2014 tournament after discovering the fake chips. He also owes Harrah’s Casino Hotel $9,455 for damaging the pipes.

Hamburg man admits to investment fraud of $7 million

Christopher Venti spent 10 years cheating investors, and not one of his schemes ever made money. The Hamburg man admitted this week to enticing investors with false promises of high-yield returns and then pocketing much of the money they gave him. All told, Venti’s clients, many of them large institutional investors, lost more than $7 million. Venti also admitted withdrawing $148,000 in investor funds while at three local casinos. Those recordings, according to court papers, indicate Venti told the undercover employee that he could earn four times his initial investment without any risk. That type of promise, according to investigators, should serve as a reminder that investments that sound too good to be true, often are.

Woman stole £240k from Dorking charity for online gambling

A WOMAN stole almost a quarter of a million pounds from a social enterprise that offered jobs to people with mental health problems — spending thousands of it on internet bingo sites. Rachael Brown, of Oak Corner, Beare Green, pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud totalling £243,550 during a hearing at Guildford Crown Court on Monday. She has been warned she is facing jail. The 42-year-old used a credit and debit card in the name of the now-defunct Dorking firm Netherne Printing Solutions to gamble on the Gala and Mecca bingo sites, the court heard. Judge Neil Stewart said Brown had committed a “crime of a very serious nature, including [taking] a large sum of money and in a position of trust”. Describing itself as a “social firm trading specifically to create jobs for disabled people”, Netherne provided employment for people with learning difficulties and mental health issues.

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


Washington DC looks to Reverse Controversial Obama Administration Stance on Online Gambling through the Alternative Wire Act Interpretation

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing legal issues regarding legalized online gambling by way of an alternative Obama Administration view of the Wire Act. Recently, GOP Presidential candidate Marco Rubio, co-sponsored a bill to restore the Wire Act that is gaining momentum. A version of the bill now exists in both the Senate and the House. The implications for this reversal are far reaching as well, especially given recent state gambling expansion in areas like online lottery sales. An online source outlines those implications:

The House and Senate may take up a bill this year called the “Restoration of America’s Wire Act” (RAWA)… The bills will change existing law to outlaw most forms of online gambling and gaming, even when explicitly authorized by a state.

More than a dozen states have some kind of online lottery services and would have their preferences overridden by Washington if this law passed.

RAWA wouldn’t simply roll back the online poker and casino industries in Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey, it would also roll back online lottery sales in a number of states, including Illinois, Minnesota, Georgia and Michigan — not to mention preemptively prohibit them across the U.S.

Interestingly, some Democrats including Sen. Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) are supportive of the effort. 

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


Brief Look at Crime 08/10 – 08/16

Perth bank manager who stole $515,000 jailed for four years 

A FORMER Westpac bank manager who stole $515,000 over four months to finance his gambling addiction has been jailed for more than four years. Darren Jason Arnold, 38, pleaded guilty to abusing his position at the Northbridge branch in Perth to steal money between December 2013 and March 2014. He only stopped when he was found by Westpac investigators with “his hand in the till” trying to take $85,000 from the bank’s treasury. The District Court of Western Australia heard on Friday that Arnold’s crime spree started when his wife wanted to buy a bigger house for their family. She was unaware of his gambling addiction and the $200,000 of unsecured loans he had in his name. The couple bought a $720,000 house, mortgaged for its full value, prompting Arnold to try to gamble his way out of financial difficulty.

Moka café shooting: Jason Hay wanted for first-degree murder 

York Regional Police issued a Canada-wide arrest warrant for the man they allege shot two people to death and wounded two more inside Vaughan’s Moka café earlier this summer. Police say Jason Hay, 27, of Mississauga is wanted in connection with the slayings. Christopher de Simone, 24, a regular café patron, and Maria Voci, 47, who worked at the eatery, were killed when a gunman opened fire on the morning of June 24. Two other people were injured in the shooting. York police have said the shooting appears to be targeted, but have not said who the target was. The police investigation also revealed an illegal gambling operation was being run out of the back of the café.

