Author Archives: casinowatch

Guest Article: CEO of Florida Chamber of Commers supports Yes on Amendment 3

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing progression of Amendment 3 – Voter Control of Gambling in Florida.  Numerous sources have provided support for the amendment, but perhaps one of the most telling is the support it gets from the Florida Chamber of Commerce.  Below is the guest article by CEO Mark Wilson as published by The Florida Times Union:

The Florida Chamber of Commerce has long advocated for restraint in amending Florida’s Constitution. We believe our constitution should only be amended in rare and extraordinary circumstances.

Amendment 3, which would require voter approval of future gambling expansion, meets that threshold. Keep in mind, Florida is creating 1 out of 11 new jobs in America. We don’t need the casino industry, they need Florida.

Rather than introduce anything new, the amendment simply reinforces language already in the constitution — a provision that gives voters the final say on gambling decisions. Florida voters inserted that protection in 1968 and it’s important we don’t let politicians work around it.

Their reasons for doing so remain valid today. The widespread introduction of Las Vegas-style casinos in Florida brings dubious benefits and potentially serious consequences for our state. Any decision to go in this direction should be done so with due diligence, much caution and voter input.

Voters exercised such caution when considering five gambling referendums from 1978 to 2004. Three times they rejected large casino resorts in Florida. But they also approved the Florida Lottery and the limited introduction of slot machines in Broward and Miami-Dade pari-mutuels.

Since 2005, when Florida lawmakers began attempting to take over gambling decisions, the restraint of voters has been replaced by the politics of Tallahassee. The drumbeat for more and bigger casinos from the powerful gambling lobby has been loud and non-stop.

There is no end game here. No matter how many casinos might be approved, there always will be pressure for more. We have seen this in other states, where the gambling industry continues to push for expansion even in markets so glutted that existing casinos are losing business and even going bankrupt, sometimes at taxpayer expense.

Consider New Jersey. The Atlantic City casino market imploded in 2014 because of an over-saturated market, throwing thousands out of jobs and the city into an economic depression.

However, New Jersey requires voter approval of gambling expansion. And by an overwhelming margin, voters rejected new casinos.

Voters serve as a controlling mechanism on an industry that often has no self-control of its own. They slow down decision-making and ensure the pros and cons of casino expansion are fully and publicly vetted.

As the organization representing Florida businesses, the Florida Chamber is focused on making Florida more competitive, and the casino business model is anything but that. It is not one that grows the economic pie, but rather one that often cannibalizes existing economic activity.

Casinos represent the past, whereas Florida is moving into the future.

This year Florida’s GDP topped $1 trillion, which if we were a country would place us 17th in the world. Florida’s economy is the 20th most diversified economy in American and wages are increasing.

U.S. News & World Report ranked us first nationally in higher education and the University of Florida now ranks among the top 10 public universities.

Noted University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith describes Florida’s recovery from the Great Recession as “Phoenix-like.” One reason for that is Florida’s remarkably resilient tourism industry.

The Florida Chamber sees strong economic growth in Florida for the next 30 years.

All this is not by accident. It is due to a competitive business climate, smart policies and strong fiscal leadership.

The international casino conglomerates are desperate to get a toehold in Florida, not to add to what we have created but to feed off it.

Florida has come too far to go down this path without the people of Florida having a say. I’ll be voting yes on Amendment 3 because Florida’s future is worth protecting.

