Category Archives: News

Chinese Online Gambling Suspect Arrested in Thailand

Whether they have been there or not, most gamblers around the world have heard of Macao, the special region of China where gambling is not only legal, it flourishes much like in Las Vegas. While this is the case, most people are not aware that gambling–in all forms–is illegal throughout the whole of the rest of China. For this reason, many Chinese citizens turn to illegal online gambling operations in order to scratch the gambling itch.

Many different people and organizations run illegal online gambling operations in China, but few have gained the attention of Chinese authorities like She Zhijiang. Zhijiag has been wanted by Chinese authorities for the better part of the last decade due to his alleged advertisement and supplying of online gambling to Chinese citizens.

Caught by Interpol and Extradition to China

She Zhijiang is a 40 year old Chinese national who also holds a Cambodian passport. Though the details surrounding the arrest and apprehension are not immediately clear, it appears as though Zhijiang was arrested thanks to a ‘red notice’ issued by Interpol. A red notice is something that allows police from essentially any jurisdiction in the world to apprehend a subject for a variety of different criminal activities. Being sought after by Interpol is a big deal, and in most parts of the world it is only a matter of time until you are caught, especially if the Chinese government is after you.

Wang Webin, a spokesperson for for the Chinese foreign ministry, did not confirm or deny the arrest in Thailand and supposed pending extradition, but simply said, “No matter what corner of the world a criminal suspect runs to, China will initiate law enforcement cooperation with relevant countries and bring the suspect to justice.”

Massive Presence in Southeast Asian Gambling

Across southeast Asia, the subject of online gambling is looked upon different by varying governments. In addition to China, countries like Cambodia also forbid online gambling in all its forms. With that said, gambling at physical casinos is something that generally gets a pass. She Zhijiang is accused of operating various online gambling websites (both legal and illegal depending on the jurisdiction), and while this is going to be the subject of future Chinese criminal proceedings, Zhijiang does have a public connection with physical gambling.

She is the reported chairman of Yatai International Holdings Group, a company that has made millions of dollars worth of investments in Cambodia, the Philippines, and Myanmar. In fact, the gambling facility that was recently built in Myanmar is rumored to be worth more than $15 billion.

While there are still a lot of unknowns surrounding both Zhijiang and his arrest, there is little doubt that She has made a career in the gambling industry. You might be wondering why someone with the wealth Zhijiang reportedly has would take a risk offering online gambling services in China, but the answer to that comes down to one thing; money. Even though online gambling has been banned in China for virtually as long as the internet has existed, the country is so vast and so connected that it is nearly impossible for Chinese authorities to shut down every site. In much the same way that offshore sites operate in the United States and Canada, there are a plethora of gambling sites offering their services to Chinese citizens day in and day out.

Being that Zhijiang is worth millions and has a heavy presence in the Asian gambling landscape, you can bet that there will be plenty more details emerging in the coming days and weeks.

Florida Governor Signs Gambling Bill with Big Implications

This past Friday, Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe of Florida struck a 30-year gambling deal that could change the gaming landscape in the state for years to come. The deal would be the state’s largest sports gambling expansion to date, while addressing the concerns of the Seminole Tribe, who are responsible for the majority of the gambling industry in Florida. The new deal would also introduce online sports betting into the fold, bringing in billions of dollars in revenue to the state.

A New Chapter in a Complicated Relationship

For years, Florida has been trying to iron out a new deal with Seminole Tribe. Until Friday’s announcement, the efforts had been unsuccessful, and at times even tense. In a statement with the Florida Trend, Marcellus Osceola Jr., chairman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, said the agreement cements the tribe’s partnership with decades to come. Osceola Jr. went on to say that the deal “is the best deal for everybody” and it is “in favor of both parties, because this is a long-lasting team.”

Gov. DeSantis echoed the sentiments of his Seminole counterpart, noting that the new deal would be mutually beneficial. With the signature form the governor, both the Seminole Tribe and the state could be looking at billions in new revenue, as well as a significant economic impact. While the deal bodes well for the future relationship between the Seminole Tribe and the state of Florida, it still has a long way to go before becoming a reality.

