Monthly Archives: December 2021

Editorial: [Florida] Court ruling a wake-up call for better approach to gambling

Casino Watch Focus has reported on recent efforts to expand gambling through the Seminole gambling compact.  Most coverage has been on the widespread online sports gambling expansion, but it also allows for additional gambling expansion.  A recent court case invalidated the compact and the following guest editorial from the Palm Beach Post highlights lessons learned and the importance of following the established constitutional model for any gambling expansion:

On Nov. 22, U.S. District Court Judge Dabney L. Friedrich ordered the U.S. Department of Interior to throw out the 2021 gaming compact Gov. Ron DeSantis reached with the tribe. The judge apparently shared the misgivings of many of the compact’s critics, who saw the deal as a way around the Florida Constitution and federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, to expand gambling in Florida. The ruling not only halts online betting but blocks the tribe’s planned Hard Rock Casino expansions.

The judge made clear he didn’t buy the argument that the tribe could host online sports statewide as long as the servers taking the bets were located on tribal grounds. While recognizing the language of federal law, the judge also upheld the will of Florida voters who amended the state constitution to give them greater say over gambling expansion. 

The ruling puts the state back to square one. Instead of operating under a gaming compact that would give the state $2.5 billion over five years, Florida finds itself under a 20-year compact reached in 2010 when Charlie Crist was governor. The judge’s order doesn’t foreclose online sports betting in Florida but any new compact must limit online betting to Indian lands. The only way those bets can be expanded statewide is through a citizen’s initiative approved by Florida voters.

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

A Brief Look at Crime 12/20 – 12/26

Account stole 129K from Child Abuse Victims’ Center

A former accountant with Kids House of Seminole, a Children’s Advocacy Center in Sanford, was arrested Thursday after having fraudulently obtained $129,231.54 from the non-profit, according to the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office. Carrie Wagner, 61, is accused of using her exclusive access to the organization’s financial resources to knowingly and willingly acquire the money under false and fraudulent pretenses, according to her arrest report. Wagner would print forged payment checks that she would deposit or cash, she would wire herself money through Zelle and she would attempt to cover her tracks by manipulating financial data in QuickBooks, deputies said. According to the arrest report, Wagner turned herself in to law enforcement without incident. During the investigation, detectives said they learned Wagner intended to use the stolen money to gamble at the Hard Rock Casino in Tampa. “It shows the lengths Carrie went to with the intent to permanently deprive Kids House of Seminole, Inc, from $129,231.54 worth of their own funds,” the arrest report said.

Vicksburg man arrested for murdering wife at Riverwalk Casino

A Vicksburg man is in custody after shooting and killing his wife at Riverwalk Casino on Saturday morning. Vicksburg police responded to the scene around 7:00 a.m. Upon arrival, officers found Oceanna Lee-Hubbard, 28, lying in the parking garage suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. The victim’s husband, Cedrick L. Hubbard, 26, was taken into custody in Clinton just before 12:00 p.m. Saturday. Hubbard will be held without bond until he makes his initial appearance in Vicksburg Municipal Court.

Illegal horse racing investigation in Walla Walla County continues, as many as six face potential felony charges 

An investigation into illegal horse racing in rural Walla Walla County is continuing, and as many as six people could face felony charges, the state Gambling Commission said Friday. Suspects’ names and the specific ranch location are not being made public, pending a charging decision by the Walla Walla County Prosecuting Attorney, a news release from the state agency said.

The investigation has been ongoing for over two years. Agents gathered information in October that a ranch near Burbank was allegedly being used for horse racing that included illegal wagering and other suspected illegal gambling on site, the release said. The Gambling Commission’s investigation into the illegal activity began in early January 2019 after a tip from another agency about alleged illegal horse racing and gambling at the location. An undercover special agent attended events to gather information for the search warrant that was served on site in October, the release said.

Woman Sentenced to 2 Years in Prison & Ordered to Pay $170k Following Mountain Bike Company Embezzlement

A woman has been sentenced to 28 months in prison for wire fraud and aggravated identity theft after embezzling $150,000 from a high-end Seattle mountain bike company. An FBI investigation found that Trower used a variety of schemes to steal from company accounts including creating checks using the company software system, claiming expenses and compensation she did not earn, and making transfers from company accounts to accounts she controlled. At one point, Trower transferred more than $26,000 to her account in the span of just a few months in 2018. Trower and her boyfriend used the money to, among other things, gamble at area casinos. Alongside the wire fraud, Trower was also charged for aggravated identity theft after she forged the signature of company executives on fraudulent checks and submitted false invoices.

