Posts Tagged ‘gaming’
While many pay attention to the ongoing battle regarding online poker – both at the state and federal levels – there are sometimes those governmental moves that influence casino gaming and poker more significantly. In Florida, state legislators are looking to freeze gaming growth in the state, with the House of Representatives passing the first bill to do just that last week, but there is plenty of dissention on the Senate side of Tallahassee towards expansion.
Per the Tampa Bay Times journalist Mary Ellen Klas, legislators in the Sunshine State are looking to freeze gambling expansion in the state for the next two decades. The House bill, HB 7037, would not allow for any of the locations around the state – most have looked towards Miami for casino expansion, but Orlando’s pristine jurisdiction (courtesy of the Disney Corporation) has also been discussed – but would have a far-reaching effect on other gaming outlets in the state. The bill’s top goal would be to allow for Governor Rick Scott to negotiate a new agreement on behalf of the state with the powerful Seminole Indian tribe that operates two Hard Rock Casinos in Tampa and Hollywood and four others spread across Florida.
It is in looking a bit deeper into the bill where some problems might arise from poker players. Recently some of the poker rooms in the state (allowed to exist at the myriad of dog and horse racing tracks operating 24/7) have begun to spread player-banked card games, previously only the domain of the Seminole casinos. The House bill would also cut dormant pari-mutuel permits (what allows for simulcast betting on horse and harness racing) and clean up language in the current laws that could be construed as allowing for future gaming expansion.
The House bill would kick up the yearly contribution by the Seminoles for their “exclusivity” on casino operations. Instead of the current $ 250 million a year that the Seminoles contribute to the state from their casino operations, they would pay $ 325 million per year. HB 7037 would also give the Seminoles the exclusive rights to the operation of blackjack in Miami-Dade and Broward counties and could also lead to full-fledged slot machines being installed in their casinos.
HB 7037 is already moving through the Florida legislature. Although Representative Michael LaRosa has stated that “the bill provides much needed certainty and predictability for years to come,” the members of the committee he chairs, the House Tourism and Gaming Control Subcommittee, don’t entirely agree with him. HB 7037 passed out of the subcommittee by a slim margin, 11-7, along a strict party line vote with Democrats opposing the action.
The Senate has their own bill, but it is a world away from what the House is envisioning. The Senate bill, SB 8, would open Miami-Dade and Broward counties for casino gaming, granting the locations one new casino each but not giving the rights to the Seminoles. The Seminoles would get an additional casino outlet to go with their previous six and horse and dog tracks would earn the right to operate slot parlors beyond their poker rooms. SB 8 isn’t set in stone, however, as Klas reports that Senator Bill Galvano has stated the Senate has met with Seminole leaders and there are “changes” that could still be made to SB 8 before it heads to committee.
While the Florida government is talking about how to shape gambling for the near future, what does the Seminole Indian tribes at the center of the discussion think? According to Klas, the tribe has already sent messages that neither the House nor the Senate bills are acceptable at this point. Marcellus Osceola, the chairman of the Seminole Indian Tribal Council, sent a letter to the leaders of the Florida government (Scott, Senate President Joe Negron, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran) loudly disagreeing with their actions.
Osceola points out to the Florida leaders that both bills as they are currently written would look for the tribe to pay more out each year to the state, but they would also lose a great deal of the current monopoly the tribe holds, making the increased payments ludicrous. “Unfortunately, both the Senate and House bills would require dramatic increases in the Tribe’s payments without providing increases in the Tribe’s exclusivity sufficient to justify those higher payments,” Osceola’s letter plainly stated.
The state of Florida has been negotiating with the Seminoles for changes to the current casino industry for the past few years. To this point, Scott nor the Seminoles have been able to reach a consensus on just how far to take any expansion of gaming (if there is to be one), how much influence (if any) the Seminole Indians would have over that expansion and, perhaps most important to the state, the continued influx of millions of dollars into the state’s coffers from the Seminole gaming operations. It appears that the Florida legislature cannot come to an agreement either on which way to move forward.
Blacklists are not generally considered a good thing. I mean, right when you hear the word “blacklist,” you kind of recoil and nearly inaudibly say, “egh,” don’t you. Well, there are a lot of people making “who farted?” faces in Colombia right now, as the South American country’s gambling regulatory agency, Coljuegos has handed a blacklist of 325 online gambling sites to the Ministerio de Tecnologías de la Información y las Comunicaciones (Ministry of Information and Communications Technology), asking that agency to block Colombians from accessing them.
