Here are several samples of my work for GamblingCompliance:
MGM Considers Sale Of National Harbor To MGM Growth Properties
1ST AUG 2017 | WRITTEN BY: CHRIS SIEROTY
MGM National Harbor contributed more than $177m in revenue to MGM Resorts International’s second quarter earnings, but the company’s resort near Washington, D.C. could be sold by the end of the year.
However, MGM CEO Jim Murren said the company will not sell the profitable property in Prince George’s County, Maryland to Caesars Entertainment, or another competing casino company.
Murren did confirm that a sale of National Harbor to the company’s real estate investment trust (REIT) — MGM Growth Properties (MGP) — is expected soon.
“National Harbor could not be doing better from our perspective and is perfectly positioned to ultimately be owned by MGP,” Murren told gaming analysts Thursday during a conference call to discuss second quarter earnings.
Murren credited MGP with being one of the major levers that is driving “free cash flow … in our operations this year versus last and we think next year significantly more.”
He added that MGM was clear when MGP went public that National Harbor would be an asset that would fit in with MGP’s portfolio.
We also said that we’d like to have a few quarters under National Harbor’s belt before we entered into those negotiations,” MGM CEO Jim Murren said. “Well, we have a few quarters under our belt right now, so I would think that it would be logical to assume that a transaction would be more in the near term than the long term between MGM and MGP.”
That, if done properly, Murren said, would have a profoundly positive impact on MGM Resorts in terms of its liquidity and its cash and “squarely fits with the overall arching belief that we need to return cash to our shareholders.”
MGP is scheduled to release its second quarter earnings on August 8. Analysts surveyed by Yahoo Finance expect the REIT to post earnings of 23 cents per share, compared with 12 cents a share last year, with estimated revenue of $184.5m.
REITs have existed for more than 50 years in the U.S. after Congress granted legal authority to form the trusts in 1960 as an amendment to the Cigar Excise Tax Extension.
REITs do not pay federal income taxes, but are required to distribute 90 percent of their taxable earnings to shareholders.
MGM paid $165m in rent payments in the second quarter to MGP, according to the company’s earnings report.
“MGP is out on the prowl on a variety of other transactions, some of which will not involve MGM, but others very likely could,” Murren said. “And recall that we’re opening up Springfield, Massachusetts, next year … and that obviously is a candidate for MGP as well.”
Like National Harbor, MGM Springfield, a $950m resort-casino in downtown Springfield, also has a right of first offer for MGP.
Currently, MGP’s portfolio includes the Mirage, Mandalay Bay, and nine other properties in Las Vegas, Mississippi, Michigan and Atlantic City.
“We expect some transaction activity be it on National Harbor or otherwise by year end,” wrote Carlo Santarelli, a research analyst with Deutsche Bank, in a 31-page research report authored in the wake of MGM’s earnings release.
“Management noted a National Harbor transaction could be coming sooner rather than later and MGM anticipates putting the Springfield asset into the structure as well at some point in the future,” Santarelli said.
It’s unclear what National Harbor would sell for, but the transaction would remove the property’s debt from MGM’s balance sheet. If MGM sells National Harbor, the gaming company would be responsible for rent payments, and any other costs associated with its lease.
MGM has also received interest in their wholly-owned assets in Las Vegas.
“We own Circus Circus,” Murren said. “We own the Mandarin at CityCenter and several other assets that we always look to find out what we should do in terms of our best interests.”
Murren added that “the level of interest we’re getting on assets that are not already owned by MGP is very high.” He did not identify which properties were receiving interest from potential buyers.
“And we’re a transactional company, and so I do expect that there will be opportunities, like we did with Crystals, opportunistically to sell that asset at [a] very attractive cap rate,” Murren said. “I think there’ll be other opportunities to monetize without changing the overall trajectory of what we’re trying to accomplish here.”
MGM in April 2016 completed the sale of The Shops at Crystals, which is part of CityCenter in Las Vegas, for $1.1bn to a Simon Property partnership.
