In a decision released today by the Supreme Court, Appellate Division (New York’s intermediate appellate court) in White v. Cuomo, the Appellate Division concluded that New York’s daily fantasy sports authorization law is unconstitutional because DFS meets the definition of gambling under New York law. As a result, according to the Court, a constitutional amendment would be required in order to authorize a form of gambling. The 4-1 decision will in all likelihood be appealed to New York’s Court of Appeals, and it is likely that the decision will be stayed and have no immediate effect. The long range consequences for DFS in New York, though, are far less certain.
Colorado House Bill 1327, titled “Proposition DD: Legalization and Taxation of Sports Betting” was put to voters in a ballot measure and was narrowly approved on Tuesday, November 5. Colorado Governor, Jared Polis, signed Proposition DD into law in May 2019 and Colorado voters decided its final, successful outcome making Colorado the 19th state to legalize sports betting. The law will permit land-based sports betting at Colorado’s 33 casinos, as well as state-wide mobile betting. Notably, Proposition DD does not permit proposition bets for college sports.
The Colorado Division of Gaming is charged with regulating the new market which will allow three types of licenses to be submitted for approval. Each casino will be limited to a single online/mobile platform or “skin.” A master license will be issued to an operator that holds a retail gaming license in the state prior to May 1, 2020, or has obtained one through the purchase of an ownership interest in a casino that was in operation prior to May 1, 2020. A sports betting operator license or an internet license sport betting operator license will be allowed to contract with a master licensee to operate sports betting in person or online. The bill sets the maximum license fee at $125,000 and each license must be renewed every two years.
Proposition DD’s passing will allow legal bets to be placed as early as May, 2020 and will tax a casino’s net sports-betting proceeds at a 10% rate. This tax revenue will be used to pay for regulating sports betting in Colorado, a hold harmless fund, gambling addiction services, water projections, and other obligations. According to Colorado’s fiscal impact statement, lawmakers expect around $10 million in tax revenue in the first year based on the expectation that Colorado sports betting licensees would take between $1.3 billion to $1.5 billion in bets. We will continue to monitor this topic and provide updates on this legislation.
On September 24, 2019, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals found in favor of the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (“NJTHA”) and ruled that the NJTHA is entitled to recover the bond it posted as the result of a temporary restraining order (“TRO”) and subsequent preliminary injunction against the NJTHA in the 2014 case, National Collegiate Athletic Association v. Christie. The issue of recovering posted bond was a matter of first impression in the Third Circuit. The majority opinion, written by the Honorable Marjorie Rendell, concluded “wrongfully enjoined” under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65(c) can only be determined after a final judgment on the merits. Moreover, the court found a party is “wrongfully enjoined” when the final judgment concludes that party had a right all along to do what it was enjoined from doing. Also, in accordance with the majority of other circuits, the court found there is a rebuttable presumption that a wrongfully enjoined party is entitled to recover damages up to the bond amount.
On August 13, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) Director Kenneth Blanco addressed the 12th Annual Las Vegas Anti-Money Laundering Conference and provided insights on his agency’s expectations for the ever-evolving gaming industry.
The following are some key takeaways:
Cost Cutting Poses National Security Threat. Director Blanco stressed that reports of compliance budget cuts by casinos looking to trim costs and retain gamblers is seen by FinCEN as a national security issue and not something the agency takes lightly. Further, despite FinCEN not publicizing any enforcement actions against a casino during the last year, it is continually looking at compliance across all financial institutions and will not hesitate to act if it identifies violations of the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”). It is also important to note that not all enforcement actions are public—FinCEN often closes cases with warning letters sent to financial institutions or refers cases to our delegated examiners for additional review.
Casino Industry Trends. In terms of suspicious activity being reported in 2019, Minimal Gaming with Large Transactions is the highest reported activity with more than 5,000 Suspicious Activity Reports (“SAR”) reflecting this activity. Reports of Chip Walking have dramatically increased since this was added to the SAR form in the summer of 2018. Chip Walking is now the second most selected suspicious activity on the SAR form, with more than 4,400 reports being cited this year to date.
The other frequently cited suspicious activities include:
- Transactions below CTR Threshold
- Unknown Source of Chips
- Two or More Individuals Working Together
- Alteration or Cancelation of Transactions to Avoid CTR Requirement
- Suspicion Concerns on the Source of Funds
Additional analysis of trends reported by casinos checking the “other” box on the SAR form includes reports of suspicious activity involving sports betting, abandoned jackpot, and bill stuffing.
Sports Betting and Mobile Gaming. Casinos and card clubs must integrate sports betting and mobile gaming products into their existing AML programs. FinCEN expects casinos and card clubs to collect cyber-related indicators through their mobile gaming or betting applications in order to monitor and report potentially suspicious activity. Examples of such cyber-indicators include: source and destination information, file information, subject user names, system modifications, and account information.
Relevance of Convertible Virtual Currency (CVC) Advisory to Casinos. There are generally two areas where CVC will intersect with casinos and card clubs: so-called CVC casinos on the internet, and physical casinos and card clubs that accept CVC for gaming.
As FinCEN’s CVC guidance points out, internet gaming sites that operate online without licensure from a state or tribal gaming regulator are not “casinos” for purposes of regulations implementing the BSA. However, they are likely operating as money transmitters. Money transmitters have their own obligations under the BSA and its implementing regulations, which includes a formal registration with FinCEN.