Yes, blacklists again. We’ve seen this before in other countries, either when they are trying to protect their state-run online gambling site or simply instituting draconian gambling policies (or both!). That list has been published; it contains all sorts of sites, from online poker to casino games to sports betting to bingo.
It’s also kind of weird, as if it had been drawn up by someone who really had no knowledge of the industry and just Googled “online gambling” (or its equivalent in Spanish). There are all sorts of duplicate domains, subdomains with strings of random characters, and even a Hotmail e-mail address. For crying out loud, I use a Hotmail address for account registrations where I know I’m going to end up with spam.
So be sure you don’t go to firstname.lastname@example.org because not only will you not find any online gambling there, but you might get a curt reply.
Wait, oh dear, I just looked at the list again. There’s actually a Facebook page listed. Ok, I’m going to it now because I have to see this. Looks like it’s the Facebook page of Orlando Diaz, the Manager of the Turn & River Poker Club in Bogota, Colombia. Yes, government, please make ISPs block this INCIDIOUS Facebook page where I can’t participate in any sort of online gambling, but I can get information about the club’s poker tournaments.
Here some actual, legit online gaming sites of some interest from the potential blacklist (listed in the order they appear on the blacklist):
As you can see (and the trend continues on through the list), there is an emphasis on Spanish-language versions of sites. It would be pretty funny if the blacklist was implemented and, say, the Spanish-language version of PokerStars.com was banned (as opposed to Spain’s version), but players could still get on PokerStars.com proper. I’m guessing an ISP would be smart enough as to lump them together, but who knows?
Obviously, it would be tough to actually get down to barring people from all of these sites. There’s also probably not the greatest chance that any government agency would start going after sites that try to get around the blacklist by altering its URL, but some of the major sites, like PokerStars, might choose to stop operating in Colombia so as not to get on the bad side of regulators in other countries.
Again, remember that any speculation only applies if the blacklist actually gets implemented rather than just appearing on a site as an embedded table.
In a case that is now dragging on into its second year regarding a transaction from 2014, former Amaya Gaming Chief Executive Officer David Baazov now has a date set for his trial on insider trading charges.
In proceedings held last week in the Quebec Court, Judge Claude Leblond scheduled the start of Baazov’s trial for a November 20 start date. Counting in holidays, the lawyers concluded that the trial will take about 13 weeks as the prosecution plans an extensive case. The attorneys for the Autorité des marchés financiers (AMF), the province of Quebec’s equivalent of the U. S. Securities and Exchange Commission, have called the case against Baazov and two defendants the “largest insider trading investigation in Canadian history” and plan to call around 50 witnesses.
Other than the sheer number of witnesses (including some that potentially could testify via videoconference), there are other problems that are lengthening the potential trial. The trial will be conducted in French (Quebec’s provincial language) because, as explained by the Toronto Globe and Mail, the case is a penal proceeding under Quebec’s securities act. Leblond has stated that an attempt to seat a bilingual judge will be taken and that the case will have all proceedings translated as close to simultaneously as possible. The evidence in the case, strangely enough, will be presented in English.
There is no list of witnesses at hand, but employees from Amaya’s investment bank, Canaccord Genuity Securities, are expected to be called. Additionally, at least one “informant” not named previously in court documents will be called to testify, although there is no information as to whether than informant will testify anonymously or not.
The case dates back to 2014 in what was – and still is – the largest online gaming transaction in the industry’s history. The #1 online poker website in the world, the privately owned PokerStars, was approached by Amaya Gaming and Baazov early in the year about a potential buyout of the family ownership behind PokerStars, the Scheinbergs. Negotiations moved quickly and, by June, the $ 4.9 billion transaction was complete for the online operations and all other pertinent properties.
What the AMF were concerned about was the period prior to the actual completion of the transaction. In unveiling their case a year ago, the AMF alleged that Baazov and two other men, Benjamin Ahdoot and Yoel Altman, utilized the information they had regarding the potential deal to make stock trades “while in possession of privileged information.” Along with the trio, three companies – Diocles Capital, Sababa Consulting and 2374879 Ontario – are also charged with insider trading and attempting to alter the fair market price of Amaya’s stock. Baazov also faces a communication of privileged information charge along with the other two charges.
