The most common violation of state regulations by Pennsylvania casinos is allowing underage gamblers onto their gaming floors, and their challenge in thwarting those under 21 was highlighted at a recent state gaming board meeting.
The Mohegan Sun Pococo was fined $110k by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board at its Oct. 30 hearing for multiple incidents months ago involving gamblers younger than 21.
The most serious involved a young woman who entered the Wilkes-Barre casino seven times from Dec. 30, 2018, to Jan. 5, 2019, and obtained alcohol 11 times and played 194 slot machines and two table games during 52 hours spent gambling, according to a consent agreement between the board and casino. She also was issued three player cards and conducted eight cage transactions.
The problem: The violator was using the ID of another individual whom she closely resembled, in the eyes of casino staff who carded her over 30 different times during that week, claimed Mohegan Sun president and general manager Tony Carlucci.
Casino: Violator was carded 31 different times
“We’re not making excuses – we have to go forward and figure out how we’re going to fix this – but 31 different employees carded this particular minor, and 31 different employees felt she looked enough like that person on that ID that they let the person go,” Carlucci told the board.
The $110k fine also covered a couple of other instances in which Mohegan Sun security guards failed to card individuals under 21, or failed to stop them when their ID indicated they were under 21. Casino officials said they took disciplinary action in those cases, including dismissing security guards involved.
Gaming board data indicate the $110k fine was the 10th time Mohegan Sun has been cited for allowing underage gambling, as part of 80 such enforcement actions against all casinos for the infraction since 2006.
The board has sanctioned casinos for underage gambling more than twice as often as any other violation. The next most common violations have been 35 cases of allowing self-excluded individuals to gamble and 33 violations of table games regulations.
The 80 fines for underage gambling have added up to $3,229,000, with Hollywood Casino and Wind Creek Bethlehem joining Mohegan Sun as the most frequent violators with 10 monetary penalties each.
Board says underage gambling is a big negative
When asked to address the proportionally high number of such enforcement actions, gaming board spokesman Doug Harbach said in an email: “The board understood at the outset of legalized gambling that the issue of underage gambling would have one of the most negative effects on how citizens view the gaming industry, an individual casino and society.
“Therefore, the board, from its establishment, made thwarting underage gambling a high priority in its oversight work of the Pennsylvania casino industry. The top deterrent available to the board is through enforcement actions with casinos who permit this to occur.”
Still, in questioning their chief enforcement counsel, Cyrus Pitre, board members showed some sympathy for the challenges faced by Mohegan Sun and others. He was asked how distinctions can be drawn between two individuals similar in appearance, if IDs are properly checked.
Pitre said that in the case being discussed, there was a difference in eye color, hair and height by 3 inches between the violator and what was shown on the ID she used. He said several questions might have resulted in tripping up the individual. It’s different from when sisters a couple years apart use one another’s ID, which might be harder to detect and won’t necessarily lead to a fine if the casino tries its best, he said.
“In my opinion, this is pretty straightforward,” Pitre said of Mohegan Sun’s failure.
Mohegan Sun officials said they have recognized the seriousness of the issue with various steps, including questioning of patrons entering the casino who appear to be 25 or younger, in addition to checking their ID. As examples, Carlucci said, they might be asked for their zodiac sign or the name of a landmark near their listed address, such as a pizzeria.
“We’re trying to get as unique as possible,” he said.
Mohegan Sun turned away 1,400 this year for age
Ron Chrzan, Mohegan Sun’s director of compliance, said the casino is scanning about 300k IDs a year, or 18% of those who enter — up from 11% in 2016. Thus far in 2019 it has turned away nearly 1,400 individuals trying to enter who either were underage or lacked proper identification to prove being 21.
Officials also said Mohegan Sun’s security staff have begun alerting the casino’s surveillance team when such individuals are turned away from one entry point, so they can then be tracked to make sure they don’t succeed in making a similar attempt at a different entrance.
“We stop a lot more people than the property has ever done before,” said Carlucci, who also noted a new security director is starting in January who has been a state police sergeant and will bring new experience and ideas.
Harbach said the penalties issued for such violations vary with each instance, and in some cases the staff and board determine a warning or no action is needed. In most cases, it is the casino’s staff itself — such as a bartender or cashier — who identify an underage gambler has made it beyond initial security checkpoints and onto the floor illegally.
“Members of our casino compliance team can certainly approach someone they believe could be underage,” he said, but “the majority of instances are self-reported by the casino.”
The violators are typically banned by the casino thereafter, and sometimes charged with summary offenses by police.
“Our agency believes the casinos should and do take access of underagers on the gaming floor very seriously and are continually updating their tools and procedures to thwart it,” Harbach said.