Massachusetts Senator Wants U.S. Military To Screen For Gambling Addiction
28TH JUN 2017 | WRITTEN BY: CHRIS SIEROTY
U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren introduced legislation this week that would require the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to screen active duty personnel for potential gambling disorders in both its annual health and behavior surveys.
This legislation would also implement recommendations in a 2017 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which was initially requested by the Massachusetts Democrat in 2015.
Released in January, the GAO survey found that just 0.03 percent of active servicemembers each year were diagnosed with a gambling disorder or seen for problem gambling in fiscal years 2011 through 2015.
Warren’s bill — the Preventing and Treating Gambling Disorder in the Military Act of 2017 — was introduced on Monday. If approved, the results would be included in the DoD’s annual Periodic Health Assessment and the Health Related Behavior surveys.
The 52-page GAO report found that despite having more than 3,000 slot machines on military installations across the world, the DoD does not systematically screen military personnel for gambling disorders.
“The recent GAO report gives us the information we need to ensure servicemembers get the right kind of prevention, treatment, and financial counselling for gambling addiction,” Warren said.
Warren said her bill would take steps to implement GAO recommendations and help advance the military’s efforts to support its staff dealing with gambling addiction.
In February, the Department of Defense rejected a recommendation from the report to include questions about gambling addiction as part of a systematic screening process for members of the armed services.
“The department does not comment on proposed or pending legislation,” Laura Ochoa, a Department of Defense spokeswoman, said Tuesday.
“In the January 2017 GAO report, ‘DoD and the Coast Guard Need to Screen for Gambling Disorder Addiction and Update Guidance,’ the department concurred with most of the report’s findings,” Ochoa said.
Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), disagreed, but said he was pleased to have worked with the senator and others on the bill.
“It is incredibly disappointing that our offers to help DoD address this issue continue to be ignored, but we will never give up until military personnel have access to comprehensive gambling addiction prevention, education and treatment services,” Whyte said in an email Tuesday.
Whyte said the evidence is clear that military personnel are at higher risk for gambling addiction, and “it is inexcusable NCPG has to force DoD to prevent and treat gambling addiction among servicemembers especially when DoD profits from slot machines.”
“The $100m in annual slot machine revenue should cover world-class military problem gambling programs with plenty left over for other uses,” he said.
According to the DoD records of military members seeking treatment, only about 120 military personnel were diagnosed with a gambling disorder or seen for problem gambling between fiscal years 2011 and 2015.
But the NCPG estimates that nearly 56,000 active duty servicemembers meet the criteria for a gambling disorder.
Although slot machines were removed from all domestic military bases after 1951, the DoD currently has some 3,141 slot machines on overseas bases.
According to the accepted recommendations from the GAO report, the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps have agreed to explicitly include gambling disorders in education materials about alcohol and drug abuse.
The Coast Guard also agreed to include gambling disorder in its educational materials, listing it as an addiction instead of an impulse control issue.
U.S. Casinos ‘Failing To Market To Millennials, Vulnerable To Fake News’
6TH JUN 2017 | WRITTEN BY: CHRIS SIEROTY IN NEW YORK CITY
The internet has become a “very difficult and dangerous place” for companies today, and casinos must be prepared for how to contain the fallout of cybersecurity breaches and employee disputes, according to one crisis management expert.
“If you look at corporations from 2012 to today, and all the companies that have been hacked. Despite all the good efforts, this will continue,” Richard Torrenzano, a crisis communications expert and CEO of The Torrenzano Group, told attendees during a keynote speech at last week’s International Association of Gaming Advisors (IAGA) International Gaming Summit in New York City.
Torrenzano said the internet has “turned the entire world upside down,” and warned delegates how quickly bad news can spread on social media.
“If you look at the world today, there are about seven and half billion people in the world and of that two and half billion are active mobile social media users,” he said.
“If you think about what happens online within 60 seconds is astonishing,” Torrenzano said. “There are two and half million Google searches that begin in that time, three million YouTube videos viewed and Amazon sells $200,000 worth of merchandise.”
