Monthly Archives: November 2017

Gambling-esque Loot Boxes in Battlefront II – EA’s new Star Wars Video Game – draw ire of fans and scrutiny of foreign & domestic law makers – Disney Forced to Step In

Casino Watch Focus has reported on a potential new gambling medium that is proving to be exceptionally lucrative to video game companies, and even more exploitative of its customers, often times children. Known as loot boxes, they are purchasable boxes that are opened to receive an in-game prize. It’s a bit of a gamble as to what item will come out and players are becoming addicted to chasing after the more desirable loot.

Typically, the video game model either allows for a game to be played for free, but then requires micro transactions or loot boxes to speed up the game or provide the items needed to advance, a scheme known as pay to win. Gamers have generally accepted this practice because they aren’t required to pay for the game. Those transactions are typically optional and if not, many gamers don’t mind paying given the game was free. The other model used is that a video game company charges full price for a game, typically $60, and all the content of the game is accessible to the player. However, EA, the studio with rights to Disney’s Star Wars license, has created a model that screams of greed, as you are required to pay full price for the game, and yet you still need to spend extra money to unlock the games content and to remain competitive against other online players. Gamers have pushed back, thrusting the issue of gambling and loot boxes into mainstream media. In their game, Battlefront II, players pay full price for the game, but can’t progress or unlock characters without getting items from loot boxes. The Washington Post explains:

Imagine buying a new chess set. Chess is your favorite game. Also you love “Star Wars.” It’s a Star Wars chess set! Now imagine playing your friend who spent $200 for the random chance that his pawns obtain the board-clearing powers of a queen. Plus his king looks like Darth Vader and yours still looks like a scruffy-looking nerf herder. You might get mad. Or you might up the ante and spend a few hundred bucks to even the odds. Now imagine that you’re both children.

Loot boxes have become increasingly normal in recent years, included in games like the popular shooter “Overwatch” as well as the recent “Call of Duty” game. Publishers claim that because development costs of top games rival Hollywood summer blockbusters, selling post-release digital content is needed to make up costs.

But with “Star Wars,” creating a random loot economy raised flags because some consider the practice akin to gambling, and the brand is marketed heavily toward children. Beyond that, most other competitive games do not offer “pay to win” advantages, which imbalances the game to favor paying players.

EA says loot boxes are not a requirement and that in-game play will result in the same unlocked characters or upgrades needed to be successful.  However, one Redditor did the math and to unlock all the content you would need to play the game for months on end (40 hours to unlock just Luke Skywalker for example) , or you would need to spend around $2100 in loot boxes to achieve the goal quicker, which was clearly EA’s goal.  EA then adjusted the amount of time needed to unlock the content by a considerable amount, but still left in the loot boxes, thus still allowing players to pay their way into a competitive advantage.  This caused even more backlash and has cause many who weren’t otherwise paying attention, to examine gambling’s role in loot boxes. As the Washington Post points out, the outcry and links to gambling were so bad, government organization are now taking note, including Belgium’s gaming commission. This lead Disney to reach out to EA as they obviously don’t want child gambling issues being linked to their Star Wars franchise. Unfortunately, EA is seemingly only temporarily removing the loot boxes. Truthfully, this is likely due to the fact that sales for the game have plummeted, seeing half as many games sold as the first Battlefield, and they need to at least get the initial copies sold. Most gamers believe they will reintroduce the loot boxes later, but Disney is at least supporting this temporary measure. The Washington Post continues:

Weeks of public outcry culminated in the game’s publisher, EA, taking to Reddit to defend itself on the controversy. That comment became the most downvoted (or disliked) post in the site’s 12-year history.

On Thursday, Jimmy Pitaro, chairman of Disney’s consumer products and interactive media division, made a call to EA hours before the decision was made to pull in-game purchases. The Wall Street Journal reported that the call was to express Disney executives’ unhappiness at how the outrage “reflected on their marquee property.” And a Disney/Lucasfilm spokesman said the company supports EA’s temporary decision to end the crate-purchasing.

Even thought gamers’ outrage about EA’s greed on social media and sites like Reddit that is largely responsible for this newfound focus on loot boxes in the gaming industry stemmed from unbalanced play and corporate greed, the gambling issue is still very much at the forefront. Many have long recognized their gambling nature and other governments have already sought regulation. The Post concludes:

For years, critics and gaming psychologists have criticized loot boxes. While it may not legally be gambling, they say, the same intermittent nature of rewards and spending is in place. “If you put it in fundamental terms, it’s really the same thing,” said Kimberly Young, a licensed psychologist and founder of the Center for Internet Addiction. “It’s called gambling.”

