The Boomtown Reno Online Gambling Story, Revisited
Every once in a while there’s a gambling story that appears to be wrapped up and done with, and then, suddenly, it isn’t. Such is the case with the bizarre saga of Nevada’s Boomtown Reno Casino, which came under the fire of the Nevada Gaming Control Board back in May after the NGCB discovered that Boomtown Reno had been offering affiliate links to unlicensed, offshore sites for several months.
An NGCB investigation determined that the casino had received affiliate payments via the illegal-in-Nevada signup links, and the episode as a whole represented a clusterfuck of epic proportions by the management of Boomtown Reno’s parent company, BCH Gaming Reno LLC (BCH). Given the gross ineptitude and blissful legal ignorance involved, one might have expected a huge fine or license sanctioning to be issued by the NGCB.
There was indeed a fine to be issued; in June, the NGCB slapped Boomtown Reno with a paltry $40,000 penalty and ordered the casino and its parent company to publish a compliance statement on its online site. And where that might be the end of the tale, there’s another chapter to be told, that being a whistleblower version of events offered by the web developer that BCH charged with putting Boomtown Reno’s online-gambling offerings together.
“It appears Boomtown ceded complete control concerning links to online gaming on its website to one employee of Boomtown: its graphic and web designer. It appears this person had little, if any, understanding of gaming laws. It further appears that Boomtown exercised little, if any, oversight concerning this employee’s actions with regard to placing links to online gaming on Boomtown’s website.
“Boomtown failed to maintain sufficient level of supervision and control over its website and its employee to prevent links on its website leading to other websites which apparently allowed real money wagering in apparent violation of the Wire Act.
“Boomtown further failed to inquire into the nature of the links on its website when it received payment from the websites and when a patron of Boomtown questioned the legality of the activity on one of the links.”
That’s indeed one way to state it, but on a second, later read, it’s evident that there was some careful parsing in the above, as you’ll come to understand after reading what follows. The version of events offered by the whistleblower, the web developer referenced in the above, tells a story of far more active participation and encouragement by BCH brass rather than the lack of oversight depicted in the NGCB recap.
The Web Developer’s Tale
About a week ago, this writer received a curious link to a very unusual blog, a piece of “creative nonfiction” authored by the web developer at the supposed core of Boomtown Reno’s online-gambling mess. Titled “Circuses, Clowns, Casinos, & Cons,” the obliquely referenced, New Age-themed rant roams from the mystical to the specific, though it’s those specifics that we’ll deal with here. “Lola Liberta”, the name of the blog’s and associated New Age book’s author, is a pseudonym, though Flushdraw has obtained “Lola”‘s real identity and verified certain facts in her/his background, as well as other matters related to the NGCB investigation and fine.
The one-time Boomtown Reno web developer is no longer employed by the casino’s parent company, having been largely scapegoated as the person most responsible for the affair. Except, according to this former employee, the official version of the online-gambling story contains plenty of falsehoods, and the end product was largely a cover-up of the real sequence of events. Flushdraw also sent an inquiry early this week to BCH regarding the “Lola Liberta” blog allegations explored here. The casino’s parent company did not respond to the request for comment. However, a separate inquiry from the pseudonymous web developer to the NGCB about the compliance statement linked above may have resulted in that statement being reactivated for public view. Before Tuesday of this week, the statement had gone missing and was a “404”-style web hole at some point earlier this summer, as I can personally attest.
New Age trappings drawn aside, the core of what “Lola” offers publicly speaks to the scapegoating and whitewashing. Offered first was this series of rhetorical questions:
Casino Changes Story After Being Caught
In theory, if a casino spends significant Casino Marketing Budgeton expensive freeway billboards promoting illegal offshore gambling sites, but then denies all knowledge of any illegal offshore gambling activities, what would you think?
Traditionally but not always, freeway billboards can typically cost anywhere from 2k to 20k per month to rent based on location, size, and visibility.
Theoretically, what if a casino knowingly paid for expensive freeway billboards promoting illegal offshore gambling for several months, but then denied knowing what they were for, what would you think?
Theoretically, what if a casino accepted, signed, and deposited commission checks from illegal offshore gambling sites, but then denied knowing it was illegal, what would you think?
Theoretically, what if a casino got caught in their own alleged casino con cashing in on customer losses, then after getting caught, changed their story and said they were under the impression they were not making a profit, what would you think?
