Category Archives: Elected Officials

Missouri’s Illegal Slot Machine Problem gets Another Round of Missouri Legislator’s Attention Amid Record Complaints as some Fear it will become a Supreme Court Issue

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing issue plaguing Missouri residents, illegal gambling machines. These slot machines have been popping up all over Missouri and they are illegal. Enforcement has been an issue as the Missouri Gaming Commission can only regulate and enforce legal gambling. Local prosecutors have been responsible for enforcement and the issue has quickly gotten out of control.   Complaints for these machines have more than quadrupled in just the last year and its causing a strain to law enforcement. Missourinet explains:

The Missouri State Highway Patrol testified Thursday in Jefferson City that the number of complaints it’s received about illegal gambling has increased from 39 in 2018 to 145 so far this year. Most of those complaints are about alleged illegal slot machines. Highway Patrol Lieutenant Roger Phillips tells state lawmakers the Patrol’s Division of Drug and Crime Control (DDCC) only has two full-time investigators to handle these complaints. “In recent months, we’ve had such a volume of complaints that we’ve had to pull investigators from other assigned duties to come and help investigate these complaints,” Phillips testifies.

The Missouri House Committee has taken to a more formal round of discussion at the State’s Capitol, inviting testimony from the community, law enforcement and the manufactures of the machines. Interestingly enough, none of the machines manufactures actually showed up as they initially indicated. The St Louis Post Dispatch reports: 

After saying he would welcome the chance to talk to lawmakers, one of the men responsible for the spread of illegal gambling machines across Missouri was a no-show Thursday at a special House committee hearing. In September, a spokesman for Steven Miltenberger, owner of Wildwood-based Torch Electronics, said “we’d look forward to the opportunity” to make the case to lawmakers that

“I have not seen, nor am I aware, of any machines that would be legal,” said Steve Sokoloff, general counsel for the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, which represents county-level prosecutors.

He said the distributors and manufacturers of the machines find loopholes in state anti-gambling laws to help them avoid prosecution. But, no matter which feature is added by the companies, the general sense is that if people put money in a terminal with the belief that they might win money, that is gambling, which is illegal if it is not regulated by the state, Sokoloff said.

Given the shear volume of these machines and the massive amount of money that will be lost should they be properly regulated and formally declared illegal through legislation, some believe the issue will find itself in the Supreme Court. Missourinet explains:

House Special Interim Committee on Gaming Chairman Dan Shaul, R-Imperial, tells Missourinet he believes this issue will end up at the Missouri Supreme Court, because of powerful interests on both sides. “There’s going to be people that make a lot of money one way or the other, and it’s a lot of protection and the cost of going to the (Missouri) Supreme Court would be certainly less than what they would perceive would be won or lost through this process,” Shaul says. He also believes the issue will be litigated in court for three or four years.

Chairman Shaul compares the growing problem of alleged illegal slots to a different issue the Missouri Department of Conservation has dealt with. “Feral hogs weren’t a problem (in Missouri) ten years ago, we just had a little problem. Well, is this going to become the next feral hog issue in the state,” says Shaul.

The Missouri Gaming Commission has testified that any illegal gaming machines used in Missouri negatively impact casinos and the state Lottery, reducing taxes and funding for education and veterans.

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Jacksonville Florida Mayor to Enforce Internet Café Ban via Local Legislation, but a Lawsuit Seeks an Injunction

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing issue of internet cafés. Gov. Rick Scott banned this form of illegal gambling as these gambling machines essentially created unregulated mini-casinos. Formal legislation was needed as manufactures and venues routinely tried to claim they weren’t slot machines. However, many jurisdictions have been slow to enforce the new ban as some believed the general definition of internet café and the types of games it sought to restrict might ether be too vague or entirely too broad. Now, one area that has been allowing internet cafes has passed its own local legislation and informed these cafes that they must remove the machines or close entirely. First Coast News explains:

Mayor Lenny Curry signed legislation into law Friday that requires all Jacksonville internet cafes to remove all “simulated gambling” devices or close their doors for good. This legislation goes into effect Friday, and the city will begin enforcing the law on Tuesday, Oct. 15.

