Sunday, December 19, 2010

Bellagio Casino Bandit may get away with it? Or NOT!?

John L Smith Las Vegas Review Journal

Casino bandit's feat may chip away at gamblers' secrecy
Danny Ocean, he ain't. But the Bellagio Bandit generated major headlines after robbing the Strip resort of an estimated $1.5 million in casino chips Tuesday and getting way on a motorcycle.

From the Grand Forks Herald to The Wall Street Journal, the heist made news. The brazen criminal act surely set Hollywood scriptwriters to scribbling. Some celluloid dreamer is probably pitching "Ocean's Eleven -- on Harleys" at this very moment.

In addition to headlines, the bandit also made a few enemies.

You would expect MGM Resorts International officials to take this seriously. The chips can be replaced, but waving a gun around is bad for Bellagio's civilized image.

Escaping with $1.5 million in chips is a good way to get on the casino security chief's bad side. Although Bellagio security did nothing to detain the armed robber, supposedly out of a desire to ensure customer safety, the easy getaway will encourage others to take a chance.

And it doesn't say a lot for the countless millions the casinos and valley law enforcement have spent on high-tech surveillance post-Sept. 11.

Forget that the armed robber won't likely be able to cash the $25,000 chips even if they aren't outfitted with microchip technology. There just aren't many gamblers walking around with $25,000 tokens in their pockets.

But high-rolling professional poker players do keep large-denomination chips in their casino lock boxes. And those players are sure to be sore at the bandit.


Because people, including the folks at the IRS, are bound to start wondering just how much loot is stashed in those boxes beyond prying eyes, ex-wives, and the Tax Man. Poker players use big chips to build their bankrolls and stay off the record. For top poker players and sports bettors, those lock boxes are like an extension of the Cayman Islands.

Now the next time one tries to cash a high-dollar chip from Bellagio, bells and whistles will go off. There will be more scrutiny, including interest from the IRS.

"The guys that are pissed off right now are the poker guys," Las Vegas Advisor publisher and professional gambler Anthony Curtis says. "It's a little more funky than it appears."

Will the Bellagio take those high-dollar chips out of circulation? That might compel the robber to make a mistake, but it also might force those poker players and sports bettors to dust off their stash chips and redeem them.

"The most angry people are the guys who have been hoarding those chips," Curtis cracks. "The second most angry guys are the people who walk around in motorcycle helmets."

It reminds me of the time Ted Binion swiped stacks of $5,000 chips from Binion's Horseshoe when he was forced out as a part owner of the downtown casino. The irrepressible Bob Stupak wound up with a pocketful and tried unsuccessfully to redeem them.

Outside the poker rooms, not everyone is angry with the Bellagio Bandit. In fact, I'd bet that privately the folks who developed and marketed the microchip gaming chip technology used at some casinos -- alas, not at the Bellagio, I'm informed -- are turning cartwheels. Their business just got a boost.

One final question: Will anyone have the audacity to blend some of those suspect chips in with their own stash when the time comes to cash in? Poker players are risk-takers by nature.

Curtis says he believes a few might be tempted if they can pick up a stolen stack for pennies on the dollar. However, "with all the heat, I doubt even these poker players will take a shot. The chips will probably end up in a landfill somewhere."

In the old days, the Bellagio Bandit might have wound up there, too.

See how civilized Las Vegas is getting?

Norm Clarke LVRJ

NORM: Chef heard ruckus during Bellagio heist
Celebrity chef Jose Andres was close enough to the $1.5 million Bellagio chip robbery that he heard the commotion.

Andres told Vegas Confidential he didn't see the armed robbery but he heard someone yelling "Get down! Get down!" as patrons hit the floor during the brazen 4 a.m. heist Tuesday.

A man wearing a motorcycle helmet and a leather jacket rushed up to a craps table, brandished a handgun and demanded money.

After receiving the haul of gambling chips, in denominations from $100 to $25,000, he ran through the casino to the north valet area where he had parked a late-model black sport motorcycle. He was seen driving away on West Flamingo, according to reports.