Theoretically, would I need a Casino College Degree to be a Casino Exec at that casino, or would my Romper Room Book of Manners get me past the Lack of Oversight committee in this massive Peter Principle tale?
Then, it’s on to the first glimpse at the whitewashing alleged to have occurred:
Casino Execs Conform Statements
When BCH was first investigated by the NGCB, each involved BCH exec and involved employee was asked to write a statement about what they knew and what their involvement was in the alleged casino con crimes.
My statement was truthful, a mere “5 bullets”, and included copies of every email sent and received from BCH execs. BCH refused to submit my statement to the NGCB. Instead, the BCH Finance Director insisted that I alter my original statement, specifying that I was solely responsible for setting up the entire alleged casino con. My boss and the GM backed up her request, it was an eye opener, but later the GM was convicted.
BCH exec statements were all super similar, at least that is the rumor from my inside secret source, you know the agency that granted me cosmic clearance, so I think they might know. In essence, the BCH Boomtown Brotherhood Bromance all pointed their financial fingers at me. I guess money is more important than morals. To some people, but not me.
To reiterate: “Lola” publicly claimed that BCH’s Finance Director insisted on the web developer’s story being changed, so as to assign primary blame for the affair to what was, in essence, a third-party contractor. It’s also not clear that “convicted” is the right terminology for whatever happened to the BCH GM (general manager). Whether that person was ordered removed from that post by the NGCB or suffered some other form of operator’s license suspension or removal is not among the information made public by the NGCB to date.
Rather than changing her/his story to essentially accept the blame on behalf of Boomtown Reno, Lola did this: “I… called the NGCB. I did not edit my statement, I expanded it. Rather than comply with these alleged casino cons and alleged corrupt crooks, I instead hand delivered my detailed “40 bullet” statement directly to the NGCB. They took it from there, and the rest is part of history.” Lola then waited out a self-imposed, 90-day cooling-off period, since there was still the chance that she/he could have faced NGCB sanctions as well.
But that didn’t happen. Instead, as Lola wrote, “On August 15th of 2018, after 90 days of silence and serenity, I have been exonerated by the universe, by myself, and by the law.” That last likely meant the NGCB has chosen not to sanction the no-longer-employed-by-BCH web developer.
The Other Version of Events
When contacted by Flushdraw, Lola offered a rather different tale than that publicly shared by Boomtown Reno and, if one is to be honest about it, the NGCB. The web developer admitted not knowing the intricacies of Nevada online-gambling laws, but that was to be expected: The person left a high-paying job in another state to return to the Reno area to help care for a sick parent, accepting much lower pay for a job the casino posted on Craigslist.
As to how the whole online-gambling project came together, Lola offered a few more bullet points:
- My primary BCH directive was to revamp the online marketing program to generate hotel bookings, increase foot traffic, and make money wherever possible.
- After 1 year at BCH, hotel bookings, web traffic, and foot traffic skyrocketed, and this was recognized in my first annual review.
- In year 2 at BCH, after BCH execs attended a gaming conference in Las Vegas, they returned and the new primary BCH directive was that “I would be a hero” if I could help BCH surpass competitors by implementing online gaming for profit. So we did, and I thought everything was legal, because the BCH Finance Director submitted the BCH Tax ID and payment info to the Curacao affiliate companies, BCH execs tested out the online games using their credit cards, BCH execs signed the commission checks that were made out to them personally, and the BCH GM approved the deposit of the checks. The BCH Marketing Director even upped the ante with freeway billboards to see if we could generate more traffic, especially those out of towners who may “Play When Away”. We (the Marketing Team) met every Tuesday in marketing meetings and looked at the numbers, both traffic and financial, and every week those numbers were reported on Wednesday to executive management and the GM. The GM would even stop by my office and say great job, we appreciate what you are doing. The GM’s wife (who gets paid to do Social Media at Boomtown, even promoted these Online Games on the BCH Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter… it seemed to be a family affair). My boss (the Marketing Director) even told me these types of things affect your annual bonus. At $21 an hour for managing the entire web, graphic, signage, and multimedia design department for a casino, heck ya, I wanted a bigger bonus. All I had to do was “be the hero” and follow orders. I did, because I thought it was legal. I relied on their gaming expertise to tell me if it wasn’t. I trusted them.