Torrenzano said the internet affects our lives, business, careers and education.
So how does this affect the gaming industry?
“First, 75 percent of your customers said social media played an important role in their visit. That’s a big majority,” he said, citing a survey his company conducted ahead of the IAGA Summit. “Fifty-eight percent said they are more likely to visit a resort through peer reviews.”
Torrenzano reminded gaming executives and attorneys gathered in a ballroom on Thursday at the JW Marriott Essex House that peer reviews are “not what you push out there; [it’s] what people post about you after they have experienced your facility or property.”
Torrenzano’s survey also found that 80 percent of millennials desire a complete gaming experience and that social media is the preferred way to communicate.
“All casinos fail with an F when dealing with millennials, in marketing to millennials,” Torrenzano warned.
“Millennials today are more than half of the world’s workforce and that’s growing,” said Richard Torrenzano, CEO of The Torrenzano Group. “Baby boomers are yesterday. Millennials are today and tomorrow.”
Torrenzano also warned about the risks of cybersecurity and particular companies’ abilities to respond to them.
In the online and mobile world, digital combat is taking place between corporations and disgruntled employees, trolls, competitors and even by governments.
“Most corporations, even your industry, has done an okay job in promoting themselves and their product,” he said. “They’ve done a lousy job of preparing for an attack.”
Torrenzano said all anyone has to do is look at what happened to United Airlines or McDonald’s.
The fact it took United two days to respond in a thoughtful way to a video of a passenger being dragged off one of their planes created an internet firestorm.
He said the same thing happened when the McDonald’s Twitter account was hacked and a tweet was sent out trolling Donald Trump.
Torrenzano repeated that social media departments are great at promoting their companies, but still fall short in understanding how to react to an attack.
The other thing human resources executives need to focus on are disgruntled current and former employees, Torrenzano said.
“They know the system, they know the processes, they know where the bodies are buried, and they are not ashamed to talk about it in a quiet way,” Torrenzano said. “This is a big problem.”
Another concern for companies, including gaming companies, is fake news.
A recent survey by Korn Ferry of 800 corporate executives showed that nearly three quarter (70 percent) of them are “concerned” or “very concerned” about the threats from leaks and fake news.
As a result, almost four in ten (38 percent) said their companies are changing or have already changed their email policies, and 51 percent say they are more careful about what they put in their own work emails.
“We’re concerned about the threat of fake news,” Torrenzano said. “This is going to become a more difficult problem for your companies.”
In the meantime, Torrenzano noted that “like him or not, support him or not,” President Donald Trump has changed the internet.
“He has 60m to 70m followers on all of his platforms … that is 20 times the viewership of the nightly news on any given weekday in the United States. Think about that,” he said.
Torrenzano warned attendees that if “CEOs and others in your industry don’t start collecting followers and friends when things are good, when things go bad they are going to have a more difficult problem.”
U.S. Casinos Need To Capitalize On Esports, Says Panel
25TH MAY 2017 | WRITTEN BY: CHRIS SIEROTY IN ATLANTIC CITY
Casinos should embrace the opportunity to host esports tournaments but also remain wary of cheating and integrity concerns, according to conference panelists speaking on Tuesday in Atlantic City.
Esports, also known as competitive video game playing, is expected to be worth more than $1.23bn by 2019, according to a report by SuperData research.
More than 213m people will watch competitive gaming in person or online this year, with that number expected to grow to 303m by 2019.
But how can casinos in Las Vegas, Atlantic City and regional gaming markets capitalize on this opportunity when many resorts have been slow to fully embrace electronic sports?
“I think esports is worth exploring for a casino,” said Seth Schorr, chief executive of Fifth Street Gaming and chairman of The Downtown Grand in Las Vegas.
“We introduced esports two years ago, and have been very successful with some of the tournaments we offer,” Schorr said Wednesday during a panel discussion titled “Esports: How Casinos Can Capitalize On The Major Opportunity” at the East Coast Gaming Congress.
The two-day conference is being held at Harrah’s in Atlantic City.