On Tuesday, the city council approved the ordinance that calls for Internet cafes to immediately remove simulated gambling devices or close their doors, as soon as the mayor signs the bill into law. The bill was introduced by councilwoman LeAnna Cumber during that Tuesday meeting, previously city council had voted to close all arcades with simulated gambling devices next year. 

As is often the case with gambling issues, and lawsuit has been filed to stop the legislation. Lawyers for the internet cafes filed the injunction almost immediately upon signing. Jacksonville online reports:

A lawsuit filed Friday seeks an injunction to stop the city from enforcing rules the City Council approved in May and this week. A lawyer for several internet café owners asked a federal judge Friday to block Jacksonville officials from enforcing new ordinances banning casino-style electronic games the city calls “simulated gambling devices.”

U.S. District Judge Brian Davis didn’t immediately react to the injunction request Mathis made on behalf of ’s injunction request, which he made on behalf of Triad Venture Capitalists LLC, The Grand Arcade LLC and Chapman Enterprises of Atlantic Beach Inc., all companies that run internet cafes affected by the new rules. 

Between 140 and 160 internet cafes are thought to be operating citywide, and city officials have said inspections to enforce the new rules could begin this month.

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

 


UPDATE: Genting’s Miami Monorail Casino Plan Opposed by Mayor and Florida Senators Rubio and Scott

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing efforts of Genting to build and operate a Vegas style destination casino in Miami Florida. None of their efforts have found legs, so they are attempting a most usual Hail Mary. They are working to bid on and fully construct a tax payer monorail system that would connect people across the bay to Miami. The Miami-Dade commissioners voted to open a bid process, but it was clear the already proposed Genting plan would be positioned ahead of any possible new proposals.   It seems extremely clear that the ulterior motive to gain the political favor to get their casino plan passed. That alone has local lawmakers concerned with the project, but additional security concerns against given the companies ties to foreign entities in China. As a result, new measures are being pushed forward by local lawmakers, and they have the backing of Florida Senators Mark Rubio and Rick Scott. The Miami Herald reports: 

When Miami-Dade invites companies to bid on a transit link between Miami and Miami Beach, the county could tell Chinese train makers not to bother.

A rule embedded in draft bid documents proposed by Mayor Carlos Gimenez would bar participation by Chinese train and bus companies, a prohibition that goes to the heart of a monorail proposal by casino giant Genting to use China’s BYD as its rail partner.

The move follows backlash to BYD’s possible role in building a new transit system for Miami-Dade, including warnings from Florida’s two Republican senators, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, of potential security issues. Armando Ibarra, a lobbyist and head of Miami’s Young Republicans group, led a campaign to block BYD, including funding a poll aimed at showing a lack of support in Miami-Dade.

Its very clear that the point of their involvement is get a casino plan authorized, so simple opposition on that level is enough and a fair counter. But those involved stress the security concerns are real and need to be evaluated. The issue isn’t something fabricated in this instance to stop the deal either, its roots stem from federal legislation and security concerns. The Miami Herald continues: 

Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber is an anti-gambling activist who objected to the monorail proposal for linking a transit system to a property where Genting wants to build a casino resort. While his objections to the Genting plan centered on gambling, the former Democratic lawmaker said the anti-China legislation — sponsored by Rubio in the Senate — addressed a valid worry.

“While foreign has its place, I get the concern” about security risks from Chinese firms, Gelber said. “It’s not a fictional concern.” 

BYD is already a player in U.S. transit as a supplier of electric buses and is pursuing rail projects across the country. The bid framework, subject to County Commission approval on Sept. 4, would require proposers to comply with aU.S. House bill designed to bar and other Chinese firms from supplying trains or buses — known as “rolling stock” — for new transit projects in the United States.