- I was never behind those executive closed door meetings every Wednesday. I was told I was doing a fantastic job, I was never told what we were doing was illegal. I assumed that since they were receiving and cashing the payments that everything was moving forward positively. It wasn’t until after BCH got caught, that I found out there was a problem. It wasn’t until the NGCB filed the complaint that I realized the BCH execs got together and pointed their fingers at 1 employee, me. It was disappointing.
Here’s a bit more on the casino signing up with the Curacao-based affiliate company:
About the Curacao contracts: I never entered into any affiliate agreements or contracts with the Curacao companies, because I was technically and physically unable to. I was not a BCH business owner, executive, manager, nor authorized employee with access to BCH banking accounts. Affiliate companies require verification of business ownership and company URL ownership before you can partner with them as an affiliate. Business owners have to fill out an application, agree to the affiliate terms and conditions, and enter Tax ID and banking info right out of the gate. BCH didn’t exactly hand over their Tax ID and banking information to me, an employee with very “little, if any, understanding of gaming laws”, lol. The curacao accounts and affiliate agreements were set up by the Marketing Director  and his name was on the commission checks. The Tax ID and banking info was input by the Finance Director , she logged into the affiliate systems and entered this data. The weekly status reports and commission checks were reviewed and approved for deposit by the GM . I never mentioned any of these folks names, as I have no personal vendettas, they are people just like us, and I am not perfect either. I just wanted to point out that “honest leadership” doesn’t seem to be happening at critical “leadership levels”, and their gain is causing loss to others. Simply and beautifully put in your [previous] article, this appears to be a massive Peter Principle tale.
Flushdraw has the names of all those execs, but is withholding them pending further exploration of NGCB records. And yes, scapegoating a low-level employee is far from honest. While this may not rise to the same level as, say, the “AJ Green” farcical cover story that Absolute Poker created to cover up the massive thefts by founder and president Scott Tom back in the day, it’s still both corrupt and morally bankrupt. And, having been similarly scapegoated twice myself (including one time in the poker world, about a decade ago), this sort of tale does strike a chord within me.
Trying to Force a Changed Story
Then there’s that matter of BCH management trying to force Lola to change her/his story to better complete the whitewashing. The web developer had more to offer on that topic as well:
About my talks with the NGCB: One day while working at my desk at BCH, the Marketing Director and GM called me into their office and informed me the NGCB would be speaking to me privately, and they wanted to make sure that there were not going to be any surprises in my statements. A couple days later I was summoned to the GM’s office where there was a conference call about to happen with the NGCB investigating officer. I was told to answer “Yes and No” and not to elaborate if not needed. During the questions, I did start to elaborate a bit, and literally, the GM gave me the hand across the throat “cut it off” sign, so I did.
A couple days later the Marketing Director stopped by my office with a visitor, the NGCB investigating officer. The Marketing Director lingered in the hallway as the officer and I began our interview and discussion, so I asked the NGCB officer if he minded if I shut the door. He said please do, then he proceeded to tell me that in these situations, and they see them a lot, the “Casino” will do whatever they can to mitigate the situation, to reduce the impact. He told me the NGCB had already been logged in to BCH systems and computers for several months, and they had copies of everything they needed. However, to speed up the process, they wanted to get the true perspectives from each person involved. His primary 2 questions were: “Why did the BCH Finance Director ask you to alter your original statement?” and “Did you in any way profit from online gaming”. He also told me that it seemed all BCH executive statements implied I was solely responsible. The NGCB officer asked that I consider adding any additional details to my statement that I had, and he also asked for copies of every email and every document I had related to the allegations. I said absolutely, yes. A few days later, after taking a few vacation days and clearing my head, I hand delivered everything to the NGCB officer.
In other words, the NGCB wasn’t buying the shuck being served up Boomtown Reno’s brass, which one would expect after the invetigators had the chance to assess the entire situation. Still, it’s disappointing to see the extent to which the NGCB was willing to sweep this farce under the regulatory rug with that $40,000 slap on the wrist. Shortly after giving the info to the NGCB regulators, Lola walked off the job, without giving any notice.
“Now, to me and probably most people,” wrote Lola, “a 40K fine is enormous. But to BCH and the gaming industry, I am told by inside analysts this [is] pocket change. For the NGCB to finalize the case by letting BCH skim by with a “Lack of Oversight” claim, then to leave the entire case lingering at the feet of ‘1 Employee’ is a bit weak in my humble opinion.”
I couldn’t agree more.