Big Deal Means Big Numbers

Florida’s GOP legislative leaders have given the deal their blessing unofficially, but in order for the compact to go into law, the Legislature must officially approve it during the next session. This year’s regular session is scheduled to end April 30, but lawmakers have agreed to host a special session during the week of May 17 to consider the compact between the Seminole Tribe and the state. The additional time will allow them to review the finer details of the deal to confirm that it takes into consideration everyone’s interests, including the public’s.

The gambling agreement is a 30-year deal that could deliver $2.5 billion to the state over the next 5 years. Over the next decade, the state could see at least $6 billion. The key to the deal is granting the Seminole Tribe statewide control on online sports betting. The belief is that the Seminole Tribe could use their existing gambling foothold and infrastructure to roll out a successful gambling expansion in the form of online sportsbooks.

Implications for Sports Betting

If the agreement is signed into law, it will allow the Seminole Tribe to offer online sports betting in partnership with the state’s pari-mutuel facilities. This includes poker cardrooms, horse racing tracks, and jai-alai arenas. Similar to the sports betting legislation that has been put in place in other areas of the country, Florida would allow residents who are 21 and older to place wagers on collegiate and professional sporting events, including motorsports and Olympic contests.

The Seminole Tribe’s existing casinos and pari-mutuels could be used to create and offer their own sports betting mobile apps, from which they would keep 60% of betting revenue. Under the deal, the Seminoles would also have the option to contract with popular online sports betting companies like DraftKings and FanDuel. Floridians would welcome online sports betting with open arms, as many other states have already made online sports betting legal. Part of the reason that Florida has fallen behind that national trends is because the Seminole Tribe’s involvement had to be carefully considered. The deal that was signed be DeSantis does just that.

If the prospects that sports betting wasn’t enough, the Seminole Tribe could also see additional gaming expansions tied to the deal, including additional casinos. Law makers will officially pass their judgement on the new legislation within the next month.

Michigan Man Exploits Gamblers, Stealing More Than $100k

A Michigan Man has pleaded guilty in federal court after conducting an elaborate fraud scheme that allowed him to withdraw more than $100,000 at various casinos. The man used prosthetic face masks to change his appearance, and created a number of false identification cards, as he took thousands from numerous unsuspecting gamblers at casinos across two states. In addition to the prosthetic face masks, the man utilized hats, glasses, and surgical masks to disguise himself at each of the locations he visited. Through a calculated series of moves, he was able to exploit casino rewards programs, stealing the identity of customers and withdrawing cash in their names.

The Guilty Party

John Christopher Colletti, 56, officially pleaded guilty to wire and identity fraud on Tuesday. Colletti, with his various disguises, was able to take more than $125,000 from gamblers. His elaborate plan has now earned him up to a maximum of 20 years in prison for wire fraud and two years for identity fraud. Colletti will be officially sentenced later this summer.

Colletti used a face mask to make him look like an older white male before visiting casino kiosks to take out thousands of dollars in cash. After amassing more than $100,000, the FBI became involved, eventually identifying Colletti. Timothy Waters, a special agent from the FBI’s Detroit Field Office, shared that Colletti’s actions impacted many innocent gamblers and that the FBI needed to ensure that these actions of identity theft were addressed, and the guilty party was held accountable.

Casino Security Challenges

In order to operate casino kiosks, gamblers must present their driver’s license and enter the last four digits of their Social Security Number and telephone number. Colletti specifically targeted VIP Preferred Program casino patrons. VIP customers typically have access to features that make it easier for them to withdraw and deposit, and in Colletti’s case this gave him access to withdraw larger sums. The system is designed to keep customers safe by having them provide their personal information first, but Colletti managed to purchase the personal information of his victims off the internet, allowing him to create fraudulent driver’s licenses made in their names.

