Category Archives: Gambling Venues

UPDATE: The Supreme Court Heard Oral Arguments in the New Jersey Sports Betting Case and Experts think the Court Might Side with Gambling Expansion

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing events surrounding legalized state sports gambling as it pertains to New Jersey. For years they have tried and failed to legalize sports betting in their state. The issue has finally made it to the Supreme Court and the sides have been fairly well documented, with New Jersey and gambling operators seeking legalized sports betting and the major sports organizations such as the NCAA, NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL and the Trump Administration’s Department of Justice backing existing Federal law which prohibits sports betting outside of Las Vegas. Oral arguments have now been heard and early statements by a majority of the justices seem to indicate they might side with New Jersey. Forbes reports:

Proponents of legalized sports betting had to be feeling confident after last Monday’s oral argument in/NCAA v. Christie/ — the so-called New Jersey sports betting case, in which leagues including the NFL, the NBA and Major League Baseball are seeking to prevent the state from permitting such gambling. The general consensus among those in attendance was that the Supreme Court appears poised to invalidate the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), the 1992 federal law that bans states from authorizing or licensing sports betting.

By my count, at least five justices — John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, Neil Gorsuch, Samuel Alito and, surprisingly, Stephen Breyer (one of the court’s more liberal members) — indicated that they believed PASPA violates the 10th Amendment’s anti-commandeering principle, which forbids the federal government from commanding the states to implement federal laws or policies that would interfere with state sovereignty.

From the tenor of the oral argument, with only Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg appearing to credit the leagues’ argument that PASPA is a straightforward preemption law, one could easily envision a decisive victory for New Jersey. A 6-3 margin sounds about right — at least that’s my prediction.

Additional factors seem to indicate a shocking reversal from where the issue was just months ago, following 6 failed attempts by New Jersey. ROI provides the additional analysis:

“When you look at recent history on U.S. Supreme Court rulings, 83 percent show a reversal of the lower court opinion; and in the past five years, that figure is still over 70 percent,” Wallach said.

“So, all of the metrics show a change is afoot. What that change looks like, we’ll have to wait and see. It might not be whether New Jersey prevails on its partial repeal, but how sweeping of a decision in New Jersey’s favor it turns out to be.”

Court followers suggest the decision would come in spring or later. Just months ago, New Jersey and the gaming industry believed it had exhausted all efforts to win this case. But, to the surprise of many, on June 27 the Supreme Court decided it would take the case. “Look at where this case was just five months ago,” Wallach said. “It wasn’t even being mentioned. Now it’s going to the Supreme Court. New Jersey has lost six battles on this case in the lower courts. But this is the one that counts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How is the Deadly Mass Shooting in Las Vegas Impacting the Gambling Industry?

Casino Watch Focus has reported all too often on the many crimes that take place at casinos, but none have had the impact of the most recent mass shooting by Steven Paddock from the Mandalay Bay Casino hotel that was the most deadly shooting in modern U.S. history. Nearly 60 people were killed and hundreds injured by a man who was known to the gambling community in Las Vegas and who stayed at the hotel for many days prior to acting out his horrible crime. As one online source outlined, many are questioning if gambling debt lead him to this act, or if his gambling connection should be a focus at all in this mass shooting:

The subject of Paddock’s gambling life is an understandable preoccupation in Las Vegas, in part because, four days after Sunday night’s massacre at an open-air country music festival, authorities have provided no tangible motive for an attack that clearly took a great deal of plotting. That he was staying for free on a comp in the 32nd floor corner suite at Mandalay Bay — the Associated Press first reported that and /New York/ has since confirmed it — only adds to the sense that Paddock used the enormous amount of time he spent in the casino in part to devise his murderous plans. 

The focus on Paddock’s gambling has many in Vegas nervous. The destination has spent the last three decades pushing past its stigmatized image as an underworld haven. Still, even without any evidence to support the notion that Paddock dug himself into any sort of financial distress with his play, there is speculation. CBS News offered this headline on Thursday: “Motive of Las Vegas gunman may lie in his gambling habits.”

Anti-gambling activists, too, embraced this notion. “Whether Paddock’s out-of-control addiction to electronic gambling machines was a central factor in what happened last Sunday will be determined by the FBI investigation,” wrote Les Bernal of Stop Predatory Gambling in a Thursday e-mail blast. “But news coverage and public discussion should not normalize Paddock’s single-minded obsession with gambling machines and the exploitive business practices used by the casinos to keep Paddock gambling continuously.”

Still yet, the entire situation is making everyone look at how much culpability, if any, should exist with the casinos where he gambled, and if anything can or should be done to prevent this in the future. An area of debate has been the fact that Paddock smuggled a small arsenal into the hotel to carry out his murderous plan. So its no surprise that executives were immediately engaged into talks about safety and security policies moving forward. An online publication reports:

The increased security measure has been a topic for discussion among casino operators since Paddock shot concertgoers from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, a hotel complex owned by MGM Resorts International. Last year, casino magnate Steve Wynn warned that Las Vegas was a ‘target city’ and disclosed a raft of new security measures, including invisible metal detectors and specially trained guards, designed to prevent a large-scale attack.

