News In Brief: December 11-December 15, 2023

December 15, 2023
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The British government sanctions nine individuals and five companies implicated in slave labour at Southeast Asian casinos and scam centres.
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UK Sanctions Southeast Asian Casinos, Moguls
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The British government has blacklisted a host of high-profile individuals and companies with gambling interests involved in slave labour and other human rights violations in Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia.

The government on December 8 sanctioned nine individuals and five companies associated with them over “forced labour in Southeast Asia” as part of a larger tranche of human rights sanctions, according to a statement.

The list includes US-sanctioned Zhao Wei, owner of the Kings Romans Casino in Laos and the Kings Romans Group that controls the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone in Laos, as well as Zhao’s wife and group co-director Su Guiqin.

Other Kings Romans targets include the casino’s Australian director-general Abbas Eberahim, and Thai shareholder Nat Rungtawankhiri.

Another high-profile target is She Zhijiang, an ethnic Chinese Cambodian national who owns the KK Park in Myanmar’s Shwe Kokko village near the Thai border. The mogul was last reported to be in Thai custody pending an application from Beijing for extradition.

Two local militia colonels, Saw Chit Thu and Saw Min Min Oo, are also on the list for their involvement in Shwe Kokko zone gaming and scam activity.  

Casino precincts in Cambodia are also sanctioned, including the Golden Sun Sky Entertainment Co facility in Sihanoukville, along with chairman Dong Lecheng; the K.B. Hotel in Sihanoukville; Golden Phoenix Entertainment City (listed as Pacific Real Estate Property Management Co) in Koh Thom, Kandal Province, along with chairman Hum Sovanny; and the Heng He casino in Bavet.

Golden Phoenix Entertainment City became notorious in August 2022 when enslaved workers staged a mass breakout, with many swimming across the nearby Binh Di river into Vietnam.

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Dutch Market Reaching Maturity, Regulator Says
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Only about a third of applicants for Dutch gambling licences have been successful, but the rush of applicants has receded this year, and the market seems to be reaching “a certain degree of maturity”, according to the chair of the Netherlands Gambling Authority (KSA).

There was a sharp decline in the number of applications in 2023 after a rush when the market opened in April 2021 and a year later when a “leniency period” expired, according to Rene Jansen. He is leaving the regulator next year.

Licensing trends include smaller companies joining forces to boost their market position, and large licensees taking over smaller providers for similar reasons, he said.

Large operators without a licence have also acquired smaller companies with a licence, often after they were rejected or withdrew their applications, Jansen said.

Those larger operators typically met “reliability” standards but found themselves unable to meet standards for the required control database, he said.

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Swedish Regulator Meets With Industry On Black Market
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The Swedish Gambling Authority has said it recently met with two trade groups to discuss how the industry and the regulator can work together to curtail the illegal market.

“Cooperation between the relevant authorities and the industry is necessary for the licensing system to function satisfactorily,” said Maria Wennerberg Sedigh, CEO of the Swedish Gambling Association (SPER).

“The gambling industry and the Swedish Gambling Authority have a common interest in discouraging unlicensed gambling from Sweden,” said Gustaf Hoffstedt, secretary-general of the Swedish Trade Association for Online Gambling (BOS).

“If we are to succeed in this, we cannot each sit in our own chamber, but we must gather our forces,” he said.

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Ohio Initiatives Seek To Protect College Athletes
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Amanda Blackford, the Ohio Casino Control Commission’s (OCCC) director of operations, has outlined two protective initiatives in various stages of development.

One involves the development of an app through which college athletes can publicly or privately report any type of harassment. The app also allows access to mental heath and telehealth services for college athletes.

Blackford said college athletes face added pressure because of living and studying with students who wager on games. She told the OCCC that it is different for college athletes than professional athletes, who live largely in a “bubble”.

Athletes hear things like “You cost me my rent money” or “You made me lose the spread”, Blackford told the commission during its monthly meeting on Wednesday (December 13).

She said the harassment is “something on top of the pressure of being a college athlete”.

Blackford said the commission is piloting the program at a few colleges and hopes to offer it to more schools. There was no timeline for when the app could be released across the state.

Another initiative in the planning stages is a public awareness campaign directly targeting bettors in an effort to humanize college athletes.

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Seminole Tribe Supports Governor In Sports-Betting Case
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The Seminole Tribe of Florida believes that “repeated and unsuccessful attempts” by West Flagler Associates has affected its “inherent sovereignty” to regulate gaming as part of its compact with the state.

The claim appears in a 33-page amicus curiae filed on December 8 with the Florida Supreme Court in support of Republican Governor Ron DeSantis’ filing that argues West Flagler and Bonita-Fort Myers Corp, collectively West Flagler Associates, have provided “no basis for this court to upend work approved by three sovereigns in their third-choice legal venue.”

“The tribe and state worked together under the authority of the IGRA [Indian Gaming Regulatory Act] and Florida law to negotiate a carefully crafted gaming agreement that resolves years of previous disputes and greatly benefits both the tribe and state,” according to the brief.

“West Flagler’s federal court challenges have failed, and West Flagler now seeks extraordinary relief from this court. West Flagler’s untimely, unwarranted, and impermissible attempt to use a writ of quo warrant to invalidate a duly enacted Florida statute should be denied.”

