Posts Tagged ‘gambling law’

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.

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.

Seminoles Agree to Blackjack Deal?

Monday, April 5th, 2010

If you’ve been following blackjack news, then you probably know that for some time the Seminole tribe of Florida has been trying to work out a deal in that state to allow blackjack tables at their casinos. On two separate occasions, the tribe reached an agreement with Governor Charlie Crist, but on both occasions the state House rejected the deals, bringing the negotiations back to square one.

This year, for the first time the state lawmakers have been directly involved in the negotiations with the tribe. There have been several points of contention during the negotiation, but the main thing is that the Seminole always wanted exclusive rights to offer blackjack and other table games and it seems like they have finally struck a deal that includes that and still keeps the state lawmakers happy.

Representative Bill Galvano, a Republican representing Bradenton, has been the lead negotiator in the process and he announced on Friday that he had reached a deal with the Seminole tribe. That deal gives the Seminole tribe exclusive rights to blackjack tables in their two casinos in Broward County as well as in their casinos in Tampa and Immokalee. Their other casinos would continue to offer slot machines only. In exchange, the state of Florida will make $1.5 billion in the deal over five years. To balance out the advantage of that exclusivity, the pari-mutuels in the state will be given extended hours of operation, higher betting limits and additional bingo tables.

This is far from a done deal, though. As I reported earlier, though, because this deal doesn’t include every Seminole casino (they own 7 Hard Rock and Coconut Creek casinos in the state of Florida), it will have to be approved by the Seminole tribal council, which includes representatives from every reservation in the tribe. In addition, the bill would have to be approved by the state House and Senate and then signed by Governor Crist. It is believed that Crist is onboard, since he has twice tried to pass a similar agreement. The major question is whether it will get through the full Florida legislature.

Players Suing Over Blackjack Losses

Monday, March 15th, 2010

Some people are just sore losers. Unidentified players at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa, Florida are suing in an attempt to recoup their losses. The players lost money while playing blackjack but now are basically asking the court to give them a refund.

The Hard Rock Casino is owned by the Seminole tribe and thus is part of sovereign Seminole territory. For that reason, the tribe is not being sued. Federal law does not permit lawsuits against Native American tribes unless the tribe consents to be a party in the proceedings. For that reason, the players, who are being represented by attorney Mike Trentalange, are suing the companies that provide the blackjack tables to the casino. Hey, they have to sue someone, right?

The basis of the suit is this: Florida Governor Charlie Crist signed a deal last year that legalized blackjack and other table games in exchange for the state receiving a cut of the profits. The state House later rejected the deal and another subsequent deal made by Crist. Trentalange argues that because there is no deal in place, the blackjack tables at the casino are illegal. If the games are illegal then the casino’s winnings are the result of illegal gambling and his clients have a right to have their money refunded.

This isn’t the first time someone has sued a casino in an attempt to recoup their losses. Previously I wrote about a man who is suing a casino for allegedly loaning him money while he was intoxicated, with the basis of the suit being that the contract of the loan is null and void because the player did not have the mental capacity to enter into an agreement with the casino.

In this case, the contention is that if the blackjack tables are illegal then the casino taking the players’ money is no different than a street hustler conning them out of cash. That argument is certainly not a strong one, but it also has another problem: According to the Seminole tribe, their blackjack tables are perfectly legal.

Legal motions that have attempted to put a stop to blackjack at the Seminole’s casinos have been denied by the courts. The tribe also states that since the game of blackjack was included in the Federal Register in 2008, that makes the tables legal. In addition, the tribe has recently pointed out that pari-mutuels in the state are permitted by the state to hold virtual blackjack games. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act states that the tribes are permitted to offer any game that is allowed within the state in which their territory resides.

And even if it is ruled that the blackjack games are illegal the case seems shaky because it’s not the Seminole tribe or the casino that is being sued. Instead, they’re suing third parties that did nothing more than provide the games for the casino.

Oh, and one more thing: According to the Seminole tribe, the court set to hear this case does not have the legal authority to determine whether the blackjack games are illegal. They say that only the federal government has that authority. This should definitely be an interesting court case (if it ever goes that far).

PA to Have Blackjack by July 4?

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Last month, many blackjack fans were pleased to hear that Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell had signed a bill into law that would allow table games in the state. Since then, the move to allow blackjack, poker and other table games in state casinos has been put on the fast track. The Chairman of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, Greg Fajt, says that table games could be in operation in the casinos by the Fourth of July.

To gambling enthusiasts, that date makes perfect sense. On America’s Independence Day, when freedom is celebrated more than any other time, gamblers will be given the freedom to challenge a dealer at blackjack, something that inexplicably had not been allowed before.

Yesterday, the gaming board issued temporary regulations for casinos that are adding table games. By issuing the temporary regulations, the process of getting the games up and running is sped up. Those regulations include the required training for dealers and which rules are accepted for poker, among other things. The temporary regulations are effective immediately and last for two years. By the end of that two-year period, the gaming board will have had time to sit down with the casinos, unions, and everyone else involved, and come up with more permanent regulations.

Prior to this table game legislation being signed into law, only slot machines have been allowed in Pennsylvania casinos. By adding table games, the slot casinos should be able to attract more customers and make a lot more money, which in turn will benefit the state of Pennsylvania due to the tax revenue and other costs. Each casino that wants to add table games must pay a $16.5 million license fee up front. In addition, in the first two years, table games will be taxed at 16%, with it dropping slightly to 14% after that time. Larger casinos will be allowed to add up to 250 table games each, while small resort casinos will be allowed 50 table games.

The legalization of table games is thought to be a great help for Pennsylvania’s economy, but not everyone is happy. Take the state of New Jersey, for example. That state has its own gambling market and isn’t pleased at the thought of more competition. Many in the state fear that Atlantic City casinos will lose a lot of business to the Pennsylvania casinos, particularly the New York City market.

A Word on the UIGEA

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

There is a lot of confusion about online gambling in the United States. Many people think that it is illegal. Some think that some games are illegal while others are not. Allow me to clear that up the best that I can.

First of all, there is no federal ban on online gambling in the United States. There are 4 states that expressly prohibit online gambling. For the rest, it is either legal or kind of murky, with the legislative and judicial branches of government working on finding a solution to the legality question.  Many people think that online gambling is banned by the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA). That is not the case.

As the courts have ruled, the UIGEA does not ban online gambling. All it does is allow for the punishment of those who engage in illegal online gambling. Nowhere, however, does it say what would be considered illegal. The UIGEA is an amendment added on to the end of the SAFE Port Act of 2006 (which has nothing to do with gambling). UIGEA does not deal with the gamblers at all. It only regards the financial institutions that pay out money from online gambling. If they pay out funds from “unlawful internet gambling,” then the funds can be seized and the institution can be punished under law. UIGEA can do nothing to someone who plays a game online, even if the activity were to be deemed “illegal.”

Not only that, but most people do not know that UIGEA is not currently in effect. It was passed in 2006, but it was not scheduled to take effect until December 1, 2009. As that deadline approached, lawmakers sought an extension because they thought the middle of an economic crisis was a bad time to be placing more burdens on the financial industry. The Fed and Department of Justice agreed and delayed implementation of the restrictions from UIGEA.

So if you are an online gambler in the United States, let me say this very clearly, there is no federal law making that activity illegal. Make sure your particular state does not ban it and if not, you are committing no crime.