Whether those measures would have prevented Sunday’s rampage on the strip in which 58 people were killed is unknown. But the shooting could spur casino operators to think more like Wynn, who had been dismissed as ‘obsessed’ about security before Sunday’s massacre, a rival casino executive said. ‘This could be a turning point,’ the executive said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because security measures are private. ‘Every management team is going to move this up to the top of the list.’

Some are concluding that culpability absolutely exists and the very nature of gambling addicts like Paddock leads to suicidal and other disturbing thoughts. They also suggest that the issue wont truly be examined like is should. An online source explains:

Mandalay Bay’s practices — and indeed the practices of virtually all casinos in an increasingly wealthy and powerful gambling industry — won’t get the scrutiny they deserve.

“No credible, independent person who deals with gambling in the United States and is not being paid by the gambling industry would say Stephen Paddock was a responsible gambler,” Les Bernal told me. He heads a group known as Stop Predatory Gambling.

Last December, the Atlantic did a lengthy story on the industry. Headlined, “How casinos enable gambling addicts,” it told in detail how everything from the way machines are programmed to the perks and the hostesses in casinos are designed to keep people gambling, either with their own money or with a loan from the house. Tarbert told me how this always ends with a period of self-loathing, during which the gambler often feels suicidal. 

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A New form of Gambling in Video Games? What are Loot Boxes and Why is the Gaming Community asking the ESRB to Call this Gambling Practice Out?

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the highly addictive principle of near misses and how this form of gambling forms strong addiction. Typically viewed in the context of regulated slot machines, the player pulls the lever and tries to line enough symbols up in a row to get a prize. Studies have indicated that when someone gets close but doesn’t win, what they call a near miss in the industry, the player will chase the win. A very similar phenomenon is now taking place in video games. The concept in the gaming world is known as a loot box. You pay a price to manufacture to by a box. Random items that a player would want to have in the game, say, a high powered weapon in a shooting game or a piece of defensive armor that models a coveted look and offers superior protection from other players, are generated when the loot box is opened. The key is that the items are random. Most players are looking for top end, often times called legendary gear. The odds of getting them aren’t too high and so a player tends to keep paying more and more money to open more and more loot boxes chasing after the win, or the best items in the game. This practice was identified very early as a form of gambling and a gaming mechanic that uses the same psychological techniques to addict players. The worst part, they are in games marketed toward children and no regulation exists. The highest level, state or federal laws, are completely none existent, so many in the community turned to the ESRB rating system to get these games classified as mature, so that young kids and teens aren’t the target of such gambling practices. As reported by Forbes, ESRB has erred in declining to view loot boxes as gambling, and social awareness is very much need to properly protect players:

Today, the Entertainment Software Rating Board, or ESRB, stated publicly that the hot new monetization trend in video games, loot boxes, don’t qualify as gambling. This is wrong on many levels. While it’s true that, unlike a slot machine, a loot box will always result in some form of a prize, that doesn’t change the fact that the simple act of opening loot boxes is incredibly similar to gambling, and taps into all the same parts of the brain.

“The player is basically working for reward by making a series of responses, but the rewards are delivered unpredictably,” Dr. Luke Clark, director at the Center for Gambling Research at the University of British Columbia, told PC Gamer recently “We know that the dopamine system, which is targeted by drugs of abuse, is also very interested in unpredictable rewards. Dopamine cells are most active when there is maximum uncertainty, and the dopamine system responds more to an uncertain reward than the same reward delivered on a predictable basis.”

Psychologists call this “variable rate reinforcement.” Essentially, the brain kicks into high gear when you’re opening a loot box or pulling the lever on a slot machine or opening a Christmas present because the outcome is uncertain. This is exciting and, for many people, addictive. When it comes to video games, the biggest concern is that children and adolescents will end up forming addictive behaviors early on.

At this point there are two issues/lines of thought at play. One is that the act of buying a loot box and opening it might not be technically gambling because you always get a prize. To this point, its pointed out above that the act of chasing loot boxes is exactly the same as gambling. More importantly though, some games do allow the players to sell or auction off the items received in exchange for real world money, items or game subscription, things with real world value. Eurogamer very specifically outlines the many ways in their recent article when they discuss both the US ESRB and European’s PEGI stance on loot boxes. So in that sense the player is putting real money into the game, opening the box and getting a price based on random chance not skill, and then cashing out the winnings, which is text book gambling. The Second line of thought is that regardless of whether or not this reaches the threashold for actual gambling that requires governmental oversight, it absolutely should get the ESRB’s attention and it should be disclosed to players and parents accordingly. Forbs continues:

“Look if you include these kind of mechanics in these games and you actually allow people to buy these packs for real money, these random blind packs and engage in what is essentially a form of gambling, then you should be jacking the rating of your game up to Mature.