/Mark Wilson is CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Email:
mwilson@flchamber.com <mailto:mwilson@flchamber.com>./

 

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

 

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A Brief Look at Crime 09/11 – 09/17

Addicted gambler gets house arrest after stealing $1 million

A Burford woman who stole almost $1 million from her CIBC employer was given a remarkably light sentence in Ontario Court last week due to her equally remarkable response to the crimes. Margaret Pepper, 56, was sentenced to a form of house arrest for two years rather than being sent to jail, which is typical for frauds of that magnitude. Pepper’s story began when she and co-workers from the CIBC’s Lynden Park Mall branch celebrated a birthday at the Brantford Casino. It started a major gambling addiction for the woman as she returned repeatedly to the casino, eventually spending $100,000 of her own funds and those of family. According to police, Pepper then began using her bank position to transfer money between client accounts and open new accounts in the names of some clients. Her scheme worked from October 2010 until November 2014 when an internal bank audit uncovered the theft. By that time, the bank had lost nearly $1 million, although it ensured no clients were out of pocket. The bank wasn’t initially named because it insisted, as the victim of a crime, it didn’t want to be identified. Pepper wasn’t charged until February 2016 and by that time, despondent at what she had done, she tried to take her own life.

‘Friction in gambling territory’: Vaughan kingpin Mark Peretz shot

Former Vaughan resident and illegal online gambling businessman Mark Peretz was the victim of an organized crime hit-style shooting at Sherway Gardens, according to CTV News. The news organization said it was told by a police source that it was Peretz who was shot in a brazen shooting at the Etobicoke mall on Aug. 16, around 7:30 p.m., that left him in life-threatening condition. According to an eyewitness in a CBC report, a man dressed in black with a mask suddenly appeared outside the mall and started firing into the driver’s side window of a car with a firearm that appeared to be fitted with a silencer. Peretz rose to infamy in the GTA after he was sentenced to nine years in prison for helping to mastermind an intended hit on reputed mobster Michele Modica. Getaway driver Peretz’s associates, Antonio Borrelli of Richmond Hill and Hells Angels member Paris Christoforou, fired 20 bullets in a failed attempt to kill Modica, who allegedly owed some $130,000 worth of gambling debts to Peretz. Reputed mobster Pietro “Peter” Scarcella was also sentenced to 10 years in prison for the incident.

Robbery suspect shoots 3 in Fort Worth, prompting gambling investigation

A robbery suspect is believed to have shot three people overnight, prompting an investigation into gambling at the building in East Fort Worth, police said. Three people had entered the building and attempted to rob three other people, police spokesman Daniel Segura said. The victims refused to cooperate, and one of the gunmen opened fire. He struck one person in the abdomen and another person was wounded in the leg. Police believe the third victim was also shot but left before officers arrived, Segura said. Detectives are also investigating gaming at the location, which is listed online as Pamir Smoke Shop.

Video Gambling Linked to Crime Spike

A new study led by economists at the University of Illinois suggests that access to video gambling is responsible for an increase of violent crime and property crime in Chicago. The Video Gaming Act of Illinois took effect in 2012, allowing local businesses with a liquor license to have up to four gambling terminals; presently, there are somewhere around 6,000 video gambling parlors in the state. Chicago maintains its 1993 ban on gambling, but access to video gambling has increased in the city thanks to its adoption by neighboring municipalities. Unlike other gambling studies which have been region- or state- specific, the authors analyzed block-level data. Drawing on police reports between January 2006 and June 2016, as well as monthly data on establishments with video gambling from the Illinois Gaming Board, the study found that “access to gambling adds on average 0.10 and 0.28 violent and property crimes per block group each month. In other words, legalizing video gambling has contributed to approximately 1,450 and 4,100 additional violent and property crimes in  Chicago since the Video Gaming Act took effect.”

While former studies have found a positive link between casinos and increased crime, the authors point out that “crime effects due to casino openings are driven by multiple mechanisms, not just gambling itself,” including an increase of visitors to counties where a casino has opened. By looking at video gambling only, researchers were able to eliminate factors extraneous to gambling.

North-east IT worker jailed after taking £1 million from council

A council IT expert who admitted swindling more than £1 million of public cash has been jailed. Mark Conway, 52, from Brechin began siphoning off local authority money into his own bank account to pay online gambling debts. He got away with the fraud for seven years before bosses at Dundee City Council grew suspicious. Conway, who admitted defrauding £1,065,085, lost the money betting on football matches. The offence was committed between August 2009 and May last year. Only £7,337 of the money was recovered. Judge Graeme Buchanan told first offender Conway: “I accept it was your addiction to gambling that led to the commission of this crime. “However, that is no excuse for what you did.” Judge Buchanan told Conway it was “a serious breach of trust.”

