Category Archives: Elected Officials

Seminole Deal Struck with Gov Scott, but Lawmakers still want a Special Gambling Session

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing negotiations between Florida State and the Seminole Tribe to reach a new gambling compact. The session ended with no formal deal in place, but it was expected the Seminoles would continue payments as normal. Gov Rick Scott worked directly with the Tribe after the session ended and has announced a formal agreement to continue payments through next year. An online source reports: 

On Wednesday, Florida Gov. *Rick Scott* announced that the state had extended its casino revenue sharing agreement with the Seminoles through May 2019. The agreement, which was signed in 2017, calls for the tribe to provide the state with around $300m per year in exchange for exclusive rights to certain gaming products.

Scott said the agreement “ensures the Tribe’s current commitment remains intact” but Scott stressed that Wednesday’s deal “does not make any changes to state gaming law or expand current gaming operations in Florida in any way.”

The 2017 agreement was itself a stopgap deal due to the inability of state legislators to approve a new gaming compact with the tribe, which operates the Hard Rock International family of casinos.

However, this action doesn’t appear to have stopped discussions by the legislature to convene a special session to address gambling. The Tampa Bay Times explains: 

The agreement, however, doesn’t look like it’s going to stop talk of a gaming special session sometime in the next month. House and Senate leaders face an expensive election cycle that could benefit from gaming industry contributions, and they are staring down a constitutional amendment that, if voters approve, could take away their control over gaming expansion in Florida.

“The discussions on the special session are continuing,” said Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, the incoming Senate president and the Senate’s key negotiator.

Galvano now says the reason for a special session has more to do with Amendment 3. The constitutional amendment is backed primarily by Disney Worldwide and as the support of the Seminole Tribe. If it gets the 60 percent of the vote needed to become law, legislators will have less influence over all gaming decisions, and the political fundraising that comes from the pari-mutuel industry could shrink.

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Florida Ends Session with No Gambling Bills Passed – Seminole Tribe Provided Assurances to Continue the Revenue Sharing Compact in the Interim

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing gambling expansion issues in Florida. Many issues were on the table this legislative session including a new gambling compact between the State and the Seminole Tribe, a greyhound racing ban, specific regulations on types of card games to be allowed, and the location and expiation of new slot machines in the states. The hope was to address these issues this legislative session, as it seems clear that a new amendment will pass a vote of the people to require all future gambling legislation to be approved by the voters. Most recently though, Casino Watch Focus reported that those goals were unlikely to be achieved as the focus of the Florida legislators would be shifting to focus on gun control legislation that was prompted after the Parkland school shooting. After those efforts were complete, gambling discussions were given some very last minute life, but as reported by The Palm Beach Post, those efforts have come to a close with no new gambling bills being passed:

Republican legislative leaders had resurrected the issue in the waning days of the session as they tried to strike a deal between the gambling-leery House and the Senate, which was willing to expand slot machines to counties where voters have approved the lucrative machines.

But after a day of horse-trading, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron declared the issue off the table. “Despite the good faith efforts of both the House and Senate, a gaming bill will not pass the Legislature this session,” the leaders said in a statement Friday evening. “Gaming remains one of the most difficult issues we face as a Legislature. We are pleased with the progress made over the last week and know that our colleagues will continue to work on this important issue.”

Lawmakers were anxious to address the perennially elusive issue due to a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would give voters control of future gambling decisions, something now largely left up to the Legislature.

“We spent so much time, and rightfully so, on the school-safety legislation, and we found ourselves on a Friday, with a Sunday deadline if we had extended, and the tribe’s not up here,” Galvano said, referring to school-safety legislation stemming from the Feb. 14 mass shooting at a Broward County high school.

One of the more pressing issues at hand, was the formation of a new gambling compact between the Florida and the Seminole Tribe. The legal issues at hand have stemmed from the exclusivity aspects of certain card games in exchange for income to the State. The Palm Beach Post continues:

Also, legislators wanted to ensure a steady stream of income from the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The money could be in peril after a federal court ruling about controversial “designated player” games at pari-mutuel cardrooms throughout the state. Striking a new deal, called a compact, with the Seminoles, which would be part of any gambling legislation, has proved elusive for legislators.