Andres, best known as a food pioneer who popularized tapas or small-plate dining, was in the Bellagio with friends. A judge on Bravo's hit series "Top Chef," he was in town for the opening of his Spanish restaurant Jaleo at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.

The robber may end up with a nice chip collection but not much else, other than a nomination for the Dumbest Felons Club. It's doubtful he can cash in the casino chips anywhere but Bellagio and that might be a case of leaping out of the frying pan and into the fire.

In the pantheon of amateur crooks, history won't be kind to our Zero Chip Nada Bandit.

Food-safety measure passes Senate in Sunday surprise

A bill that would overhaul the nation's food-safety laws for the first time since the Great Depression came roaring back to life Sunday as Senate Democrats struck a deal with Republicans that helped overcome a technical mistake made three weeks ago and a filibuster threat that seemed likely to scuttle the legislation.

After a weekend of negotiations, tense strategy sessions and several premature predictions about the bill's demise, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) reached a deal with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that the GOP would not filibuster.

Without notice and in a matter of minutes Sunday evening, the Senate approved the bill by unanimous consent, sending it to the House, where passage is expected. President Obama has said he would sign the legislation, which would give the government far-reaching authority to set and enforce safety standards for farmers and food processors.

It was a last-minute change for the legislation, which seemed all but dead Sunday afternoon.

"This reaffirmed my faith in democracy," said Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union. "We were getting ready for a last-ditch effort . . . and they just went ahead an passed it, like they should have. . . . There's some hope now that the government will do a better job of protecting people" from tainted food.

The legislation would affect all whole and processed foods except meat, poultry and some egg products, which are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), a main sponsor of the bill, called Sunday's vote a "critical victory" that would "give Americans one of the best holiday gifts they can receive this year - the assurance the foods they are eating are safer."

The measure had support from an eclectic array of groups across the political spectrum from the Chamber of Commerce to U.S. PIRG and was pushed by a coalition of food-safety groups that lobbied for two years. It passed the House more than year ago with strong bipartisan support. It cleared the Senate three weeks ago by a vote of 73 to 25, overcoming a filibuster threat from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.).

But the day after the Senate vote, House leaders flagged a problem - the Senate version appeared to violate a constitutional provision that requires new taxes to originate in the House rather than the Senate.

The section in question would have imposed fees on importers, farmers and food processors whose food is recalled because of contamination. The mistake essentially nullified the Senate vote.

House Democrats tried to rescue the food-safety language by attaching it to a continuing resolution to fund the federal government, which the lower chamber passed Dec. 8. Reid also put the food safety language - minus the unconstitutional provision calling for fees - in an omnibus bill to fund the government, but that bill died Thursday after Republicans objected to earmarks in the legislation.

That left Reid with few options and dwindling time.

Late Sunday, Senate Democrats were weighing whether to attach the food safety language to one of a handful of measures expected to be brought to the Senate floor in the few remaining days before the Christmas recess.

But Coburn, who tried several times to kill the legislation, promised to filibuster any measure that includes food safety, a maneuver that would cost Democrats precious floor time in the waning days of the lame-duck session. John Hart, a spokesman for Coburn, said Sunday night that he did not know why his boss relented.

Unlike the current system, which relies on government inspectors catching contamination, the new measure would require manufacturers and farmers to come up with strategies to prevent contamination and then continually test to make sure they work.

It also would give the Food and Drug Administration the authority to recall food; now, it must rely on food companies to voluntarily pull products off the shelves. And, the bill would give the FDA access to internal records at farms and food-production facilities.

The bill would require importers to verify that products grown and processed overseas meet U.S. safety standards. One in six Americans become ill from tainted food each year, and 3,000 die, according to government figures. Businesses spend billions of dollars as a result of lost sales, recalls and legal expenses triggered by the problem.

The bill is expected to cost $1.4 billion over the next four years, including the expense of hiring 2,000 new FDA inspectors.

