Posts Tagged ‘blackjack legislation’

No Blackjack in Montana

Friday, April 8th, 2011

We won’t be adding Montana to the list of states that legalized blackjack, at least not in the near future. Legislation that would have legalized the popular casino game had gained momentum, but was killed in a committee on Thursday.

The Senate Finance and Claims Committee voted to table the bill, which means to indefinitely postpone debate on it. The vote to table the bill came after a brief hearing in which opposition to the bill, which included nonprofit charities and bar owners, spoke of their worries that blackjack would lead to increased crime, gambling addiction and other social problems.

The bill, House Bill 423, passed the state House of Representatives with little debate, but opposition slowly grew and became enough of a factor to lead to a tabling of the bill in the Senate. Montana has small casinos that offer slots, but no table games. Senator Douglas Palagi said that the casinos “don’t have the resources to operate a blackjack table.”

Senator Tony Belcourt, who sponsored the bill, said that allowing blackjack in the state would avoid losing money outside the state as residents fly to Las Vegas to play casino games. He also pointed out that a portion of the tax revenue from legalizing blackjack would be earmarked for social services, those same services opponents are worried about being affected by allowing the game. There is still a chance that the bill could be reintroduced for debate in the Senate during this term, but in all likelihood it is dead until at least the next session.

Montana to legalize blackjack?

Friday, February 11th, 2011

A state representative in Montana has proposed a bill that would legalize blackjack, with revenue brought from the game to help pay for social services. Representative Tony Belcourt has introduced House Bill 423. The full title of the bill is six lines long (no, I’m not kidding), so I’ll call it “An Act Legalizing Blackjack” for short.

If passed, the bill would make it legal for Montana casinos to carry live blackjack tables. In order to offer those games, though, they would have to obtain permits. The money raised from permit fees would go toward the budget of the Montana Department of Health and Human Services. The DHHS is currently having its budget slashed by belt-tightening lawmakers in the state.

No high-stakes games would be allowed. The bill sets a $25 betting limit for blackjack games. The money from permit fees would be earmarked for funding specific programs outlined in the bill. Some of those programs include suicide prevention, services for the mentally ill, services for the disabled, child foster care services and more.

Currently live table games are illegal in Montana. The state has casinos, but they only carry video gambling machines, such as slots and video poker. Back in 1991, a bill to legalize blackjack was proposed and was rejected. No efforts to legalize the game have gotten a lot of support since then. With the Department of Health and Human Services seeing cuts to its budget and the state needing revenue, this might be the best time to do it.

Crist Signs Seminole Blackjack Deal

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

Well, it took a few more days than I expected, but Florida Governor Charlie Crist signed the $1 billion gambling bill into law this afternoon. Instead of calling a news conference like usual, Crist quietly signed the legislation with only Representative Bill Galvano and Senator Dennis Jones, the two main sponsors of the bill, as witnesses of his signature. The bill passed the House last Tuesday and has been awaiting Crist’s signature since then.

It is likely that Crist decided to sign the bill quietly because gambling is a divisive and controversial issue, especially among conservatives. The Republican Governor is already trailing badly in the polls to challenger Marco Rubio in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. It is thought that the only chance Crist has is to run as an Independent candidate. Another divisive issue is not exactly what Crist wants at this point.

The $1 billion gambling deal gives the Seminole tribe exclusive rights to offer blackjack in 5 of their 7 casinos in the state of Florida. In addition, the bill finally brings the state the $435 million that Crist had already put in the education budget, meaning that money he had already spent finally exists.

The main opponents of the gambling deal were the state pari-mutuels, who were already at a competitive disadvantage to the Seminole tribe’s casinos. Now that the Seminole have exclusive rights to blackjack, the pari-mutuels worry about a loss of business leading to job cuts and eventually closures. In an effort to offset that, the bill also increases the hours the pari-mutuels can remain open and lowers their tax rate.

Next week, Governor Crist plans to do a ceremonial bill signing on a Seminole reservation with their tribal members. Now that the bill has passed the Florida legislature and been signed by the governor, the only step that remains is for it to be approved by the federal Department of the Interior, who must approve all compacts involving Native American tribes.