“If anyone uses rolling stock from China, it’s not allowed,” Gimenez said in a brief interview Thursday. The proposed Miami-Dade rule follows the language of House Bill 5515, the National Defense Authorization Act for 2019, and would be in effect even if the federal legislation doesn’t pass, administration officials said

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


Missouri Legislators Finally Discussing Ways to Enforce and Eliminate Illegal Gambling Machines Across the State

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the worrisome issue in Missouri of illegal slot machines popping up across the state in non-licensed locations such as gas stations and the even worse possibility of legislators contemplation making slot machines legal outside of casinos. However, the concern rose over such a massive expansion of gambling has now shifted to enforcement methods to eliminate illegal slot machines. So far it seems to be the responsibility of local prosecutors as the Gaming Commission can only enforce regulated, legal gambling. An online source explains: 

After years of inaction by Missouri lawmakers, the push may be on to take aim at the tens of thousands of illegal slot machines spreading across the state. In the first meeting of a special House committee formed to address gambling laws in the state, the chairman of the panel said he believes Missourians want to unplug the illegal terminals, which have popped up in gas stations, taverns and convenience stores. 

The Missouri Gaming Commission has deemed the terminals as “gambling devices,” which are prohibited outside of Missouri’s 13 licensed casinos. But, there is little agreement on how to control their spread. The Missouri Gaming Commission says it can only police establishments that have bingo licenses. And the Missouri Department of Public Safety, which oversees liquor licenses, says it cannot crack down on the machines because of a court ruling in 2000 that found the agency has no authority to seize gambling devices. For now, it appears most of the work to crack down on the machines is on the backs of the state’s 115 county prosecutors, a process which Rep. Dirk Deaton, R-Noel, called “cumbersome.”

However, it seems that many Missouri legislators believe its time to find a statewide solution to the problem, although many interests are in play. An online source explains: 

David Grothaus, executive director of the gaming commission, urged lawmakers to find a statewide solution. “What the state needs is a very focused effort on these illegal machines,” Grothaus told the panel. Rep. LaKeySha Bosley, D-St. Louis, said she knows of at least five locations within her district where illegal terminals are located. “It blows my mind that they are that blatant,” said Rep. Wes Rogers, D-Kansas City. “These illegal machines are everywhere. I have several of them in my district,” Shaul added. Shaul said some of the blame for the situation lies with the Legislature.

Finding a solution could be a tough sell when lawmakers gather for their annual session in January because of the varied interests involved in the debate.

Casino operators are opposed to legalizing the machines because they could cut into their profits. Casinos also want to begin taking wagers on sporting events, but the terminal operators don’t want to allow that without getting the ability to operate legally.

Among the companies linked to the spread of illegal gambling is Torch Electronics, which is managed by Steve Miltenberger of Wildwood. The company has hired a team of well-connected lobbyists and has pumped at least $20,000 in contributions to a campaign committee raising money for Gov. Mike Parson. Miltenberger, who previously worked for video gambling companies in Illinois, where they have been taxed and regulated since 2012, has placed video terminals in businesses across Missouri over the past year. 

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


Bipartisan Legislation filed to Address Military Gambling Issues

Casino Watch Focus has reported on past efforts to pass provide support to those in the military who experience gambling addiction, sometimes at military ran gambling facilities. Most recently, the Trump Administration pushed a directive to add gambling addiction screenings for military personnel in hopes of identifying and treating those in need. The new provision added to the National Defense Authorization Act carried out the screenings during the medical evaluation phase, but some believe even more can be done. Bipartisan legislation is being introduced by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D) and Steve Daines (R) that seeks to address the issue further and it has the support of the National Council on Problem Gambling. An online source reports:

The *National Council on Problem Gambling*(NCPG), the national organization for people and their families who are affected by problem gambling and gambling addiction, has welcomed the reintroduction of the bipartisan Gambling Addiction Prevention (GAP) Act of 2019 by *Senators Elizabeth Warren*and *Steve Daines*. The GAP Act, drawn up to protect members of the military, is complemented by companion legislation introduced in the House by Representative *Susie Lee*.

*Keith Whyte*, Executive Director of NCPG, commented: “I applaud Senators Daines and Warren and Representative Lee for taking the lead on the GAP Act to address problem gambling in the military. NCPG believes there exists an ethical and economic obligation to protect our troops by preventing gambling addiction.