Loot boxes were popularized in China and Korea, where the practice is now regulated. Just this year, developers in China became required to disclose the probabilities of loot boxes in popular games like “Overwatch” and “Hearthstone.” In 2012, South Korea introduced a law that would require major gaming companies to add features that let parents limit how long their children can play the video games. “Americans are falling so far behind what other countries are doing, and it’s all about profit,” Young said. “You have gaming lobbyists who don’t want us to talk about this. We just haven’t had it come to a head yet.”

A Call to Action:

Hawaii’s government has decided to look into loot boxes’ predatory, gambling nature as well, and they were probably the most vocal and direct with how dangerous this practice can be for children calling the game “a Star Wars themed, online casino designed to lure kids into spending money.” Kotaku, a popular video game publication, provides the video press conference and written comments made by Hawaiian legislator Rep. Chris Lee about how you can help, beyond the obvious boycott of EA’s Battlefront II: 

While we are stepping up to act in Hawaii, we have also been in discussions with our counterparts in a number of other states who are also considering how to address this issue. Change is difficult at the federal level, but states can and are taking action.

Even so, elected officials can’t do it alone. They need your support and you can compel action wherever you live by calling and emailing your own state legislators and asking them to act. But don’t stop there. Call your allies. Call your pastors and teachers and community leaders. Ask them to call your state legislators as well. Their voices are politically powerful.

These kinds of lootboxes and microtransactions are explicitly designed to prey upon and exploit human psychology in the same way casino games are so designed. This is especially true for young adults who child psychologists and other experts explain are particularly vulnerable. These exploitive mechanisms and the deceptive marketing promoting them have no place in games being marketed to minors, and perhaps no place in games at all.

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

A Brief Look at Crime 11/13 – 11/19

‘Property Wars’ star agrees to $2M, jail time deal in Phoenix fraud case

A former “Property Wars” star agreed to a plea deal in a Phoenix fraud case Tuesday that will see him pay $2 million in restitution and serve at least a decade behind bars. “[Scott Menaged] pleaded guilty to three charges: Conspiracy to commit bank fraud, aggravated identity theft and money laundering conspiracy,” IRS Special Agent Brian Watson said. In May, Menaged pleaded not guilty in the case. According to the plea agreement, Menaged and three others obtained more than 2,700 loans between June 2013 and January 2016 worth more than $730 million. Menaged pleaded guilty to embezzling $34 million of that for personal expenses, car payments, Las Vegas trips, gambling and large transfers of funds to friends and family. “It was basically a scheme where they obtaining loans that they weren’t entitled to, using the names of deceased individuals, to get those loans,” Watson said.

Financial advisor conned elderly people out of over £800,000

A man has been sentenced to 40 months in prison after he conned elderly people out of a total of £844,010 to fund his gambling addiction. Mark Pickering, of Rowley Close in Swadlincote, appeared at Nottingham Crown Court today (Thursday 19 October 2017) having pleaded guilty to eight counts of fraud by abuse of position of trust on Monday 14 August. The 50-year-old was working as a self-employed Financial Advisor, when he persuaded eight people to provide him with their savings on the pretence that they would be placed into legitimate investment schemes. But instead, Pickering paid the money into his own account to fund his online gambling addiction. In July 2016, Pickering approached an investment company he was working with and notified them of the theft of funds from his clients. The police investigation that immediately followed, revealed he had lost nearly £1,155,000 through gambling online over a number of years.

Former Southeast Missouri Nursing Home Owner Sentenced to Prison for Embezzling $667,000

The former CEO of Benchmark Healthcare in southeast Missouri’s Festus is heading to federal prison, for embezzling $667,000 in Medicaid funds. Johnnie Mac Sells was sentenced on Friday to pay back the money he pocketed, and also to serve 41 months in prison, the maximum sentence allowed under federal law. Sells admitted to spending $185,000 of the Medicaid funds at gentlemen’s clubs, $15,000 on pet care, $4,500 at casinos and $12,000 in country club fees between 2014-15. Due to Sells embezzlement, Benchmark went without money to spend on food and other supplies for their residents. The meals residents were given included a clear bowl of broth and a cookie. The facility lost Medicare and Medicaid eligibility, and shut down in 2016. Cells attorney requested a lesser sentence, but it was denied.

Farmington woman pleads guilty to running illegal gambling ring

A Farmington, Mo., woman pleaded guilty in federal court here Wednesday to running an illegal gambling ring and money laundering. Carol Jean Hazer, 60, admitted she ran an illegal “high stakes” sports betting operation and filed fraudulent tax returns to hide the nearly $500,000 she made from the gambling ring, prosecutors said. Hazer used some of the money to buy a house and a car, prosecutors said. She faces up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $500,000. A district court judge will determine Hazer’s sentence Jan. 17. The case was investigated by the FBI and IRS.

