Fraud is a severe crime in the state of California and is committed when a person received an undeserved benefit, which causes another person to suffer loss. There are many offenses under the general crime of fraud in the state, among them, gambling fraud. It is one of the many crimes we deal with at The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney.
In California, gambling and bookmaking are not illegal. However, it is unlawful for a person to use tricks while gaming to get an undeserved benefit that causes another person’s loss or harm. Because of the nature of this offense, a person can be accused of gambling fraud when, in the real sense, they did not intend to gain an advantage over another person. If this is your situation at the moment, you can count on our legal defense services to either have your charges reduced or dropped.
Gambling is defined as a person’s participation in gaming, lottery, and betting activities. These betting and gaming activities could either be licensed or non-licensed. The existence of a gaming license is what makes the business legal. If you are taking part in a non-licensed betting or gaming act, then you are committing an offense. In California, there are several categories of gambling activities in various sectors. These are:
Arcades are the kinds of games that offer fun for adults as well as families. Several centers offer arcade games and are distinguished by what they offer. A center offering adult gaming will, for instance, require a permit or license from the state’s gaming or gambling commission. These centers are quite restricted, and only a specific age limit is allowed to take part in gaming. Again, there are both licensed and illegal family arcade establishments.
Betting is a different kind of gambling activity that entails placing a bet/stake in approval of a specific result. There are various betting options in California, including pool betting, spread betting, and fixed-odds gambling. The latter is the most popular kind of gambling in the state. A player’s wins are determined by a predetermined odd. It could happen anywhere, including in betting shops, online, and also on racing trails.
Bingo is a game of chance, in which every participating player is required to match printed numbers placed in different arrangements on cards, which the host of the game draws out randomly. The game is played by several people, who compete against each other. The first person to have the winning arrangements wins the jackpot.
Casino gaming is quite popular today because players are not only able to play on a gaming premise but also online. There are several types of casino games to choose from, depending on a player's preference. Some of the most popular ones include card and table games, slots, and poker games. By playing online, a gambler saves a lot of time as well as gains access to thousands of games.
In California, there are many kinds of lotteries that residents can take part in for a substantial monetary win. These include the State Lottery, which is managed by the state. Other lottery types include raffles, tombolas, and sweepstakes. A player needs to be of legal age (18 years) to participate in a lottery. Below that, you stand the risk of facing misdemeanor charges.
They are devices or machines that are mainly used as gaming platforms. These are, for instance, slot machines, fruit, and jackpot machines. Computers and consoles are, however, not considered as gaming devices.
California gambling takes many forms, including horse-racing, card games, and slot machines. The state regulates all kinds of gambling to ensure that the activities are done legally. However, people still get involved in illegal activities such as dealing and gambling fraud, which are unlawful and punishable by law.
Legal Definition of Gambling Fraud
The law against Gambling Fraud in California is under Section 332 of the California Penal Code. According to this section of the Act, gambling/gaming fraud is defined as obtaining another person's money or property illegally through such games as Three-Card Monte, betting on a sure thing or fortune-telling. The law also makes it illegal for anyone to use stacked card decks or card tricks or any other scheme to entice people to gamble on a sure thing.
Gambling Fraud is under the general umbrella of California Theft Crimes. Under theft crime, it is unlawful for a person to obtain another person’s assets or money through any card games or tricks, gambling, or betting or pretentious fortune-telling. Note that theft laws do not make gambling illegal. Instead, they make it unlawful for a person to use schemes that are designed to trick people into participating in a betting game or other similar activities. Charges for obtaining money fraudulently through gambling are penalized the same way as California petty and grand thefts.
To understand the legal meaning of gambling fraud better, let us look at the elements of the crime. The elements are the facts that a prosecutor must prove in court for an offender to be found guilty of the offense. These are:
- That the defendant fraudulently obtained another person’s money or assets
- That the defendant did so through a game, a device, or a trick or pretentious fortune-telling. The offense could also have been committed through gambling on sides of the hands of any game or play
As used in this definition, fraudulently means that the actions of the defendant were done in bad faith. He/she was dishonest and lacked integrity. A person acts fraudulently if they cheated or failed to play by the instructions of the game. If a person participates in a card game and wins some money without using tricks or cheating, they will not be guilty of this offense.
Note the other crucial fact of this offense, which is winning assets or money from another person. The property, in this case, could be poker tokens or chips that have a monetary value.