Colletti was first flagged after withdrawing large sums from kiosks at numerous casinos. Thanks to security cameras, investigators were able to catch Colletti in the act, despite the fact that he used many different disguises. He first gained the attention of authorities after 10 instances of identity theft were found at MGM Grand Casino Detroit in May of 2019. From these 10 cases, Colletti was able to withdraw $98,840. In a single instance, Colletti was identified as wearing a prosthetic mask to disguise his appearance, and he went on to make 15 transactions totaling $30,000 at various kiosks in the casino. From there, security surveillance was able to track Colletti to his next destination, where he removed his disguise and made off with his cash.

Paying the Damages

Colletti was not arrested until Mach 12, 2020, at the Prairie Band Casino. In this instance he was wearing a straw hat and glasses while using a mobility walker. On this day, Colletti withdrew $20,000, which required him to present his Social Security number. When approached by security, Colletti retreated to the restroom removing his disguise and fleeing the casino. Security found the disguise left in the restroom with cash, driver’s licenses, and a Nissan car key. After Colletti was arrested, a search warrant was obtained and police eventually discovered face masks, flash drives, 83 driver’s licenses, 14 insurance cards, and 19 players cards from various casinos like the MGM Grand.

The lucrative scheme reveals the real dangers of identity theft and the importance of protecting personal information. Thanks to the security systems in place at the casinos that Colletti visited, the customers whose information was compromised will be paid back in full for their losses. Global Payments Gaming Services, the manufacturer of the casino kiosks that Colletti withdrew from, will be paying back the customers who were affected. Colletti will eventually pay the full $125,740 back to GPGS.

Newburgh Gambling Hall Begins Approval Process

Resorts World Catskills has identified the Town of Newburgh in New York as the potential site for a gambling hall that could include 1,300 gaming and video lottery terminals. Resort World believes that the struggling Newburgh Mall could benefit from a revival in the form of a new casino project, and the gaming company has offered $3 million annually in host-community payments as part of its proposal. Such a price tag may entice officials, as retail stores continue to struggle amidst the pandemic.

A Reputable Operator

Resorts World is owned by the Genting Group, a Malaysia-based company, and already operates casinos in Sullivan County and Queens, and previously had plans to open a video gaming parlor in Woodbury. With the prospect of the Newburgh Mall project on the horizon, the Woodbury plans have fallen to the wayside. The company was authorized by the state in 2019 to open a facility in Orange County to house the electronic slot machines that were previously licensed at Monticello Raceway. Now, Resorts World is trying to double down on this authorization to create a gambling hall in Newburgh Mall.

A formal pitch from Resorts World to Newburgh’s Town Board came about a month ago. In order for the plan to move forward, the zoning for building would have to be amended. Now it looks like the approval process is ready to move forward.

Struggling Retailers

Newburgh Mall is one of the many retail locations throughout the world that find themselves struggling in a world that has become increasingly dependent on online shopping. This fact has been amplified by the ongoing concerns surrounding the COVID-19 Pandemic. The mall already has 17 vacant store spaces, as many others continue to struggle.

Resorts World aims to sign a 65-year lease with the mall owners to add lottery and gaming terminals to the existing building. The gambling hall would not replace the building, but simply revitalize some of the areas that have are not being used, such as a vacant Bon-Ton department store. The proposed gambling hall would not have any restaurants or shopping, and the gaming operators believe that this would lead to gamblers streaming out into the mall for food or shopping whenever the visit.

Crunching the Numbers

In February, representatives for the casino operator presented their plans to the Newburgh Town Board. Their proposal stated that the new operation could employ up to 225 full-time workers. During the construction of the project, roughly 200 construction workers would also be hired to help construct the $32 million project. The end goal would be to transform a 68,877-square-foot section of the indoor mall into a new gambling hall called Resorts World Hudson Valley. Once built, Resorts World would give preference to local residents when hiring employees for the gambling hall, with an average salary worth about $72,000 a year.

