I’m back with some of the most interesting gambling industry news stories from the last week or so.
This week I’ll be starting with a look at the Mass Cultural Council in Massachusetts and how their somewhat questionable spending of gambling taxes has been called out.
I’ll also look at the new betting limits that have come into force for UK bookmaking shops and the potential impact of those. They could have a far-reaching impact on the British retail betting industry.
Other stories I tackle include a high-roller gambler who refused to pay up on his losses, the possible introduction of gambling legislation in Puerto Rico, and a seemingly unwelcome change to the way bus trips from NY to Atlantic City are operated.
Your Gambling Losses at Work
In Massachusetts, state legislators recently called into question the spending habits of one state agency that derives its $18 million budget from tax revenue on casinos.
The agency, known as the Mass Cultural Council, has sent staffers on trips throughout the United States to attend conferences on such vital-to-Massachusetts topics as “The Future for Festivals and Cannabis,” “Cultural Humility,” and “Control Freaks Anonymous,” all the while running up airfare and hotel bills in the tens of thousands of dollars.
The council’s executive director, Anita Walker (who no doubt earns every penny of her $176,000 a year salary, which is — by the way — $2,000 more than the annual salary of the typical US congressman), was unavailable for comment when reporters contacted the council’s Back Bay offices (only $30,000 a month — such a deal). Contact was restricted to email correspondence with the council’s spokesperson, Carmen Plazas.
According to reports, Plazas explained that the staffers were sent on these junkets in order to “advance their knowledge and expertise in areas such as grant-making, technical assistance, and cultural equity [and] to improve the quality and efficiency of service to our constituents.”
One state senator, Donald F. Humason Jr., was not impressed with the explanation. “What I want the cultural council to do,” he told reporters, “is spend money in legislative districts throughout the state and not on junkets.” Noting that the council’s purpose was to make art accessible throughout Massachusetts, Humason said: “They’ve got some answering to do.”
The attention the council is receiving regarding its expenditures is due to its request this year for an additional $2 million in funding — also from the state’s tax on gambling revenue.
UK Plays Whack-a-Mole With FOBT
The electronic gambling machines called “Fixed Odds Betting Terminals” — known as FOBTs in the UK, because the Brits don’t really get acronyms — have recently been targeted for drastic bet restrictions. Until recently, the wager that could be placed on an FOBT was £100 (about $130 USD), but thanks to an aggressive campaign from anti-gambling groups who called FOBTs the “crack cocaine” of gambling, that amount has been reduced to £2 (about $2.60 USD).
Dominic Ford told reporters, “My business has been destroyed.” Ford ran seven betting shops in the London area but now oversees a single shop.
According to reports, larger bookmakers like William Hill and Ladbrokes are expected to shut down as many as a third of their shops because of the new restrictions.
Betting shops were legalized in the UK over fifty years ago, and since 2001 — when FOBTs were first introduced — betting shops have grown into a £14.4 billion a year industry. Many betting shop owners say the FOBTs help mitigate the loss of business due to the growth of online sports betting.
An earlier attempt to limit FOBTs occurred in 2005 when a law was passed to limit the number of FOBTs in any one shop to four. Whatever the intentions for this were, the consequence was that more shops opened in specific areas, each of which reportedly hosted “an average of 3.9” FOBTs. In some towns, up to 7% of all shops were betting shops, according to data collected by a market research firm.
Gambler Blames $43 million losses on “Dealing Errors”
A doctor who apparently owes $43 million in gambling debt to an Australian casino has a unique defense: “Dealing errors.”
According to reports, Dr. Wong Yew Choy of Singapore lost the $43 million last year during a five-day gambling spree at the baccarat tables at the Star Gold Coast in Broadbeach, Queensland.
Dr. Wong is said to have initially handed the casino a blank check at the end of his five-day spree, allowing the casino to fill in the amount it was owed. Once Wong returned home to Singapore, however, he stopped payment on the check, according to reports.
Reportedly, Dr. Wong has attributed the losses to casino staff, who made “errors” during the game, including a dealer’s exposure of Wong’s cards, which he alleges were his to turn over. Since who turns the cards over and the manner in which they are turned is a matter of only theatrical importance, it’s hard to understand how $43 million could be lost that way.
But that’s a matter for the Singapore High Court to decide.
Puerto Rico Eyes Legalizing Online Gambling, Mourns Loss of Cockfighting
Looking north (and east, and west, and south), Puerto Rico has been inspired to start talks about sports betting and what it can do for the island nation.
According to reports, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló says legalizing betting on variations on sporting events, including regular sports and electronic and fantasy leagues, could generate as much as $68 million a year in tax revenue.
Rosselló plans to institute a gambling commission to oversee the implementation of sports betting and to regulate it, as well.
The new commission would absorb two existing governmental agencies — the Administración de la Industria y El Deporte Hípico (Horse Racing Administration) and the Department of Tourism’s Division of Gaming, which currently oversees and regulates Puerto Rico’s handful of casinos.
While the Gambling Commission would be the industry’s regulating entity, financial oversight would be the responsibility of Puerto Rico’s Financial Institutions Commissioner’s Office.
According to reports, Rosselló believes the sports betting industry “has the potential to turn Puerto Rico into a state-of-the-art jurisdiction, which will allow us to establish a new market that will have a positive effect on our economy.”