3 charged in gruesome alleged Long Island dog fighting operation

Three people are now charged following a crackdown of what authorities are describing as a barbaric dog fighting ring on Long Island. Authorities say the pit bulls were bred and kept in deplorable conditions while being trained to fight to the death, all for the profit of their owners. Investigators describe it as a sickening yet sophisticated training operation, and three men from Wyandanch are facing multiple felony counts related to animal cruelty. The suspects were identified as 34-year-old Richard Davis, 49-year-old Martin Newkirk and 26-year-old Taikeem Wheeler. Authorities say 36 dogs were rescued, half of them puppies including one that was only a week old. Three of the dogs had to be euthanized. Schneiderman also said that the dogs were given performance enhancers, were tethered at times, and were forced to wear weighted vests and run on treadmills to become stronger and tougher. According to Schneiderman, it is estimated that at least 40,000 people are involved with dog fighting across the country. The illegal gambling from dog fighting can earn organizers tens of thousands of dollars at a time.

Ex-cop, son admit to roles in $4 million illegal sports-betting scheme

An ex-cop who once spent time in prison for participating in an advertising scheme, has racked up another felony conviction, this time for his role in illegal Internet-based sports gambling rings, which, authorities said, hauled in about $4 million in wagers. Ciro Barone, 68, of West Brighton, has pleaded guilty to a felony count of promoting gambling and a misdemeanor count of conspiracy. His son, Woodrow resident Paul Barone, who was 32 when arrested in January, has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of attempting to promote gambling. Prosecutors said the Barones worked from Jan. 18, 2015, through Jan. 3, 2016, with a co-defendant, Woodrow resident Robert Rossi, who managed bettor accounts from a wire room. Father and son passed out gambling accounts to bettors, while recruiting new clients and collecting wagers and doling out winnings, said an indictment. In a recorded phone conversation on Sept. 5, 2015, Ciro Barone told an unidentified person he received a “commission” of 30 percent if the user of a certain account lost money placing bets, the indictment alleges. 

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

Update: Florida Voters in Charge Amendment Reaches State Signature Requirement and Receives backing from Disney and Seminole Tribe

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing progression of signatures gathered to place a new amendment on the Florida ballot aimed and controlling gambling better in the state. The proposal would require any gambling legislation passed by the Florida Government to get a vote of the people to pass. Disney has been a backer of the amendment and now it appears the Seminole Tribe has joined in support. The Tribe has a vested interest in keeping gambling to a minimum, given they are one of only a few means to gambling in the state. Still, they have had a difficult time recently with the Florida government adhering to the agreement to keep certain gambling activities restricted in the state, so its unsurprising that they would back additional gambling expansion safeguards. In addition to their support, its being reported that the Voters in Charge amendment has reached the signature threshold to allow the measure to be voted on by the people. An online source explains: 

Voters in Charge is pushing the Voter Control of Gaming Amendment. If the group can obtain the necessary 766,200 signatures to put the issue before voters, Florida residents would decide next fall on the forcing all future gaming expansion to be decided by the voters directly. Outside of the state lottery, parimutuel racinos, and Native American casinos, gambling is supposed to be illegal in Florida. But state lawmakers have gotten crafty in recent years, allowing for parimutuel venues to dance a fine line between racetrack or jai-alai fronton and full-fledged casino.

Well-funded by the Seminoles and Disney, Voters in Charge seems to have plenty of support to get the ballot question before voters. The group said in a release that it has obtained 860,203 signatures, far more than the 766,200 needed. Voters in Charge Chairman John Sowinski said election officials are currently in the process of validating the signatures.

A poll this year found that 84 percent of Floridians “want to reduce or hold the line on gambling.” While this research was commissioned by a lobbying firm working closely with the anti-casino activist group, they now have support from the biggest pro-casino group in the state in an effort to maintain the competitive status quo. 

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

A Brief Look at Crime 11/06 – 11/12

Gambling addict ‘killed dad and daughter, 8, when he torched their house to destroy CCTV of him robbing

A GAMBLING addict killed a dad and daughter when he torched their home to destroy CCTV footage of him robbing a neighbour, a court heard. Daniel Jones is accused of pouring petrol through the letterbox of the Broadhead family house after he stole from a safe in a nearby home. The 29-year-old, who had a “major gambling problem”, filled up containers with petrol before starting the horrific blaze at 4.17am, Leeds Crown Court heard. Neighbours rushed to save the family and rescued mum Sara Broadhead and elder daughter Mia, now 36 and 14. But the “smoke and heat from the fire made it impossible” for them to rescue Andrew, 42, and Kiera, eight. Both were pronounced dead at the scene in Wakefield, West Yorks. Prosecuting, Jonathan Sharp, said: “This is a tragic case in many ways. Andrew and Sara Broadhead lived with their daughters Mia and Kiera.