Identity theft, bank fraud at local casinos earns prison term 

A Las Vegas man was sentenced Wednesday to three years in prison for defrauding casinos, including two large local Native American operations. Frank Luo 49, was sentenced by Judge Kim Mueller of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Sacramento. Luo and a conspirator are accused of causing losses of more than $1.1 million to casinos and credit card companies. From 2008 to 2014, Luo used fake identities along with the names and Social Security numbers of migrant workers to apply for credit at casinos, called casino markers, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. A marker is essentially a cash advance from a casino, secured by a check from the patron. Luo and his accomplice would borrow money, and then pay it back, even sometimes faking that they were losing money gambling, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Luo worked in concert with other people to get and then pay down makers in order to show they were good for more credit. After building up and establishing creditworthiness, they would gather large sums on markers in a short time and leave with the cash.

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


A Brief Look at Crime 07/10 – 07/16

Fake online stores reveal gamblers’ shadow banking system

A network of dummy online stores offering household goods has been used as a front for internet gambling payments, a Reuters examination has found. The seven sites, operated out of Europe, purport to sell items including fabric, DVD cases, maps, gift wrap, mechanical tape, pin badges and flags. In fact, they are fake outlets, part of a multinational system to disguise payments for the $40 billion global online gambling industry, which is illegal in many countries and some U.S. states. The findings raise questions about how e-commerce is policed worldwide. They also underline a strategy which fraud specialists say regulators, card issuers and banks have yet to tackle head-on. That strategy is “transaction laundering” – when one online merchant processes payment card transactions on behalf of another, which can help disguise the true nature of payments. The scheme found by Reuters involved websites which accepted payments for household items from a reporter but did not deliver any products. Instead, staff who answered helpdesk numbers on the sites said the outlets did not sell the product advertised, but that they were used to help process gambling payments, mostly for Americans. Categorising a gambling transaction as a purchase of something else is against the rules of card issuers including Visa and Mastercard, the card companies said in response to Reuters’ findings. “Transaction laundering is serious misconduct – often criminal,” said Dan Frechtling, head of product at G2 Web Services, a financial compliance company which works with leading banks and card issuers. “It violates the merchant’s agreement with its acquirer, allows prohibited goods and services to enter the payment system, and may flout anti-money laundering laws.”

Charming con man embezzled millions from trusting victims

Financial advisor Conrad Eagan was charming and almost like one of the family, according to the relatives of one of his clients who gathered in an Ottawa courtroom Thursday. But it was his nice guy routine that allowed him to swindle approximately $3.45 million from the elderly, pocketing money they had saved through their own hard work and perseverance to sate what one of his victims described as his “uncontrollable greed.” Court heard after Eagan convinced his clients to set up wills that would keep their inheritance in trust and pay out the beneficiaries, only 10 per cent of them invested assets annually. Since Eagan also ensured he was the executor, it gave him access to the estate accounts. Eagan’s lawyer, Oliver Abergel, explained that the fraud was partially the result of his client’s gambling problem. “What I did is inexcusable. It was cruel. People trusted me, I let them down,” said Eagan. “I’m sorry, and it’s not sorry for being caught. I did such a stupid thing.”

Woman stole £150k from vulnerable pensioner and spent it on gambling and holidays

A fraudster left a vulnerable pensioner penniless after fleecing her out of more than £150,000 which she blew on gambling, holidays and jewellery. Heartless Lynn Minrath befriended the woman and then took increasing control over her finances. Prosecutor David Bright said: “This is, in essence, a fraud case, a particularly mean one. “It is the tale of a dishonest younger woman taking financial advantage of a woman in her 70s.” Mr Bright said that in 2014 the pensioner had in excess of £250,000, mainly from the proceeds of the sale of her home in London prior to her moving in with her brother in Rugby. When Mr Bright put to her that she was gambling “thousands of pounds” of the pensioner’s money, she replied: “With her consent, and with her wishes.” She accepted she had carried on until the pensioner’s accounts had been emptied, but denied Mr Bright’s suggestion that she was “a thoroughly dishonest woman”. The court heard that in 2013, Minrath, whose victim has been reimbursed by around £130,000 by her bank, had been jailed for thefts and frauds from people while working as a child minder.