As part of the $3 million in annual host-community payments, Resorts World will pay $1million for any municipal purposes, $500,000 a year for public safety and $1.5 million for community projects. Each of these payments would increase by 5% every 10 years. In addition to these numbers, Resorts World estimates that the new project could generate $65.6 million a year in revenue that would directly support New York Public schools.

Positive Signs

Resorts World believe that the revitalization project is one that they and the Newburgh Mall could mutually benefit from. In a press release, Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus called the project “an investment in jobs, in growth and the future of Orange County.” The revitalization project could provide a beacon of hope as well, as restrictions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic loosen, and retailers work to get back on track. So far, talks between Resorts World and officials have been positive and progressive, in a state that didn’t even allow Vegas-style gambling halls and casinos until 2013. Now officials and residents will wait to see if and when the gambling hall can become a reality.

Urban One and Peninsula Pacific Partner for Richmond Casino Project

Urban One, a Black-owned Washington media company, is working with Peninsula Pacific to propose a $517 million casino resort project. The proposed casino resort and live music theater would be built on property in South Richmond that is currently owned by Philip Morris USA, one of the city’s largest employers. The project was made possible, after the state legalized casinos for the first time last year. Now Urban One is trying to build the first casino with African American ownership in the state.

A New Contender

Urban One and Peninsula Pacific Entertainment, the owner of Colonial Downs Group, are hoping to capitalize on a potential casino that has been in the works since the legalization of casinos in the state of Virginia. Urban One owns more than 50 radio stations in over a dozen markets along the east coast. Tin Richmond, they own four radio stations, which are known for having a predominantly African American audience. Urban One already has a 7% stake in MGM National Harbor casino resort in Maryland, but this new proposal reflects a new focus on creating economic opportunities for minorities in Virginia. Despite their relative lack of experience in the industry, Urban One made a smart choice by selecting a worthy partner.

Alfred Liggins, Urban One CEO, confirmed that the media company would be the majority investor in the potential casino resort project. In a statement to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Liggins shared that the group was excited to submit a proposal that includes a unique gaming, dining, and live music destination that would be the only black owned casino in the state. Minority ownership has been a major focus of the latest casino legislation adopted by the General Assembly, and Urban One hopes that they will soon become the proud owners of the ambitious project they have proposed.

Details of the Project

Liggins promises that the proposal will be an appropriate reflection of the community they have proudly been a part of since 1999. The ultimate goal is to produce a final product that reflects the local flavor of Richmond while uplifting the community.

The proposed $517 million casino resort and live music theater be built on 100 acres owned by Altria Group Inc., the parent company of Philip Morris USA. Altria has offered no comment on the real estate transaction that would be necessary to make this project a reality, but they have acknowledged the area, which is located just south of a major cigarette manufacturing complex, could benefit from further development. Steve Callahan, a spokesman from Altria, shared that any decisions made about the land should involve the Richmond community.

The proposed casino resort project would include nearly 90,000 square feet dedicated to casino games, 150-room hotel, as many as a dozen restaurants and lounges, and 3,000-seat entertainment venue. A number of other outdoor recreational features could also be included. The venue, which could host up to 200 live music events a year, would make an ideal casino resort destination for people throughout the United States.

Virginia’s First Casinos

Virginia passed a state law last year that allows legal casino gambling for the first time. Previously, Virginia’s gambling laws were relatively strict, banning casinos and greyhound racing specifically. The state does allow betting on games of chance in private residences and the Commonwealth runs a statewide lottery.

The new legislation opens the door for casinos in five different cities, after voters approved them in local referendums. Norfolk, Portsmouth, Danville, and Bristol have all approved casino projects; Richmond is still waiting, but they will get their chance next November. Last week the city announced that an evaluation panel including two City Council members and seven administration officials will review all Richmond casino proposal, while seeking additional support from an outside consulting firm. After reviewing the proposals, the panel will make recommendations to Mayor Levar Stoney and work to vote on a recommended operator and location.