2 Sentenced for Running Muli-Million Dollar International Sports Betting Ring

Two brothers who ran an international sports betting ring have been sentenced in California to federal prison. A judge in San Diego sentenced Jan Portocarrero to 18 months on Friday. Erik Portocarrero was given 22 months. They also were fined $50,000. The two pleaded guilty to racketeering. Prosecutors say the brothers ran an Internet and telephone gambling enterprise called “Macho Sports” for more than a decade from a headquarters in Lima, Peru. Authorities say the company took millions of dollars in bets from customers throughout California, strong-armed debtors and laundered proceeds. An FBI investigation began in 2011 and led to 18 arrests in Los Angeles, San Diego and Norway, where Erik Portocarrero lived at the time. All 18 have now pleaded guilty. Nearly $12 million in assets were seized.

Identity thieves target Walmart customers

“To cash a check at Walmart, it is all based on your Social Security number. You sign up with Walmart to get the check cashing privileges,” said Anderchak. And once you sign up, all you have to do to cash a check is enter your Social Security number. The MacVitties would travel to Walmarts in city after city and wait for people to approach the customer service desk area to cash a check. “Typically, Jennifer would stand a short distance behind the victim, on an angle, and use her smartphone to zoom in and videotape the entry of the Social Security number,” said Anderchak. This is called “shoulder surfing.” In a 12-15 month span, the team stole more than 900 Social Security numbers. “He would enter the victim’s Social Security number. He would cash a counterfeit check,” said Anderchak. Walmart investigators worked with postal inspectors to track down the MacVitties. They were caught in Las Vegas where they had gambled away most of the money they’d taken.

Broker Who Stole $4.4M From His Mother, Alzheimer’s Patient Banned By SEC

A Redlands, Calif., investment broker has admitted to stealing from funds controlled by his elderly mother and an Alzheimer’s patient to help friends buy luxury goods and pay off gambling debts, according to the SEC. John T. Thornes, the former owner of Redlands-based Thornes & Associates, has been barred from associating with financial professionals as part of an administrative order from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that imposes remedial sanctions in the case. Thornes allegedly misappropriated approximately $4.4 million from two brokerage accounts: The Schultz Trust account, on which he was the trustee, and the Harbison Scholarship Trust account, on which he was the investment advisor to the trustee and his mother, Doreen Thornes.

Parents covered windows to hide kids in hot car to gamble

A Meridian couple is charged with Felony Child Abuse after Gulfport police say they left their children in a hot car while they went gambling. Saturday afternoon, James Terrell Dunn parked his car in the Island View Casino parking lot and, according to police, told a security guard his windows were covered in order to protect the interior of his car from the sun. What he didn’t say was that his two kids were also inside. About an hour later, the casino’s security guard took a closer look at the car and noticed a 9-year-old girl and an 11-year-old boy had been left behind. The engine was off and the windows were secured. The officer also noted that the temperature at that time was 95 degrees with a heat index of 109 degrees. The children were taken into custody by the Mississippi Department of Human Services. Officials said they were sweaty, but fine. Police say the investigation is ongoing.

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


Daily Fantasy Sports Gambling Companies DraftKings and FanDuel begin Lobbying in Florida

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the growing industry of daily fantasy sports (DFS) and how more and more people are starting to recognize it as gambling. A typical fantasy game takes place over the course of a season and involves a great amount of skill to successfully play. However, when you draft and play with a new group of players each day, its simply a game of chance, especially when the same players can be selected by opposing players. So far, the industries two giants, DraftKings and FanDuel, have been able to continue providing daily gambling games with no regulations. However, the more and more that these fantasy “games” are exposed as gambling, the more likely that they will be treated as gambling, complete with legislation and regulations. As a result of the negative attention, the two companies are looking to proactively lobby key jurisdictions and locations as a way to prevent the necessary regulation against them. An online source explains why they have started their lobbying in Florida:

DraftKings, FanDuel, and the Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA) will start lobbying Florida government officials to guard the legal status of daily fantasy sports in the state, as first reported at *SaintPetersBlog.com.

FSTA chairman Peter Schoenke* confirmed the retention of Ballard to Legal Sports Report and outlined the reasons behind the move.