Schorr described esports as exciting, which has brought “a new audience to the casino.”
But it is not just The Downtown Grand that has embraced esports for its revenue potential.
Downtown Las Vegas has welcomed the Millennial Esports Arena, which opened in Neonopolis in March.
MGM Resorts International recently announced a new multi-level esports arena to be built in the Luxor Hotel and Casino. The project has been in development for a year, and is expected to open in the first quarter of 2018, according to MGM.
Mandalay Bay casino, another MGM property in Las Vegas, has hosted esports events with 10,000 people in attendance.
In Atlantic City, meanwhile, Caesars recently hosted the Gears of War Pro Circuit, a three-day video game competition that had a prize pool of $200,000, with $70,000 going to the winning team.
Still, those events hardly compare to the number of poker or slot tournaments held at casinos annually.
Schorr said esports, for casinos, is a case of “complementing our current offerings.”
“We are selling entertainment,” Schorr said. “This is a piece of the puzzle. Is this a silver bullet? Of course not.”
He also said esports bring an energy to a casino, without making core patrons feel unwelcome.
“It has never happened once,” said Schorr about esports displacing a slot customer at The Downtown Grand.
When asked about the potential pitfalls of casinos offering esports, Schorr said it was all about setting realistic expectations.
“It takes time and patience,” Schorr advised. “I’m not surprised … certain organizations will sit on the sidelines and see what happens.”
Schorr did not name specific gaming companies, but said he knew which Caesars Entertainment properties listed on a pad of paper handed out at the conference could host esports tournaments and which ones would not.
Price point is also crucial to attracting esports players and fans, according to Schorr, saying that the Aria at Las Vegas’ City Center, at $300 a night, would have a harder time than the Monte Carlo at $150 in attracting esports players.
Schorr and Travis Foley, founder and CEO of Leet, which works with casinos to put on competitive video game events, also agreed the industry needed to be vigilant when it came to players trying to cheat the games.
In April, authorities in South Korea criminally charged two people with trying to bribe another team to deliberately lose a match.
Both Schorr and Foley said the opportunity exists for cheating.
“We always have to stay up on the ways to cheat,” Foley said.
Foley said it is practically impossible to cheat an Xbox, while Schorr added that the Xbox is a trusted machine and that it is “up to us to make sure it is not tampered with.”
Schorr took it a step further, suggesting that the casino hosting an esports tournament “doesn’t allow people to use their own devices,” including controllers.
Schorr said before The Downtown Grand began offering tournaments and the chance to bet on those games, it went to get the blessing of the Nevada Gaming Control Board.
So far, the casino has hosted two esports events where legal betting was allowed.
“We chose to follow the standard operating procedure for slot or poker tournaments,” he said. “The culture of integrity is very important to the gaming and gambling industries.”
Carson Knuth of the Las Vegas-based esports organization Rouge credited the Korean Esports Association (KeSPA) with monitoring the integrity of esports.
Knuth said any cheating in South Korea can have a negative effect on a player’s credit rating or ability to get a loan.
Although Knuth accepted the idea of “some oversight” in the United States, he also warned that “too much oversight will kill the industry.”
MoneyGram Settlement A Warning For AML Compliance Chiefs
10TH MAY 2017 | WRITTEN BY: CHRIS SIEROTY
Anti-money laundering (AML) and gaming law experts believe a settlement of civil charges brought by the federal government against a former MoneyGram compliance executive may make it harder to find quality applicants for AML compliance roles in casinos and other financial institutions.
Thomas Haider served as MoneyGram International’s chief compliance officer from 2003 until 2008, supervising the company’s fraud and AML compliance departments.
Haider was accused of failing to ensure compliance with AML and Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) laws during his career with the money transfer company, and last week settled the claims by paying a $250,000 penalty.
“I think it may have a chilling effect on qualified people taking the job,” said Donna More, a partner at Fox Rothschild in Chicago, of the impact on the ability of casinos and other groups to recruit AML compliance officers.
“Perhaps going forward they should be included in the D&O (Directors & Officers) insurance.”