Guns, money and drugs seized during illegal gambling bust in San Bernardino

Police seized several guns, gambling machines, some drugs and in excess of $100,000 in cash from several locations in San Bernardino — all part of a crackdown on illegal gambling, police said. “We’ve got multiple people in custody,” said San Bernardino police Lt. Mike Madden about the operation that targeted five businesses and one residence. Madden identified the owner of the locations as Jihad Saker, 57, of San Bernardino. He was arrested but information was not immediately available about the bail amount set. Fourteen people were arrested but names were not immediately available Thursday afternoon. Locations that were raided included a site in the 1700 block of Base Line and another in the 1100 block of West 17th Street, officials said. Some 35 gaming machines were seized along with computer hard drives. All five locations were associated with the same group of people, officials said.

Former Skagway tribal administrator signs guilty plea admitting to embezzlement

A former Skagway tribal administrator has signed a guilty plea admitting to embezzlement. Delia Commander used tribal government funds to pay for things like gambling and personal travel. Commander worked as tribal administrator of the Skagway Traditional Council between 2008 and 2014. Her unauthorized purchases were discovered when a new administrator took over. She was indicted by an Anchorage grand jury in May. In the plea agreement signed late last month, Commander admits to one of four embezzlement charges. In return for pleading guilty to embezzlement from an Indian tribal organization, the U.S. Attorney’s office will dismiss three charges of embezzling from an organization receiving federal funding. The two parties agree that Commander caused a loss of between $250,000 and $550,000. The Skagway Traditional Council receives the majority of its funding from the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. The council also gets project funding from the EPA. The plea deal says Commander misused more than $250,000 in tribal funds over a four-year period. She spent tribal money on school tuition, gambling, credit card debt and a trip to Hawaii with her daughter.

Gambling care home manager plundered £100k from frail 97-year-old resident and blew it on BING

A gambling care home manager plundered £100,00 from a frail 97-year-old resident’s account before before blowing it in BINGO halls. Heartless Carleen Wilkins used the woman’s card and pin to withdraw the maximum amount of cash from the victim’s account almost EVERY DAY since 2012. The ruthless 40-year-old even took the confused pensioner to Lloyds bank in Handsworth to withdraw £4000 in cash, where her dishonesty finally came to light. The court heard the defendant “gambled away” the cash she stole at bingo halls and casinos. Wilkins, of Overdale Road, Quinton, who had previously admitted theft, was sentenced to 31 months at Birmingham Crown Court on Thursday. “She was described by her employer as someone who could be trusted, “ said Amrisha Parathalingam, prosecuting. Christian Wasunna, defending, said Wilkins had already been gambling before she started her employment and she had hoped to pay back the money she had taken through winnings.

Ex-banker gets 5-year sentence for stealing customers’ money

A former assistant manager at a central Indiana bank has been sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty to stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from depositors’ accounts. Sixty-five-year-old Diane Renee Bizzell said during Monday’s sentencing that she stole the money from customers at a First Merchants Bank in Muncie after becoming addicted to playing the slot machines at the Hoosier Park Racing & Casino in Anderson. The Muncie woman pleaded guilty in August to seven counts of theft, six counts of identity deception and one count of check fraud. The Star Press reports a First Merchants official told the Delaware County judge that the cost to the bank and its insurance company exceeded $470,000 in replenishing the victims’ accounts and conducting an investigation of Bizzell’s actions.

Waitress charged with swiping $470K from elderly woman

A Brooklyn waitress who played nice with an elderly widow — to siphon off nearly half a million bucks from the 84-year-old’s bank account — has been indicted, authorities said Tuesday. Alicia Legall was charged with grand larceny and identity theft for pocketing $470,000 from the victim — dough she blew at the racetracks and casino and on lingerie, according to the Brooklyn DA’s office. Legall, 46, first met her victim at the diner where the waitress worked in 2002, authorities said. She then spent years gaining access to the woman’s personal information, including her birthday, address, Social Security number and banking and credit card information, officials said. The widow, thinking the pair were friends, gave Legall permission to use her card to make small purchases for her at an area drug store, authorities said. Instead, Legall allegedly charged $73,399 in cash advances and $204,390 in purchases — dropping money at Apple, JetBlue, Victoria’s Secret, New York Racing Authority’s buffets and bars, the Belmont Racetrack, Harrah’s in Atlantic City and hotels, clubs and restaurants across Florida.

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

Florida Sen. Tom Lee Proposes Unique way to Ban Greyhound Racing, but is it Meaningful and Helpful Change or a Decoupling Effort Aimed at Gambling Expansion?

