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Economy & Business

Meadows Casino Fined $40,000 For Allowing Compulsive Gamblers To Play Slots, Table Games

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Flickr user Rob Boudon
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The operators of southwestern Pennsylvania’s two casinos have both been fined by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control board.

Washington Trotting Association, which operates the Meadows Casino in Washington County, was fined $40,000 after allowing two men who have placed themselves on the state’s self-exclusion list to access the casino and gamble at table games and slot machines.

Doug Harbach is communications director of the Gaming Control Board and said more than 9,700 people have placed themselves on the self-exclusion list.

“These individuals believe they have a problem controlling their spending at the casinos and wish to come to the board and ask to be banned from all 12 of the casinos in Pennsylvania,” he said.

Harbach could not say precisely how the casino discovered that each person had visited, but he said typically casinos will find out if a staff member recognizes the person or if they use a casino-specific rewards card that has their name attached to it.

In this case, the Meadows reported to the Gaming Control Board that the two individuals had gambled at the casino, and also that they received promotional material from the casino which enticed them to gamble.

“The Meadows Casino understands the seriousness of compulsive gambling and has in place a variety of programs to help minimize its impact on consumers,” said Meadows spokesman Kevin Brogan in an email statement. “We have taken additional measures in an effort to prevent future occurrences at our facility.”

Jason Snyder is policy and communications director for the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs and said compulsive gambling affects about 280,000 Pennsylvanians. He said while that is far fewer than the number of Pennsylvanians affected by drug and alcohol addiction, the compulsion can be equally devastating.

“Financially it can wipe out an individual, a family. It destroys relationships, destroys marriages," Snyder said. “Some warning signs of a gambling addiction or compulsive gambling include denying there’s a problem, lying about where the money is going, borrowing money to gamble or to pay off debts, missing work to gamble, losing touch with friends and family and searching for that ‘high’ that comes with gambling."

Josh Ercole, Deputy Director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of Pennsylvania said the medical community first began to recognize compulsive gambling as an addiction in the early 1970s. In 2013, pathological gambling was reclassified from an impulse control disorder to a substance use disorder in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.

“The brain of a gambler looks similar to the brain of a substance abuser (when scanned),” Ercole said.

In 2015, the state’s Gambling Helpline received nearly 1,700 calls from people seeking help with a gambling addiction, either for themselves or for a loved one. In a department of drug and alcohol program report released last month, slot machines were identified as the most problematic type of gambling, followed by lottery and scratch-off tickets.

Ercole said with nearly 10,000 people on the Gaming Control Board’s self-exclusion, it is becoming more and more difficult for casinos to recognize them and escort them off the premises.

Holdings Acquisition Co., which operates Rivers Casino on the North Shore, is facing a much smaller fine of $7,500. It's being cited for allowing a table games dealer to work for 16 days after the Gaming Control Board notified the casino that the individual’s Gaming Employee Permit had not been renewed.

Again, Harbach could not provide details but said the board will sometimes decide not to review a permit because of an employee’s criminal record or mismanagement of personal finances.

“For example they might have taxes in arrears,” he said. “It might be an individual who works around a lot of money, like a dealer or someone in a count room, and the board will look at that and make a decision on whether or not that individual should not have the privilege of working in a casino because of these issues.”

Rivers spokesperson Emily Adams said in an email statement, “We respect the decision of the Gaming Board.”

Two other casinos in Pennsylvania are also facing fines.

SugarHouse HSP Gaming operates SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia and must pay $48,000 for allowing two self-excluded individuals and two board-excluded individuals to gamble. Board exclusion applies to people who are known to cheat and whose presence, according to Harbach, would “damage the integrity of gaming” at a casino.

Mountainview Thoroughbred Racing Association, which operates Hollywood Casino in Dauphin County, has been fined $7,500 for allowing an 18-year-old to gamble at slot machines. Individuals must be 21 years old to legally gamble at casinos in Pennsylvania, and 18 years old to bet on horse races.

Those who believe they or a loved one have a gambling problem can call the state’s helpline at 1-877-565-2112.