“Problem gambling is a critical issue that is far too often overlooked. Research reveals that problem gambling uniquely impacts the military. For example, an estimated 56,000 service members meet the criteria for problem gambling, while military members lost $100m on 3,000 slot machines at overseas bases in 2018 alone. Clearly, the Department of Defense holds an even higher obligation to address problem gambling because of the windfall profits they make from gambling.”

Gambling addiction and gambling related problems can pose unique risks to those who serve in the military to go beyond the typical gambling related problems civilians’ experience. Military Times explains:

Warren said the move is designed “to honor the sacrifices service members and veterans make for our country” by helping individuals “get the treatment they need.”

Troops and veterans with significant gambling debts could face difficulties gaining or maintaining security clearances, due to fears that their financial situation leaves them more susceptible to blackmail.

Studies have found gambling addition is connected to a higher risk of suicide attempts, behavioral disorders, and other health concerns.

Complicating the issue are nearly 3,000 slot machines still in operation at overseas military bases, which bring in millions in revenue each year for military morale and recreation programs.

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


Florida Gov Encouraged to Pass Lottery Ticket Warnings

Casino Watch Focus has reported on a Florida Bill that would call for warning labels to be placed on the front of physical state lottery tickets sold, as well as prevent online sales in the future. The warning labels would be visible and warn that playing lottery games constitutes gambling and may lead to gambling addiction. Those in support of using gambling as the means to fund education took issue with the bill and drafted a letter. No-Casino’s John Sowindki addressed the problems with the letter and encouraged passage. Florida Politics reports: 

“The lottery industry would rather pretend that there are no adverse consequences to their regressive and addictive enterprise,” said No Casinos President *John Sowinski*. “Clearly there are.” Sowinski goes after specific points raised in a letter from World Lottery Association President *Rebecca Paul Hargrove* to Gov. *Ron DeSantis.*

Hargrove argues requiring warning labels on the front of lottery tickets threatens education revenues in Florida and sets bad precedent nationwide. “The instant scratch-off games have been around for over 45 years, and sales of these games continue to grow every year,” Hargrove wrote, “but more importantly the sales of these games continue to grow funding for good causes every year.”

Sowinski suggests Hargrove gives up the game in her search for further lottery sales.“Rebecca Paul Hargrove’s letter is basically an admission that if Floridians are properly warned about the addictive nature of scratch-off games and other lottery products, that some will choose to not spend money on them,” Sowinski said, “which is the entire purpose of this good legislation.”

Moreover, Sowinski then brings into question the very nature of raising funds off those that are addicts in the first place. Florida Politics continues:

The legislation requires ticket labels read either “WARNING: LOTTERY GAMES MAY BE ADDICTIVE” or simply “PLAY RESPONSIBLY.”

Sowinski scoffed at the reluctance to warn against dangerous behavior or to demonstrate responsibility.

“The World Lottery Association’s letter never disputes the addictive nature of these games,” he said. “The fact is that gambling enterprises, including lotteries, rely on addicts who spend a high volume of money for a large portion of their profits. That they would object to a simple, truthful warning label is obnoxious.”

The bill has been sent to the Governor’s desk and awaits his action.

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


Sports Betting and Other Major Provisions in the Florida Gambling Compact with the Seminole Tribe Could Prevent Deal

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing efforts to renegotiated the expired portion of the Seminole Gambling Compact. Several attempts have been made over the past few legislative sessions, but nothing has been established and they have been acting in good faith since.  As this year’s session approaches its end, the efforts to finalize a new compact have strengthened. As previously explainedit was suggested that sports gambling could be legalized in Florida without needing to involve a vote of the people. Tribal gambling is not regulated in the same way, so if they were to offer it, its believed that it could be a way to work around the need for voter approval. Florida Politics online explains:

Simpson acknowledged last week that the concept of allowing the tribe to run sports books at the state’s dog and horse tracks and jai alai frontons was intended to sidestep a constitutional amendment that passed in November requiring statewide votes on citizens’ initiatives that would expand casino-type gambling.

But [Florida Gov. Ron] DeSantis, a graduate of Harvard Law School, indicated the constitutional amendment adds another layer of analysis to an already-complicated legal deal that also encompasses serious policy-making decisions.