Temecula woman sentenced for stealing, gambling away $565,000

A Temecula woman who stole $565,000 from the Escondido- based concrete business where she worked and gambled the money away at local casinos was sentenced today to six years in state prison. Sheila Jo Jackson, 46, pleaded guilty last month to a half-dozen felony charges, including embezzlement, check forgery and grand theft, filed by the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office. Vista Superior Court Judge Michael Washington ordered Jackson to pay restitution to Betz Concrete, where she worked as a business manager. The thefts went back to at least 2012, said Deputy District Attorney Anna Winn. A bank representative contacted the concrete company about suspicious activity on its account and Jackson was arrested late last year, according to police.

Man ran half-dozen illegal gambling rooms in Austin area

Chong Pak, 53, has been arrested in connection to an illegal gambling operation in Austin. Police found nearly $750,000 in cash in Pak’s home after serving a warrant, officials said. Police believe Pak owned six to eight game rooms in the Austin area. Austin police have arrested a man in connection to citywide illegal gambling activities, but the case remains open as they expect to file more charges in the future against others, police said. People who play with these particular machines do not have a “legitimate” chance of winning, police said. These activities are of interest to police because of the related crimes that could occur, such as robberies and violent crimes, police said. Austin police believe there are about 80 illegal gambling operations housed in warehouses, homes and storefronts throughout the Austin area, said Austin police Cmdr. Troy Officer of APD’s organized crime unit.

Ex-casino worker admits role in ‘inside job’ robbery that led to murder of Brink’s guard

Ammar has been locked up since shortly after the Aug. 21, 2011, robbery, an insider job that led to the shooting death of Brink’s guard Alvaro Lopez Ramos. Ramos, 26, was fatally shot while picking up cash from the Calder Race Track and Casino, on the border of Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Jurors found Ammar not guilty of playing a role in the murder but convicted him of robbery, conspiracy and a related firearms offense at his 2012 trial. Four other people who pleaded guilty to their roles in the incident are serving federal prison terms ranging from five years to 50 years. Vladimir Louissaint, 31, of Miami Gardens, who confessed to firing the fatal shots, received the most severe punishment of 50 years. Ammar, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who was a security manager at the casino, remained imprisoned while his appeal was pending. His case is now being handled by U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro.

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


GUEST ARTICLE: [Florida] Lawmakers’ Rushed Deal to Expand Casinos in Miami is a Reckless Gamble

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing efforts to expand gambling in Florida by authorizing a new, Las Vegas style, destination resort casino. As recently pointed out by the Mason-Dixon poll, the vast amount of voters, 84%, want to either hold the line or actually reduce gambling expansion. When it came to gambling expansion through new casinos, the Florida legislature has typically done as the people have asked and not expanded gambling in this measure. However, that appears to be coming to an end as House and Senate are making a deal to allow a new casino to come to Miami and they are facing huge opposition. The below article is the office Miami Herald Editorial Board position:

After years of an impasse between the House and Senate on expanding casinos in Florida, comes a sudden and unseemly rush to get the job done.

The Legislature needs to slow its roll of the dice. Legislation pushed through in a hurry, without much, if any, public notice or input, is never a good thing….

House and Senate leaders appear to be closing in on a deal to radically revamp Florida’s gambling industry and strike an agreement with the Seminole Tribe in what could be a considerable expansion of gambling throughout the state — and Miami-Dade.

