The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board returned Wednesday to addressing two of the more vexing issues it has repeatedly confronted casinos about: their failure to keep out admitted compulsive gamblers or prevent patrons from putting their unattended children at risk.
At its monthly meeting, the board levied fines against both Wind Creek Bethlehem and Hollywood Casino at Penn National for practices that enabled individuals on the state’s voluntary self-exclusion list to gamble. In Wind Creek’s case, the board fined the casino $20,000, or twice the amount the PGCB’s Office of Enforcement Counsel staff first proposed at a March meeting, when the board rejected the $10,000 as inadequate.
The higher fine, accepted by Wind Creek under a consent agreement, stems from a January 2021 incident in which an individual who had placed themselves on the state’s voluntary self-exclusion list as a problem gambler was able to play mini-baccarat for 73 hours over a period of three-plus days.
It is somewhat common for individuals on the exclusion list, when they can’t help themselves, to enter casinos even though they are subject to citation for trespassing if caught and any winnings they have can be confiscated. They can generally avoid detection because patrons — other than those in their 20s — aren’t expected to show an ID when entering casinos.
In the case of the Wind Creek violation, however, incredulous board members at the March meeting found it unacceptable that three-plus days passed before anyone on the casino’s staff took note that a patron consistently present might be someone with an acknowledged problem.
Under the Hollywood Penn National consent agreement, a lesser fine of $7,500 was imposed due to an individual on the self-exclusion list being able to cash a $100 check from a casino cashier in order to have funds for gaming.
Before conducting transactions, cashiers are supposed to confirm by computer whether customers are on the state’s self-exclusion list. While a first cashier did not do that and cashed the check, the gambler tried to obtain another $100 and was identified as on the list by a second cashier. The customer was charged with trespassing by state police on site and escorted out of the casino.
Wind Creek describes efforts to safeguard minors
In addition to the PGCB maintaining the voluntary self-exclusion list for those recognizing their gambling problems, it has an involuntary exclusion list for those displaying some sort of misconduct related to gaming. Multiple individuals are added to the list every month, including those who have displayed a willingness to put their children at risk by leaving them unattended while gambling — typically in parked cars, but also in hotel rooms.
The board added to the list Wednesday two such individuals: a woman who left a child unattended for 36 minutes at the Mohegan Sun Pocono bus lobby while she gambled, and a mother who left her 10-year-old unattended in Wind Creek’s hotel in the middle of the night for more than two hours while gambling.
In a public presentation that was separate from the latter board action but related to the general problem, Wind Creek officials offered board members a general overview of their efforts to prevent minors from being placed at risk on their property. The board has directed its Office of Enforcement Counsel to work with casinos on proactive action they can take to reduce the number of such incidents.
Michael Magazzu, Wind Creek’s executive director of compliance and risk management, said the occurrences at the Bethlehem property have been greatly reduced in 2022 as a result of increased signage, third-party security patrols, wider staff training, and other steps.
Board members offered some credit to Wind Creek for its efforts, but at the same time advised that it could do more — such as changing signs that say violators “may be prosecuted” for leaving unattended children at risk to “will be prosecuted.” One board member, Sean Logan, who has been the most vocal on the issue in the past, went so far as to accuse the casino of “dancing around the issue” unless it gets more forceful in its language and warnings to its customers.
The Wind Creek officials said they would take the board’s comments under consideration for possible adjustments.