There seems to be at the minimum smoke where the alleged fire is located. Prior to the sale, Amaya Gaming stock was trading around $ 7.50 per share on the NASDAQ boards but, as the information emerged that the deal was imminent, the share price soared over $ 35, nearly a five-time increase. Even today, the stock for Amaya is still trading around $ 15 ($ 14.50, to be exact).
Baazov has had a tumultuous history since the allegations came out in 2016. Since the charges were brought against him, Baazov has looked to stay in charge at Amaya Gaming before eventually taking a “leave of absence” that became permanent at the end of last year. He has also entertained the notion of buying PokerStars from Amaya Gaming and taking it back into private ownership. In December, that potential deal fell through, even though Baazov and his investors were offering more than what the stock was worth at that time ($ 24 per share, a 30% increase over its board price).
Even with the trial date set, there is still the potential for the AMF and the defendants to strike a deal and avoid any court proceedings. This is a fact that isn’t being ignored by either side as the attorneys are not making any statements to the press regarding the case that could affect any deal discussions. If convicted of the charges they face, Baazov and company would face stiff fines and potentially lengthy jail time.
After the decision by the U. S. Department of Justice in 2011 that the Wire Act of 1961 only applied to sports betting, it was expected that the individual states would flock to online gaming. It was thought that most of these would be online lottery sales, but the doors were also opened for online casino gaming and poker. That expected “flood” turned out to be a trickle as only three states – Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware – passed regulations on the industry and opened the doors for action in 2013.
In the three-plus years since then, there have been plenty of states that have flirted with the idea of passing legislation, but there has been no sincere action towards passage of those regulations. With the 2016 General Election, however, and a GOP administration in control in Washington D. C., the potential fates of online gaming are in more question than ever. It bears asking if the current flurry of some states regarding the online gaming question is a result of the potential for federal movement (and not in a good way) on the subject?
In what seems to be a perennial entry, California has once again proposed a bill that would legalize and regulate online poker only in the state. The bill, AB 1677 from the office of longtime gaming advocate Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer, would open the doors for the largest state in the Union to earn tax revenues from a regulated online poker industry. The major roadblock for passage of the bill, as it has been since the first bill appeared more than a decade ago, is that none of the parties involved in the Golden State – the powerful Indian tribes, the card rooms, and the horse racing tracks, along with the politicians – cannot come to a consensus as to how to move forward.
New York has two bills on each side of the General Assembly (important for passage and forwarding to the governor). New York State Senator John Bonacic has S. 3898 (which has already gone through committee), while Assemblyman Gary Pretlow has introduced A. 5250, which is still in the discussion phase. If these two bills can get passed and are reconciled into one actionable bill, then Governor Andrew Cuomo would be the final arbiter.
Pennsylvania has already counted the money from full online casino gaming (including poker), there’s just one problem…they haven’t passed the regulations for it. Facing such a dilemma, a contingent of Keystone State representatives have presented HB 392, which not only would authorize full online casino gaming but also would open daily fantasy sports in the state. Once again, there’s been plenty of discussion but little action.
Even states that previously hadn’t been “in the pool” with online gaming and poker have decided to jump in. Dabbling with the issue in 2016 has pushed Michigan to consider the passage of online gaming regulations once again (hasn’t moved beyond talking) while a new player entered the game. Hawaii, long an anti-gaming state that actually has laws on the books preventing live gaming, has seen a bill, S. B. 677, introduced for the state to open “internet gaming (a very wide definition)” in the Aloha State.
So why are all these states suddenly rushing to pass (or at least looking at passing) online gaming regulations, be it for full casino gaming or just online poker? One only has to look at the situation in D. C. to be able to ascertain that answer.
When former Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions was cake-walking through his confirmation hearings to be the next U. S. Attorney General, noted anti-gaming Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina directly asked Sessions his thoughts about online gaming and its legality. In particular, Graham mentioned the Christmas 2011 decision from the Department of Justice – which, as Attorney General, Sessions would oversee – and the validity of the findings from the previous AG’s staff. In replying Sessions admitted that he already thought that it “wasn’t legal” for online gaming to be conducted and that he would “be revisiting” the decision if he were to be confirmed.
