Posts Tagged ‘gambling legislation’

Blackjack games open in Pennsylvania

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

Tuesday saw the U.S. state of Pennsylvania celebrate the launch of table games in their casinos, which had until then housed online slot machines. The Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs hosted a grand-opening ceremony, where the Mohegan tribe’s vice chairman, Bruce “Two Dogs” Bozsum, offered a blessing.

There was then a free ceremonial blackjack hand played by four lucky customers chosen at random. In that hand, the players competed for a prize of either $25,000 or a new Mercedes. Two of the players beat the dealer and won the money, but the other two didn’t walk away empty-handed. As a consolation prize, they won $5,000.

The Mogegan Sun casino, located in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, now offers 46 tables of blackjack, poker and more. That is not the only improvement made to the casino this week, though. The casino also instituted a new rule where all drinks are on the house for players at tables with a $25 or more minimum.

Nearby Mount Airy Casino Resport also opened table games this week. Like the Mohegan Sun, they now offer free drinks, but there the drinks are free for anyone who is gambling on the gaming floor, whether you are playing at a high-roller table or a penny slot.

All of this is good news for blackjack players and drinkers (for players who like both, it’s a great deal). It is common for casinos on the Las Vegas Strip to offer complimentary drinks to anyone on the casino floor, but smaller casinos outside of Sin City usually have not had that practice. By instituting those perks, the Pennsylvania casinos are signaling an intent to compete with the big players in the casino market.

Blackjack in Pennsylvania Casinos Tomorrow

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

It has taken over six years, but blackjack and other table games are finally coming to Pennsylvania casinos tomorrow. Earlier this year, Pennsylvania’s state legislature passed a bill allowing 700 tables to be put in their casinos. Governor Ed Rendell then signed the bill into law. Tomorrow, the first 202 tables will arrive and be put into service.

With the addition of table games to the Pennsylvania gambling industry, people in the area won’t have to go as far as Atlantic City, New Jersey if they want to play blackjack. Rivers Casino and the Meadows Casino have already completed testing of their blackjack tables under the supervision of the Pennsylvania Gaming and Control Board. Thousands of players took part in the trial runs, while gaming officials kept a close watch on the event so make sure everything runs smoothly. The first full implementation of table games in the state starts tomorrow.

Aside from blackjack, the state’s casinos will also have poker, roulette, craps, baccarat and more. The state has already made $165 million in the last fiscal year in licensing fees from ten casinos for the privilege of offering table games. In the new fiscal year, which began this month, the state hopes to make an additional $15 million in licensing fees as well as $75 million from a 16% tax on revenue from the tables.

Governor Rendell said that the casino expansion is “good for the people of Pennsylvania” and various casino operators have said that, while people like playing the slots, most of their customers are excited about the addition of table games.

With blackjack and other table games coming to Florida and now Pennsylvania, here’s hoping that many more states in America follow suit.

If you don’t live in the United States or don’t live near any casinos and want to play blackjack, there are plenty of online casinos where you can play your favorite game. Online blackjack offers the same fun and skill of the traditional game with the added bonus that you can play with the comfort of your own home and tipping is not expected.

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.

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.

Opposition to Florida’s Gambling Expansion

Friday, April 9th, 2010

A lot of people, including other blackjack blogs, don’t seem to understand the complexities of the issue of expanded gambling in the state of Florida. As you know, the Seminole tribe has been in negotiations with state lawmakers for a deal that would give them exclusive rights to offer blackjack in their tribal casinos. There is, however, opposition to this deal from third parties. Many gambling writers choose to see only two groups of opposition, the “self-righteous and hypocritical Bible-thumpers” and the “greedy pari-mutuels who don’t want competition.”

Both of those portrayals are inaccurate and they also don’t show other very legitimate reasons for opposing the deal currently being discussed. I will attempt to set the record straight here.

First of all, let me say that as a blackjack player and writer, I am for allowing blackjack in the state of Florida, and every state for that matter. However, just because you support something doesn’t mean you should turn a blind eye to all of the issues surrounding it.

