Casino group seeks partnership with state attorneys general to crack down on illegal gambling

The nation's casino owners and gambling machine makers say they want to team with states to crack down on illegal gambling.

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Speaking to the National Association of Attorneys General on Monday, American Gaming Association President Geoff Freeman called on state legal leaders to join with his group, saying they "have a shared interest in putting an end to illegal gambling."

Freeman said illegal gambling is siphoning off money from legitimate casinos. He said states should care because illegal operations don't pay taxes, aren't regulated to protect consumers and may be funding other criminal operations.

"One of the things that I want to do is draw a sharp distinction between illegal gambling and legal casinos you may have in your state," Freeman said. "We are a heavily regulated business that does things on the up-and-up."

The association is calling on states to crack down on illegal sports betting, sweepstakes cafes, black market slot machines and online gambling sites hosted in other countries. Freeman estimated that illegal sports betting alone is a $150-billion-a-year business in the United States, with the other three methods of gambling he cited accounting for billions more in activity. The nation's nearly 1,000 legal casinos, by comparison, have about $240 billion a year in revenue.

Freeman acknowledged that illegal activities compete with casinos and take money away from them. He said states should support casinos in part because they generate large amounts of tax money.

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The American Gaming Association intends to fund research into illegal gambling to find patterns and ties to organized crime. He said the gambling industry will develop an online site that will allow people to tip police about illegal gambling as well as host resources for law enforcement and consumers. He also said the association will create a law enforcement advisory board on illegal gambling, and that the association itself will become more outspoken.

"Those involved in illegal gambling are using the proceeds to fund what are truly terrible and criminal behaviors," Freeman said, adding that investigators have found such criminal links.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, current president of the National Association of Attorneys General, said the group may create a committee to examine illegal gambling.

Freeman also suggests that if attorneys general don't wish to enforce laws against some activities such as sports betting, states should legalize them so casinos can legitimately compete. Currently, sports betting is legal in only a handful of states. Freeman said casinos would like to enter the fast-growing fantasy sports business, in part to reach younger consumers, but that some regulators have rejected such moves.

"I would suggest to you that changing laws is preferable to not enforcing laws," Freeman said.

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Online: American Gaming Association: http://bit.ly/1DXjsUY

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