“We continue to boost the FSTA’s resources in states with a large number of fantasy sports players to ensure that residents there can continue to fully play fantasy sports,” Schoenke said. “And certainly there’s an added benefit with both CBS and FanDuel and several more fantasy sports companies having operations in the state.” 

Beyond simply seeing the Florida landscape as being one with a rich, existing, gambling player base, and beyond the fact that there are some key organizations located directly in Florida, there is another key reason to begin efforts in Florida, even before legislation is being proposed to regulate this new industry: The online source continues: 

Daniel Wallach an attorney who is an expert on the intersection of sports law and gaming law for Becker & Poliakoff (based in Florida), penned an article entitled “Florida’s Uncertain Legal Landscape for Fantasy Sports: A Closer Look” in June.

Wallach notes in his opinion that, unlike most states, the legality of DFS under Florida law does not hinge on its status as a “skill game.” Without rehashing Wallach’s legal analysis in full, it can be illegal to operate game of skills for money, as well, depending on a number of factors, including “correlation between the entry fees and prizes awarded.”

There actually are no laws that address fantasy sports directly in Florida, and the legal status of DFS could depend largely on an attorney general’s opinion from 1991, if challenged in court.

In fact, Wallach notes that the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission actually referred to the Florida AG opinion in its initial stance, saying DFS constituted an “illegal lottery.” Earlier this year, however, Kansas passed a bill legalizing fantasy sports for money, rendering the KRGC stance moot. 

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


Brief Look at Crime 08/03 – 08/09

Two former Big Lot employees accused of stealing over $450,000 from dealership

Two former employees of a Moorhead- and Detroit Lakes-based auto dealership are accused of embezzling more than $450,000 from the dealership. The co-owner of Big Lot contacted Moorhead police in May 2014 to report that he and his employees had started wondering why the businesses weren’t making any money, and discovered Larson and Cambronne had stolen more than $300,000, according to court documents filed with the charges. In his police interview, Cambronne told police he suffered from a gambling problem. He admitted to taking money from Big Lot, but didn’t think it was as much as police were telling him. The company’s cash shortage amounted to $450,815.80, with $254,292.52 of that linked to Cambronne’s bank accounts, documents state.

Batman-obsessed Georgia sheriff stole taxpayer money to gamble, shot real estate agent friend

The residents of Clayton County, Georgia, best knew Hill as a man with an odd obsession with Batman. A fixture in the community, Hill was known for the large Batman statue guarding his office and handing out custom-made medallions bearing his face on one side and the Batman logo on the other. For Hill, who’s campaigned under the monicker of “The Crimefighter,” the superhero obsession wasn’t just a little quirk. Since the beginning of his trial, Hill’s withdrawn from the public eye and repeatedly denied requests from the media for comment, but an investigation by a local news outlet has revealed that his obsession with the Bruce Wayne lifestyle is actually much more intense than previously thought.Records of Hill’s finances during his time as a sheriff reveal that he’s expensed a number of big-ticket trips across the country to hotels and casinos under the guise of attending professional development courses. Hill attended several martial arts workshops and survivalist conventions in addition to buying friends expensive gifts and dinners. All of this spending was done with taxpayer dollars. “Victor Hill has had a laundry list of questionable activity,” Ryan Splitlog, assistant director of Common Cause Georgia, told The Daily Beast. Clayton County Police Department Sheriff Victor Hill is under investigation for his involvement in the accidental, but brutal, shooting of his friend Gwenevere McCord, a local real estate agent. Hill shot McCord while she was showing a model home this past May. “With the freak shooting and all this wasteful spending, it makes you question whether he should be Clayton County sheriff.”

$2 million seized from Ohio casino winners for child support 

Ohio authorities say they have seized $2 million in unpaid child support from jackpot winners at the state’s casinos and racinos in the past 11 months. Since last September, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services has been working with the casinos and racinos to check jackpot winners against a database of parents who owe child support. If a winner owes, then all or part of the jackpot is withheld. The agency says Ohio’s county child support enforcement offices collect 69 percent of all child support owed, better than the national average of 64 percent. Ohio consistently ranks in the top five of all states for collections on current support due, and exceeds the national average for establishing paternity.