MA Bill Bans Marketing to Gambling Addicts

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

The U.S. state of Massachusetts is considering legalizing gambling, with lawmakers discussing a gambling bill on the floor of the House that would authorize full casinos as well as slot machines at the state’s dog and horse racing tracks. If the bill passes and becomes law, gamblers in Massachusetts will have somewhere to play blackjack other than online.

Recently the House voted on three amendments to the bill, approving one and rejecting two. One of the rejected amendments would have required the casinos to post the odds (all of the odds, not just the house edge) of each slot machine in a conspicuous place in 18-point type. This amendment was rejected by a 137-20 vote.

The other rejected amendment required the newly created state gaming commission to conduct specific background checks on all applicants for jobs at the casino resorts. It would also require drug testing, fingerprinting and more. Since the amendment was struck down, the gaming commission may still conduct those background investigations, but it is not required. Also, the casinos may conduct their own investigations. This amendment was rejected by a 112-45 vote.

It is the other amendment, the one that passed, that is of the greatest concern to me. By a slim 80-76 vote, the Massachusetts House approved an amendment to the casino bill that allows problem gamblers to voluntarily request to opt out of marketing for the casinos. The players are then placed on a “self-exclusion” list and the casinos will be prohibited from marketing to anyone on that list.

This is of concern to blackjack players and players of any casino game that have a gambling problem. Though the overwhelming majority of blackjack players gamble responsibly, there are some who do not. Those problem gamblers, according to some, can develop a gambling addiction (though some in the psychological community dispute the “addiction” claim).

Many people believe that it would be hazardous to market to someone with a gambling problem, because they might not be able to say no. They may end up going to the casino and losing lots of money because they couldn’t control themselves. Those who are concerned with the financial and mental safety of compulsive gamblers support legislation that bans marketing to those individuals. Those who opposed the amendment state that is unnecessary interference in the free market by the legislature.

I’m normally very supportive of a free market and a laissez-faire approach to economics by the government. However, I think allowing problem gamblers to opt out of being subject to marketing by the casinos is a good idea. The only downside is I don’t know how difficult it will be for casinos to make sure they don’t accidentally market to someone on the list. That is certainly something that needs to be addressed.

With that amendment passed, the full bill will continue to be debated by the state House. Earlier this month, the bill was modified to remove language that would have made online gambling illegal. With that language removed, there is no ban on online gambling in the state of Massachusetts.

PA Blackjack Students Ready for Work

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

Earlier this year, the U.S. state of Pennsylvania legalized blackjack and poker at all of their slots casinos. The move was intended to generate revenue, create jobs, and create more freedom for those who enjoy playing table games at casinos. Atlantic City casino owners, of course, weren’t too pleased, but that’s another story.

When the law passed, it became clear that the current casinos as well as casinos that have yet to open would now need dealers. One soon-to-open casino, the Mount Airy Casino Resort, decided to team up with a nearby school to train and place local talent.

Northampton Community College created classes that teach the skills necessary to be a blackjack dealer at a casino and Mount Airy provided the instructors. The classes filled up right away, with 92 students registered for the three sections. Next Thursday, that first class of blackjack students at the college will graduate with the necessary skills to be blackjack dealers.

After a few dropouts, there are 87 students remaining. George Toth, President of Mount Airy, says he expects to hire most of those students immediately upon graduation. Those who are skilled enough to do so will begin working as a dealer as soon as the casino opens for business. For those who are not quite as advanced as he would like, additional training will be provided until he feels they are up to speed.

The blackjack course at the community college is a 120-hour, six-week course that teaches them how to count cards, handle chips, spot cheaters, cut and deal the cards and more. At the end of the course, the students will have to pass written and performance tests. They must then be licensed by the state, which shouldn’t be a problem for anyone with a clean background who is able to pass the tests provided by the class.

Mount Airy Casino Resort will be ready to launch their blackjack tables at the beginning of June, but they are still waiting for the okay from state regulators to open. It is not known yet when that will happen.