One of the critical provisions of a 2010 deal between the state and tribe, giving the tribe “exclusivity” over banked card games, such as blackjack, expired in 2015. That spawned a protracted legal battle and previously futile attempts by lawmakers to seal a new agreement. The tribe pays more than $300 million a year under the banked-card games portion of the 2010 agreement.

But the legal battle focused heavily on what are known as “designated player games,” which are played at pari-mutuel facilities. After a federal judge sided with the tribe in a dispute over whether the lucrative designated-player games breached the Seminoles’ exclusivity over offering banked card games, the tribe agreed to continue making payments to the state, and gambling regulators promised to “aggressively enforce” the manner in which cardrooms conduct the designated player games.

While the tribe agreed to temporarily continue paying the state, some lawmakers are eager for the financial certainty a new compact would provide. But Galvano said he has spoken with a representative of the tribe, who assured him that the Seminoles intend to maintain the revenue-sharing agreement with the state. 

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


ESRB Responds to Sen. Hassan’s Letter to Regulate Gambling-esque Loot Boxes Offering a Completely Meaningless Solution

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing issue of loot boxes in video games. Many seek to label them as gambling and want to see the appropriate regulations in place. The game that brought the issue to light was a Disney owned property, Star Wars and the game EA produced, Battlefront II. Hawaii legislator Chris Lee candidly referred to the game as an online, Star Wars themed casino, designed to take kids money. Since the issue has become more clearly understood, more legislators have pressured the industry for the appropriate protections moving forward. Most recentlyUS Senator Maggie Hassan wrote an open letter to the ESRB, the video game self-regulator body, asking them to address the issue before bodies like Congress had to step in to offer protection. The ESRB finally released a statement outlining a new policy, and it should come as no surprise that their recommended actions do absolutely nothing to protect consumers or adequately inform parents as to the dangers of loot boxes, or even to their inclusion in games for that matter. Forbes very precisely breaks down the situation and comments from Sen Hass demonstrates why the ESRB’s suggested policy action wont advance protections in any meaningful way:

The ESRB made an announcement yesterday that it will now start labeling games that sell loot boxes. The problem? It will also be labeling games that sell /anything/, loot boxes, microtransactions, boosts, even DLC, using one, catch-all “In-Game Purchases” label.

The issue that was immediately pointed out by everyone was that nearly every game on the market contains “in-game purchases” in 2018, so this will be a sticker slapped on pretty much all titles, barring perhaps some indies. Hassan herself even saw this as a pretty obvious dodge, saying this after the announcement was made:

“While today’s announcement of the creation of a new ‘In-Game Purchases’ label and the ESRB’s response to my letter are a positive step for parents and consumers, I am still concerned by the ESRB’s skepticism regarding the potentially addictive nature of loot boxes and microtransactions in video games. I will work with all relevant stakeholders to continue oversight on these issues and ensure that meaningful improvements are made to increase transparency and consumer protections.”

The ESRB very clearly understood that people would see through such meaningless actions, so they attempted to preemptively address everyone’s criticism. As Forbes points out, their response was nonsense and it’s incredibly obvious that the industry won’t be attempting to address the issue unless legislative bodies like Congress force them to protect children from this form of gambling:

The ESRB anticipated that it would get flack for not targeting loot boxes specifically with this move, and president Patricia Vance said this in its defense:

“I’m sure you’re all asking why aren’t we doing something more specific to loot boxes,” Vance said. “We’ve done a lot of research over the past several weeks and months, particularly among parents. What we’ve learned is that a large majority of parents don’t know what a loot box is. Even those who claim they do, don’t really understand what a loot box is. So it’s very important for us to not harp on loot boxes per se, to make sure that we’re capturing loot boxes, but also other in-game transactions.”

This is, of course, nonsense. While the ESRB is setting up a site to better educate parents on in-game spending in addition to this new “in-game purchases” sticker, the point is that the ESRB is totally ducking the real issue here. They still want to get /nowhere/ near declaring loot boxes gambling and doing something drastic like making all loot box-infused games M or AO rated, so this is their incredibly phoned-in compromise.