West Flagler and Bonita-Fort Myers have asked the state's Supreme Court to review the 30-year tribal gaming compact agreed to in May 2021. They claim DeSantis acted unconstitutionally in approving the deal because Amendment 3 requires Florida voters to approve any expansion of casino gaming.

Henry Whitaker, Florida’s solicitor general, has argued that Amendment 3 does not apply in this instance.

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Resorts World Sentosa Fined $1.7m For Poor Due Diligence
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Singapore’s Gambling Regulatory Authority (GRA) has slapped S$2.25m ($1.67m) in fines on integrated resort Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) over “systemic” due diligence failures relating to cash transactions.

RWS accepted cash deposits greater than S$5,000 between December 2016 and December 2019 but “failed to establish the identity of the third party depositors”, the GRA said on Friday (December 8) in a statement.

“RWS did not record the requisite identifying information, nor did it verify these identities using reliable and independent sources as required under” anti-money laundering regulations, it said.

The “systemic failures in certain controls” were discovered by RWS after the regulator ordered it to review “certain” patron activity in 2020. A subsequent GRA probe then identified various breaches.

The statement said one RWS employee’s licence has been terminated and other employees are still under investigation.

RWS owner Genting Singapore said in a Singapore bourse filing on Friday that it had “taken remedial actions” over the incidents, which were not reported at the time because “there was no evidence of criminal offences nor money laundering”.

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Owner Of Mahadev App Detained In Dubai
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The alleged co-owner of India’s notorious and wildly lucrative Mahadev betting app has been detained in Dubai after Interpol issued a red notice for his arrest and extradition.

Ravi Uppal, 43, is being sought by the Enforcement Directorate (ED), India’s anti-money laundering and economic crimes agency, which requested Interpol’s assistance.

Uppal was detained last week, triggering an ED application for the United Arab Emirates (UAE) authorities to return him to India, the Press Trust of India reported on Wednesday (December 13).

The reportedly UAE-based Mahadev operation is suspected of not only massive domestic turnover in India via various forms of sports betting and live casino products, but also involvement in foreign gambling and remittance networks, as well as the channelling of large sums of cash to Indian politicians and public servants.

The ED in October filed money laundering charges against Uppal, reportedly a dual citizen of India and Vanuatu, and his alleged associate Sourabh Chadrakar in Chhattisgarh state.

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Second Swedish Trade Group Rejects Tax Hike
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Gambling trade group SPER has joined fellow industry body BOS in strongly opposing the Swedish government’s plans to raise gambling taxes to 22 percent of gross gaming revenue (GGR).

In its own submission to an ongoing budget consultation, SPER echoed fears that the rise would drive players to the black market.

SPER represents companies including state-owned Svenska Spel and ex-state-owned ATG, along with international organisations such as Kindred and Betsson.

The trade group said that enhanced powers given to the regulator this summer to combat unlicensed gambling should be assessed before any tax changes are made.

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DraftKings Disputes Lawsuit’s Claims of Unfair, Deceptive Promotion
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DraftKings disputed claims made in a high-profile lawsuit filed on Friday (December 8) seeking class-action status against the sports-betting operator over an alleged “unfair and deceptive” promotion.

The lawsuit, filed in Massachusetts Superior Court, alleges that DraftKings customers were not aware that to qualify for the sign-up bonus of $1,000, new customers were required to make an initial deposit of $5,000.

After that, they had to gamble $25,000 on certain qualifying bets over a finite time period.  If they did all of that, they would qualify to receive non-withdrawable credits to use on the platform.

“As a customer-first organization, DraftKings takes consumer protection and responsible gaming seriously,” DraftKings said in an email Friday. “DraftKings respectfully disagrees with the claims and allegations made by the Public Health Advocacy Institute.”

“Regrettably, the Institute ignored our multiple attempts to engage in an in-person dialogue to carefully examine their concerns and, instead, filed suit. DraftKings intends to vigorously defend this lawsuit,” the company said.

The Public Health Advocacy Institute is a Boston-based advocacy group led by Professor Richard Daynard. Daynard developed the strategy that led to a $206m class-action settlement from the tobacco industry in the 1980s.

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Colombia Cracks Down On Slot Machines
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Colombia continues its slew of resolutions to re-regulate gambling with a new director, Marco Emilio Hincapie, at the helm, this time publishing a draft resolution providing means and guidance to register slot machines at shops outside casinos. 

According to regulator Coljuegos, the resolution aims to “regulate the entry into legal operation of Electronic Slot Machines that currently operate without authorisation in premises whose main commercial activity may be other than games of luck and chance”.

It is an effort to collect absent tax dollars but also protect shop owners from local gangs who may ask for a cut or demand the installation of the machines. 

The resolution cited a study from 2018, which estimated that a third of the market revenue is illegal, with an estimated revenue range between 39 and 945bn Colombian pesos (approximately US$10 and US$236m). 

Coljuegos is open to receiving comments on the resolution until December 14.

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The British government sanctions nine individuals and five companies implicated in slave labour at Southeast Asian casinos and scam centres.

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