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing struggles of Florida’s greyhound industry and efforts to remove the races, but keep the slot machine gambling, an act known as decoupling. As it stands, to offer slot machines, the tracks must maintain a certain level of dog racing. Many see the terrible conditions for the animals as reason enough to shut down the industry and others want to not only protect the dogs, but Florida’s families by removing the full scope of gambling happening at the 12 tracks across Florida. Florida state Sen. Tom Lee, and former Senate President Don Gaetz are approaching the issue in unique way. As an online source explainsthe current methods to ban greyhound racing have failed due to the ability for those in opposition to add gambling expansion and other amendments to the bill that would make it undesirable. They now think the have a way around this issue:

Gaetz and state Sen. Tom Lee, both members of the Constitutional Revision Committee convened early this year, are listed as co-introducers of a measure “to prohibit wagering on greyhound or other dog races.”

Gaetz called the gaming event known as the Sport of Kings “a cruel, abusive practice” and noted that twice when he served as Senate President he had proposed legislation to ban greyhound racing. Both times the measure had passed the Senate and failed in the House.

Then-House Speaker Will Weatherspoon had been hesitant to have a companion bill to his legislation brought up for consideration, Gaetz said, because doing so would allow for amendment proposals that could serve to expand all sorts of gambling opportunities in the state.

“He was afraid we could move from a very humane bill about greyhounds to amended legislation creating a dramatic expansion of casino gambling,” Gaetz said. “It was a real tragedy we couldn’t get a clean bill banning greyhound racing passed.” As Constitution Revision Commission members, though, Gaetz and Lee can control the wording of the amendment they propose without fear of amendments being added. The proposed amendment would then be voted upon by state residents. “This seems like a better environment for this proposal,” Gaetz said.

If the proposed amendment is an outright ban of greyhound racing and doesn’t allow the site operators to stay open and operate mini-casinos by way of legally allowed slot parlors, the measure can be viewed as a win for the animals and Florida families. If, however, the measure simply prevents additional gambling amendments, but still leaves mini-casinos behind via decoupling, then it’s not nearly as beneficial as it appears on face. Some are skeptical. Former Florida Lieutenant Governor Jeff Kottkamp has been outspoken against decoupling and his article in Florida Politics outlines the decoupling potential:

State Sen. *Tom Lee* has proposed a constitutional amendment, as a member of the state’s Constitutional Revision Commission, that would end live greyhound racing and allow all 12 of Florida’s greyhound tracks to essentially continue operating as mini casinos.

It has been suggested that the proposal is an animal welfare proposal. There have been numerous attempts to end live racing in the Legislature over the years. All of those efforts have failed, in large part, because most members of the Legislature oppose the dramatic expansion of gambling that would result from such efforts.

It must also be noted however; his end goal is not to solely or altruistically oppose the act because gambling would left in the wake, as so many others do. He openly represents Florida Greyhound Association, so to that end, their goal is to keep greyhound racing alive. The rational and motivation behind each particular path can become muddled, but the reality of how this issue will be resolved is in the air until final language is seen. The intent of this measure is certainly being outlined from an animal welfare standpoint though, so time will tell what the final wording will be or even if it will make it to voters. The Bradenton Herald explains:

Dog racing is banned in 40 states and controversy surrounds the industry. Opponents say dogs are mistreated and have tested positive for cocaine, according to reports. According to the Tallahassee Democrat, at least 22 greyhounds have tested positive for cocaine this year and state figures show nearly 400 dogs have died at Florida tracks since 2013.

“There is growing recognition that many of these animals live in inhumane conditions, a reality that is out of line with the moral standard of Floridians,” Lee said in a statement. “For over a decade, the Legislature has fought to end greyhound racing, but special interests derail the issue every year. Now is our opportunity to finally end the mistreatment of greyhounds, reduce the amount of gambling in our state, and restore community values.”

Lee is on the Constitution Revision Commission, which has the power to place amendments on the ballot and meets every 20 years. Lee would need to convince the majority of the commission members to allow the proposal on the 2018 ballot before the decision would be passed to voters, according to the Democrat.

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

A Brief Look at Crime 10/30 – 11/05

Winter Haven woman who stole $1.8 Million from stepfather to be resentenced to prison

Wanda Imber, who was sentenced to house arrest in May 2016 after a jury found her guilty of stealing about $1.8 million from her elderly stepfather, is about to lose her freedom. An appellate court has ruled that Circuit Judge J. Dale Durrance erred when he departed from state sentencing guidelines and sentenced her to community control, sidestepping prison. The 2nd District Court of Appeal has ordered that she be given a guidelines sentence, which calls for a minimum 25 years in state prison. Court testimony showed she’d written 466 checks, totaling $1.76 million, to herself from Adams’ personal checking account between 2007 and 2014. The missing funds came to light in 2014 when Adams’ son, Alan, discovered irregularities in the account of Landmark Investments, a family-owned business in Winter Haven, triggering audits of his father’s financial accounts. During her trial, prosecutors said she had spent more than $1 million on credit cards and at least $500,000 more gambling.

