Bethlehem Press

Thursday, June 27, 2019

CCasinos frustrated with underage gamblers

Monday, February 6, 2017 by Bruce Frassinelli Special to the Bethlehem Press in Opinion

Underage youngsters are about 15 percent more likely to become addicted gamblers than the general population, according to a survey on compulsive gambling.

As a result, it is not surprising that teens and 20-year-olds are constantly testing the local casinos’ security systems with sophisticated fake IDs.

The Sands Hotel and Casino in Bethlehem, for example, was fined $36,000 recently after patrons under 21 were caught gambling on the casino floor in three separate incidents.

This marks the sixth time that the Sands has been fined for such violations, resulting in payments of $341,000 to the state since it opened nearly eight years ago.

This violation was one of three cited by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board,which levied $165,000 in total fines against the casinos.

Mount Airy Hotel and Casino near Mount Pocono was fined $40,000 in 2015 for three incidents of underaged gambling. In 2010, gaming officials levied a record $100,000 fine against Mount Airy for allowing underage gamblers on the casino floor and for failing to report some of the incidents to the state. Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs near Wilkes-Barre was fined $97,500 in 2008 and 2009 for multiple violations involving underage gamblers

In Atlantic City, each month about 30,000 underage young men and women are stopped or caught on the casino floors. During the holidays, I took my granddaughter, who turned 21 on Dec. 6, to Harrah’s in Atlantic City. Unlike the Sands, where patrons must enter a security-guarded portal, this casino has no security officers at the door, but those who look “under 40” are carded at table games or on the casino floor or if they are found playing a slot machine.

I first took my granddaughter to the craps table where she was carded immediately. Later, however, when I showed her what slot machines were all about, she played for about 15 minutes before a security officer appeared seeking ID.

One thing we would recommend straight away is to make penalties for violating casino admission policies much stronger. Right now, an underaged violator would pay a $200 to $1,000 fine for a first offense and $500 to $1,500 for subsequent violations, along with the performance of up to 40 hours of community service.

We suggest the fines be doubled, maybe even tripled, and the violator’s driver’s license be suspended for a year, even longer for subsequent offenses.

Young people today are the first generation to grow up with video games, computers and in an environment where some form of gambling has been legal their entire life, making them particularly vulnerable to its allure, according to Repeal the Deal, a Massachusetts-based activist group hoping to get rid of casino gambling in that commonwealth.

Well, of course, we know that this is never going to happen. That horse has been out of the barn a long time, and there is no way it will be corralled, because states have become too reliant on the taxes that casinos generate each year.

But public officials should not underestimate the effects that casinos have on underage players. Studies say that teenagers have a gambling problem at a rate of two to three times higher than the general population.

Some states have done studies which are eye-popping. Delaware, for example, found that one-third of eighth- and 11th-graders in this casino state had gambled in the past year. Those who did were two to three times more likely than the rest of the population to smoke, use illegal drugs, binge drink and steal.

An Illinois study revealed that 80 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds said they had gambled in the past 12 months, and 35 percent of those said they gamble at least once a week.

Nationwide studies have shown that college students who become problem gamblers will spend money they don’t have, max out their credit cards, steal money or credit cards from others, commit other crimes to pay off their gambling losses, steal from family and friends, do poorly in school, lose jobs and scholarships, and, eventually, could become depressed and suicidal.

The irony of this dilemma is that public officials unwittingly believe that the economics of gambling will support educational funding. In some states, legislators reduce educational funding from the general budget by about the same amount raised through gambling. This, researchers have shown, destabilizes the economy.

Then there is the ethical disconnect. While educators are expected to foster student attitudes about equal opportunity, doing the best one can, sharing, hard work, financial responsibility and long-term thinking, instead the casino culture message is about luck, materialism, winning and instant gratification, according to Repeal the Deal.

A Rutgers University study concluded that teens are twice as likely to be heavy gamblers if their parents gamble. Officials in the gaming industry have noted in numerous reports that today’s teen is tomorrow’s gambling future.

In its study, Repeal the Deal says: “That future is not far off. More than any earlier generation, today’s young people are technologically primed for gambling. From an early age, kids learn to play games by tapping buttons and tracking images on screens. They spend money with a swipe of a debit card. They play video games. They live on social media. For these reasons, young people are a soft target for Internet gambling — the next frontier for legalized gambling.”

While Internet gambling is not yet legal in Pennsylvania, backers will make an effort to pass legislation this session.

In nearly New Jersey, after a slow start, Internet gambling has taken off. According to figures released Thursday (Jan. 12) from Garden State gaming regulators, revenue from Internet gaming was $18.4 million last month, an increase of 31 percent year-over-year and also an all-time high for a single month. The previous record was $17.4 million.