The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board fined three casino operators a total of $284,000 Wednesday for violating state regulations, and its members issued harsh words for handling of incidents by two other casinos.
The actions came at an unusually lengthy monthly meeting of the state regulatory agency — again held virtually due to coronavirus concerns — where it also granted approval to two requests from casino companies.
In one approval, Harrah’s Philadelphia was authorized to reduce its number of slot machines from 2,263 to 1,700. The casino stated the higher number was no longer optimal in the face of increased competition and in serving its customers with better social distancing, and it expects no loss of revenue or staffing from removing some of its older, under-utilized machines.
Penn National Gaming’s Hollywood York mini-casino, meanwhile, was awarded its certificate to provide table games. Casino officials outlined plans for an early August opening of the property in former Sears space on the ground floor of the York Galleria, which they said would have 24 table games to go along with 500 slot machines and a Barstool-branded sportsbook.
As has been the case with casinos throughout the state rebuilding their operations as COVID-19 -related restrictions have been lifted, the Hollywood York representatives noted that recruiting employees to fill more than 100 available dealer positions has been a major challenge. They do not expect it to interfere, however, with their opening of what will be the state’s second mini-casino and 15th gaming venue overall.
Hollywood Casino must pay $120,000 in penalties
While the gaming board was fine with the mini-casino plans, it fined Penn National’s flagship Hollywood Casino in Dauphin County $70,000 for its handling of an incident involving an intoxicated patron and $50,000 for actions by employees that helped outside companies avoid certain licensing requirements.
The casino entered consent agreements with the gaming board in which it did not dispute the facts or fines.
In the intoxication case, a female patron at Hollywood Casino consumed at least three drinks and was seen falling down and bumping into other patrons while playing slot machines. When assessed by a security supervisor, however, she was deemed suitable to continue gambling.
Upon leaving the facility, according to the consent agreement, the patron’s vehicle struck five other parked cars and she continued driving despite the car having only three functioning wheels, until stopped by police.
In the licensing matter in which Hollywood Casino was found at fault, two of its employees — since dismissed — were found by an internal audit to have assisted outside companies in efforts to under-report to the gaming board the amount of money they received for doing work at the casino. When contracts by companies meet a certain threshold, such as doing $100,000 in work at Pennsylvania casinos within a 12-month period, it can subject them to certain fee and licensing requirements they might otherwise avoid. The companies involved in work at Hollywood Casino were able to doctor payments to remain under the threshold.
Boyd to pay $150,000 fine
The biggest fine of the day, $150,000, was issued against Boyd Gaming Corp., owner of Valley Forge Casino Resort, for its failure to disclose information to the board regarding allegations against one of its executives who resigned, whom the company had listed as one of its licensed principals.
Before his resignation, that executive had been under investigation by Boyd’s own board concerning allegations he had been in an inappropriate sexual relationship with one of the company’s female executives. The consent agreement noted that due to the individual being in possession of a state license, Boyd has an obligation to report such misconduct allegations to state regulators when the executive leaves the company. Boyd was faulted for failing to do so.
Valley Forge let underage gambler slip through
The smallest of the fines, for $14,000, was slapped on Valley Forge Casino Resort for failing to prevent a 20-year-old from getting onto the gaming floor to play blackjack.
The consent agreement stated the individual was able to use a false ID to elude detection by security personnel at the casino entrance, although they should have been able to see that his appearance and the one on the ID did not match.
Unattended kids a concern for Rivers Philadelphia
In a consent agreement that did not provide monetary penalty but provoked considerable new discussion on top of that from a prior meeting, Rivers Casino Philadelphia officials pledged to increase their vigilance in preventing casino patrons from leaving children unattended in their parked cars while they gamble inside.
The concerns were highlighted by one incident when a patron left his two small children, ages 2 and 4, inside the car for a half-hour on a 93-degree day. A second patron reported seeing the children in the car, and security staff tracked down the car’s owner by surveillance cameras before the children came to any harm, but the incident prompted investigation by the gaming board. The incident was described in detail — and with some alarm expressed by the board — at a February meeting when the patron was placed on Pennsylvania’s involuntary exclusion list to bar him from future casino visits.
The consent agreement calls for Rivers Philadelphia to increase surveillance of parking areas, conduct thorough documentation of its handling of such incidents, post more signage warning patrons against the transgression, and take other steps. Board members once more expressed displeasure with how Rivers Philadelphia handled the prior incident and raised concerns about any reoccurence.
“Everything that can be done should be done,” said board Chairman David Barasch. “Over the last couple of years your casino has been responsible for 25 percent of all unattended child issues that have come before this board. There’s clearly a particular problem. … This is not something you want to be at the top of the pack for.”
Presque Isle faulted over handling of customer
In a case involving Presque Isle Downs & Casino, the board indicated its displeasure with a consent agreement proposed by its staff that involved a $25,000 fine against the casino. Board members rejected it after complaining it lacked anything compelling Presque Isle to avoid repeating faulty judgment.
The proposed fine would have been the first action against a casino for violating health and safety protocols tied to coronavirus prevention. The consent agreement stated that a Presque Isle patron was seen drinking on the gaming floor while playing craps, at a time when restrictions were in effect mandating that alcohol could only be consumed while having a sit-down meal.
This same patron was also unruly while gambling and became argumentative with both casino staff and state police stationed at the casino. The consent agreement stated he was permitted to continue playing, however, after placing a call to Kevin O’Sullivan, the casino’s general manager, to complain about how he was being treated.
Participating in the gaming board’s remote meeting, O’Sullivan explained that the patron was a frequent customer who owns horses that race at Presque Isle and had a large party of 15 with him on the night in question. O’Sullivan said he felt the patron was capable of calming his behavior and conforming with policies, which would be better than evicting him.
That approach disturbed several board members, who expressed concern that an abusive guest had received preferential treatment.
“Any average citizen would have been thrown out of the casino,” Barasch suggested. “It looks to me like the rules were bent for somebody, and it looks like terrible precedent” in terms of how the staff should handle disruptive patrons in the future.
While the consent agreement containing the $25,000 fine for the incident was rejected, it was unclear what might take place subsequently in terms of modified action against Presque Isle.
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