“Obviously, me and my staff we’re going through it, looking substantively (at) what it means, but also legally. As you know, there’s a lot of legalities that are involved in this. There is just a (constitutional) amendment that passed. You know, the question, does it apply to the tribe? Does it apply to this or that? So there’s a whole host of things I think that need to be vetted through, but prior to yesterday I had not seen the outline. We have it now and are going through it,” DeSantis said.

This sports betting provision in general, however, is being set up in a way that Florida Gov Ron DeSantis believes could cause problems. Florida Politics continues:

With time already an enemy, Gov. Ron DeSantis injected more uncertainty Tuesday into a gambling deal reached by a Senate Republican leader and a representative of the Seminole Tribe, suggesting its passage would be too heavy a “legislative lift.”

The governor said he and his staff have begun scrutinizing “a draft outline” of the agreement, which would open the door for sports betting in Florida, with the tribe acting as a “hub” for sports betting at the state’s pari-mutuels.

But the Republican governor appeared skeptical of some sports-betting provisions in the deal, which reportedly also would permit in-play betting at professional sports arenas.

The manner in which sports betting is set up “could really affect the integrity of the games,” said DeSantis, who, as an undergraduate played baseball for Yale University.

“If I can place a wager on whether the first pitch of a game is going to be a strike or not, well, hell, that’s a big moral hazard, because that’s not necessarily something that would affect the total outcome,” he added.

Clearly sports betting has its own set of issues, but that’s not the only sticking point for a successful compact. Designated player games also need addressed given the temporary agreement expires after May of this year. The Tampa Bay Times explains: 

But some issues opposed by pari-mutuels could imperil the deal’s success in the House, several lobbyists said.

Controversial “designated player” games offered at many of the state’s pari-mutuel cardrooms are a key element of the deal. The Seminoles — and a federal judge — have maintained that the card games violate a 2010 gambling agreement with the state that gave the tribe “exclusivity” over offering banked card games, such as blackjack.

Amid the dispute about designated player games, former Gov. Rick Scott entered an agreement with the tribe in which the Seminoles have continued to pay about $350 million a year to the state, which pledged to “aggressively enforce” how the games are played. But that agreement expires on May 31, and the House and Senate have not included the revenue in next year’s budget.

The deal under discussion would severely alter the way the card games are being played, making them virtually unprofitable for pari-mutuel cardrooms, sources said.

House Speaker José Oliva told The News Service of Florida on Tuesday afternoon that he had seen a “brief outline” of the gambling proposal.

The issues don’t stop there either. There are discussions to decouple horse racing in the same way dog racing was decoupled by the voters last election as well as other intertwined gambling issues. At the end of the day, Gov. DeSantis thinks it could simply be too many issues with too many parties to come to an agreement in time. The Tamp Bay Times continues:

To appease the pari-mutuels about the changes to the designed player games, the proposed agreement would also allow horse tracks to do away with horse races, while keeping lucrative activities like cardrooms and slot machines, which are legal at tracks in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. It is unclear whether such “decoupling” would also apply to jai alai frontons. Dog tracks are already allowed to drop greyhound races, thanks to a voter-approved constitutional amendment passed in November.

The pari-mutuels would also be able to operate sports books, with a cut going to the tribe, but the profits from sports betting wouldn’t offset the losses from the changes in the designated player games, according to industry experts.

Under the agreement, the Seminoles would be able to add craps and roulette to other gambling activities currently underway at the tribe’s casinos. The tribe would agree to pay about $400 million a year to the state, an amount that could gradually increase to about $500 million a year. That’s a boost from the current revenue-sharing agreement with the tribe, but far less than what legislative leaders had originally envisioned.

The decisions by the House and Senate to not include the tribe’s annual payments in their budget proposals takes some pressure off negotiators as lawmakers work to hammer out a final budget in the coming days.

Senate President Bill Galvano on Tuesday afternoon told the News Service that Simpson was continuing to work on the gambling deal, which the president said was still in play.

But with just a week-and-a-half left before the legislative session is slated to end, DeSantis hinted that passage of a compact would be extremely difficult. 

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