The Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City folded on its poker room in February of 2015, but insisted at the time it would eventually buy back into the game. The Boardwalk resort said it was simply renovating the space, hoping to ultimately turn around lackluster revenues. Word was that cards would be back in the air that July.
The once-iconic Trump Taj Mahal poker room is back open for business, but with the Borgata dominating the market in the area, the Boardwalk resort will need to find creative ways to entice players back from the marina area.
But that never happened. Instead, the Taj initiated bankruptcy proceedings before being sold to billionaire investor Carl Icahn.
Now, 15 months later, live poker is once again being played at the Trump Taj Mahal. A prominent character in the iconic poker film ‘Rounders,’ starring Matt Damon and Edward Norton, having the Taj poker room back is a positive sign for Atlantic City’s slow and painful resurgence.
Following the US financial crisis in 2007-08, as well as the reality of neighboring states expanding land-based gambling laws, four casinos in Atlantic City closed their doors in 2004, bringing the total number of gaming venues down to eight. After months of sliding revenues, the resort town’s casinos posted a gain of more than eight percent in April, and marked the region’s highest cumulative monthly income total for 2016 so far.
Unfortunately for Icahn’s team, the Taj’s poker return now finds the majority of tables not along the Boardwalk, but out at the marina casinos.
On Saturday, May 13, which was the soft reopening of the Taj Mahal’s poker room, activity was relatively light for what was hoped to be a more celebratory affair. Less than a half-dozen of the room’s 25 tables were active during the afternoon.
Taj management hopes the refurbished area, which is located just inside the resort’s main entrance, will slowly bring players back from the marina to the oceanfront resorts.
There are now six rooms and 224 dedicated poker tables in Atlantic City, but the majority of felt is located at the Borgata and Harrah’s Atlantic City in the town’s marina district.
More Swagger Needed
A recent visit by a Casino.org staffer witnessed firsthand just how serious the economic downturn in Atlantic City has impacted Boardwalk casinos.
Finding a midday poker game on a Saturday was difficult, the longtime bartender who has spent the last two decades at the Taj saying it pains him each day to see the casino floor so barren, but he remains grateful to still be employed.
Icahn at least deserves credit for saving that job, as the resort was likely going to close if he hadn’t saved the property from bankruptcy last spring.
The quirky billionaire had planned to dump $100 million into renovating the aging hotel, but has since threatened to cancel those plans if a referendum to license casinos in northern parts of New Jersey is approved this November.
The Taj poker room makeover now comes with a fresh look and is equipped with over a dozen large flat screen televisions, but compared to the Borgata room, the space still leaves a lot to be desired.
The reopening promotions won’t have many scrambling to the Taj, unfortunately. Players who compete for at least two hours get their pick of a Taj poker hat or t-shirt, and five 32″ televisions will be randomly given to ‘lucky seat’ winners during the Grand Opening Celebration this weekend on May 20.
Las Vegas Conference Tackles Gaming Anti-Money Laundering Measures, While Major Heroin Bust in Delaware Ends up Laundered in State Casinos
The Bank Secrecy Act Conference at the South Point in Las Vegas this week drew legal representatives from across the casino industry to discuss the issue of anti-money-laundering compliance.
Money laundering in casinos is still a problem, despite industry-wide acceptance of tighter regulations. A massive heroin bust in Delaware this week led authorities to casino money laundering as a case in point. (Image: milfordchronicle.net)
In the news frequently of late, perhaps most notably following the massive cyber bank heist of the New York Fed back in February, where money allegedly ended up laundered through Filipino casinos, it’s an issue that has plagued the global and US gaming industry repeatedly in the past decade.
The conference takes its name from the anti-money laundering legislation that essentially eliminated the right to financial privacy in the US by requiring that financial institutions report suspicious financial transactions to authorities. And among those ‘financial institutions,’ casinos are included and must answer to the same questions as any actual bank.
Title 31 of the Act states that all transactions over $10,000 require the completion of a Currency Transaction Report by financial institutions, which must contain sufficient personal information to accurately identify the individual involved. And it’s illegal for an employee of a financial institution to assist a customer in avoiding the Currency Transaction Report.
For casinos, this has always been problematic, due to the industry’s reliance on its high-roller customers and the essentially discreet nature of that relationship.
But in recent years, FinCEN, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, has moved to crack down on the casino industry to bring it in line with banks and other financial institutions.
Big Brother is Watching
Casinos are facing increased regulatory scrutiny overall, of course, a state of affairs that they have grudgingly come to accept, and compliance was the key message at the conference this week.
‘You’re doing all the right things and you’re appreciating the importance of these issues,’ said Juan Zarate, a former government official and author of Treasury’s War: The Unleashing of a New Era of Financial Warfare. ‘But my message to you is that these issues aren’t going to go away.’
The casino industry is now viewed by the government as a ‘central, important part of the international financial system,’ he said.