To me, this is about as useful a gambling regulatory body (run by the casinos, not the government) informing you that a stay at a casino will cost you money, but without differentiating between spending cash on food, blackjack, drinks, poker, hotel rooms or slot machines. Kids can order food and drinks and stay at the hotel, but they can’t gamble for obvious reasons. But the ESRB with its new system is lumping /all/ forms of spending together in a way that is bound to do nothing but confuse parents even further, obscuring the real issue.

It is absolutely absurd that the ESRB is creating a system that would group something like /Horizon Zero Dawn/’s Frozen Wilds [Downloadable Content (DLC)] in with something like /Battlefront 2/ loot boxes. This “solution” is totally glossing over the crux of the issue, which is not that players are able to spend money past the $60 asking price of a game, but that /the way/ in which they’re asked to spend money has often been honed by psychologists to ensure it’s as addicting, if not more so, than traditional gambling. But the ESRB is not touching that with a ten foot pole, relying on the old argument that since nothing of “actual value” is won during this gambling because the items are digital, that it isn’t gambling at all. And yet there is nothing psychologically addictive about wanting to buy DLC for a game you’ve purchased, while there certainly is for players, often children, that are spending dozens, hundreds, or thousands of dollars on randomized, slot-machine-like loot box rewards across the majority of releases today.

So yes, the ESRB did something that is essentially nothing, and it’s clear they’re not going to be a player in this fight unless legislation forces them to change their tune. 

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


Seminole Compact Deal Seems Unlikely Given Florida Legislators are Shifting Full Focus to the Parkland School Shooting

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing efforts to fully renew the Seminole Gambling Compact and officially lock in various gambling exclusivity agreements with the Tribe, the most prominent being designated player card games.  Recent legislation was proposed and pushed that was an attempt to allow exclusive deals for the Seminoles at their casinos, while allowing para-mutuel operators to offer designated player games and even end greyhound racing. The Sun-Sentinel reports:

The Florida Legislature is showing its hand in another attempt to bring the Seminole Tribe into a new, lucrative gambling agreement with the state.

Th new deal would potentially end greyhound racing, bring craps and roulette to Seminole casinos and allow designated-player games.

Under a draft agreement the tribe has shown several state lawmakers, it would now be willing to consider designated-player games and fantasy sports leagues such as FanDuel and DraftKing, both of which it had previously said were in violation of its agreement with the state.

Given the court appointed deadlines and Amendment 3, which seems likely to pass and would take the power away from the legislators and into the hands of the people, this was viewed as the key time to strike a deal. An online source explains:

The first deadline is a 2015 federal court order that allows the Seminoles to stop making $250 million in annual revenue-sharing payments to the state by the end of March if lawmakers don’t curtail the growth of ”designated player” games, a hybrid of poker and blackjack, in cardrooms across Florida. The next comes in November when voters are presented with a proposed “No Casinos” constitutional amendment that would require 60 percent approval of a ballot measure to expand gambling, essentially removing legislators from the decision-making process regarding casinos. Therefore, if lawmakers are to make significant changes to gambling regulations and renew the state’s gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe, the time to do so is now or, maybe, it will be never.

The Senate Finance and Tax Appropriations Subcommittee approved a 90-page gambling bill earlier this week that gives the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s seven casinos the exclusive right to offer craps and roulette while allowing pari-mutuel facilities statewide to run “designated player” card games.

As it turns out, however, the timeline has become even more doubtful given the tragic Parkland school shooting. The Florida legislature is wisely shifting focus to discuss and address potential solutions to help protect Florida families from similar future tragedies. The budget also needs to be passed, so the window for gambling appears to be rapidly closing.   An online source explains: 

The Florida high school shooting that left 17 people dead last week has another potential casualty—the state’s gambling legislation.

Florida Politics reported that Florida’s gambling bill is on life support after legislators decided to shelve all pending bills on their desks in order to prioritize a legislative response to the February 14 mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County.

With only three weeks left in the 2018 legislative session, legislators are scrambling to enact a law that will allocate $100 million funding for the state’s mental health screening, counseling and training, and the “hardening” of Florida schools.

After passing the bill, lawmakers will then need to squeeze in discussions on the state budget within a limited time. With their hands full, Florida House Speaker-designate José Oliva is much less optimistic that they will get something done on gambling in the next three weeks.