If Sessions were to overturn that 2011 decision by the DoJ, then the entire legality of the state’s rights to conduct online gaming would be destroyed and the enforcement of the Wire Act would be put back in place. No states would be able to pass their own laws regarding the conduct of online gaming inside their borders and the states that have already passed laws would presumably be shut down. Many are hoping (perhaps Pollyanna-like) that those states with laws passed would be “grandfathered” in and allowed to still operate, which would explain the “gold rush” like atmosphere with the actions from those states that haven’t yet passed regulations.
Currently Sessions has his plate full with other things that have plagued the current administration (when seven figures in the administration have met one Russian spy master, there’s a bit of a problem). But sitting out there is billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who donated tens of millions of dollars to the GOP and is wanting some return on his investment (hence his meeting with Vice President Mike Pence, another noted anti-gaming advocate). The eventual outcome is not known but the individual states should waste little time if they want to get in under the gun.
After receiving feedback from the players regarding their inaugural event in the Bahamas, officials with PokerStars and Amaya Gaming have made some adjustments to their upcoming stop in Panama. Of interest to most players will be the more than $ 600,000 in guarantees to the tournament schedule, but other factors may drive player interest to head for Central America.
Most of the guaranteed money will be going to one tournament. The PokerStars National Championship – the organization that took over many of the national tours that PokerStars used to operate, including the Latin American Poker Tour – now will have a $ 400,000 guaranteed prize pool for its contestants. With a $ 1100 buy in, it is obvious that PokerStars is trying to drive some interest in this tournament, which replaced the LAPT Main Event.
Three other lower buy-in tournaments will have guarantees placed on them. The PokerStars Cup, a $ 440 buy in event, will have a $ 150,000 guaranteed prize pool. The $ 220 PokerStars Open will have a $ 50,000 guaranteed tournament, while a $ 120 buy in event on the schedule will feature a $ 20,000 guarantee. There are also two $ 120 super satellites for the National Championship that guarantee ten seats and two “freebuy” (no buy-in) satellites for the PokerStars Cup that will guarantee ten seats to the event (the “freebuy” tournaments will feature $ 20 rebuys).
Other aspects of the PokerStars Championship Panama have been adjusted by Amaya Gaming and PokerStars to be more player-friendly. The exhausting 90-plus tournament schedule that was run at the PokerStars Championship Bahamas has been scaled down for Panama, going from the originally scheduled 56 tournaments (that will run from March 10-20 in Panama City at the Casino Sortis Hotel, Spa & Casino) to a more realistic 46 events. The High Roller events will get some special treatment in the form of a “shot clock” – a clock to enforce quicker action – for both the $ 25K High Roller and the $ 50K Super High Roller. Finally, for almost every tournament late registration will be allowed until after Level 8 of the tournament.
The PokerStars Championship Bahamas – the renamed PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, for all intents, for a brand-new tour that used to be the European Poker Tour – suffered a bit under its new auspices. The 92-tournament schedule over a nine-day period was deemed to be far too many by both the players and the staff. Additionally, the expanded payout system, which saw 20% of the field paid instead of the usual 10-15% (the World Series of Poker instituted a 15% payout system last summer), was something that players grumbled over. The total numbers that attended in the Bahamas suffered as a result.
For the $ 5000 PokerStars Championship Bahamas Main Event, a 738-player field was in attendance. While that may sound good for a $ 5000 tournament, this was actually a massive drop from the 928 players that showed up for the tournament just last year (a 20.5% drop in attendance, to be exact) and a far cry from the “glory days” of the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, when 1529 players attended the 2010 PCA (won by Harrison Gimbel). Both High Roller events saw reductions in the number of players (121 with 38 rebuys in 2017 for the $ 25K High Roller versus 173 and 52 in 2016; 41 and 13 in the $ 50K Super High Roller in 2017 versus 44 and 14 just a year earlier), and side events were reportedly sparsely attended.
The first leg of the new tour was the “familiar” part of the schedule and the traditional Bahamas start wasn’t immediately viewed as a bellwether for the new PokerStars Championship. The true indicator of the potential success of the new tour was always going to be the Panama stop (and its next stop in the Asian gaming capital of Macau). With the changes that they have implemented, Amaya and PokerStars officials hope they have now created a tournament stop that will demonstrate the validity of their logic to change from the EPT (and their relevant national tours) to the PokerStars Championship with the true indicator – massive player numbers.