Since Pennsylvania’s first casino opened in 2006, the issue of underage gambling in them has been one of the problems most commonly prompting enforcement actions by the state gaming board.
Rarely, however, has the regulator dealt with a situation like that at Mount Airy Casino Resort, where recent slot play by minors as young as 11 and 13 prompted an unusually large $160,000 fine Wednesday. By state law, no one under 21 is allowed to gamble in a casino, with the properties obligated to do everything possible to keep out underage individuals.
At its monthly meeting, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board also slapped Mount Airy with a $100,825 fine for failure to file license renewal applications on time. It was the presence and activities of the youngsters on its gaming floor, however, that garnered more attention from the board members, with one calling it “egregious and extreme.”
Two incidents had parents helping minors
The gaming board’s legal staff described the multiple underage violations from three separate incidents that occurred between June 2021 and April 2022, which Mount Airy acknowledged the details of in a consent agreement.
In one instance, an 11-year-old girl entered the property with her parents through the bus lobby. Her father put a $100 bill into a slot machine and allowed her to play the machine and then to print out a voucher and take it to other machines to play.
“The minor was on the gaming floor for approximately two hours and actively played slot machines for 30 minutes combined,” the board’s counsel reported.
On another day, a pair of 13-year-old twins entered a casino restaurant with their mother, then joined her on the gaming floor. The mother encouraged them to help her pull the lever on a slot machine. The two minors were on the gaming floor for 23 minutes and took part in 21 spins of the slot machine.
On both occasions, the board’s staff reported, numerous security personnel and other employees came near the youngsters and their parents without questioning the presence of the minors.
The other violation tied to the consent order came from an 18-year-old who was able to get through a security checkpoint unchallenged and played two slot machines for several minutes.
In all of the instances, security personnel eventually identified the problems, with the 18-year-old and the parents of the children involved being evicted and banned and facing criminal charges.
Mount Airy has blocked many underage, but …
Mount Airy officials present at the meeting did not deny the seriousness of the incidents and said they are intensifying training to prevent them from reoccurring, but they also said they are challenged by the numerous efforts of underage individuals to enter the property.
Lianne Asbury, the casino’s executive director of security, described the 11-year-old who was involved as “5-foot-7 with womanly features” by way of partial explanation for what occurred, but she admitted “nothing takes away from the fact that the child was 11 years old.” Security staff , she said, are supposed to check IDs for anyone who appears 30 or younger.
Asbury seemed to astonish board members and staff by citing data that some 327,000 underage individuals since 2009 have been turned away when trying to enter the property illegally.
“It’s a little shocking to me,” board member Mark Mustio said of the data.
“We have several colleges within the area,” Asbury said as part of her explanation.
While punitive actions were taken against security officers who did nothing to prevent the minors access in the cases identified, she said the casino is not helped by the difficulty it has had hiring new security staff in the current employment climate. Prospective employees must go through an extensive board licensing application process that includes documentation of their annual tax filings with the Internal Revenue Service.
“It’s just a lengthy process when you have individuals looking to get in the door and start working tomorrow to pay the bills,” Asbury said, and some of those prospective hires end up taking jobs elsewhere instead of waiting.
Still, with the size of the fine and their comments, the board members let it be known that nothing should justify youngsters obtaining a chance to gamble within a casino.
“We express our extreme disappointment in Mount Airy with these situations,” said Chairwoman Denise Smyler, stressing that in her mind there is no 11-year-old who could appear to be 30 or older. “There are a lot of things you can do to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
Pilot Travel Center also fined
The $100,825 fine imposed on Mount Airy through a second consent agreement attracted less controversy and discussion, but it was nonetheless also a stiff penalty by the gaming board’s standards.
It stemmed from the casino’s failure to file on time for a total of 32 corporate or individual license renewal applications. The failure to gain relicensing of one individual also meant Mount Airy did not meet one of the mandated conditions of its slot machine license.
Under the consent agreement, Mount Airy has committed to improve its internal controls and hire a director of compliance responsible for avoiding such errors.
The gaming board issued a third fine as well, for $20,000 against Pilot Travel Center and PFJ Southeast LLC, which have video gaming terminal operations at truck stops in the state. The fine was for their failure to notify the regulator about a change of ownership, as required, and failure to have a principal owner licensed.
Rivers Pittsburgh opening its hotel
Also at the meeting, Rivers Casino Pittsburgh obtained approval for another five-year license from the board, with the casino’s officials giving a presentation that included announcement of the planned opening of the property’s new hotel later in the day.
Casino General Manager Bud Green reported that the 210-room Landing Hotel connected to the casino on Pittsburgh’s North Shore had been under planning and development for many years and was finally ready to receive guests.
“It’s another amenity for our guests [in order to] drive traffic not just from Pittsburgh but regionally,” he said. “Just based on the demand for Steelers weekends, we can see it’s going to be a very popular place to stay when the Steelers are playing at home.”
— WTAE-TV Pittsburgh (@WTAE) January 25, 2017
The riverfront casino is within walking distance of both the Steelers and Pirates venues. The board raised no issues to question renewal of the license for the casino, which is owned by Rush Street Gaming along with its sister Rivers Casino in Philadelphia.
The next of the state’s casinos up for license renewal hearings is its smallest, Lady Luck Casino Nemacolin. The board announced it will hold a hearing at 10:30 a.m. Oct. 26 at the Wharton Township Building, 114 Elliottsville Road, Farmington, for the public to offer comments, which may also be made in writing through the board’s website or by email.