Urban One and Peninsula Pacific have to wait and see how far their proposal can go. Their primary competition will come from the Pamunkey Tribe, who already has secured a project for a casino in Norfolk.

Hawaii Gambling Bills Delayed

Three gaming bills were turned down by the House on Wednesday, stalling any chance for legalized gambling in the state of Hawaii. After a year full of economic hardships, state lawmakers in Hawaii were considering a serious gaming overhaul in hopes of bringing some relief to those suffering in the state. The state is facing huge budget deficits, after the COVID-19 pandemic left the state scraping to make up for the lack of revenue generated from tourism. Officials were hoping that the proposed gambling-related bills could help account for some of the glaring issues facing the state, but it appears that lawmakers feel that the time just isn’t right for gaming expansion.

Details of the Proposed Bills

The three bills proposed would have legalized commercial gambling in the state of Hawaii, which is just one of two states with no form of legal gambling in the country. One bill would have created a state poker commission to oversee live poker rooms. Another would have allowed a casino on the Hawai’i Convention Center. Under this bill, players would have been required to stay in an Oahu hotel in order to play at the casino. The final bill pushed for a pilot program for digital sports betting platforms.

Rep. Sean Quinlan, chairman of the House Economic Development Committee, deferred all three bills, leaving little to no hope for immediate change to gambling laws in the rainbow state. This is in addition to Quinlan’s decision last week to defer on another bill that would allow the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands to build a casino near Kapolei. That bill would have given a 40-year gaming license for an integrated resort and casino that would be built by the DHHL in parcel zoned lands for commercial use, located west of Ko Olina. The belief is that the proposed casino resort could generate millions of dollars in annual tax revenue. The revenue would be funneled toward a program that gets Hawaiians off of a wait list and onto their ancestral lands and into homes. The bill could have helped clear a backlog of more than 28,000 DHHL beneficiaries, who have been left waiting for homes and land.

Existing Gambling Laws in Hawaii

The proposed legislation could have brought gambling to a state that has traditionally outlawed almost all forms of gambling. In Hawaii, residents are prohibited from wagering on horse or dog races. Gambling aboard ships or casinos is also prohibited. Hawaii does not even have a state lottery, unlike many of the continental United States. Other than Utah, Hawaii is the only state that prohibits all forms of legalized gambling.

The only form of gambling that is legal in Hawaii is social gambling, but that’s only if the act is committed somewhere other than a hotel, motel, bar, nightclub, or any business establishment or public place.

Reality Check

Despite the sweeping denial of clear-cut gambling legislation, the Senate Education Committee did vote to approve another bill that would create a state lottery. The only issue is that committee Chairwoman Michelle Kidani amended the bill to delay the creation of the lottery until January 1, 2023, putting tangible gaming in the distant future. The Senate will also be hearing a version of the DHHL casino proposal before the Senate Hawaiian Affairs Committee.

Hawaiian residents, however, should not get their hopes up. State Rep. John Mizuno has made it clear that the breaking of the prohibition on any legalized gambling in the state could still be a far way off. Mizuno, who is the vice speaker of the house, was responsible for the bill that would have brought a casino to the Hawai’i Convention Center and has since said that the House seems to be firmly against legalizing gambling, regardless of the economic troubles residents are facing.

While the gambling bills can technically be resurrected in the house, the reality of that happening is a stretch. Mizuno believes that time is the only great equalizer in moving this gaming expansion forward, and gambling in Hawaii still has a number of hurdles to jump before its time has come.

Georgia Lawmakers Introduce Gambling Legislation Once More

The state of Georgia has been mulling over gambling legislation for years, without any tangible results. On Tuesday, lawmakers introduced a constitutional amendment to the Georgia House of Representatives that would introduce gambling in the form of casino resorts across the state. Those in favor of new legislation hope that the expansion can finally be passed, after previous efforts fell short.

