Maryland gambling control officials said Tuesday they're "concerned" about allegations in other states involving the company building Baltimore's casino, Caesars Entertainment Corp.
Caesars said Monday that one of its Las Vegas businesses is the subject of a federal investigation into money laundering and that it was pulling out of a $1 billion casino venture in Massachusetts amid concerns in that state about an investor's possible ties to organized crime.
"The Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency is concerned about these alleged incidents and how they impact our mission of ensuring that commercial gambling in Maryland promotes integrity, transparency and fair play," said Stephen Martino, director of the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency. "In both cases, we are gathering information and will give these matters the attention they deserve."
Martino said Caesars officials alerted his agency "late last week" of the "on-going federal inquiry involving one of its subsidiaries in Las Vegas."
Caesars is leading a team called CBAC Gaming that is building the Horseshoe Baltimore Casino on Russell Street near M&T Bank Stadium. The $400-million casino will include 2,500 slot machines, table games and a "World Series of Poker" room.
Company officials and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said they do not expect the federal investigation to impact Baltimore's casino. The city is counting on the casino to provide funds for an ambitious school construction plan and a property tax cut.
City Councilman Robert W. Curran said he was concerned about the investigation into Caesars, but company officials assured him that that construction of Baltimore's casino will continue on pace.
"It's not going to have any ill effect on Baltimore," he said. "Everything is moving forward full throttle."
Council Vice President Edward Reisinger, whose district includes the casino site, said he drove by the building Tuesday to make sure work there was still under way.
"All I wanted to know is, Is everything OK with Baltimore?" he said. "People were working. If I go down there and I don't see anybody working, then I'll be concerned."
Caesars said Monday it would withdraw its application for a casino venture with the operator of Boston's Suffolk Downs racetrack after investigators for the Massachusetts Gaming Commission raised concerns about its suitability for a state gaming license.
The sudden withdrawal from the Boston project came after Massachusetts gaming investigators, during routine background checks of Caesars' business partners, took issue with an investor in New York-based Gansevoort Hotel Group who was alleged to have ties to organized crime in Russia. Gansevoort, a luxury hotel company, had been a partner with Caesars on a deal on the Las Vegas Strip, but Caesars said Tuesday it has severed its partnership with the group.
"Caesars Entertainment and Gansevoort Hotel Group have ended their relationship," said Gary Thompson, a Caesars spokesman, in a statement. The company said the change would not delay the Las Vegas project.
Gansevoort officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Caesars took issue with the Massachusetts commission's report that the company had not met financial "suitability" standards. Caesars is saddled with more than $20 billion in debt incurred when it was acquired in 2008 by private equity firms Apollo Global Management and TPG Capital, both of which remain major shareholders.
Caesars officials said they had previously met standards in other states.
"We believe the [Massachusetts] Commission is attempting to set standards of suitability that are arbitrary, unreasonable and inconsistent with those that exist in every other gaming jurisdiction," Thompson said in a statement.
Caesars officials have acknowledged the company's Desert Palace subsidiary, which operates Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, received a letter from the financial crimes unit of the U.S. Department of the Treasury about "alleged violations of the Bank Secrecy Act," a law aimed at curbing money laundering. Caesars said a federal grand jury is conducting an investigation into the matter
James Karmel, a gaming analyst and Harford County Community College history professor who on Monday encouraged state officials to launch an inquiry, noted that the gambling industry is often under intense scrutiny. States across the country now have "high standards of integrity" for who can get involved in the casino business, he said.
"Because of its history, gambling is held to a higher standard than other industries," he said. "There's no reason at this point to be concerned about Baltimore, but it's really too early to tell."
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