Woman who stole from elderly goes to prison

With documented losses well into the six figures, Illinois State Police continue to investigate a theft case that already has resulted in a prison sentence. Coliene Moore, 69, was hit with a restitution order exceeding $636,000 when Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge John Belz sentenced her last month to four years for stealing from her elderly aunt. Ruth Lanier, now deceased, was 85 when Moore stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from her during a three-month period that ended in February of 2012. Authorities say that Moore also stole nearly $82,000 from her mother, Mary Catherine Dormire, who was in her 90s when her daughter, her mother’s caretaker, raided bank accounts. Dormire is now deceased. “Make no mistake, this is a callous, cold, calculating elder abuse crime spree,” Belz said when he sentenced Moore on Aug. 15. “Money was taken in astronomical, almost unbelievable amounts from people who didn’t deserve it.” Moore’s husband filed for divorce on Sept. 13, telling the court that he had no idea that his wife was in legal trouble or had stolen money until she was arrested at Memorial Medical Center in August, two days after going to the hospital with complaints of a blood clot instead of going to court, where she was due to be sentenced. The no-show prompted Judge Belz to issue an arrest warrant. In his divorce petition, Jeffrey Moore says he believes that his wife might have a gambling problem.

Ignoring order, gambling ship rode out Hurricane Irma docked at Port Canaveral

The U.S. Coast Guard plans to investigate the circumstances surrounding the Victory I gambling ship remaining in Port Canaveral during Hurricane Irma, despite an order for the ship to leave the port in advance of the storm. Port Canaveral closed before the storm, and there was an order in effect that ships such as the Victory I were supposed be out of the port. Port Canaveral Chief Executive Officer John Murray said most owners made sure their vessels either left the area or were stored on land, as required during Hurricane Irma. But some didn’t. Murray said the Victory I gambling ship and 14 smaller recreational boats remained in the port’s waters during the storm. Murray said having the gambling ship in port during Irma “could have caused catastrophic damage” at the port if it had managed to break free. “Neither the port nor the Coast Guard wanted that boat in port” during Irma, Murray said.

B.C. casinos are used to launder millions in drug cash

In late August, at a Vancouver conference attended by U.S. and Canadian law enforcement officials, RCMP Insp. Bruce Ward outlined the details of E-Pirate, the investigation into Silver International, Asian organized crime groups, and an alleged $500-million-plus international money laundering service run from Richmond. Central to the money laundering probe, allege B.C. government documents, is suspect Paul King Jin, a 50-year-old Richmond spa owner. BCLC and B.C. gaming policy enforcement branch documents say that information revealed by the RCMP’s investigation into Jin and Silver led them to suspect the funds are tied to “transnational drug trafficking … (that) could have a potentially devastating impact on the casino industry.”

Jin allegedly helped ultra-wealthy Mainland China “whale” gamblers, recruited in Macau, to gamble in B.C., the investigation documents allege. The Macau whales were able to gamble with suspected drug cash supplied by Jin’s network, especially at River Rock Casino, the investigation documents allege. With those funds borrowed from Jin and “private lenders,” they were not only able to gamble, but to develop real estate in B.C. Without naming names, a paragraph in the confidential MNP LLP audit of B.C. Lottery Corp. that the attorney general released last week describes underground banking channels that allowed “Chinese nationals” to evade China’s tight capital controls and transfer wealth into B.C. Investigators learned the Chinese whale gamblers were “provided with a contact in Vancouver, either locally or prior to arriving in Vancouver,” the MNP report says. Next, the gamblers would “contact the person via phone for cash delivery,” which they use to buy chips at a casino. The gamblers would repay these funds “through cash holdings in China.” When the gamblers cash out, they are left with money available for use in Canada.

Local woman stole millions from business to gamble

A 65-year-old woman embezzled more than two million dollars and spent it gambling. Charlotte Pottorff pleaded guilty to two counts of felony embezzlement, one count of perjury and one count of felony tax evasion in Bonneville County court on Sept. 11. Pottorff began working as a bookkeeper for Val Erickson, the owner of Dura-Bilt, Dura-Bilt Transmission and A&D Investments, in 1999. According to court documents, Erickson suspects the embezzlement began when she started working for him. According to court documents, Pottorff covered her tracks by making purchases for the company at a higher price than the items’ actual cost. She would then issue herself a check for the difference. She would issue these checks directly to herself or to bank accounts believed to be hers. She was the only one who had control over issuing checks and balancing the business’ accounts. According to court documents, Erickson discovered the theft after Pottorff retired from working for him. Erickson hired Fraud Examiner Daniel Packard to conduct a forensic audit of his business accounts. According to court documents, Packard determined an approximate $2,325,504.89 was misappropriated between the years of 2006 to 2017.