Casinos and card clubs that accept CVC from customers either on location or through mobile applications, need to ensure that CVCs are accounted for in policies, procedures, internal controls and risk assessments. This includes developing processes for reviewing and conducting due diligence on transactions in CVC, for conducting blockchain analytics to determine the source of the CVC, and incorporating CVC-related indicators into SAR filings.
Culture of Compliance. Critical to fostering a culture of compliance is utilizing enterprise-wide information and ensuring such information gets into the hands of compliance personnel. For example, information developed by casinos for business and marketing, as wells as information developed by casino security departments for combating and preventing fraud should be used by casino compliance personnel to monitor customers for suspicious activity. Similarly, a casino’s legal department should alert compliance personnel when a subpoena is received as it could trigger reviews of customer risk ratings and account activity. Moreover, larger casinos may have multiple affiliated casinos that could benefit from the sharing of information across the organization.
Innovation and BSA Value. In January 2019, FinCEN began an ambitious project to catalogue the value of BSA reporting across the entire value chain of its creation and use. The project will result in a comprehensive and quantitative understanding of the broad value of BSA reporting and other BSA information to all types of consumers of that information.
As an example, given the current state of the opioid epidemic, something a minor as the mobile phone number of a suspect from a casino SAR could be vitally important to a DEA agent since the suspect would provide a real phone number to ensure he is called when his winnings are wired out to a bank account. Using that mobile number, the agent can build out a communication tree and identify new individuals, entities, addresses or accounts. A DEA agent can also use this information to seek legal approval to wiretap or track the movement of the phone, identify potential informants, and build out a network of associates.
Samantha L. Haggerty practices in the areas of litigation and gaming law. Ms. Haggerty has represented gaming industry clients in the licensing and regulatory process, including online gaming and sports betting clients. She has assisted with internal investigations of gaming companies and advising clients with respect to compliance and control enhancements. She contributes regularly to the Duane Morris LLP Gaming Law Blog and serves as secretary to the New Jersey State Bar Association’s Casino Law Section.
On June 3, 2019, Judge Paul Barbadoro for the District of New Hampshire concluded in a 63-page Memorandum Opinion that the purview of the Wire Act is limited to sports wagering. The effect of the Court’s opinion, however, may be limited in states other than New Hampshire.
After determining that the plaintiffs in the case, the New Hampshire Lottery Commission and NeoPollard Interactive LLC, new Hampshire’s iLottery vendor, have standing to challenge the DOJ’s 2018 Wire Act Opinion because they have established a threat of imminent injury, the Court addresses whether the Wire Act applies beyond sports wagering.
On May 29, 2019, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board approved a Change of Control petition for the sale of Sands Bethlehem Casino Resort. Two days later, on May 31, 2019, Wind Creek Hospitality officially acquired the casino from Las Vegas Sands Corporation for $1.3 billion, as the transaction closed on Friday. The casino resort facility, which is located in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania, will operate as Wind Creek Bethlehem, and will include amenities such as a 282-room AAA Four Diamond hotel, a 183,000 square foot casino floor featuring slots, table games, and electronic table games, numerous food and beverage outlets, a retail mail, and a multi-purpose event center.
The closing of the transaction comes after approximately fourteen months of regulatory review and, most recently, the PGCB’s approval of the transaction. Duane Morris represented Las Vegas Sands in the transaction, providing gaming regulatory and real estate guidance and assistance in other areas, including serving as co-counsel before the Board for Wind Creek Hospitality. Duane Morris attorneys who assisted on this matter include J. Scott Kramer, Greg Duffy, Frank DiGiacomo, Chris Soriano, and Adam Berger.
On May 29, 2019, at a special hearing convened for this purpose, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board approved a Change of Control Petition authorizing the transfer of the entirety of Las Vegas Sands Corporation’s interest in Sands Bethworks Gaming LLC’s to Wind Creek Hospitality, an instrumentality of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. The Board’s Order, beyond approving the change in control, allows the casino facility to change its name to Wind Creek Bethlehem, reflecting the casino’s new ownership.
Subject to the Board’s conditions, Wind Creek Hospitality is able to acquire all of the interest in Sands, including its licenses, which include a Category 2 License, a Table Games Certificate, and Interactive Gaming Certificates. The Board’s decision comes after over a year of regulatory review.
Scott Kramer, Duane Morris, appeared for joint petitioner, Sands Bethworks Gaming LLC. Also, Duane Morris served as co-counsel before the Board for Wind Creek Hospitality.
Yet again, the DOJ has complicated its stance on the Wire Act. Earlier this month, the DOJ filed a memorandum in its ongoing litigation with the New Hampshire Lottery Commission, which stated that its January 15, 2019 Opinion did not address whether the Wire Act applies to state lotteries and their vendors.
In response to the judge’s order to clarify its interpretation of the Wire Act, on April 25 the DOJ filed a brief stating that “the New Hampshire Lottery Commission fails to demonstrate” that the Commission, its employees, and its vendors may be prosecuted under the Wire Act. Perhaps in an effort to avoid a decision in a circuit with unfavorable precedent and to avoid a judge who has expressed skepticism about its new interpretation, the DOJ has taken the position that the Lottery Commission lacks standing to challenge the statute based on the lack of a present credible threat of prosecution under the Act.