Fortune Telling as a Fraud
Fortune-telling is another form of gambling mentioned as a gaming fraud offense, alongside card games. Fortune-telling is a complicated thing to understand, and it could be hard to tell whether it is done fraudulently or not, especially when done by people who believe in it. Charging a person of fraudulent fortune-telling is tricky, too, especially now that we have a free speech as a legal right protected by the state laws. In itself, fortune-telling is not a bad thing, and it is not prohibited in California. However, when it is done for money, it becomes a crime under Section 332 of California laws. It, however, depends on the circumstances under which the offense was committed.
If an astrologer/fortune teller belongs to a religious group that strongly believes in a particular way of predicting the future, a California criminal court may not find him/her guilty of gambling fraud even if he/she accepts money to read other people’s fortunes. The same applies to an astrologer or fortune-teller who does his/her thing only for entertainment purposes. The latter means that the astrologer does not accept any money for his/her services.
Various Forms of Gaming Fraud
There are several ways in which a person can commit the offense of gambling fraud. The most popular ones in California are:
- Multiple Accounts Gaming Fraud
The internet has made things very easy for people who enjoy gambling but have no time to go to gambling establishments. Online gambling allows gamers to play and even win money from the comfort of their homes. While this may sound like a good thing for most people, it has caused an increase in gambling fraud cases, particularly those that involve multiple accounts. Online gambling sites only allow a person to own one account. A fraudster will want to own multiple accounts, registered using false credentials to take advantage of the offers and bonuses the gambling sites are offering. If you are found guilty of this offense, you could be charged with gambling fraud in California.
- Bonus Abuse
Again, online gambling sites offer several promotional bonuses and rewards that are meant to benefit those who register and play on their websites. You can, for instance, get a signup bonus offer immediately after signing up and creating an account in your preferred gaming site. Other sites offer bonuses and rewards after a player makes their first deposit. While these bonuses are genuinely meant to benefit a particular group of players, some players take advantage of such opportunities to gain more leverage than they should. It can, for instance, be achieved by opening several accounts. When this is done to take advantage of the bonuses, a person can be charged with gambling fraud.
This, too, involves the opening of several accounts to take advantage of a gaming site. Some gamblers open and run multiple accounts under different names so that they can maximize their bonuses and winnings by losing intentionally. If you are playing in a casino site that offers several free bets, price boosts with high stakes, and casino bonuses, you stand to gain more if you have several accounts on the same site. However, this is illegal as these bonuses and offers are meant to benefit one genuine player at a time. Creating an account using another person’s name is considered fraud. Many gamers who commit this offense open accounts in their close relatives’ names, and use their credit cards to make payments into those accounts.
- Chip Dumping
Chip dumping is a trick used mainly in poker games, to sway the outcome of a game. Chip dumping occurs when a person uses multiple accounts in a particular game to cheat against or in favor of an opponent or player. It also occurs when a player willingly loses their chips to another player in the game for their advantage. Cheating in poker to gain a monetary advantage over another player is another form of gambling fraud.
- Top-up Fraud
Online casinos expect a player to make a top-up into their account to start playing for real money. However, when this is done using another person’s information from a stolen or fake credit card, then the person could be charged with gambling fraud. Gambling is an expensive affair, and fraudsters would want to take advantage of what it offers without spending a dime of their own money. That is why some result in defrauding others through credit card fraud so that they can finance their gambling activities.
- Top-up Abuse
Top-up abuse happens mostly with phone top-ups, which are allowed by most online gaming platforms. Fraudsters can take advantage of it to trick unsuspecting people into making top-ups into their gaming accounts. When this happens, a person ends up losing a lot of money, all of which end up in the hands of a gambling fraudster. This is a crime that is committed by gamblers who want to enjoy their gaming activities but are unwilling to spend their own money on it.
A chargeback is usually a request by a gambler to their credit card provider or bank to reverse a top-up amount they made to a gambling site. As innocent as this request looks, it qualifies as a gambling fraud because the refund is made at the expense of the gambling site. Some chargebacks are legally established, but if they are done continuously and with a hidden motive, they can be considered as fraud and punished as so.