The measure rightly has been met with resistance from gambling opponents. This rush toward a decision in the session’s final days to allow, among other things, a new casino in Miami-Dade has that hush-hush, backroom feel — almost always unwise, and usually at taxpayers’ expense.

Count the Editorial Board among those calling for putting the brakes on this troubling quickie deal. The Board has long opposed turning Miami-Dade into a Las Vegas-style destination — and we continue to do so. Gambling, indeed, can transform communities — often for the worse. Miami-Dade is a progressive community of great accomplishment, but one, too, that already is a magnet for too many dangerous and illicit activities. Casinos won’t help…

Among the opponents of the deal is Armando Codina, one of Miami’s most prominent developers, who told Herald/Times reporter Mary Ellen Klas that he was surprised by the sudden legislative sprint. Codina, chairman of Codina Partners, LLC, a real estate investment and development firm based in Coral Gables, has long been a critic of expanded gambling in the county.

“I’m well-informed, but this surprised me how it was snuck in without any public debate,” said Codina.

He added that while the new gambling revenue would flow to the state and county, it will cost Miami-Dade dearly, leaving the community with the kind of infrastructure and social problems that it is already hard-pressed to handle. We agree. 

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

 

 


New Jersey Petitions Supreme Court to Allow their Overturned Attempt at Legalizing Sports Betting in NJ

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing efforts of New Jersey to legalize sports betting in their state. Its been long the case that sports betting has been limited to Las Vegas as they were grandfathered into legislation that prevented states from allowing sports betting. Time & time again New Jersey has attempted a new way to legalize sports betting and time & time again their attempts have been shot down by the courts. There last was a 2014 law that was also halted by the courts. They are taking the final step with this attempt by making an appear to the Supreme Court. The Times Union explains:  

After an initial 2012 law allowing sports gambling in New Jersey was struck down in court, Republican Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill into law in 2014 that repealed prohibitions against sports gambling at casinos and racetracks.

That tactic — repealing prohibitions instead of approving gambling — was seen as a way to get around the federal law by not having sports gambling officially authorized by the state.

But that also met defeat at the hands of a federal judge in New Jersey and a federal appeals court in Philadelphia.

In this week’s brief, the state argued the federal government, while able to regulate citizens directly, may not “require the states to govern by Congress’ instruction.”

Put differently, the appeals court’s ruling invalidating New Jersey’s 2014 law violates the Constitution by “authorizing a federal court injunction mandating that a State reinstate prohibitions it has chosen to repeal,” attorneys representing the state wrote.

The Supreme Court is expected to either pick up the case or reject hearing it, thus affirming the lower courts ruling that the law is illegal, within a month.

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


A Brief Look at Crime 12/26 – 01/01

Army Vet Killed Over ‘Poker Room Table Talk,’ 2 Arrested

Two men are behind bars after a U.S. Armyvet was gunned down outside a South Florida casino on Christmas night. Those men appeared in court Tuesday morning. The shooting happened at the Miccosukee Resort and Casino. Investigators say it began with ‘poker room table talk’ that led to an argument between Kenin Bailey, Mikey Lenard and MarineFernando Duarte. “It was poker room table talk, a little poker room talk at the table itself,” said Det. Flavio Rivera with the Miccosukee Police Department at the hearing Tuesday. Duarte was asked to leave the poker room. Later, in the parking lot, police say, they all continued to argue. At one point, investigators say, the two suspects cut off Duarte twice. The second time, Duarte got out of his car and approached the pair. Police say Bailey then opened fire, shooting off 13 rounds

Rugby fraudster tricked couple out of retirement pot to fund gambling 

A CROOKED bookkeeper who has clocked up almost £300,000 worth of frauds over the last 15 years is back behind bars after tricking a couple out of their retirement pot to fund his gambling and high-living. [M]ost of the money had gone on gambling and to pay for luxury holidays to destinations including Barbados, Egypt, Spain, Portugal and Cyprus. “It is very difficult for me to overestimate the impact this has had on the complainants. These were people approaching the end of their working careers, and now money they had worked hard for to put aside for their pensions has simply gone. “I don’t say it’s the sole cause of it, but the couple are no longer together, and [the husband] has lost his job because he was taking so much time off for stress,” said Mr Williams. Brough’s previous convictions included thefts from employers, fraud, forgery and false accounting – and Judge Andrew Lockhart QC commented: “In the 2000s he stole nearly £300,000.