Right now, a lot of people are portraying those pari-mutuels as villains who want to ensure that they have no competition, but that portrayal is so wrong it’s laughable. They say that the dog and horse tracks want to be assured that they’re the only gambling game in town and they want to keep the Seminole tribe from competing with them. In truth, the opposite is true. The Seminole tribe is trying to squash competition and make sure that they’re the only game in town. In fact, that is one of their demands for the contract.

You see, if the current deal is accepted by all sides, the Seminole tribe will have exclusive rights to offer blackjack. That means that pari-mutuels cannot offer the game and it means that if I want to open up my own casino, I can’t offer blackjack, either. That goes against the American ideals of a free market and competition. The last time I checked, Florida was a free state in the free country of America, so how can the state legislature sign a contract stating that one group can provide a service that no one else can?

To be honest, it’s unconstitutional. The U.S. Constitution provides for equal protection and equal freedom for everyone and expressly prohibits giving preferential treatment to any specific groups. The federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act states that native tribes may offer any game that is allowed in the state in which they are located. However, blackjack not only is not currently allowed in Florida, but if the current contract is accepted by lawmakers, it would be illegal for anyone other than the Seminoles to provide the game. Therefore, the deal is in clear violation of not only the Constitution, but also the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act as well. The pari-mutuels are not being greedy by trying to avoid competition; they only want to ensure that there is competition and a free, legal market for blackjack.

Religious groups and family organizations are also against the deal, not wanting blackjack to be allowed in the state at all. Some say that they are being too controlling in thinking that they know what’s best for everyone, and that’s probably true. They feel that gambling is immoral and leads to problems in society and for that reason are against it. I think they are wrong, but I try not to judge the beliefs of others. However, there is also this idea that they’re hypocrites because Florida already has gambling in horse and dog tracks (and the current Seminole casinos). That is not accurate, though, because those same groups were also against that gambling and already fought the battle against allowing betting in Florida. They lost and will probably lose this time as well.

There is another misconception that I would like to clear up that is important and that is the money. I’ve heard countless proponents of the deal say that we need to allow blackjack in the Seminole casinos for the children! You see, the money is supposed to go to education and if we don’t get that money, there will be a closing of schools and laying off of teachers and our children will suffer. That, again, is not entirely accurate.

It sounds a little too familiar to me. You see, in 1988, lawmakers in Florida wanted to create a state lottery and the voters were skeptical. Those voters were won over, though, when told that money raised by the Lotto would fund education. Since it was for a good cause, the people voted to allow the lottery. Since then, the Florida Lottery has raised approximately $14 billion for education, approximately 5% of the budget. Here’s the catch, though: In 1989, the state eliminated approximately 5% of the education budget because money from the lottery was going to be used for that. See how that works? They raised 5% from one area and cut 5% from another. That means the net result was zero. The lottery may technically be funding education, but because a proportionate amount that had been used on education is now used for other things, there is not any more money going to education.

Will the same thing happen with blackjack money? I think it already has. If you look at Governor Charlie Crist’s education budget, there is $433 million in imaginary money that comes from the deal with the Seminole tribe that doesn’t exist. He is spending $433 million in money that he doesn’t have on education. What do you want to bet that there is $433 million in funds that had been used for education that have been diverted elsewhere? The money has to be there somewhere, because Florida is a balanced-budget state.

It is likely that the current deal, or something close to it, will pass. When it does, I’m not confident that there will be an increase in spending for the Department of Education. In fact, I don’t think there needs to be more spending on education. I think the spending simply needs to be done more wisely (but that’s a topic for another time).

Whatever happens, though, let’s put away the rhetoric and stop portraying those who think differently as villains. There are always two sides to a story and things aren’t always as they appear.