RCMP casino money laundering probe uncovered alleged ‘terrorist financing’ links

An RCMP investigation into underground banking and alleged laundering of drug cash in B.C. casinos revealed suspicions of “terrorist financing,” a B.C. government document obtained by Postmedia alleges. The suspected “terrorist financing” link is alleged in a confidential “Section 86” report filed in July 2015 by B.C. Lottery Corp. to B.C.’s gaming enforcement branch, which is an arm of B.C.’s Ministry of Finance. This report, which was filed to the gaming enforcement branch’s director of compliance, Len Meilleur, says that Meilleur had also spoken to the RCMP’s Chrustie about “troubling information … involving casinos.” “As a result of that conversation (gaming enforcement branch assistant deputy minister) John Mazure had been briefed and that likely (then-B.C. finance minister) Mike de Jong would also be briefed,” the report says. B.C. Lottery Corp. was asked to respond to details in the July 2015 Section 86 report. “Regarding your request for comment related to the Section 86 report, it is public knowledge that there are at least two active police investigations underway related to allegations of illegal gambling and money laundering,” a BCLC spokesman said in an email. “Since these investigations are underway, we are not in a position to provide comment.”

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The Trump Administration and 30 other Advocacy Groups Filed Supreme Court Briefs supporting the NFL and other’s Opposition to the New Jersey Sports Gambling Case

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing saga of events surrounding New Jersey’s attempt to legalize sports betting in their state. All attempts have resulted in failure and this latest attempt has managed to reach the Supreme Court. The issue at hand is the constitutionality of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA). The Federal government has long held sport betting to be illegal outside of a few jurisdictions. They passed PASPA and allowed existing jurisdictions like Las Vegas to continue to offer it. The rest of the states would not be allowed to legalize it. Years later, after New Jersey missed its window to seek sports betting, they have decided they and other states should be allowed to regulate it and that Federal Government interference is a violation of federalism. The NFL, along with the other pro sports leagues and the NCAA, have long opposed expansion of sports betting. Casino Watch Focus reported that they filed their own brief to the Supreme court outlining that the federal government cant command a state government into an action, an act known as impermissible commandeering, but they are fully allowed to the federal government to preempt state action to contravene federal policy. The Department of Justice has long held this same belief and now the Trump Administration has formally filed its own brief outlining PASPA supporting arguments. An online source reports: 

President Donald Trum has been feuding with the NFL in recent weeks over the national anthem controversy. But the Trump administration, via the *Solicitor General’s office*, is supporting the NFL in its ongoing case to stop *New Jersey* from offering sports betting. The Solicitor General says that SCOTUS should uphold the lower courts’ finding that New Jersey’s partial repeal of its sports betting ban did not go far enough to be legal under PASPA.

The leagues have argued that the New Jersey law essentially licenses casinos and horse racing tracks to conduct sports wagering. That puts the state in violation of PASPA, the SG argues. New Jersey argues that PASPA unconstitutionally commandeers it to keep its own laws on the books when it comes to not allowing sports betting. But the SG argues PASPA’s “preemption of state laws authorizing sports-gambling schemes does not violate the Tenth Amendment.”

In addition to the briefs filed by the major sports organizations, the NCAA, and the DOJ, 30 advocacy and political organization have combined to offer their own brief. The addressed the federalism issue head on, but also expanded on why the federal government has compelling interest is preempting gambling expansion on the state level, namely the social costs. An online source explains:

On Monday a broad coalition of organizations led by Stop Predatory Gambling filed an amicus brief (“friends of the court”) in the Supreme Court of the United States, supporting the NCAA, NFL and major professional sports in their opposition to New Jersey’s case seeking to bring sports betting into the state.

Stop Predatory Gambling And a Range of Political and Advocacy Groups Support PASPA In a Brief Focusing on Social Costs of Gambling. The 30 groups, which include the Public Health Advocacy Institute and Concerned Women for America, spend the majority of the 33-page brief discussing negative effects and social costs of gambling.

The groups are “united in their opposition to the exploitation of American communities through commercial gambling” the brief reads.

 Later in the brief, the groups highlight research papers discussing gambling addiction, personal bankruptcies and elevated divorce rates associated with problem gambling, as well as financial costs to states themselves (such as crime) in connection with increased gambling activity. The paper also points a 2015 study by Rachel A. Volberg et al. of the University of Massachusetts School of Public Health and Health Sciences, showing a higher prevalence of gambling problems among sports bettors as compared with other forms of gambling, such as instant lottery games and casino games.