Woman shot after setting gambling machine on fire in NE Houston, police say

A woman has been hospitalized after being shot during a fight at a convenience store in northeast Houston. While the woman shot is expected to be OK, police said an argument between two women led to the shooting. The victim and second woman were inside a convenience store near some gambling machines. At one point, the victim pulled out lighter fluid and poured it on one of the machines. This led the women to begin arguing. The argument followed onto the parking lot and at some point, the second woman pulled out a gun and shot the victim. One of the women was taken to the hospital and the second woman is on the run. While the relationship between the women is unclear, police say they know each other.

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

Guest article: Casinos – An Addiction Industry in the Mold of Tobacco and Opioid Drugs

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the vast ways that gambling creates addiction and creates numerous social issues. The following guest article was featured in the prominent Illinois Law Review and looks at the creation model in the gambling industry: 

The growing casino industry in the U.S. is built on a model of profitability that bears very close resemblance to two other industries: the tobacco industry and the opioid pain medication industry. While it is rather obvious that all three industries have demonstrated the ability to be consistently profitable, the models used to achieve that profitability are remarkably similar. 

All three industries began with addictive products. Through investments in research and development, they continually refined their product designs to emphasize and amplify addiction as a design element in order to increase profits. In each case, aggressive and deceptive marketing tactics were employed to target vulnerable populations and to normalize their addictive products despite the risks they posed to consumers. 

In each case, these products created substantial social costs. For the tobacco industry this includes the premature deaths of nearly half a million Americans annually, an enormous healthcare burden, and a substantial loss of productivity. For the opioid pain medication industry this includes thousands of deaths, tens of thousands of overdoses and an illicit market for other opioids that create enormous healthcare and criminal justice expenditures funded by tax dollars. 

The casino industry’s products do not directly cause physical harm such as lung cancer or opioid overdose. Rather, this industry’s products are designed to induce consumers to get in “the zone” and “play to extinction.” The impacts on communities caused by casinos are latent, much like the lung cancer that appears in a smoker a quarter century after she takes her first of more than a million puffs. An addicted gambler will potentially experience bankruptcy, divorce, unemployment, and perhaps engage in embezzlement or larceny to keep gambling. The volume of such individuals reduces civic engagement and family stability in communities located in the vicinity of casinos. Other social costs include loss of productivity and healthcare costs associated with comorbidities related to the addiction to casino industry products. 

The accumulation of social costs and misery caused by highly profitable industries may provoke responses in social attitudes and policy. Over the past twenty-five years or so, federal, state, and local policies have regulated and reduced the impact of tobacco industry products. Litigation, too, has had an impact not only on tobacco industry profits but also in increasing transparency regarding tobacco industry behavior through discovery and whistleblower testimony. Such transparency has contributed to a denormalization of that industry’s business model. More recently, the opioid crisis, driven by the opioid pain medication industry, has initiated policymaking as well as thousands of lawsuits against industry leaders. The casino industry, highly reliant upon electronic gambling machines designed to addict consumers may soon find itself in a very defensive legal and policy posture much like the tobacco and opioid pain medication industries which share its business model.

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

A Brief Look at Crime 12/13 – 12/19

Rivers Casino Des Plaines Gambler Claims He Was Robbed After Winning $40K in Cash

A 34-year-old Arizona man claims that after visiting Rivers Casino Des Plaines in Illinois, two assailants robbed him at gunpoint and stole some $40,000 in cash that he had just won while gambling. The alleged victim, Cordero Supe, told police that a woman was chatting with him inside the Chicago suburb casino. He now believes that person might have been involved in the subsequent theft by tipping off the two men who confronted him. Supe says that after exiting the casino with roughly $40,000 in cash winnings at around 2:25 am on November 8, two men wearing bandanas covering their faces approached him in a dark-colored vehicle. They brandished firearms and demanded that he hand them the cash.

Orange County law enforcement officials cracking down on illegal game room activity

Law enforcement officials said our proximity to Louisiana, where gambling is legal, only adds to the confusion. According to Orange County officials, some of the owners of these game rooms make between $100,000 to $130,000 per day. Investigators said most of that money comes in illegally. Operators could end up “paying for playing” if their game rooms are illegal, officials said. “Time is on our side and their time is running out, so we’re going to eventually catch them,” said Orange County Constable Matt Ortego. Ortego calls it a cat and mouse game, one that’s expanding outside of the region. “It’s all across the state,” Ortego said. “It’s not just here in Orange County, you know, what they’re doing is they’re running and jumping in all these different counties that don’t have ordinances that are in place. Judge John Gothia said they eventually had to put their foot down. “For our county, it was getting out of hand and that’s why we implemented new restrictions that went into effect,” Gothia said. Orange County is following the lead of Jefferson County, which has new ordinances and ongoing enforcement.

