Posts Tagged ‘gambling laws’

Is online blackjack legal in the U.S.?

Friday, January 21st, 2011

There has been a lot of talk lately in the United States about legalizing online gambling at a federal level. Representative Barney Frank and Senator Robert Menendez proposed legislation that would repeal the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a onetime opponent of online gambling, proposed a bill that would regulate online poker (and only the game of poker) at the federal level.

All three efforts failed. Frank’s bill passed a committee vote in the House but never received a full floor vote. Menendez’s bill never even made it that far. Reid considered attaching the online poker bill to other legislation during the lame duck session, but now it seems that won’t happen.

What does this means for blackjack players? Does that mean it’s still illegal to play online blackjack in the United States?

This may surprise you, but the answer is no. Not only that, but it has never been illegal to play online blackjack in the United States, except in the few states that ban the activity. There is not nor has there ever been a federal law that bans online gambling. UIGEA makes it illegal for financial institutions to conduct transactions involving “unlawful” online gambling. Not only does that not make anything the player does illegal, but the law never defines what forms of gambling are illegal. Therefore, UIGEA does not ban any game. It is a position held not only by me but also by the courts.

Whenever people say that online blackjack and other forms of online gambling are illegal in America, they either point to UIGEA or the Interstate Wire Act. The Wire Act, passed in 1961, prohibits using wired communications to place bets on a sporting event or contest. The courts, including the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, have ruled that the Wire Act only bans sports betting. All other forms of gambling, including casino games, are not affected by the Wire Act.

Since neither UIGEA or the Wire Act bans online blackjack, it is perfectly legal to play the game in the United States, as long as the state in which you reside doesn’t have a law banning it. Be sure to check out your local laws to be sure, but in most cases, you are not breaking the law to play the game.

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.

NY Judges Denies Tzvetkoff Bail

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Australian national Daniel Tzvetkoff made news 2 weeks ago when he was arrested in Las Vegas and charged with bank fraud, money laundering and conspiracy to operate and finance and illegal gambling business.

Yesterday, a New York judge denied Tzvetkoff bail, meaning that he will have to remain in jail until his trial, which is more than a year down the road. Last week, a Las Vegas judge ruled that he should be released on bail because a U.S. citizen in his case would have. The prosecution then appealed to the New York District Court, where he is facing charges of bank fraud and money laundering. There, Judge Lewis Kaplan ruled that Tzvetkoff is a flight risk, due to his foreign status and access to over $100 million dollars, and denied bail.

Tzvetkoff was co-founder of online payment processor IntaBill. He allegedly moved money from American online gamblers’ bank accounts to the accounts of offshore shell companies. He then moved the funds from the shell companies to online casinos. Tzvetkoff’s type of money laundering is called an Automated Clearing House system and he used it to funnel millions of dollars between the U.S. and the British Virgin Islands.

In 2009, online casinos stopped doing business with Tzvetkoff due to allegations that he had stolen $100 million from them. Two weeks ago, Tzvetkoff attended a conference in Las Vegas where many representatives from those online casinos were present. It is believed that one of those people alerted security, which then resulted in an FBI arrest.

If convicted of all of the carges, Tzvetkoff would face up to 24 years in prison. In addition, it is estimated that he could have to wait 18 to 24 months before his trial begins. He will be locked up in jail that whole time.

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.

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.

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.

Interblock Releases Organic Blackjack Machines

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

There is a new way to play blackjack in a casino without the need for a dealer. Interblock has released new blackjack gaming stations that are part of their G4 Organic Products series. The stations are a combination of “mechanical and electronic engineering” and are the first machines “capable of shuffling and dealing real cards in a blackjack game,” according to Interblock.

The organic blackjack machines are sophisticated tables with up to seven stations, just like the seats at a traditional blackjack table. The machines use a random number generator software program to determine the order of the cards and shuffles them accordingly. Using the new tables, players can enjoy their favorite game of blackjack without needing a dealer.

One benefit of these new tables is that they allow blackjack to be played in jurisdictions where lives games are not allowed. Some jurisdictions allow only “arcade style” gaming, which includes slots, video poker and more. Traditional table games like blackjack and roulette are not allowed. Since it is an electronic version with no dealer, however, Interblock’s organic blackjack machines would be allowed in many of these jurisdictions. For the last year they have been used in Slovenia, Jamaica and Spain, for instance.

The G4 organic blackjack machines offer the exact same gameplay and rules as in traditional blackjack, including doubling and splitting, et cetera, and can be played where live-dealer games are not allowed. Since it uses real cards, the games should be more exciting than the virtual video blackjack games. In addition to blackjack, Interblock also has G4 organic machines for roulette, craps, keno, baccarat and more. Additional information and a full catalog can be found at the website of Interblock’s parent company, Elektroncek.

Florida Introduces Online Gambling Bill

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

The U.S. state of Florida now has a bill in the House that would legalize and heavily regulate online gambling. Representative Joseph Abruzzo introduced the bill called the Internet Poker Consumer Protection and Revenue Generation Act of 2010. Despite “poker” being in the name, the bill would legalize all online casino games, including blackjack.