Of course, the penalty for non-compliance is severe. In 2014, Las Vegas Sands Corp. (LVS) was fined a record $47.4 million for record-high anti-money-laundering violations. More recently, Caesars Entertainment received a $9.5 million fine for similar charges.
In February, former manager of the Sparks Nugget, Michonne Ascuaga, resigned from her position on the Nevada Gaming Control Board, after a FinCEN investigation found ‘systematic’ and ‘egregious’ violations at the casino while she had been in charge of the Northern Nevada property. It has since been sold.
Regulations Apply to All
These two most recent cases illustrate that money laundering is an issue for huge casino resorts and smaller gaming establishments alike, no matter if you’re Caesars, the Sparks Nugget, or a California card club, said Jeffrey Settner, a lawyer specializing in white-collar crime.
‘Whether you’re in Las Vegas, Nevada. . . Emeryville, California . . . Sparks, Pahrump, wherever. . . crimes do occur, and sometimes people will spend illegal gains at your casino,’ Setness said. ‘You don’t have to be a huge casino [to be held accountable] . . . you still have the same type of requirements.’
Heroin Bust in Delaware Underscores the Issues
But while at the conference https://myfreepokies.com, the industry declared its eagerness for compliance, across the country in Delaware, authorities were announcing the arrest of eleven suspects in relation to one of the largest seizures of heroin in the state’s history,
An investigation comprising numerous law enforcement agencies had uncovered 116,675 bags of the drug with a street value of $1,166,750. Police said the suspects had used casinos to launder proceeds of the illegal operation. No doubt this kind of massive crime case will only make FinCEN more on its toes, ever watching, like a kind of federal eye-in-the-sky, giving casinos a taste of their own surveillance medicine.
Phil Mickelson Forfeits $1 Million Stemming From Insider Trading Case
Phil Mickelson is short $1 million, after the golf superstar agreed to repay profits stemming from an alleged insider trading scheme to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
One of golf’s most beloved players, Phil Mickelson has agreed to pay back over $1 million in profits to the SEC, after successful stock trades he transacted were allegedly linked to a tip from friend and high-profile gambler Billy Walters, who has been charged with insider trading. (Image: Getty/golf.dk)
Preet Bharara, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York and famed prosecutor of poker’s ‘Black Friday’ in 2011, announced on May 18 that Mickelson was a purported beneficiary of insider trading.
The golfer has not been charged with any crimes in the case, however.
Bharara alleges that Mickelson’s friend and known sports bettor Billy Walters passed along an ill-gotten tip about the publicly traded Dean Foods to the five-time major champion.
Walters received information about Dean Foods from the company’s former chairman Thomas Davis, who was riddled with debt from gambling.
Walters bought nearly four million shares of Dean Foods for $73.5 million in 2012, which constituted upwards of 37 percent of the company’s total daily trading volume, on knowledge from Davis that the company would soon post higher earnings guidance. Walters sold his ‘investment’ in Dean Foods in August of 2013 for $110 million.
‘With a direct channel into Dean Foods’ boardroom, Walters allegedly benefited handsomely by trading on that information,’ Bharara said in a statement. ‘As alleged, it was all good news for Walters, because he had the information before everyone else.’
Davis is cooperating with authorities and has admitted to providing confidential information to Walters.
Lefty Out in the Cold
Mickelson is notorious on the PGA Tour for adding some extra stakes to his golf rounds. Even during sanctioned events, the 42-time PGA Tour winner is rumored to have side wagers with certain competitors.
Estimated by Golf Digest to have earned $50 million in 2015, it’s unclear just how serious and perhaps detrimental Mickelson’s gambling actually is. Why a man worth hundreds of millions would associate with Walters, who while a talented golfer in his own right has also been the subject of four previous criminal indictments by federal and state authorities, is a tad perplexing.
Though he’s not being charged in the Walters and Davis scheme, the SEC believes Mickelson bought 240,000 shares of Dean Foods upon receiving the tip and made a $931,000 profit. According to The Wall Street Journal, Mickelson owed Walters money stemming from a bet.
Known for having one of the best short games in the business, the pro golfer claims he also knows a thing or two about the food business, and is denying all claims of insider trading. ‘Lefty’s’ attorneys said he’s done nothing wrong, but has agreed to forfeit the $931,000 and pay $105,291 in interest to the SEC nonetheless.
Insider Trading in the News
Walters and Mickelson aren’t the only two gambling-related high-profile honchos engulfed in alleged insider trading scandals these days. Amaya CEO David Baazov is on a voluntary leave from the company he founded after Quebec securities regulators brought charges against the executive for allegedly providing private information to outside investors.
Like Mickelson, Baazov is denying he was engaged in any illicit activities.
Gambling attracts a certain type of person. It requires one with an inherent ability to take risk, even when the odds aren’t necessarily in their favor. Perhaps that’s why when an inside tip comes along, turning odds to opportunity is sometimes too tempting for these adventurers of commerce to resist.