Online casino could face legal action after sending promotional emails to recovering gambling addicts 

AN ONLINE casino that sent “distressing” promotional emails to recovering gambling addicts could face legal action, a law firm has said. Sky Vegas, owned by Flutter UK&I, apologised (sic) last week after emails were sent by mistake to people who had opted out of betting correspondence. Data breach specialist law firm PGMBM announced today that it was exploring the possibility of bringing legal proceedings on behalf of 120,000 who are believed to have been sent emails offering “free online spins.”

The firm’s legal director Tony Winterburn said: “This mistake could cost people their recovery from gambling. “These emails have already caused harm and distress to those who opted out of receiving gambling promotions for very good reason.” Clean Up Gambling director Matt Zarb-Cousin, who was among those who received the emails, said Sky Vegas’s actions were “inexcusable.” He said: “There is already too much temptation driven by the volume of advertising, so, when someone takes steps to keep themselves away from promotions like this, they should not be force-fed them again.”

Casinos made Macau one of the wealthiest places in the world — but they also brought heightened inequality and crime 

At 32 square kilometers, Macau is just 5% of Singapore’s size. It’s about half the size of Manhattan. Yet it has more than 35,000 hotel rooms, 30 Michelin-star restaurants, and 25 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. And it clocks gaming revenues that are six times that of the Las Vegas Strip. With the casinos came a lot of money. Macau is the only place in China where gambling is legal, and casinos have had a strong 20-year run. But the wealth rests in the hands of a few — and that, in turn, is at odds with the government’s “common prosperity” messaging. 

Wealth inequality isn’t the only issue in Macau. For one, there’s crime: According to a paper from  the Macao Institute for Tourism Studies, since the liberalization of casino licensing in 2002, crime has “increased drastically.” There are other social problems, such as a whole generation of young people dropping out of studies to work in the gaming industry because of its financial rewards, according to Robbert van der Mass, director of APAC Hospitality Services Macau. This in turn affects small retail shops and restaurants, many of which have disappeared as they couldn’t compete with salaries offered at casino resorts.

Former federal employee from Syracuse stole more than $100K in SSI benefits

A 34-year-old Syracuse man and former federal employee admitted Thursday to stealing more than $100,000 in Supplemental Security Income benefits, according to federal prosecutors. Sean Okrzesik pleaded guilty to theft of government property and aggravated identity theft, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York. While Okrzesik was employed by the Syracuse office of the Social Security Administration, he opened bank accounts using the names and social security numbers of people who receive SSI benefits, according to federal prosecutors. Okrzesik used the money to pay for video gaming equipment, a custom suit, jewelry, airline tickets to the Caribbean and online gambling, according to prosecutors. In all, Okrzesik took $103,798.77 in benefits, prosecutors said.

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

AGA Seeks Federal Involvement in Illegal Gambling Machines – Calls on Justice Department to Shut them Down

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing battle in Missouri to end the operation of illegal slot machines all over the state.  These machines are designed with the intent of being slot machines in every way, but use a pre-reveal method to try to skirt local gambling laws.  This issue isn’t actually unique to Missouri and now the American Gaming Association is looking to the Justice Department to act on a Federal Level.  An online source explain: 

The AGA wants regulators to intervene in the manufacture of illegal gaming machines. The group cites the Johnson Act as grounds for the government’s intervention. Some of the machines are called skill games, which operate in a grey area in some states.

The American Gaming Association has urged the federal government not to allow illegal gambling machines to be manufactured. In a letter to the Justice Department, Bill Miller, AGA President, and CEO wrote that “support and resources from the Department of Justice and federal law enforcement agencies are critical to eliminating illegal gambling devices from our communities.”

The association is asking the government to adopt a well-established law that requires any company that manufactures, sells or ships gambling devices that are sent across state lines to register with Justice Department. This is similar to what happens in the regulated gaming sector. The Johnson Act is a law that punishes those who violate it. They can face a maximum $5,000 fine and up to two years imprisonment, as well as forfeiture of their machines.

The AGA, which has addressed the issue before, also states that such machines are not compliant with federal anti-money laundering laws, have not been tested or monitored to ensure fairness to consumers, and prey upon the most vulnerable consumers, including problem gamblers and minors who have been excluded from regulated casinos.