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A Brief Look at Crime 10/23 – 10/29

Gambler embezzles £330k from employers

A financial controller who embezzled £330,000 from his employer to fund a high-rolling gambling habit has been jailed for four years. Paul Robinson, who’s online poker account processed £462,000 within 18 months, also splashed out on home improvements. He treated himself to a £38,000 BMW car and a gold bar. The 44-year-old, who was earning £35,000-a-year, was convicted by a jury of stealing £330,875 from Bakers Waste Services Ltd, in Enderby, Leicestershire, between July 2013 and January 2015.He falsely claimed his boss, Paul Baker, had routinely gifted him tens of thousands of pounds for turning a blind eye to alleged bad business practices and for cooking the books. The jury reached an 11 to one majority guilty verdict, rejecting Robinson’s version of events, which sought to tarnish the reputation of managing director, Mr Baker, who built up his successful waste collection, recycling and skip hire company in 2002, as a sole trader with just one lorry.

Vegas Police Look for More Victims in Casino Guard Rape Case

Authorities in Las Vegas say they’re looking for more possible sexual assault victims after a 39-year-old casino security guard was arrested and charged with raping a woman in a Strip resort stairwell. Officer Jacinto Rivera, a Las Vegas police spokesman, said Wednesday an investigation is continuing into Robert Ray Laws’ activities at the New York-New York Hotel & Casino. Laws was arrested Sept. 6 in an investigation of a woman’s report that she was attacked Sept. 4. Rivera says police think there may be other victims. Laws is being held at the Clark County jail on $150,000 bail pending an Oct. 12 preliminary hearing of evidence on sexual assault, kidnapping and burglary charges.

Mohegan Sun blackjack scam results in one year prison sentence for mother of seven

A Massachusetts woman who was caught out scamming a casino out of nearly $80,000 has been sent to jail for a year. Marlena Rivera, 38, and a mother of seven, will see five years of probation follow the sentence that was handed down by the New London Superior Court, Connecticut. According to the Norwich Bulletin, Rivera pleaded guilty to first-degree larceny charges, which resulted from her scheme to defraud Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun casino, allegedly working with one of casino’s blackjack dealers. In total, the scam saw $78,000 swiped from the Mohegan Sun.

Ex-boss of Tucson trucking school facing federal fraud charges

The former head of a Tucson truck-driving school is facing 16 felony counts, accused of embezzling nearly $1 million from students and his ex-employer. Robert Alan Knapp, fired in 2015 as director of HDS Truck Driving Institute, was indicted by a grand jury last month on 10 counts of bank fraud, five counts of aggravated identity theft and one count of federal student-aid fraud. Knapp, 69, who ran the school for more than 10 years, pleaded not guilty at his Sept. 1 arraignment in U.S. District Court in Tucson. Witnesses interviewed by police said Knapp was a frequent gambler at area casinos. One said Knapp “confessed to him that he was having gambling problems,” court records show. Knapp, who made $74,000 a year as the school’s director, is accused of intercepting checks and depositing them into a business bank account he opened behind the school owner’s back.

Gambling-Addicted Designer Jailed for 6 Years

A gambling-addicted fashion designer is accused of duping investors with a fake tickets scam to the Oscars with the guarantee of meeting actress Julia Roberts. Alvin Loy, 50, fooled his victims into investing £263,599 in his business venture. But instead of actually investing the money, he gambled away much of the money at casinos. The deception included feigning a phone call to John Galliano, and on another showed a naked photograph of fashion designer and director Tom Ford, falsely claiming they were in a relationship. On Tuesday a jury, Loy was convicted on all counts after a seven-day trial. But Loy is Missing In Action. An international arrest warrant is currently out for the disgraced businessman, with the judge telling jurors he was believed to be in Malaysia.

Otis Water Association files lawsuit against former officer manager for massive embezzlement

The Otis Mutual Domestic Water Consumers and Sewage Works Association has filed a lawsuit this month against former office manager Lori Whitaker alleging embezzlement. The lawsuit was filed on Sept. 8 in the Fifth Judicial District Court as a complaint for damages from theft. According to court documents, Whitaker allegedly embezzled $850,000 to “fund her gambling habit.” The New Mexico State Auditor’s Office announced discrepancies in the association’s annual audit June 5. An April 27 letter to Fifth Judicial District Attorney Dianna Luce from the Auditor’s Office alleges Whitaker used the association’s credit card to make “extraordinary” cash withdrawals dating to 2015 from casinos in New Mexico and other states. The Eddy County Sheriff’s Office transferred their investigation of the theft to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in June. In the lawsuit is asking for a judgement of $850,000 — as well as “punitive damages in an amount determined by the court,” — against Whitaker.

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