Due to the popularity of the classes, Northampton CC will hold the blackjack courses again the next term, starting in June. Mount Airy is also hosting a job fair this Sunday, where they will be hiring a variety of positions, including bartenders, housekeeping, clerks, security and more.

Florida House Approves Seminole Blackjack Deal

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

The blackjack deal with the Seminole tribe seems like it’s finally going to happen. Twice in the past Florida Governor Charlie Crist negotiated a deal with the Seminole tribe allowing them to operate blackjack tables at their tribal casinos in exchange for fees paid to the state government. Both times, state lawmakers rejected the deals.

This time, the lawmakers were directly involved in the negotiations for the first time. As a result, they worked out a deal that had already passed the state Senate and yesterday, the state House followed suit. On Monday, the House approved the gambling deal by a 74-39 vote, signaling what will be the end to a laborious process that has been ongoing since 2007. Barring a shocking turn of events, the gambling legislation will become state law this year and will bring much-needed money to the state of Florida.

The state House had long been thought to be the biggest obstacle in the way of the Seminole’s quest to offer legal blackjack tables, as it had shown itself to be against gambling before. There are two more steps this bill needs to take before it becomes official. The first is that it needs to be signed into law by Crist. Since he has been a proponent of this and similar plans since 2007, it is expected that he will sign the bill this week. The other step is that, like all compacts with Native American tribes, the bill needs to be approved by the federal Department of the Interior.

As part of the $1 billion deal, $435 million will be placed into the state budget’s general revenue fund. That money will then be used for education, since Crist had already allocated that money for the education budget, despite not actually having the money yet. The gambling legislation will allow the Seminole tribe to offer blackjack tables for five years. After that time, a new contract may be negotiated.

The deal gives the Seminole tribe exclusive rights to offer blackjack, meaning that when it comes to the most popular table game in the world, they will have no competition. The state’s pari-mutuels will certainly be hurt by that, but as a concession they will receive expanded hours, higher stakes in the poker rooms, and a tax break on slot profits.

Senate Approves Seminole Blackjack Deal

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

Are you tired of the constant updates on the Seminole tribe’s quest for legal blackjack? Too bad! Okay, to be honest, I’m a little tired of it, too, so hopefully it will all be resolved soon. The gambling deal has cleared one more hurdle and is closer to being law of the land.

The Florida Senate approved the $1.3 billion blackjack deal with the Seminole tribe that would give them exclusive rights to offer table games and slots in their tribal casinos. The bill passed the Senate by a 29-9 vote and will next have to be approved by the state House. The bill passed with little debate on the Senate floor, likely because the deal had been discussed so much already, there was little left to say.

If the gambling legislation passes the House, it would then have to be signed by Governor Charlie Crist, which is expected, and then approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior. I haven’t heard anyone talk about the Interior Department’s stance on the deal and whether they are expected to approve it, but since no one is mentioning it, I hope that is because it’s not thought to be an issue.

Strangely enough, while other issues have been hotly debated in the press and around water coolers, the Florida public seems to be rather apathetic about this deal. Though there are some outspoken proponents and a few outspoken opponents, for the most part Floridians don’t seem to care.

Approval of the deal would be good for Crist, who made the unwise decision of including $433 million from this deal in his education budget, despite the fact that the deal had not been approved and thus, the money didn’t exist. Even if support or opposition ramps up for the bill, it is unlikely that it would affect Crist’s decision, seeing as today he vetoed an education reform bill backed by most conservatives. Crist, rather than running for reelection as governor, is running for the U.S. Senate in 2010, but is badly trailing Marco Rubio in the Republican primary polls, indicating that Crist may be in the last few months of his employment by the state of Florida.

Decisions by both the state House and by Governor Crist may be reached as soon as next week. Don’t worry; I’ll update you when it happens.

Seminole Tribal Council Approves Blackjack Deal

Monday, April 12th, 2010

In the constantly updating story on the Seminole blackjack negotiations in the state of Florida, there is yet more news. Last Wednesday, the Seminole tribal council voted to approve the deal offered by state lawmakers and brokered by the tribe’s lawyer.