I was right and he was wrong WashPost Dana Milbank

John McCain at his fieriest before 'don't ask, don't tell' vote

If John McCain gets any more hostile toward his Senate colleagues, they might consider having him go through the metal detector before he enters the Capitol.

Saturday's debate on the repeal of the "don't-ask-don't-tell" policy was only half an hour old when the Arizona Republican burst onto the floor from the cloakroom, hiked up his pants and stalked over to his friend Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). Ignoring Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who had the floor, McCain hectored the men noisily for a few moments, waving his arms for emphasis.

When McCain finally stormed off, Durbin shook his head in exasperation and Lieberman smiled. A minute later, McCain returned - he had apparently remembered another element of his grievance - and resumed his harangue.

It turns out McCain's fury was stirred by a trifle - he had wanted more time for the debate, which the Democrats eventually gave him - but that was typical. It doesn't take much to set off McCain these days.

Earlier in the week, he was observed in the unseemly act of publicly gloating on the Senate floor over his success in killing a massive spending bill. He's also been raising hurdles to the ratification of the Obama administration's nuclear arms treaty with Russia. At the same time, he led the opposition Saturday to repealing the ban on openly gay men and lesbians serving in the military - taking on Lieberman, who led the other side.

McCain's statement on the floor was roughly one part argument, four parts tantrum. "So here we are about six weeks after an election that repudiated the agenda of the other side," he said, and those who would repeal don't-ask-don't-tell "are acting in direct repudiation of the message of the American people." (Actually, polls show support for repeal.)

He bemoaned "this bizarro world that the majority leader has been carrying us in," and taunted: "Maybe it will require another election." The Arizonan suggested those who vote to repeal would have blood on their hands. "Don't think that it won't be at great cost," he said, punctuating his words by bouncing on his toes and chopping with his left hand. It will "probably," he said, "harm the battle effectiveness which is so vital to the survival of our young men and women in the military."

McCain famously said in 2006 that he would support repeal once military leaders recommended it. Instead, he led the opposition to repeal. McCainologists in the Capitol speculate that on this and other issues he's driven less by policy consideration than by personal animosity. A decade ago, his antipathy toward President George W. Bush led him to seek common cause with Democrats to thwart a Republican president. Now his antipathy toward President Obama has made him a leading Republican hardliner.

On Saturday, McCain's rage was all the more striking because the general tone of the debate was tame. Republicans were mostly defensive, objecting not to the service of homosexuals in the military but to procedures and other technical matters. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said of the repeal: "Should it be done at some point in time? Maybe so, but in the middle of a military conflict is not the time to do it."

Such tactical arguments made it appear that the opponents were standing against the inevitable tide of history. Lieberman said the repeal would "advance the values that the founders of our country articulated in our original American documents."

In the end, McCain lost eight Republicans as the ban was easily overturned. This wasn't entirely surprising, because Defense Secretary Robert Gates (a Bush administration holdover) and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen both argued passionately for repeal, and a Pentagon study forecast that a repeal would not bring significant harm.

McCain clung to the dissenting view of the Marine commandant, Gen. James Amos, who had warned that lifting the ban would create a "distraction" that could lead to battlefield injuries for U.S. troops. But assurances by Gates were good enough for Republican senators such as George Voinovich (Ohio), who defended his "yes" vote by saying he expects repeal "will be implemented in a common-sense way."

The loss of Republican votes, no doubt, made McCain even angrier. When it came time for his closing argument before the day's key vote, McCain spoke for only a few seconds: "Today's a very sad day. The commandant of the United States Marine Corps says when your life hangs on the line, you don't want anything distracting. . . . I don't want to permit that opportunity to happen and I'll tell you why. You go up to Bethesda Naval Hospital, Marines are up there with no legs, none. You've got Marines at Walter Reed with no limbs."

McCain turned and, without another word, walked into the cloakroom.

Lieberman later said that he expects his friendship with his volatile colleague to recover. "I don't think this will leave any scars," he said. "I just think we leave this fight knowing that I was right and he was wrong. I mean, it's as simple as that."

Uh-oh. Now McCain is really going to be steamed.