Slim hope for North Dakota casinos; Russians hack U.S. slot machines

North Dakota lawmakers are still averse to the idea of state-owned casinos (which caused a fair number of birthing pains for Kansas) but they split the baby on casino expansion this week. While the House Judiciary Committee still stamped “do not pass” on a proposed constitutional amendment to put the idea of state-owned casinos before the voters, it approved a change to the bill whereby six privately owned casinos could be enabled by the electorate. The only caveat is that none of the six could be built within 40 miles of an Indian reservation — an obvious sop to tribal gaming interests in the state. (Tribes and charitable gaming organizations are opposed, understandably.)

The proposed amendment has a lot of hurdles ahead of it. Not least, it missed the deadline for concurrence of House and Senate bills. The Senate also seems indifferent to the whole matter. Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner (R, above) told The Bismarck Tribune, “It’s pretty quiet. Nobody’s really talking about it.” Not a positive omen, that.

* Pennsylvania has had casinos for a decade and, surprisingly, reports of gambling addiction have actually declined in that period, at least if attendance at Gamblers Anonymous, hotline calls and requests for self-exclusion are any yardstick. As you know, the first line of attack for casino opponents is that problem gambling will skyrocket, so better we should deprive people of the option to play. “I definitely did not see an onslaught,” reports social worker Sabrina Heller. Still, as Frank Fahrenkopf liked to say, one problem gambler is one too many and the Keystone State is hardly in the clear.

The state’s self-exclusion program adds about 1,500 people a year, having reached approximately 7,800 banishments. Also, calls for help to the state gambling hotline numbered 1,442 in 2016. (Comprehensive figures on insurance claims for pathological gambling were not available.) However, when someone like the cashier who embezzled $13 million to support a gambling habit makes the news, it will be taken as the norm, not the exception.

* The Russkies may or may not have hacked our last presidential election but they’ve definitely been cracking the codes of our slot machines. Using covertly obtained video, they determined when the random number generators would “hit” and sent operatives in to play the machines when the were due for a big — but not conspicuously large — payout. “The group focused on machines that were used in casinos around the world so it could continuously move from state to state and country to country. It also kept its winning average low so as not to attract attention. The group used secured communications, rented large servers around the world and paid footmen in bitcoin to avoid detection,” reports the Las Vegas Review-Journal‘s technological expert, Todd Prince.

Based in St. Petersburg, the syndicate has pilfered casinos in Missouri, Singapore and Peru … at least that’s where we *know* they’ve been active, because those are places they got busted. For the nonce they’re avoiding U.S. casinos in favor of ones in South America and Europe. It’s an insidious scam, all the more so for being so difficult to detect. Despite assertions to the contrary, the industry is having trouble keeping up with cheats.

* In the ongoing rivalry between Tilman Fertitta and his Las Vegas cousins, Lorenzo and Frank III, score the latest round for the Texan. The Vegas brothers tied at #1,030 on the Forbes list of the world’s wealthiest men. (Sheldon Adelson led all casino moguls at #20.) Tilman Fertitta came out well ahead of his familial rivals, at 693 ($2.9 billion).

* PokerStars just celebrated its first anniversary in Atlantic City. Industry expert Steve Ruddock admitted “PokerStars hasn’t been the world-beater some hoped for in New Jersey,” which pretty much makes it official. To paraphrase LBJ, when you’ve lost Ruddock, you’ve lost Middle America. (Except that Middle America can’t gamble online, thanks to puritanical government strictures.)

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