The move may or may not have anything to do with the passage last December of a US Farm Bill that extends the US ban on cockfighting to all US territories, of which Puerto Rico is the largest. The ban is scheduled to go into effect at the end of 2019. Cockfighting in Puerto Rico employs an estimated 20,000 people and generates between $16 and $18 million in revenue every year.
Elizabeth Warren: Public Menace or Private Embarrassment?
Senator Elizabeth Warren, perennial presidential campaigner and former Native American, is conspicuously absent in the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe’s fight to get congressional approval for a $1 billion casino resort.
Whether the tribe considers her radioactive or whether Warren herself considers advocacy for the tribe’s gambling aspirations radioactive may just be a distinction without a difference.
Last year, Warren supported a bill that would have reversed a federal judge’s bar of the government’s planned taking of 300+ acres of Mashpee land into trust for a reservation. Native American tribes must possess a reservation, however small, in order to qualify to build a tribal casino. Unfortunately for the Wampanoag, their casino project got lost in the flurry of bad press regarding Warren’s nascent presidential campaign and her claims to Indian heritage.
Some see her absence from the fray this year as a possible political move.
One industry source opined: “They’ve [Warren and the Wampanoag tribe] finally made the political calculation that she’s killing them.”
Clyde Barrow, a political science professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, agreed, saying “the Senate’s not going to move anything they know the president’s not going to approve,” he told reporters, adding “and as we go into the presidential election season, they’re also not going to be inclined to do favors for any of the opposition candidates like Warren who are running for president.”
Barrow also noted that the US Senate has been “cool” on the idea of Indian gaming and that President Trump, who would need to sign any bill that made it through both houses of Congress, has been vehemently opposed to Indian gaming since his days in the industry.
Earlier Mashpee hopes to build a casino were dashed when a lobbyist associated with the Genting Group (the firm financing that project) was implicated in the Jack Abramoff Indian lobbying scandal.
Since then, the tribe and the project have been embroiled in a series of suits and countersuits concerning their right to build a casino on their reservation. Another related tribe — the Pocasset Wampanoag — has also opposed the Mashpee’s project, mainly because they also wish to build a casino and don’t relish the competition.
Singapore Fees for Local Gamblers Increase
Tourists can walk into either of Singapore’s two casinos, sit down, and start gambling.
Locals, on the other hand, have no such freedom. In fact, until 2005, locals were prohibited entirely from gambling at the tiny nation’s nonexistent casinos and were still prohibited entirely from gambling at the two that were opened in 2010.
Since then, however, Singaporeans and PRs (permanent residents) have been allowed to gamble locally, provided they pay either a day-fee of S$100 (about $74 USD) or purchase a yearly pass for S$2000 (about $1500 USD) — all for the privilege of gambling at the Las Vegas Sands-owned Marina Bay Sands (MBS) or the Genting Group’s Resorts World Sentosa (RWS).
Each of the country’s two Integrated Resorts (IRs) comprise not only gambling floors, but hotels, shopping and convention facilities, and amusement parks, as well. They each generate gambling revenues favorably comparable to those of any Las Vegas resort-casino.
But a recent change in the fee structure has many locals wondering if it’s all worth it. The new day-fee is S$150 ($110 USD), and locals must pay S$3000 ($2200 USD) for an annual pass.
Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Social and Family Development justifies the 50% increase in fees and passes as necessary “to deter casual and impulse gambling by locals.”
Reporters questioning said locals as they recently entered the two casinos were told that the increases in fees made it harder for older gamblers to afford, but in the words of one lady gambler who had just blown S$2000 at the slots, “I will return tomorrow.”
Incidentally, the Singapore government recently approved gambling floor increases for both integrated resorts — an additional 21,500 sq. ft. for MBS and 5,400 sq. ft. for RWS.
But Singapore also told the two IRs that it intended to raise their taxes in 2022 from the current 5% rate on “VIP” gaming to a progressive range of 8-12% and raise the current 15% rate on “mass” gaming to a progressive range of 18-22%.
The Singapore government also promised not to raise gaming revenue taxes again until at least 2032 — unless, of course, the two casinos fail to honor their promises concerning their non-gambling-related investments, in which case Singapore will be forced to tough-love the casinos with a straight 12-18% tax on the two aforementioned types of gaming revenues.
Bus Rides from NYC to Atlantic City Just Got More Delightful
If hours of bumpy roads, jerky accelerations, sudden stops, and the overwhelming odors of both restroom disinfectant and your fellow passengers has been missing a certain something, rejoice.
Greyhound’s “Lucky Streak” bus service between the New York City Port Authority and the casinos in Atlantic City is now requiring round-trip passengers to reserve a ticket for a specific return time.
For years, the Lucky Streak has made the return trip on a first-come, first-served basis.
“The whole idea of coming to Atlantic City is to be carefree and spontaneous,” Beatrice Robinson, a frequent visitor to Atlantic City, told reporters. “This is annoying.”
Crystal Booker, a spokesperson for Greyhound, told reporters that the bus line offers reserved seating for all other travel destinations. “This change in Atlantic City brings consistency to the booking process and ensures a confident travel experience for all of our customers.”
Apparently, no one at Greyhound sees the difference between a Thanksgiving visit to Grandma’s and a spur-of-the-moment gambling trip to Atlantic City.
Gambling News Digest for March 30 – April 5, 2019
A round up of the main gambling industry news stories from the last week, including Massachusetts gambling taxes and FOBTs in the United Kingdom.