The Latest Expansion Proposal

The effort for gambling expansion has been mounting for nearly 30 years in the state of Georgia. The latest proposal comes from Republican state Rep. Ron Stephens of Savannah, Alan Powell of Hartwell, and Democratic Rep. Calvin Smyre of Columbus, who have all ben longtime supporters of legalizing casinos. The Georgia House of Representatives made the proposal as the entire country works to recover from the ongoing pandemic.

The proposed legislation that would open the door for a limited number of casino resorts, would provide the state with revenue that could benefit a number of important programs. The amendment channels these revenues toward tuition and grant programs like the HOPE Scholarship, supporting public and private colleges and universities throughout the state. Additional revenue would be directed toward covering the casino’s operating costs, while also funding gambling addiction programs.


The Rising Tide

In order to pass the latest legislation, the amendment must receive a two-thirds majority vote in the state House and Senate. As Georgians know, this is no small task, as countless predecessors have failed to stave off opposition mounted by religious conservatives. The proposed casino expansion is the second gambling proposal in the 2021 calendar year. The other proposal came earlier this month and would legalize online sports betting throughout the state.

Georgia’s last gambling expansion came in 1992, when the Peach State’s voters chose to approve the lottery. Since then, all other forms of gambling have been illegal in the state, leaving residents feeling stuck in the past. Late in 2020, a House panel passed a resolution that would allow casino gambling, horse racing, and sports betting. Unfortunately, the proposal never advanced, and the pandemic brought all other discussions about gambling expansion to a screeching halt. Now, Georgians hope to capitalize on what could be a very important revenue stream.

Potential Outcomes

Religious groups have vehemently spoken out against the new legislation, citing crime and addiction as major concerns. That being said, the expansion has a number of big names in the private sector fighting for the expansion to go through. Officials at Atlanta Motor Speedway already presented a plan last year to build a $1 billion casino resort near its racetrack in Hampton. The developers responsible for the entertainment development that includes the Atlanta Braves’ Truist Park have also shared renderings of proposed casino resorts. If the amendment passes, the renderings for casino resorts on the Chattahoochee River, Lake Hartwell, and in Midway could become a reality in the near future.

Those in favor of the gambling legislation believe that the industry could bring thousands of jobs to the state, while raking in millions of dollars for important funds like the aforementioned HOPE Scholarship. Another idea being thrown around by lawmakers is to take the potential funds and direct them toward the state’s health care system.

While the support for the amendment is clear, the two-thirds hurdle still looms large. In the next few months Georgia will see whether or not it will be able to approve its first gambling expansion since 1992.

Virginia To See Expansion of Slot Machines

Rosie’s Gaming will be opening its latest slot machine parlor in the town of Dumfries in southern Prince William County. The facility will host over 100 machines and marks a continued expansion of gambling in the state.

The machines are know as historic horse racing slots. They function exactly the same as traditional slot machines with the same look and feel as those on the Vegas strip. The odds and results however, are based on the outcomes of old horse races. The terminals offer a rarely used feature which allows users to wager based on stats of the horses’ odds and previous results.

Gambling expansion in Virginia has had a tough time getting a foothold. Voters in the state have long rejected the practice. However, the Virginia State Legislature approved the use of such slot machines and since 2018, they have seen a steady rise in popularity. The slot terminals at Rosie’s are operated by the same company that is currently running slot machines at Colonial Downs racetrack located in New Kent County and a portion of those proceeds are devoted to the purses for races at Colonial Downs as a way to boost the horse racing industry in Virginia. Gamblers in the state have responded positively to the machines in places where they are active. At Colonial Downs off of Midlothian Turnpike in Richmond as well as in Winton and Hampton, patrons have helped make the HHR slots a Virginia success story. Revenues are up and in November the machines paid out total winnings of $155 million of roughly $170 million wagered.