Sharon Levin, a partner at WilmerHale in New York, said the Haider case serves as a warning to compliance officers that they face an increased risk of personal liability.
“In Haider, a court for the first time held that the Bank Secrecy Act permits the Treasury Department to sue individuals for an institution’s AML compliance failures,” Levin told GamblingCompliance.
“By reaching a settlement, that decision cannot be challenged on appeal,” she said. “But the Haider decision is unlikely to be the last word on this question.”
Levin’s advice: “Compliance officers should understand what insurance coverage they have, specifically whether their legal fees will be covered.”
On top of the $250,000 fine, Haider agreed as part of the settlement with prosecutors in Manhattan to accept a three-year ban on acting as a compliance employee at any money transfer company.
The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) of the U.S. Department of Treasury, which announced the civil action against Haider on December 18, 2014, had originally sought a $1m fine.
Although the Haider case does not involve casinos, it comes amid a period of intense scrutiny of the gaming industry’s AML practices on the part of FinCEN.
Casinos, just like banks and money transmitters such as MoneyGram, are considered a form of financial institution subject to the reporting and other compliance requirements established by the BSA.
Jennifer Roberts, an adjunct professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ William S. Boyd School of Law, said the penalty against an “individual compliance officer is something that should certainly be noticed.”
“However, the Haider case involved numerous ‘willful’ violations and several significant lapses in compliance,” Roberts said.
As part of the settlement, Haider accepted responsibility for failing to terminate contracts with specific MoneyGram outlets after receiving information that indicated the outlets were complicit in consumer fraud schemes.
According to a 50-page complaint, Haider also accepted responsibility for structuring MoneyGram’s AML program so that fraud reports about outlets were not generally provided to analysts who were responsible for filing suspicious activity reports to the government.
In a statement emailed to GamblingCompliance by one of his attorneys, Ian Comisky of Fox Rothschild in Philadelphia, Haider defended his work at MoneyGram despite the settlement.
The settlement also resolves Haider’s “separate claims against the Treasury Department based upon illegal media leaks that occurred in 2014, which were intended to … damage Haider’s reputation,” the statement said.
As for the gaming industry, Roberts said that many companies already have robust compliance programs in place because there has always been a risk of disciplinary actions by state regulators for major compliance failures.
“Not to mention, [AML] compliance officers have had the opportunity to enhance programs because of more recent FinCEN enforcement against the gaming industry,” Roberts said. “In the Haider case, you are talking about violations that occurred almost ten years ago.”
Levin said that regulators have tried to hold individuals responsible for corporate wrongdoing.
“AML is no different,” Levin said. “Regulators are showing a sustained interest in holding AML compliance officers personally liable for the institution’s AML deficiencies. This trend is likely to continue.”
Recent FinCEN enforcement actions have targeted various gaming companies, including CG Technology, California’s Hawaii Gardens and Oaks Club card rooms, Caesars Entertainment and the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City.
FinCEN has also fined and barred a casino executive in the Northern Mariana Islands, although the individual in question was responsible for marketing programs involving high-rollers and was not an AML compliance officer.
Under the BSA, casinos and card clubs are expected to report all transactions worth more than $10,000, in addition to any others that could appear to be suspicious.
Federal regulators also expect casinos and other financial entities to demonstrate a so-called “culture of compliance.”
Levin said effective AML starts at the top.
“An AML officer must have strong independent authority and the support of the institution’s leadership,” Levin said. “This settlement only reinforces the importance of the support of company executives.”
The American Gaming Association (AGA) in 2014 published the casino industry’s first set of best practices for AML compliance.
Elizabeth Cronan, senior director of gaming policy at the AGA, said that individual compliance officers play a critical role on a daily basis.
“Compliance officers are essential to the industry’s strong culture of compliance,” Cronan told GamblingCompliance in an email.
Federal Court Sides With New Mexico Over Gaming Compact Dispute
26TH APR 2017 | WRITTEN BY: CHRIS SIEROTY
A federal appeals court has upheld an earlier ruling that requires the Pueblo of Pojoaque in northern New Mexico to negotiate a new gambling compact with the state’s governor and not the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI).