Zimbabwean Stole $255K in Canada for Gambling

A Zim diasporan based in Calgary, Canada has been nabbed for multiple charges of fraudulently enriching himself to sums up to $255,000. Simbarashe Nzvimbo (29) is listed for allegedly forging bank drafts he “stole” from a bank he worked at. He was charged after his employer contacted the Police late in July and reported that “they had discovered a theft of bank drafts, and that the drafts had been forged and used to obtain large sums of money at a local casino,” police said on Wednesday. They have since have charged him with money laundering after bank drafts were stolen, forged and used to obtain large sums of money at a local casino.

5 years for Nifty Fifty’s CPA who stole $3.8M, evaded $2.2M in taxes 

William Frio, 58, was sentenced to five years in federal prison for helping the Nifty Fifty´s restaurant chain evade $2.2 million in taxes and stealing $3.8 million from the chain´s owners.William Frio, 58, was sentenced to five years in federal prison for helping the Nifty Fifty’s restaurant chain evade $2.2 million in taxes and stealing $3.8 million from the chain’s owners. To his family and friends, William Frio was a devoted son, diligent coach and dedicated mentor. But according to his defense attorney, at the same time Frio was held in such high regard, he was an “addicted, desperate mess of a man.” Prosecutors used plainer language. They called Frio a liar, a cheater, and an embezzler who “lived a life of insistent criminality.” Frio fed his personal gambling addiction by draining the chain’s tax accounts of nearly $4 million. On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Mary A. McLaughlin sentenced Frio to five years in federal prison for his role in the tax evasion scheme.

Ringleaders of violent gambling racket sentenced on eve of football season 

The ringleaders of Macho Sports, an international gambling operation that often used threats of violence to get its customers to pay, are scheduled to be sentenced on Friday — but one person believes the government is letting them off easy. Jan Harald Portocarrero, 42, and his brother, Erik, 44, the masterminds behind the Peru-based operation, were indicted in June 2013 on racketeering and gambling charges — along with 16 other members of Macho Sports, including bookies and runners. While courts papers allege the two used intimidation and violence, especially against customers delinquent on making payments, the San Diego US Attorney has asked for sentences of less than three years for the duo. “These dangerous criminals are only being put in prison for a minimal amount of time when clearly they should be in jail and off the streets for a very long time,” the person said. “Justice will definitely not be served if that is all the time these two ruthless and cunning criminals receive.” As part of their May 2015 guilty pleas, the brothers agreed to forfeit nearly $12 million in cash, property and other valuables.

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


Seminole Gambling Compact Ends, Florida Asks Tribe to Shut Down Table Games

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing tension between the Florida legislature and the Seminole Tribe as they have failed to renegotiate a renewal of the long standing gambling compact. The compact allows the Seminoles to offer table games exclusively at their tribal casinos in exchance for monetary compensation to the state. The deadline for renewal was set for the end of the month and they were unable to reach a deal. As part of the agreement, the Seminole tribe is supposed to stop dealing the table games. The legislature has reached out to find out when they plan to stop. The Orlando Sentinel reports: 

A deal authorizing blackjack and other types of card games at casinos such as the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa expires on Friday.

The state’s top gambling regulator wrote a letter to the tribe chairman Monday asking for a meeting where tribal leaders are expected to give state officials a timeline for closing down blackjack tables.

Ken Lawson, the secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, pointed out that the existing compact requires the tribe to close its blackjack tables within 90 days if legislators do not renew the provision. A proposal to extend the games for one year was considered but did not pass the Florida Legislature.

With no new negotiations moving forward, the deal appears to be heading to court. The Seminole Tribe believes the State violated the compact thereby allowing them to continue to offer table games, albeit not exclusively. The Orlando Sentinel continues: 

Last month, Tribal Council Chairman James Billie wrote a letter to state officials asserting the casinos could keep the card games in place beyond the expiration date because Florida regulators violated the gambling agreement by allowing South Florida race tracks to offer electronic versions of card games.

That letter called for state and tribal officials to meet in the next 30 days to try to resolve the dispute. Both sides met in mid-July but no agreement was reached. The next steps are likely a formal mediation session followed then the two sides squaring off in federal court The tribe, however, said it would continue to make payments to the state for the card games as a “gesture of good faith.”

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