Competition Abounds

This is an encouraging sign for Rosie’s which will face top competition from larger casinos in the area. Currently, Virginia residents can travel a short distance across the Potomac River to MGM National Harbor. Located in Maryland, it is one of the biggest casinos on the east coast. Alternatively, patrons can travel to West Virginia to place their wagers at the Hollywood Casino at the Charles Town racetrack. Both locations are a short travel distance for Northern Virginia residents and offer additional casino amenities such as table games.

Rosie’s will see increased competition in the coming months as well. The Virginia Lottery is set to approve a number of commercial licenses for online sports betting. In addition, four other Virginia cities have voted to open new casinos which are expected to launch in the next few years.

Optimistic Outlook

Management of Rosie’s is confident that they will be able to offer Virginians an enticing gambling location. Rick Casagrande is the general manger for Rosie’s Dunfries location. “In every jurisdiction, the people that come out are looking for an entertainment option that’s clean, safe, and friendly. And we provide that,” he said.

Mayor of Dunfries, Derrick Wood, and other town officials took a tour of the new facility as the final slot terminals arrived and the finishing touches were added. Wood stated that he was impressed with the effort Rosie’s is making. He is also optimistic for what the facility will do for the community. Rosie’s will be hiring over 100 local residents at $15 per hour and has made substantial commitments to assist local groups like the Boys and Girls Club.

In 2019 voters in Dunfries passed gambling 468 to 306. Mayor Wood suspects that those opposed to the expansion will remain so despite the new Rosie’s facility. “Everybody ain’t gonna like you, everybody ain’t gonna like me, and everybody ain’t gonna like every business that comes to town,” he said. However, some opponents could be won over as they start to see the improvements that Rosie’s plans to bring to the town he said. Rosie’s will be the biggest employer to establish itself in town in a few years. Conservative estimates place increases in revenue to the town at roughly 20% to start. “Dunfries has always been a place people drive through. Now we are trying to create a sense of destination,” says Wood.

Senator Scott Surovell has supported the town’s plan to bring Rosie’s Gaming to Dunfries. He stated that while he does not personally gamble, he is excited at the prospect of keeping gamblers in the state. “From where I live, I can walk a few blocks and look out over the Potomac and see $150 million in Virginia money going across the bridge. I’ve always said I’d be supportive of keeping Virginia’s money here in a responsible way.”

Arkansas Casinos Are Exempt From New Health Restrictions

Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas has issued new health restrictions in relation to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The health restrictions stipulate that bars, restaurants, and other locations with licenses to distribute alcohol are required to close no later than 11 pm. This order will be in effect through January 3 and the hope is that this curfew on alcohol will help to stop the spread of coronavirus in the state.

But not for Casinos

Thankfully, to many of Arkansas residents, the health restrictions will not extend to casinos. According to the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration casinos will continue to be allowed to function from 9 am to 2 am in accordance with the health order issued last May. Industry leaders were also happy to hear the news of this exclusion.

Carlton Saffa is the Chief Market Officer at the Saracen Casino Resort. According to him, the exclusion of casinos from this recent health related order was not a mistake nor an oversight. “We are licensed as a casino,” said Saffa. “Obviously, we’re inclusive of some subsets of hospitality but this property is a gaming facility, just like Oaklawn and just like Southland. Since the onset of Covid-19 and the government’s first reactions to it, casinos have been regulated uniquely, and we should be.” The Department of Finance has issued guidance that confirms this opinion.

Amendment 100 to the Arkansas constitution allowed for the operation of four casinos in the state. According to the text, “Casino licensees shall be permitted to sell intoxicating liquor or provide complimentary servings of intoxicating liquor, only for on-premises consumption at the casinos, during all hours in which the casino licensees conduct casino gaming. To that extent, casino licensees shall not be subject to Ark. Code Ann. §3-3-211, which prohibits the sale of intoxicating liquor on Christmas Day, and Ark. Code Ann. §3-9-201, et seq. and other applicable Arkansas law requiring the residents of a dry county or city to vote to approve the sale of intoxicating liquor.”

