The list started on Jan. 27, 2010, with the name of Shoumin Chai, who had been caught accessing other patrons’ ATM accounts at the Parx Casino.
And she has since been joined by 808 others on the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board’s Involuntary Exclusion List, most recently on Dec. 18, after the board added nine more with casino-related offenses such as cheating, theft, leaving children unattended in vehicles, and even lighting a trash can on fire.
Pennsylvania’s bigger Voluntary Self-Exclusion List has gotten more publicity over the years as a potentially helpful means for problem gamblers to address their addiction by subjecting themselves to criminal trespass if caught within a casino.
But as the name implies, no one enrolls themselves on the Involuntary Exclusion List. The 648 men and 161 women placed on it over the past decade have done something that the gaming board determined to be worth barring them from casinos and posting their names and photos on its website for anyone to see — especially the security staff of the 12 casinos.
List has criminals, cheaters, bad parents, and more
“The list consists of career or professional offenders, cheats and other individuals whose presence in a licensed facility would be inimical to the interest of the Commonwealth or of licensed gaming therein, or both,” the board’s website states.
Individuals receive advance notice that they are being placed on the Involuntary Exclusion List and are given a chance to appear at a hearing to argue against it. They can also apply to be removed from the list after five years on it.
Data provided by the board indicate more than half of the offenders are placed on the list for either theft (213) or cheating (205). The next most common violations have been:
- Child endangerment (93)
- Underage (85)
- Disorderly conduct (42)
- Helping those underage (35)
- Counterfeit currency (30)
- Controlled substance (19)
- Criminal activity (17)
- Assault (15)
- Trespass (10)
- Harassment (10)
The biggest years for growth of the list were in 2016 (143 additions) and 2017 (146), while there has been a recent dropoff to just 77 additions this year.
Policy on publicizing underage gamblers changed
Board spokesman Doug Harbach said the reduction had to do with a change in policy toward those caught as casino patrons before reaching age 21. They once went on the Involuntary Exclusion List, but no longer, after the agency’s recognition that posting their information publicly for the underage violations could cause them excessive harm.
“This led to circumstances in which background [checks] being undertaken years later on young people who were seeking employment or trying to enter the military may have unfair negative effects for their ‘youthful indiscretion,’” Harbach wrote in an email. “The board, therefore, decided the negatives outweighed the positives and stopped placing these persons on the list.”
He noted one reason the list otherwise grew from small numbers in the casino industry’s early years was the addition of table games, which present more opportunity for cheating than slot machines.
In its Dec. 18 actions, the board added two individuals on the list who were caught texting to one another while at a poker table at Rivers Philadelphia, exchanging information about their cards to gain advantage over other players.
Two others were added after they were found at the same casino to be switching cards with one another at a table game called High Card Flush to try to better their hands.
The table games have a “skill element” that, used in the wrong way, may jeopardize the goal of casino operators and the board in assuring integrity in the state’s gaming industry, Harbach said.
Among the most common ploys of cheaters is surreptitiously adjusting a wager at a table once they know the outcome of a game such as blackjack, roulette, or craps. Dealers receive training on how to spot such infractions, though some may elude their eyes.
Security personnel are supposed to be vigilant
It is up to casino security personnel to keep such individuals already on the list from entering in the first place.
“As with the Voluntary Self-Exclusion List, many individuals on the involuntary list are recognized by personnel, or [their] name may come up when cross-checked when the individual attempts to cash out,” Harbach said. “Certainly, the [involuntary] list is much smaller than the voluntary list, so that alone could make it easier to identify a person.”
Pennsylvania’s gaming industry has moved onto the internet over the past year in the form of both sports betting and online casino games. Those haven’t led to any new forms of additions to the list — yet. It could be harder to cheat a computer than humans running a game, after all, and the new technology does eliminate that too-frequent occurrence of a parent indulging in gambling while leaving his child in a car in the casino’s garage.
But it’s a little early to say what else could go wrong.
“Any increase in the number of players will likely broaden the number of individuals who will conduct themselves in a manner in which their participation in gambling is not welcome,” Harbach acknowledged. “The manner in which operators stop these persons from playing internet-based games will entail different ways to identify them given the non-face-to-face element of these games.”
Image by Shutterstock.com