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

A Brief Look at Crime 12/06 – 12/12

Girl, 8, molested outside Pa. casino as her relative gambled inside

A 65-year-old man is facing a felony charge after police say he admitted molesting an 8-year-old girl outside a Pa. casino as the girl’s relative gambled inside. It took years for the case to catch up with the accused suspect, Mateo Mejia, 65, of Scranton. The incident took place in the summer of 2016, when an un-named relative of the girl had Mejia drive the pair to the Mohegan Sun Pocono casino. Mejia was supposed to watch the girl in the car while the relative went inside and gambled. The relative was supposedly babysitting the child while her mother worked, police in Plains Township, Luzerne County, told the newspaper. 

Gambling company sued by customers who claim they were cheated out of big payouts

Fourteen gamblers are taking legal action against an online gambling company for allegedly refusing to pay them their full jackpot payouts, according to New Jersey regulators. In one federal lawsuit, filed by Lisa Piluso of Pennsylvania, the gambler claims the company did not pay a $100,000 jackpot she says she had won while playing a slots game on her phone. The company allegedly maintained there was “a bug” in the product. Thirteen other gamblers have claimed they were not given their correct earnings from the gambling company either, regulators said. The “Capital Gains” slot game, played by Piluso on Oct. 2 in 2020, was run on an online platform by Caesars Interactive New Jersey, and the game is manufactured by American Gaming Systems, based in Las Vegas. Piluso’s lawsuit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Camden, accuses the gaming company of consumer fraud and other wrongful actions related to the jackpot prize. Neither Caesars casino nor its online division were named as defendants in the suit.

Presque Isle Downs and Casino fined $45,000 for violating alcohol provision of COVID-19 order

Presque Isle Downs and Casino was fined $45,000 Wednesday for allowing a patron to drink on the gaming floor in violation of a statewide order that prohibited bars from selling alcohol unless it was served with a meal. The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board on Wednesday approved consent agreements between its Office of Enforcement Counsel and three casino operators resulting in a total of $150,000 in fines. The statewide order — issued on July 16, 2020 and lifted on April 4 — was meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. It was among several mitigation efforts put in place as restaurants and bars were able to resume indoor service.

Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Financial Director Stole $3M, Blew it at Harrah’s 

The former financial director of Kappa Alpha Psi, one of America’s largest Black college fraternities, has admitted to embezzling nearly $3 million from the organization, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Prosecutors say Curtis D. Anderson blew most of the money he stole at Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino & Racetrack. According to court filings, the 58-year-old Claymont, Del. resident began siphoning money from the fraternity in June 2012. Anderson’s MO was simply to write checks from the Kappa Alpha Psi check book to himself or to others whose signatures he faked. He would then exchange them for cash at Santander or Wells Fargo banks. In all, he is accused of cashing 78 bogus checks over a six-year period.

UAW Member to Appear in Court in Case of $2M Embezzlement

Timothy Edmunds has been “temporarily detained” for his suspect involvement of misappropriating $2 million. Investigators were led to Edmunds after finding out that some $142,000 had been redirected to his union debit credit with $30,000 worth of withdrawals at ATMs from 2018 through 2020. The ATMs withdrawals were done at Greektown Casino. Between 2016 and 2020, the investigation alleged, Edmunds had delivered buy-ins north of $1 million, and the total amount of gambling done exceeded $16 million in the four-year span. Handling such amounts should have alerted authorities much sooner, but Edmunds, the investigation claims, was smarter than that. He knew that if he cashed out more than a given amount, he would be reported on the Currency Transaction Report, which is obligatory under the Bank Secrecy Act. Cashing $10,000 of chips at a time, Edmunds seemed to avoid being detected.

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

Florida appeals Seminole Compact Ruling – No Casinos Joins Fight against Unconstitutional Expansion

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing efforts to expand gambling through online sports gambling efforts in Florida.  Their constitution required a vote of the people to expand gambling, but a deal negotiated between the Florida government and Seminole Tribe added sports gambling to the compact and allowed for online gambling as well.  They claimed as long as the online servers were on tribal land, anyone could use the online app, thus creating legalized online sports gambling for the entire state.  A federal judge rejected the compact and called the notion “fiction.”  The appeal has been filed and No Casinos has joined the legal fight to help keep the issue suppressedAn online source reports:

No Casinos and a group of south Florida businessmen have joined the legal fight to defend a district court ruling striking down the 30-year gambling compact between the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the State of Florida. The Seminole Tribe is appealing the ruling and seeks an immediate stay, which would allow it to legally continue the first-in-Florida sports betting operations it launched on Nov. 1. The compact also authorized the tribe to build new casinos on its property and to offer games such as craps and roulette that were previously illegal in Florida.