The pueblo have operated the Buffalo Thunder Resort and Casino and Cities of Gold Hotel and Casino north of Santa Fe since mid-2015 without a state compact outlining revenue-sharing requirements and other conditions.
The tribe and Republican Governor Susana Martinez have failed to reach an agreement on a new compact, specifically over the amount of casino revenues the tribe would hand over annually to the state.
The state had proposed increasing the pueblo’s revenue share to 10.5 percent from 8 percent, but Pueblo officials claim that the increased revenue sharing would constitute an “illegal tax”, with the tribe gaining nothing in return.
Citing the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), the pueblo also accused the governor of negotiating in bad faith and asked the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to step in and approve a compact instead via the rarely used secretarial procedures process.
The state government said it was protected from the litigation by its sovereign immunity and then sued the Interior Department, contending it did not have the authority to get involved in the dispute.
Martinez has said the pueblo are operating their casinos illegally since their ten-year compact expired in June 2015.
In its 58-page ruling, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the District Court judge’s decision that permitting the pueblo to agree a compact with the Interior Department would have “stripped New Mexico of certain procedural protections or benefits” under IGRA.
The three-judge panel added that the state’s “concrete interest lies in the terms on which a tribe may (or may not) conduct gambling,” including the types of gaming allowed.
“It is clear to us that the loss of this procedural right … at least threatens this concrete interest by fundamentally changing the process under which a state and a tribe negotiate a compact, more specifically, altering the circumstances under which the tribe may bypass the state and seek relief from the DOI,” according to the ruling.
The appeals court ruled that the Interior Department’s potential involvement in the compact was not a “valid exercise of DOI’s authority under IGRA.”
The dispute between Pojoaque Pueblo and New Mexico is being closely watched across the Indian gaming sector not just as a test of compact negotiations, but also because state regulators have threatened to take action against companies supplying slot machines and other equipment to the tribe’s casinos.
Suppliers servicing both casinos were put “on notice” in February by the New Mexico Gaming Control Board that they might be targeted for enforcement actions if they kept doing business with the tribe.
Several vendors have backed out of agreements with the Pueblo until the case is resolved and to maintain good standing with New Mexico gaming regulators.
The Association of Gaming Equipment Manufactures declined to comment on Friday’s Court of Appeals ruling, while messages left with the Pueblo of Pojoaque were not returned.
As of Wednesday, it was unclear whether the pueblo would appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Michael Lonergan, a spokesman for Governor Martinez, said her administration hopes the decision will bring the issue to a close.
“As we’ve said all along, we’re simply asking for Pojoaque to play by the same rules as other New Mexico tribes,” Lonergan said in a statement Tuesday.
New Mexico completed new 30-year model tribal gaming compacts under former Democratic Governor Bill Richardson in 2007 with all but four tribes, including the Pueblo of Pojoaque.
New Mexico lawmakers ratified a new model tribal gaming compact in 2015, which increased the portion of revenue to be shared by tribes to 10.5 percent.
The compact has now been adopted by all the state’s 17 gaming tribes except for the Pueblo of Pojoaque and runs until 2037.
Under IGRA, tribes can operate Class III casino-style gaming only under a valid compact agreed with their local state government.
Former U.S. Attorney for New Mexico Damon Martinez, who resigned on March 11 at the request of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, agreed in 2015 that his office would not take action against the Pojoaque or their gaming operations while their case was under appeal.
At the same time, Martinez also ordered the tribe to maintain the “status quo of its gaming operations, including regulatory and auditing procedures” as set out in the expired compact until a court ruling.
On Tuesday, Elizabeth Martinez, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Albuquerque, said the office was now reviewing Friday’s appeals court ruling along with the U.S. Department of Justice, the Interior Department and the National Indian Gaming Commission.
“We therefore respectfully decline to comment on this matter at this time,” Martinez said in a statement emailed to GamblingCompliance on Tuesday.
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