New Hampshire May Get Online Gambling

Monday, April 5th, 2010

I’ll probably never understand politicians. The American state of New Hampshire, like all of the states in the Union, is hurting for cash, though some are worse off than others. New Hampshire right now is facing a growing budget deficit. Staring at all that red ink, the state lawmakers have proposed various ideas for increasing revenue. One of the ideas going through the legislature is an expansion of gambling in the state, which would legalize 17,000 slot machines and table games.

Governor John Lynch, a Democrat in his third term, has spoken out in opposition of the gambling bill. His reasons for being against gambling are the same you often hear, that it will lead to more crime and gambling addiction in the state. None of that is particularly surprising. Gambling is a divisive issue and there are a wide range of opinions on the subject.

What does surprise me is this: Recently Governor Lynch announced his own idea for how to add revenue to the state – the introduction of state-regulated (and taxed) online gambling sites. So, it seems that Lynch is against having gambling in brick and mortar casinos and pari-mutuels but he thinks it’s fine to gamble on your personal computer or iPhone.

It doesn’t make much sense to me. The skeptic in me thinks that it has something to do with lobbyists. Whatever the case, the state legislature seems to be as confused as I am. Whether gambling is added to the state via online websites or brick and mortar casinos (or both), new regulatory infrastructure will be needed. Several lawmakers who support the legalization of casinos in the state are speaking out against Lynch’s proposal, some calling him a hypocrite.

Senator Lou D’Allesandor said that “if the governor is afraid of proliferation, what easier way to proliferate it than online gambling?” Former senator Bob Clegg also pointed out that “the governor is worried about proliferation of gaming but it sounds like he’s going to make every computer terminal in every home and every BlackBerry – including those BlackBerry’s held by kids in high school —  a gambling facility.”

Confusing, indeed. The state of New Hampshire does not currently have any law banning online gambling, though there is also no state regulation of the industry, nor are there any online casinos located in the state.

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.

Seminole Tribe (again) Close to Blackjack Deal

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

I hope you’re not sick of hearing about the Seminole tribe’s fight for legal blackjack tables in Florida. To be honest, I’m a little sick of writing about it, but it’s kind of a big deal when it comes to blackjack legislation, so I’ll write about it whenever there’s something new.

The Cliff’s Notes version of what has happened so far is that on two different occasions Florida Governor Charlie Crist has successfully negotiated a deal with the Seminole tribe that allows them to offer blackjack in their casinos. In return, the state of Florida gets a cut. Both times the state House nixed the deal. Now there are yet again negotiations in progress and inside sources say both sides are close to reaching an agreement, this time with Florida’s Congress members involved in the process.

It’s worth noting that the state of Florida cannot tax the Seminole tribe on their casinos or on anything for that matter, since the reservations are sovereign territory. They can, however, include payments in the contracts that allow them to have certain games. The federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act states that tribes can only offer games that the state in which they are located allows. For that reason, for the Seminole to provide blackjack, the state of Florida has to allow it.

Sources close to the negotiation say that the new deal, if signed, would likely allow blackjack in five of the tribe’s seven Florida casinos. To offset the advantage that gives those casinos over their main competitors, the pari-mutuels, the dog and horse tracks and jai-alai frontons would receive expanded hours of operation, higher betting limits and a lower tax rate. The deal would be good for five years and would need to be renegotiated after that. Both sides seem to have agreed on a figure of $150 million per year in payments from the Seminole tribe to the state.

There are a couple issues, however, that need to be resolved. One is that, according to a lawyer for the tribe, if the legislation only allowed five of their casinos to have blackjack and not all seven, they would need the approval from the Seminole tribal council, which includes representatives from every reservation.

The other issue is one of exclusivity. The Seminole tribe wants to be the only ones in the state who are allowed to carry blackjack and slot machines. The deal being discussed would allow the pari-mutuels to offer video bingo and instant historic racing machines. The tribe wants a clear definition of what would and would not be allowed in the pari-mutuels, to ensure that their virtual games are not too much like slots.

It is reported that the deal would provide approximately $433 million to Florida’s budget, which is important because Governor Crist has already included that money, which the state does not yet have, in his education budget.