Casino licensing renewal hearings before the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board are not prone to creating a lot of surprising news, amid the declarations of their positive economic benefits and community contributions from both the operators and their supporters.
At a hearing this week, though, Rivers Casino Philadelphia officials mentioned the installation of metal detectors in a way that seemed to surprise some on the gaming board, even if it might be common knowledge among recent patrons of the casino.
While it is required at the 16 casinos in Pennsylvania for anyone entering to pass a staffed security checkpoint — where they may be checked for age verification or for status on state exclusion lists prohibiting their entry — the type of weapons checks now standard at stadiums and government buildings are not common for gaming facilities. Both Rivers Philadelphia and Valley Forge Casino Resort had local public input hearings this week on their periodic license renewals, and the mention of use of metal detectors at Rivers was one of the few items that stood out. The devices were installed in February.
A ‘proactive’ safety measure
Gaming board Chairwoman Denise Smyler, who praised Rivers for the focus on safety, was curious about whether any specific incidents prompted the installation. But casino officials said that was not the case.
“We got a lot of feedback from guests about perceptions of safety in the area,” General Manager Justin Moore said. “We found it to be a proactive measure. If something could deter a bad guy from coming into the casino with a weapon, then it’s 100 percent worth doing.”
There was much discussion at the hearing held at Philadelphia’s SEPTA headquarters that the area around the casino in the city’s Fishtown neighborhood was largely blighted before the 2010 opening of the casino, then known as Sugarhouse. Representatives of both the casino and community groups credited the casino as helping to revive the neighborhood in ensuing years.
Moore estimated that 80% of the comments he has heard from patrons about the metal detectors has been positive, with the most common complaint coming from smokers who have to leave the gaming floor under a current no-smoking policy and then be checked again upon reentry. Most Pennsylvania casinos allow smoking, but Moore said COVID precautions have the casino maintaining a ban on indoor smoking for the time being.
At Rivers Pittsburgh, the casino’s sister property also owned by Rush Street Gaming, no metal detectors are apparent and smoking is permitted on a section of the gaming floor.
Metal detectors are not normally in use in Las Vegas casinos, even after the horrific mass shooting of Oct. 1, 2017, in which a Mandalay Bay patron had some 20 guns in his room at the time he shot and killed 60 people from his 32nd floor suite. In a subsequent article published by Wired, Westgate Las Vegas Resort and Casino Chief Operating Officer Mark Waltrip noted how a discreet weapon-sensing radar scanner was being tested there, but the type of bulky detectors in use in other public spaces did not mesh well with the atmosphere sought by casinos.
“People come to Vegas because it’s the fun capital of the world,” he said. “If they show up at their resort and they have to line up for metal detectors, or get wanded down, or walk through a gauntlet of security guards carrying rifles and pistols — that’s not going to make them feel comfortable. It’s going to ruin their experience.”
No action was taken by the gaming board on the license renewals of Rivers and Valley Forge, which are required every five years. Formal votes will come at a future monthly meeting of the board in Harrisburg.