Some lawmakers in Florida have been trying to get blackjack approved in Florida casinos for a while. Governor Charlie Crist has twice reached a deal with the Seminole tribe to allow legal blackjack tables in their tribal casinos. However, both times the state House has rejected the deals. There are also plans to open up resort casinos in the state, though there is no bill yet for that. In the meantime, the idea of playing blackjack online in Florida has been overlooked.

There is no current law in Florida that makes online gambling either legal or illegal. In 2006, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) was passed as part of the SAFE Port Act. Though that law doesn’t make online gambling illegal, it does allow for the government to seize funds and punish financial institutions that are used for “illegal” online gambling, though it does not define what gambling is illegal. For that reason, many financial institutions, including credit card companies Visa and Mastercard, can no longer be used for online gambling.

If Abruzzo’s bill passes and is signed into law, online gambling would be clearly made legal in the state of Florida and the government would regulate and tax the industry. Part of the terms for operating an online casino used by Floridians would be to pay a $500,000 application fee and a $1,000 annual licensing fee, in addition to being heavily taxed (the proposal is 20% of the revenue). The state government will place limits on the time you can spend gambling and amount that can be gambled. In addition, they will certify that all software used is safe and fair for the players.

UIGEA is currently being challenged at the federal level. Separate bills in the U.S. House and Senate propose to repeal the law, though neither has been discussed on the floor yet. Even if the UIGEA is not repealed, though, the law allows for states to legalize and regulate online gambling within their own borders.

Is Virtual Blackjack Blackjack?

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

Blackjack is a pretty basic card game that comes in many forms. The earliest and most obvious form of blackjack is played at a table in a brick and mortar casino. The dealer gives you cards and you wager, win and lose chips on each hand. Some casinos have gone to chipless electronic blackjack tables, where you are still dealt physical cards but instead of using chips, you place bets on a touch screen and have money automatically credited to or subtracted from your account. Online blackjack is offered at web-based casinos, where everything is done on the computer and instead of cards being shuffled, the outcome is controlled by a random number generator. You can also play mobile blackjack on your cell phone.

And then there’s virtual blackjack, which is causing a lot of controversy in the state of Florida. In the Sunshine State, the Seminole tribe wants to operate blackjack tables at their casinos and are already doing so. An agreement with the state Congress has been scrapped, which some say makes their blackjack tables illegal. Some lawmakers in the state want those tables shut down.

In response, the Seminole tribe has said that pari-mutuels in the state are offering virtual blackjack. According to the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, Indian tribes have the right to run any game in their casinos that is allowed in the state in which their casinos reside. Therefore, if Florida’s government allows the pari-mutuels to offer blackjack, then they must let the Seminole do the same.

The problem is that those pari-mutuels claim that their “virtual blackjack” games aren’t really blackjack. Those virtual blackjack games have been inspected and licensed by the government, so the only way the Seminole could be prevented from having blackjack is if the courts buy the “this isn’t really blackjack” argument.

According to the pari-mutuels, the games are not really blackjack because instead of the outcome being determined by a shuffling of cards, it is controlled by a random number generator. For that reason, according to them, they are more like slots. However, they are wrong. First of all, online blackjack also uses a random number generator.

Secondly, the method by which the game is randomized makes no difference. Whether it’s by a computer program, a dealer shuffling by hand, or an automatic shuffling machine, you get the same outcome: cards randomly dealt to you. Unlike slots, whether you win or lose isn’t based solely on that outcome. You have to make decisions. You can decide to hit, stand, double, split and more and those decisions, combined with the random outcome of the cards you are dealt, determine whether you win or lose. With slot machines, you win or lose based on the random spinning of the reels. That is not the same at all.

So what do you think? Is it still blackjack even if it’s a computer program that determines what cards you are dealt?

Crist Game for Negotiating New Seminole Deal

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

Florida Governor Charlie Crist twice already has tried to negotiate a deal that would allow the Seminole tribe to legally offer table games at their casinos. In return, the state would get a portion of the revenue. To be more accurate, Crist has twice successfully negotiated those deals with the Seminole, but both times the deals were rejected by the state House of Representatives.

You couldn’t blame Crist for being discouraged. However, on Tuesday the governor told reporters that he would be willing to sit down and negotiate a deal a third time. The Seminole are likely more frustrated than Crist, especially since there are threats of the Feds coming in and shutting down their current blackjack operations. However, that is also motivation for them to get some kind of a deal done. It is hoped that both sides can agree on some sort of deal that would actually pass the legislature.

The governor stated that “we want to do whatever we can to get that money for Florida’s children.” Ah, the children. See, that is another issue that has raised the stakes on getting a deal done. Crist’s education budget includes $433 million in gambling revenue from the Seminole tribe. Without a deal, there is no money and he would have to either cut $433 million from education or take that money from other parts of the state’s budget.

Of course, to play Devil’s advocate, I should point out that Florid voted to create a state lottery in 1986 because it was promised that the revenue would go toward education. Recent studies, however, have found that it does little to affect education.

Aside from working on a new deal with the Seminole, Crist said that he is open to allowing full casinos on the beach in south Florida. Of course, time is a factor in anything that Crist wants to do. He is giving up his governor’s seat this year in an attempt to become a US Senator for the state of Florida. However, he is currently trailing in the polls to primary opponent Marco Rubio, a more conservative Republican. If this takes too long, Crist may be unemployed and spending all of his time on the beach working on that creepy-looking tan.