Tag Archives: casino law

FinCEN Director Addresses Gaming Industry

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.

Sold: Sands Bethlehem Casino Resort, for $1.3 Billion

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.

Pennsylvania Welcomes Second Tribal Operator and Approves Sands Bethlehem License Transfer to Wind Creek Hospitality

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.

Preparing Your Casino For Iran Sanctions Compliance

As a result of the previously reported reimposition of United States nuclear-related sanctions against Iran, on October 11, 2018, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) released an Advisory that provides casinos, and other financial institutions, updated guidance for identifying possible Iranian related criminal transactions.

Continue reading Preparing Your Casino For Iran Sanctions Compliance

Loot Boxes: Gaming or Gambling?

Just as the growth of fantasy sports, sweepstakes and online poker were curtailed by the reach of gambling laws, the latest trends in the $138 billion video gaming industry are attracting an increasing level of unsolicited attention from gambling regulators across the globe.  Much of this attention is focused on “loot boxes”.

Continue reading Loot Boxes: Gaming or Gambling?

New Jersey Assembly Offers its Version of North Jersey Casino Expansion

Just days following a proposed amendment to the New Jersey State Constitution proposed in the State Senate and as detailed here , the New Jersey Assembly offered its own proposed Amendment to the Constitution which would also authorize up to two additional casinos in North Jersey.

Both Amendments propose no more the two casinos, each located in different counties and outside a 75 mile radius of Atlantic City.  The 75 mile radius restriction eliminates Monmouth Park Racetrack as a possible site for casino expansion.

The primary differences are as follows;

    • Applicant eligibility:  The Assembly version of the proposed amendment allows one of the two licenses to be awarded to an applicant with no current ownership or ties to an existing Atlantic City casino.  The Senate version of the amendment limits eligibility to (1) a currently licensed Atlantic City casino operating as of December 11, 2015; or (2) any person licensed as a principal owner (yet undefined) of a holder of a New Jersey casino license that was operating a casino which was conducting gambling on December 11, 2015 if that principal owner also holds a valid license to own and operate a casino in another jurisdiction with licensing standards similar to those in New Jersey.  The Assembly version only applies the Senate version’s proposed eligibility requirements to the “initial license.”  The current Atlantic City casino tie-in eligibility requirement presumably does not apply to the second license awarded.
    • Tax Allocation to Atlantic City.  The Assembly version of the proposed Constitutional Amendment allocates 35% of state tax revenuers from the two new casinos for purposes if the recovery, stabilization or improvement of Atlantic  City.  The Senate version  allocate 49% of such tax revenue for the recovery, stabilization or improvement of Atlantic  City.

The Senate and Assembly must agree on an identical version of the proposed Amendment which would have to be approved with 3/5 votes by both houses of the NJ Legislature or majority votes, twice over two years.  The votes have to be completed at least 90 days before going on the ballot of a state-wide referendum to amend the NJ State Constitution.

New Jersey Legislature Takes First Step To Authorize North Jersey Casinos

A Proposed Amendment to the New Jersey State Constitution will authorize two additional casinos in the State. The details of the Proposed Amendment are as follows:

  • No more than 2 casinos, each one to be located in different counties in State
  • New casinos must be located  outside a 75 mile radius from Atlantic City.
  • Eligibility for the license is limited to:
    • (1) a currently licensed Atlantic City casino operating as of December 11, 2015; or
    • or (2 ) any person licensed as a principal owner (yet undefined) of a holder of a New Jersey casino license that was operating a casino which was conducting gambling on December 11, 2015 if that principal owner also holds a valid license to own and operate a casino in another jurisdiction with licensing standards similar to those in New Jersey
  • Tax rate to be determined in subsequent legislation. 49% of such tax revenue for 15 years is dedicated for recovery , stabilization or improvement of Atlantic City.  2% of tax revenue dedicated to thoroughbred and standardbred  horsemen.
  • The Resolution has to be approved with 3/5 votes by both houses of the NJ Legislature or majority votes twice over two years. The votes have to be completed at least 90 days before going on the ballot of a state-wide referendum to amend the NJ State Constitution.

A copy of the proposed amendment can be read here: SCR 185.

Pennsylvania Considering Video Gaming Machines Again?

On February 12, 2014, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives’ Gaming Oversight Committee held a hearing to receive testimony regarding the prospects of legalizing electronic gaming devices, i.e video gaming machines, in the Commonwealth. The hearing focused on gaming along the lines of what was raised in a prior session’s bill, (2014 House Bill No 1932), which sought to legalize video gaming machines for bingo, keno, blackjack and other games for use in establishments with valid liquor licenses, such as restaurants, bars, taverns, hotels and clubs.

With a looming budgetary deficit Pennsylvania legislators are exploring various ways to increase gaming related tax revenue, including potentially moving forward with internet gaming through its existing bricks and mortar casinos. This recent Gaming Oversight Committee hearing revisiting the video gaming machines issue would be another means through which to generate gaming based tax revenue. The hearing’s witnesses touted the jobs and tax revenues generated by Illinois which implemented video gaming machines in bars, restaurants, taverns and truck stops several years ago – (projected IL tax revenues in excess of $250 million in 2015). While Illinois has had success generating tax revenue and producing jobs with its video gaming machine roll out, the machines do compete, on a low end basis with the states’ existing casinos. While local municipalities in Illinois can opt out of the video gaming program that option may not exist in a Pennsylvania bill and opposition from Pennsylvania’s casino industry remains to be seen.

Also, if considering video gaming at bars and taverns Pennsylvania may be well served to learn from some of the mistakes made with the passage of last year’s Tavern games legislation. Tavern games, with its gaming regulatory scrutiny focused on the bars/tavern owners, rather than through the games’ owners and route operators, lead to cost issues and a reluctance to move forward which hampered widespread implementation of tavern gaming. In addition, while Illinois has had relative success with its multi-tiered system of manufacturers, distributors, operators and establishments, that system has one too many layers to operate as effectively as it otherwise could. Few recall Pennsylvania’s short-lived requirement of local suppliers of slot machines layered between the industry’s manufacturers and end user casinos. The removal of the local supplier requirement opened the way to the implementation of Pennsylvania casinos in 2006. Finally the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board and its agencies are more than capable of regulating and rolling out video gaming should it become law. Bringing in other, less experienced state agencies, such as Liquor Control or the Department of Revenue would only further complicate and delay implementation should the law pass.