“A lot of our bandwidth is going to be taken up,” Oliva said, according to FloridaPolitics.com. “We still have a budget to pass, and obviously we’ve got some sort of bipartisan bill that we have to pass dealing with the tragedy at Stoneman Douglas.”

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


Hawaii Proposes 4 New Anti-Gambling Bills against Video Game Loot Boxes and US Senator Pressures ESRB for Industry Ratings and Regulation

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the discovery and evolution of gambling-esque loot boxes in video games and the legislative response to such predatory practices. Loot boxes are a type of micro-transaction where a video game player spends real money to open a box or chest in a video game, and hopefully win a valuable prize. If this sounds an awful lot like slot machines, then you’re thinking the same as countless fans, journalists and now legislators that are worried about he addictive and predatory nature of such a mechanic, especially when kids freely play these games. Hawaii legislator Chris Lee has lead the charge to hold the video game accountable and many others have taken note. As promised, Hawaii has now released 4 new bills that seek to regulate these predatory micro-transactions. An online source reports: 

Four new bills have been introduced in the past month that target the sale of games that sell loot boxes for real money. Two of the bills would prohibit developers from selling games with randomized loot box reward systems to anyone under the age of 21. The other two would require developers to label games that use randomized loot box systems /and/ to disclose loot box drop rates.

Developers would be forced to label games should they include “in-game purchases and gambling-like mechanisms which may be harmful or addictive,” according to the bill. A game purchased online would have to include this information on the game’s art. 

“Whistle-blowers have revealed that psychologists are employed to create these mechanisms,” Lee told the Hawaii Tribune. “If enough of the market reacts, the industry would have to respond and change its practices.” Lee said that more than half of the states in the United States are looking intro legislation regarding the sale of loot boxes in video games. Loot box regulation has already begun overseas as well. In 2016, China passed legislation that requires all developers to publish its loot box odds. Likewise, the Belgium Gaming Commission has deemed loot boxes “dangerous.”

Lee has been pushing the industry to impose its own common sense legislation. The ESRB is the rating system used within the industry and as of now, they are unwilling to view loot boxes as gambling and thus, they haven’t been willing to take the matter seriously or regulate from within. During a normal public meeting about the bills, lobbyist from the Entertainment Software Association, the industries trade group and regulators of the ESRB rating system, flew out to participate in the Q&A. They were unable to answer, justify or address some of the most basic concerns raised by Lee. It was objectively a very terrible showing for the industry. You can find the full video and update on Lee’s direct YouTube channel HERE (Loot box update begins at 2:37 and the questioning begins at 7:00).

Moreover, in addition to large number of states that are looking into similar legislation, these predatory gambling practices have now caught the attention of the US Senate, specifically Senator Maggie Hassan. She has questioned the FTC and wrote a letter directly to the ESRB. Forbes reports: 

This week, Hassan asked four FTC nominees the question: “That children being addicted to gaming — and activities like loot boxes that might make them more susceptible to addiction — is a problem that merits attention?” To which all four responded yes, it was something they would look into. But past that, Hassan wrote a lengthy letter to Patricia Vance, president of the ESRB citing that the issue of loot boxes was brought to her attention by a constituent. 

“While there is robust debate over whether loot boxes should be considered gambling, the fact that they are both expensive habits and use similar psychological principles suggest loot boxes should be treated with extra scrutiny,” Hassan’s letter says. “At minimum, the rating system should denote when loot boxes are utilized in physical copies of electronic games.”

The fact that Hassan is a US Senator, not a state senator, is important, as this could end up leading to her proposing federal legislation about this issue, rather than individual states doing it.

The powerful letter can be read in its entirety at Forbes HERE 

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


UPDATE: Gambling-esque Loot Boxes in Video Games Face Regulatory Measures & Studies from Governments like Hawaii and Private Companies like Apple, but are they Actually Harmful?