Penalties for California Gambling Fraud
Just like in other fraud crimes, penalties for gambling fraud depend on the amount of money that has been illegally obtained from a victim. In California, any fraud offense that involves money or property worth $950 or more is convicted as a wobbler. It means that the crime can be sentenced either as a misdemeanor or a felony. In most of these cases, it is the prosecutor who decides on how to charge the crime. However, penalties are decided by the judge. The judge can also choose to convict the offender with a felony offense. This decision is even after the prosecutor brought up misdemeanor charges.
After conviction, the defendant is allowed by law to petition the court's decision to have their penalties reduced.
If the offender gets a felony conviction, several penalties will be given, including a ban to either acquire or own a firearm. Other penalties include jail terms, hefty fines, and felony probation with strict conditions such as not committing another offense while on probation. The felony probation will only be given once the offender has served part of their jail time, and then the rest is served in the community. It could last for between three and five years, during which the defendant will be expected to meet and report to an officer regularly.
As provided under California Realignment Program, the offender facing a felony conviction could serve either 16 months, 2, or 3 years in jail. If you are a first-offender, you will be required to pay a fine of not more than $5,000. But for offenders facing a second or more conviction, the penalty will go up to a maximum of $10,000.
If, on the other hand, the amount of money that was involved in the gambling fraud offense was below $950, the crime will be indicted as a misdemeanor in California. The penalties the offender is likely to get for the misdemeanor offense will be:
- Misdemeanor probation also called an informal or summary probation. It is a jail alternative for offenders who are considered low-risk. When an offender is granted misdemeanor probation, they may serve most of their entire sentences out there, doing controlled community work. There are probation conditions to adhere to as well, including a need to find permanent employment and a requirement of not getting involved in any crime
- Fines of not more than $1,000
- Jail time for not more than six months
If the offender is not a citizen of the U.S, they could face additional penalties if found guilty of gambling fraud. Some of these penalties may include restrictions on their occupational and professional permits as well as restraining orders.
The good thing is that gambling fraud is not a violent crime, and so, it does not qualify as a California Three Strike offense. It, therefore, means that even if the offender is facing a second or third felony conviction for gambling fraud, they will not be required to serve twice their jail term as provided for under California's Three Strikes law.
Possible Legal Defenses for California Gambling Fraud
Even though California gambling fraud is not a Three Strikes offense, its penalties are still very severe. They could significantly affect the offender’s life. For that reason, it is advisable to fight the charges you are facing for them to be dropped or reduced to less severe charges. It could work if you have the best legal defense by your side. An experienced attorney will know how best to fight gambling fraud charges, however severe they seem. The good thing is that there are several defense strategies that such an attorney can use in your case. Some of these are:
Lack of Fraudulent Intent
Lack of fraudulent intent is a very effective defense strategy that can be used for most fraud crimes. The main requirement for such offenses is that the defendant acted with fraudulent intent. If this was not your motive, then you will not be guilty of gambling fraud. Some people play tricks on their friends in gambling just for fun. If this was what happened in your case, then the court will not find you guilty of this offense, and your charges could be dropped.
Right of Speech
The right of speech is a strategy that could be used in defense of a person who has been charged with gambling fraud for fortune-telling or any other similar activity. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution allows everyone in the country to express themselves freely without any intimidation. The court will not convict you with fortune-telling charges if you argue that you were merely expressing yourself
There are many instances when the police use overbearing methods to get information from alleged criminals. Some of these tactics are illegal, and any evidence gathered in this manner may not be acceptable in a criminal court. The police may, for instance, make a false promise to be lenient to a defendant if they confessed to gambling fraud. Sometimes a threat to greater punishment or harm could cause a person to make a confession they would not have made in a different situation.
Entrapment as a strategy can be used if the law enforcement officers made you commit the offense so that they can catch you in the act. Entrapment happens mostly when the police are suspicious that a person is into gambling fraud but do not have enough evidence to make an arrest. The police may have laid a trap for you so that you will be caught in the act of defrauding others or a gambling casino. If your attorney can convince the court that you could not have committed the offense, were it not for the laid trap, you may be set free.
Find a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
Gambling fraud is a grave offense that could leave you paying hefty fines and serving a jail term. Fighting your charges is the only way you can avoid the substantial penalties that are associated with this offense. The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney offers quality and reliable legal services you can count on if you are facing gambling charges in Los Angeles. Through our excellent services, we could have the court reduce or drop your charges, depending on the nature of your case. Call us at 310-564-2605 and let us take you through the legal process.