“The fact that [Star Wars] /Battlefront II/ is going to be Teen rated and yet has an in-game real money gambling system blows my mind. How are they possibly getting away with that? Well, the answer is that the US government and legislation hasn’t caught up with it yet.”

OpenCritic co-founder and CEO Matthew Enthoven says that the ESRB’s response “kind of ducked the issue” calling it a semantic argument. “You can call it gambling, you can call it gaming addiction, you can call it whatever you want. The problem is still the same,” he tells me. 

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Hurricane Irma Brings out the Worst in Feuding Florida Casinos

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the desire for the gambling industry to push new casinos into Florida and to the benefit of Florida families, most of the efforts to expand gambling, especially through full-scale Vegas-Style casinos, has failed. More recently, reports have surfaced that the industry really views gamblers as prey and they seek out specifically target the must vulnerable. So to some degree, its shouldn’t seem shocking to learn that at a time when communities should come together, like after a major hurricane that rocks an entire state, casinos are instead fighting over who has the right to prey on whom. This unbelievable story centers around one casino actively trying to attract the gamblers from anther casino whose property was damaged as a result of Hurricane Irma, and the classless media fighting and jabs they took at each other. Mardi Gras Casino is closed due to damage and nearby Gulfstream Park Racing is doing everything it can to lay claim to their gamblers. An online source reports:

The two casinos have long been sworn rivals, and are regularly in hot competition for sixth place (out of eight) in Florida’s pari-mutuel market. And while there may be little wrong with healthy competition, Mardi Gras contends its old foe is being exploitive, and has taken things too far.

According to the /Miami Herald/, since the hurricane hit the state on Sep. 10, Gulfstream has been advertising that it will honor loyalty coupons Mardi Gras gives to top players offering free slots play.

“It is sad and pathetic, but not surprising,” Mardi Gras PresidentDan Adkins told the /Herald/. “It’s so sad when you have a community hat’s battered and someone feels like now’s the time to be an opportunist. It’s indicative of their nature and that’s OK with me.”

But Gulfstream Park’s assistant GM Ernie Dellaverson says Adkins is being a bit disingenuous.

“We’re just doing something that’s been done since the beginning of casino marketing,” he says. “If the roles were reversed, I’d expect them to do [the same]. It’s about helping the players, and I haven’t heard a complaint so far.”

As if those actions and comments weren’t shocking and damaging enough, the fighting for Florida families in the wake of a natural disaster got even uglier when the focus was centered on the competition that would follow after the Mardi Gras casino reopened. The sad display continued through the previous source: 

Adkins contends Gulfstream is still sore about being beaten to the sixth spot in casino earnings this year, albeit by a photo finish. Mardi Gras posted $51 million in gross gaming revenue for the first half of 2017, compared to Gulfstream Park’s $50 million.

But ultimately, Adkins says he believes his casino will win in the long run because it has a certain Buddhist spiritual principle of cause and effect on its side. “Here at Mardi Gras we have a little friend named Karma,” he said.“When we rise from the ashes, the grandeur of Mardi Gras, along withKarma, will more than overcome these senseless, childish opportunists.” Although, for such a believer in Karma, he must be asking what he did in a previous life for his casino to get trashed by a hurricane while the other one a mile up the road is doing just fine. “When we reopen,” he said, “we’re going to go back to kicking their ass.” 

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Unsurprisingly, Casino Lobby Joins New Jersey in Attempt to Sway Supreme Court in favor of Legalized Sports Betting

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the many attempts by New Jersey to legally allow sports betting in their state, despite federal law that makes it illegal. Every attempt made has resulted in the courts shutting down the illegal sports gambling. The case will finally be resolved one way or another later this year when the Supreme Court will examine the issue. The list of opponents of this expanded sports betting is long and includes all the major sports and collegiate organizations such as the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and the NCAA. Not surprisingly, the casino lobby is coming to the side of New Jersey and they have submitted a brief to the Supreme Court. The Washington Examiner reports: 

The American Gaming Association filed a brief on Tuesday supporting Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in his upcoming Supreme Court fight with top U.S. athletic leagues over sports betting. Christie’s team argues that federal law banning sports betting violates states protections under the 10th Amendment. More than two decades ago, New Jersey failed to take advantage of a window in federal law to run sports gambling, but then decided to do so on its own in 2011.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association challenged the New Jersey law, along with the NBA, NFL, NHL, and Major League Baseball. The Supreme Court has yet to set a date for oral arguments this term in the sports gambling case, which will be closely watched as its outcome could change sports gambling rules throughout the country.

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