Man sentenced for misusing company credit card for gambling

A Cumberland Township man who recently pleaded guilty to using his former employer’s company credit card to spend about $118,000 on lottery tickets and gift cards last year, was sentenced Thursday to 9 months to 23 months in Greene County Jail, followed by five years of probation. Police wrote in court documents that Kozy admitted he “got carried away” and became addicted to buying lottery tickets and “went extremely overboard” with the credit card. He allegedly told police he did not realize he had spent more than $100,000 with the card. Kozy pleaded guilty to access device fraud and was ordered by Greene County Judge Lou Dayich to pay back the $118,074 by making $300 monthly payments for the first year, and $500 per month after that.

Woman accused of embezzling $100k from wounded vets 

Army investigators arrested a government contractor at San Antonio Military Medical Center on Wednesday and accused her of taking more than $100,000 meant for wounded soldiers from the foundation she volunteers for — the Air Warrior Courage Foundation. According to a complaint filed by an investigator with the Army Criminal Investigation Division, foundation funds were deposited into Charles’ personal account, which she then diverted to pay personal living expenses from April through October of this year. Much of that money she withdrew as cash from automated teller machines at the Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino in Eagle Pass, according to the complaint.

Virginia woman gets 5 years in prison in Ponzi scheme 

70-year-old Williamsburg woman has been sentenced to five years in prison in what prosecutors say was a Ponzi scheme through which she swindled more than $1.1 million. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia said in a statement that Patricia Means of Williamsburg was sentenced Monday after pleading guilty to wire fraud and money laundering earlier this year. The statement says Means, a retired investment broker, developed a scheme to raise funds for developing a handbag organizer. They say she then used investments from more than a dozen victims on housing, casino trips, vehicles and other personal items. According to the statement, longtime friends of hers were among the victims. Means was also ordered to pay restitution and was sentenced to three years of supervised release.

Veteran Marine gunned down outside Miami casino on Christmas night

A veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps was gunned down Christmas night at a South Florida casino. Family members of Fernando Duarte said he was shot while leaving the Miccosukee Casino in Miami. The 33-year-old walked out after winning a prize from a slot machine when he was shot by three gunmen. Duarte was rushed to Kendall Regional Hospital where he later died. Miccosukee police said three people are in custody in connection with the shooting. Detectives did not release their identities or the charges they face. The investigation is ongoing.

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


Online Gambling Ban efforts Hope to find Success in Congress under the upcoming Trump Administration

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing efforts to reverse the Obama Administration’s stance on online gambling. Federal Law clearly made the activity illegal but the Obama Administration use the courts to provide a very controversial interpretation of the Wire Act. Many efforts have been made to reverse this course, but none have succeeded under Obama’s Administration. Many believe once he leaves office, there will be real movement in restoring online gambling bans and a new bill has been filed with that very intent. An online source explains: 

Pennsylvania Republican Representative Michael Fitzpatrick has introduced legislation to the US House that would ban online gambling at a federal level.

The “RAWA-esque” bill HR 6453 appeared on Capitol Hill last week, December 7, and is co-sponsored by Representative Bobby Rush (D-Illinois) and longstanding online gaming opponent, Representative Charles Dent (R-Pennsylvania). It’s been coming. The dark clouds began to gather last week when ten attorney generals from states across the US wrote to petition the incoming Trump administration to impose a federal ban on online gambling.

“The risks to our citizens are real and extensive,” explained the AGs. “The ability for youth to access online gaming sites presents a significant risk to teens, a risk more easily mitigated at traditional brick-and-mortar establishments.”

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