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the newly covered, gambling type video game items known as loot boxes. The boxes are purchasable in a video game and they provide random loot, or in game merchandise, much like a slot machine. This system of microtransactions came to light because EA pushed the envelope so far in their new Disney licensed Star Wars video game, that the only way to truly progress in the game or have the tools to win was to buy these loot boxes and gamble on the items you would get. The system is designed for the player to buy boxes, open them and chase after the best loot. Players pushed back, mainstream media picked up the issue, Disney had to get involve and make EA pull the gambling system from the game and legislators started looking into the issue. Hawaii legislators came out very strongly against the idea of exposing children to such psychologically manipulative, gambling type systems and called the game a Star Wars themed online casino. Its no surprise that a few weeks later and Hawaii legislators are now drafting legislation and working with other states and the industry itself to regulate the issue.   Gaming publication Kotaku reports:

A Hawaii in which games with microtransactions are illegal for minors to purchase is one that state legislator Chris Lee is now hoping to realize. He says that prohibiting the sale of games with loot boxes is a “no-brainer,” and along with a dozen other politicians, he says, he’s thinking of how to put legal controls around video game microtransactions. 

Over the course of a few months, Lee had been hearing from local teachers about kids who struggled with the temptation to spend beyond their means in game microtransactions. Lee cited one conversation about a kid who, he heard, had stolen their parents’ credit card to pay for their gaming habit. He says several families reached out about spending thousands of dollars on microtransactions.

“Gambling has been illegal especially for minors and young adults because they are psychologically vulnerable,” he told me, adding that kids “often don’t have the cognitive maturity to make appropriate decisions when exposed to these kinds of exploitative mechanisms.” 

“There’s no transparency at the outset of what they’re getting into,” he said. “That’s something I think is a real concern.” Now, Lee is working to prevent the sale of games containing loot boxes to gamers under 21 in Hawaii. He also wants games to disclose up-front whether they have “gambling-based mechanics” and to publicize the odds of winning various items in loot boxes.

Apple Inc. certainly agrees with Lee that the odds of winning various items need to be disclosed to gamers. Falling in line with what other foreign governments like China Korea, Apple is now requiring game companies to publicize the odds. Venture Beats explains:

Apple quietly updated its rules for developers yesterday with a new version of its App Store Review Guidelines, and it now requires that developers disclose the odds of getting cool loot in the loot boxes for free-to-play games.

Loot boxes have become a big monetization opportunity in free-to-play games, but they’re also controversial, as Electronic Arts’ discovered with tying loot crate purchases to unlocking desirable characters like Darth Vader in Star Wars: Battlefront II. Gamers revolted, and EA backed off. Government officials also started to step in to say that loot crates should be regulated, as they can be perceived as ripping off consumers or even as gambling.

Apple is clearly trying to get ahead of any regulatory problem by requiring that developers now disclose proper information.

But those in the gaming industry don’t believe loot boxes are gambling. Not only have individual companies gone on record to say they are perfectly fine, the ESRB, the self-regulated industry body who labels games by age range, came out and said they didn’t believe they were gambling and they certainly haven’t proposed any regulatory measures to help protect consumers against the predatory nature of microtransactions. Those fighting against loot boxes aren’t simply looking at antidotal evidence either. The UK’s Gambling Commission just released a report with rather shocking evidence of children as young as 11 being preyed upon and possibly lead into gambling addiction. Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioral Addiction at Nottingham Trent University explains:

Last week, the Gambling Commission’s annual report found that children as young as 11 years of age are “skin gambling” online – paying money for the chance to win in-game virtual items. But this, while alarming, is just the tip of the iceberg.

It’s the terrifying phenomenon of “loot boxes” that are the most worrying and potentially dangerous aspect of e-gaming for children right now. “Loot boxes” are everywhere – they are otherwise known as crates, chests, cases, bundles, and card packs.

In FIFA Ultimate Team, for example, players can purchase gold, silver or bronze card packs, either using in-game currency or real money, in the hope of getting their hands on top talent to improve their teams. But there’s no guarantee of landing A-listers like Ronaldo or Messi – the cards won’t all be star players and will more likely be less valuable collectables.

The issue is that the buying of crates or loot boxes is a form of gambling because players, often children, are being asked to buy something of financial value that could end up being of lower financial value than the amount they paid. 

The good thing is parents are now hearing about things like “skin gambling” and “loot boxes” but children also need to be educated about these activities as much as drinking, drugs or the risks of underage sex. Parents need to get to grips with what is going on in their children’s worlds.

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