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.
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.
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”.
Duane Morris’ Christopher Soriano will be speaking at a telephonic seminar about fantasy sports, online gaming and digital sports gambling on February 28, 2018 at 12:00 p.m.
The teleconference will discuss the latest on Mastering Fantasy Sports and Online Gaming Law. The seminar will introduce the most relevant issues and solutions along with latest legal developments and Supreme Court decisions affecting the industry.
For more information and to register, please visit the event website.
Duane Morris’ Christopher Soriano will be presenting at a gambling law symposium hosted by the Seton Hall Law School’s Continuing Legal Education at Seton Hall University on March 1, 2018 at 3:30 p.m.
The symposium will discuss New Jersey’s gambling laws while focusing on the following topics:
- The New Jersey Constitution, Statutes, Rules, and Regulations Governing Gambling
- The Definition of Gambling Under New Jersey Law: The Chance Versus Skill Debate Involving Fantasy Platforms and Poker
- The Impact Of Technological Advances Upon Laws Governing The Placement of Wagers On Horse races
- Overview Of Supreme Court’s Sports Betting Case and
- On-Line Casino and Other Forms of Gambling Under Federal and New Jersey Law
For more information and to register, please visit the event website.
Duane Morris partner Christopher Soriano of the firm’s Cherry Hill office appeared on a recent broadcast of the “Wagner & Winick on the Law” radio program, during which he joined co-hosts Dean Mitchel Winick and Professor Stephen Wagner, both of Monterey College of Law, to discuss the interplay of federal and state laws in the United States related to regulating gambling and how many of these laws are outdated. A sampling of the topics discussed include Internet gaming, office brackets, fantasy sports, casinos and the lottery.
Within the context of the NCAA March Madness Tournament, Mr. Soriano provided insights on the gaming law implications of office bracket tournaments, which, as in most instances where people put in money on the results of a sporting event, are illegal for the most part. Mr. Soriano also commented on the developing area of fantasy sports and the important distinction to be drawn between games of skill and games of chance. For example, the traditional season-long fantasy sports contests are considered legal because skill is involved; while daily fantasy contests have been viewed as being illegal games of chance. Therefore, where is the line between when something is a contest of skill and when it is a contest of chance?
To listen to the radio program in its entirety, please visit the Recent Podcasts, Webcasts and Audio section on the Duane Morris website.
On Monday, three-fifths of each house of the New Jersey legislature passed resolutions that will put a question on the ballot in November asking voters if they want to expand casino gaming outside of Atlantic City. As we previously posted here and here, the North Jersey casino proposal will allow for two casinos to be located at least 72 miles from Atlantic City, in separate counties. The minimum investment required for a North Jersey casino will be $1 billion. Current Atlantic City casino owners will be given an exclusive period of 60 days to submit bids for the two North Jersey casino licenses before bidding is opened up broadly. Current owners of Atlantic City casinos may partner with other investors/developers to submit a bid for a North Jersey casino license.
If New Jersey voters pass the referendum in November, the legislature will then need to adopt enabling legislation. This legislation will provide the details for the bidding process and the tax rate for North Jersey casinos. Atlantic City casinos currently pay an effective tax rate of 9.25% on gross gaming revenue. North Jersey casinos likely will be required to pay a significantly higher rate, perhaps in excess of 50%.
We will provide updates as developments occur.
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.
Last week, a Pennsylvania bill, which would restrict the hours of operation of Pennsylvania casinos, was referred to the House Committee on Gaming Oversight. Specifically, House Bill Number 165 would require casinos in the Commonwealth to close between the hours of 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. In a memorandum accompanying the legislation, State Representative Will Tallman, a co-sponsor of the bill, suggested that closing the casinos for a couple hours each day would reduce the prevalence of problem gambling.
If this legislation were to pass, Pennsylvania would be an outlier in the region as casinos in neighboring states – including New Jersey, Delaware, Ohio and Maryland – maintain 24 hour gaming operations. Additionally, New York recently selected three upstate applicants to develop full-scale resort casino facilities, which are expected to open in the next couple years. Once open, each of these facilities will offer 24-hour gaming to patrons.
It will be interesting to see if the Pennsylvania House committee charged with overseeing the Commonwealth’s gaming industry will support this legislation – and add another hurdle to a casino industry that is already struggling to keep gaming dollars away from rival gaming markets – or if the committee will determine that the existing regulatory safeguards to prevent problem gambling are sufficient. Stay tuned for updates on this and other legislation affecting the Pennsylvania gaming industry.