As I reported earlier, since the deal did not give blackjack rights to all of the Seminole’s casinos, it had to be approved by the council, which includes representatives from every reservation. Since the council has approved the deal, it has cleared another hurdle.

Next the gambling deal has to pass the state legislature, be signed into law by Governor Charlie Crist, and be approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Due to his numerous attempts to pass similar deals, Crist’s signature is all but guaranteed. The deal will bring in $1.3 billion over the next 5 years and will allow Vegas-style slots and table games, including blackjack, in 4 of the Seminole’s 7 casinos.

There is opposition to the deal, with the most vocal opponents being the state’s pari-mutuels, who receive expanded hours of operation but are not allowed to carry slots, blackjack or any table games. The pari-mutuels believe that giving exclusivity to the Seminole casinos will cause a drop in their revenue, leading to layoffs and perhaps even going out of business. Their revenues declined sharply when the Seminole casinos were given the ability to offer slots. With blackjack possibly on its way as well, the pari-mutuel’s days could be numbered.

Delaware Considering Adding Table Games

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

Here is what I know about Delaware: It is an American state. It’s in the northeast. It gets pretty cold in the winter. It is close to Maryland, which means it probably has a lot of politicians who can afford to live outside of D.C. And that’s all.

But now that tiny, inconsequential state is making some news. The state’s lawmakers are considering legalizing table games, including blackjack, poker and craps. Yesterday, the House Gaming and Pari-mutuels Committee voted in favor of a bill that allows card and dice games at slot machine casinos in the state. It should be noted that the state already has a state lottery and allows betting on horse races and NFL games.

In the state Senate, a bill was approved that intends to prevent cheating on table games. The aforementioned House bill has cleared the committee but still has yet to come to a vote in the full House.

If passed and signed into law, the “great” state of Delaware would be able to add legalizing table games to their list of accomplishments. Their current list includes: becoming a state.
In exchange for allowing table games, the government would receive anywhere from $5 million to $13.5 million from each casino for licensing fees, depending on their revenue. In addition, the casinos would receive 66% of the gross revenue made from table games, with 29% going to the state and 4.5% going to horse racing purses.

Some state lawmakers feel that the casinos get to keep too large a part of the revenue. The splitting of revenue was determined after long negotiations between each party. According to the Associated Press, if passed as it is, it would be the “second-highest rate of return for any state that allows table games.”

Seminole Tribe Says Blackjack Legal

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

There has been an ongoing battle between the Seminole tribe and the government over blackjack. The government has said that the tribe needs to end the blackjack operations in their casino. The Seminole tribe, never one to back down to the government, has been dragging their feet. Now, they have a new strategy, which is to point out blackjack operations that the state government is letting exist.

According to the Seminoles, pari-mutuel facilities are currently operating virtual blackjack games, where players sit around a television screen and gamble using electronic cards and chips. Which cards are dealt is determined by a random number generator, just like with online blackjack games.

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act is a federal law passed in 1988 that, among other things, states that Indian tribes have the right to run any game in their casino that is allowed in the state in which their reservation is located. Therefore, if the state of Florida allows the pari-mutuel facilities to operate virtual blackjack games, it would be legal for the Seminole tribe to offer live table-and-dealer games.

At the tribe’s request, federal gambling regulators with the National Indian Gaming Commission visited Broward County in south Florida yesterday to inspect the virtual blackjack machines in question. One such machine is at Mardi Gras Gaming in Hallandale Beach, where the president, Dan Adkins, says that the game is much different from blackjack and is more similar to slots.

This is only the latest complication in the Seminole’s attempt to run a legal blackjack operation in their casinos. Back in 2007, Florida Governor Charlie Crist signed a deal with the tribe that legalized their blackjack tables. The state House later voided the deal, which allows the tribe to offer blackjack and gives the state a cut of the revenue, saying that Crist didn’t have the authority to make it. Today a reworked deal to the same effect is expected to be rejected by the House. In the meantime, some members of the House have called for the government to shut down the blackjack tables in the Seminole’s casinos, stating that they are illegal.