Still doing their part

Therefore, casinos fall outside of the purview of the recent health restrictions. However, Saffa has taken the initiative to assist the state in attempting to stop the spread of Covid-19. The dine-in restaurants at the Saracen Casino will close at 11 pm as will the casino’s bar venues. On the gaming floor, drink service will continue until the casino closes daily operation at 2 am. In addition, all of the other health related measures practiced at large across the country will continue to be observed. Disposable drinkware, social distancing, sanitation stations, and mask requirements will all still be in place. “Outside of that, we’ll continue to do what we have been doing, which is to continue to implement a robust contact tracing protocol. The casino industry has been asked by the state to participate in contact tracing for all patrons, so thousands of people enter this building every day and every one of their IDs are scanned, so we have a running log of who comes in the building,” says Saffa.

Wampanoag Chairman Charged In Casino Bribery Scheme

Cedric Cromwell has been the long-time chairman of the Wampanoag Tribe in Massachusetts. He has been charged, along with David DeQuattro, in a bribery scheme in relation to the Tribe’s casino development plans. The charge accuses the two of colluding with each other, Cromwell as chairman of the Wampanoag Tribe and DeQuattro as owner of an architecture and design firm, to extort tens of thousands of dollars in exchange for construction contracts.

Both men have plead not guilty to the bribery charges via a video conference held last week. Cromwell has also plead not guilty to the extortion charges. They were both released by a Boston federal court judge on a $25,000 unsecured bond until they appear for their next court date.

The Charges

Prosecutors allege that the two had been working together since at least 2014. Between 2014 and 2017, DeQuattro made payments to Cromwell and provided other benefits totaling roughly $60,000. In return, Cromwell had awarded construction contracts to DeQuattro’s architecture firm worth nearly $5 million. The money is alleged to have been used by Cromwell personally and was accompanied by lavish gifts such as a home gym system and hotel reservations.

United States Attorney for Massachusetts, Andrew Lelling, said, “many American Indians face a host of difficult financial and social issues. They require, and deserve, real leadership. But it appears that Cromwell’s priority was not to serve his people, but to line his own pockets.” Lelling’s office is currently prosecuting the case. According to Cromwell’s lawyer, Timothy Flaherty, he denies any such allegations and added that his client “is a man of principle, a man of faith, and he is a transformational leader.”

The Wampanoag Tribe’s council voted in an emergency meeting on Friday. They voted unanimously to remove Cromwell as the Tribe’s chairman. “We take the charges brought against Cedric Cromwell very seriously. The Tribe’s focus remains on ensuring that our land remains in trust and supporting our tribal sovereignty,” said Jessie Baird, Vice chair for the Tribe’s council.

The Project

The Wampanoag Tribe, located on Cape Cod, traces its lineage back to the Native Americans who shared their fall harvest with the Pilgrims in 1621. In 2007, the Tribe gained federal recognition and was awarded over 300 acres placed into federal trust. This land was declared as a sovereign reservation in 2016 under President Barrack Obama’s administration. The Tribe then moved immediately to break ground on a casino development project in Taunton, Massachusetts, on Boston’s south shore. The Tribe partnered with Genting Group, a casino developer based out of Malaysia to construct the $1 billion First Light Casino.

The project was almost immediately delayed by significant political and legal challenges. Namely, a challenge by President Donald Trump’s administration to take back land designated under the Obama administration. In early 2020, the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs stated that it intended to rescind the 300 acre tribal reservation and also remove the land under federal trust. In June of this year, a federal judge was able to halt that decision. The judge ordered that the Department of the Interior review the Bureau’s plan and issue any new findings. The Bureau of Indian Affairs has appealed the current ruling.

The Trump administration also fought legislation passed in the House of Representatives, currently led by the Democrats, that sought to protect the Tribe’s reservation. The President has been dismissive of the effort, calling it a “special interest casino bill.” Both the Wampanoag Tribe and others across the country have watched the administrations actions with interest and concern. Many have complained that such decisions set a dangerous precedent and a possible legal means of taking away a tribe’s federally protected lands.