John Sowsinki, president of No Casinos, told the Phoenix in a statement provided Tuesday that the tribe should immediately stop its sports-betting operations, which he considers “illegal gambling.” He noted the tribe chose to launch Florida’s first-ever statewide sports betting operation on Nov. 1 despite ongoing litigation and has not halted it despite Judge Friedrich’s order.

Further, No Casinos, Codina, Carr and Braman want sports betting and other gambling expansions authorized in the gambling compact to be shut down permanently – except as may be authorized in the future by Florida voters, as required by the 2018 constitutional amendment titled “Voter Control of Gambling,” then known as Amendment 3.

Their amici brief, filed late Tuesday, urges the appellate court to affirm the district court’s order striking down the compact and to deny the tribe’s request for a stay in the interim.

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

A Brief Look at Crime 11/29 – 12/05

Three dead in Stateline Casino shooting (MT)

Three people are dead in an apparent murder/suicide at the Stateline Casino in Bainville, Montana. The Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Office reported that deputies responded to a reported shooting at the Stateline Casino at approximately 5:20 p.m. on Saturday, Nov 6. Upon arrival, they discovered three deceased individuals, including the suspected shooter. The Sheriff’s office reported that surveillance video recovered from the scene appears to show that 56-year-old Bradford Mann of Williston shot and killed his wife, 49-year-old Jennifer Mann, also of Williston, and 63-year-old Scot Panasuk of Bainville, before turning the gun on himself and taking his own life.

Ransomware gangs hit several tribal-owned casinos in the last year

The FBI’s Cyber Division said in a private industry notification issued earlier this week that ransomware gangs have hit several tribal-owned casinos, taking down their systems and disabling connected systems. These attacks are part of a long series of similar incidents targeting tribal entities since 2016, with damages estimated in the millions of dollars in recent months. Ransomware-hit casinos had to shut down their gaming floors, as well as restaurants, hotels, and gas stations, causing significant revenues losses after being forced into providing limited or no services to customers while working on restoring their systems.

Limited cyber investigative capabilities and law enforcement resources are likely some of the reasons behind ransomware groups’ seeing US tribes as desirable targets, according to the FBI. Ransomware gangs that coordinated attacks against tribal communities include REvil (Sodinokibi), Bitpaymer, Ryuk, Conti, Snatch, and Cuba. Due to these incidents, tribal entities have dealt with operational disruption, theft of sensitive data, and financial losses.

Online Gambling Companies to Refund $1.2M Doctor Embezzled from UK Health Service

Several unnamed online gambling companies in the UK will repay more than £900,000 ($1.2 million) in public money, stolen and gambled away by a rogue doctor from the country’s National Health Service. Senior general practitioner Dr Rumi Chhapia, 45, was sentenced to three years and four months in prison by a court in Portsmouth, England last week. Chhapia pleaded guilty to siphoning a total of £1.2 million ($1.5 million) from a network of doctors’ surgeries, the Portsmouth Primary Care Association (PPCA), which he co-founded. Chhapia stole the money during “six weeks of madness,” according to his lawyer. At the time, he had been placed in control of the organization’s accounts when the regular financial controller was signed off sick. The physician, who earned £200,000 ($270,000) a year, plowed the cash into online gambling sites, chasing jackpots on slot machines and big wins on roulette.

Man abducted after returning home from casino, police say

Police in Philadelphia said a man was abducted after he returned home from a casino trip. The man said he noticed a U-Haul van parked at his home in Philadelphia when he returned home at about 1 a.m. Sunday, WPVI reported. He is not sure if he was followed home from the Parx Casino in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, about half an hour away from the city. After he parked his car, he told police three masked men grabbed him and threw him into the van. He said at least two of them were armed, WPVI reported. He told police they took him to an unknown location and tied him up, demanding that he tell them where he has money hidden in his home. This is not the first time someone was attacked after leaving the casino. A 53-year-old man from Middlesex County, New Jersey was killed after he was followed home from Parx Casino, police said, according to WPVI.

Pennsylvania’s Valley Forge Casino To Install Infrared Cameras To Watch For Kids in Cars 

The increased number of unattended minors left in parked cars at Pennsylvania’s Valley Forge Casino Resort while adults gamble has led the gaming property to take several new precautions. One includes installing infrared surveillance cameras. The infrared cameras can detect heat if a child or other person is in a parked car. That will assist security guards patrolling vehicles with darkened windows. Since January, Valley Forge, located in King of Prussia, saw 22 times when unattended children were left in cars or other vehicles. That compares to 15 such incidents in the past three years, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. If caught leaving kids in vehicles, the suspects could be prosecuted and banned for life from the state’s casinos.

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