Changes are on the horizon Casinos, CCC, regulators negotiating proposed changes to Casino Control Act - Monday 17th of October 2005

They range from relatively benign changes in the way cards or dice are handled to more serious proposals involving security on the casino floor.

Altogether, they could save the gaming industry millions of dollars a year in operating costs, one casino lawyer estimated.

Hoping to get legislation introduced by the end of the year, the casinos have submitted a 57-page "wish list" of items they would like to see changed in the New Jersey Casino Control Act or with their operating regulations.

"We would like to get a bill in the lame duck Legislature for the statutory changes. But even if we dont, I see these changes as ongoing. Its an ongoing and fluid process," said Linda M. Kassekert, chair of the state Casino Control Commission.

Kassekert, New Jerseys head gaming regulator, predicted that large sections of the list might be approved, but stressed that the casinos would not be given a blank check.

"The industry has always submitted a wish list, which is probably a misnomer because they dont always get what they want on it," said Kassekert, who is negotiating with the casinos.

Negotiators have been whittling down the items to decide which ones will need legislative action or regulatory approval from the Casino Control Commission. Other less important changes may be done internally by the casinos.

Kassekert characterized many of the proposals as common-sense items, but expressed concern with some of the security changes the casinos are advocating for the gaming floor.

Already, the casinos have backed off from some of the security proposals, according to Patricia Wild, a vice president with the Resorts and Hilton casinos and one of four lawyers representing the gaming industry in the talks.

The industry withdrew one item that had called for less Casino Control Commission oversight of the "soft count room" - where the cash winnings are tallied up - and of the "drop process," when money is collected from the gaming tables, Wild said.

Another item that is being reconsidered would have changed the minimum number of security officers on the casino floor. The casinos wanted to remove those staffing requirements so they could independently set their own security levels, without state oversight.

Wild said that proposal has been sent back to Harrahs Entertainment Inc., which had requested the security staffing change.

One proposal still under consideration would allow the casinos to substitute a security officer for a security supervisor during armored car deliveries "due to the low risk involved."

Currently, a security supervisor is required. Wild said the proposed change would make it easier on casinos because there are more security officers than supervisors.

While security represents a significant part of the wish list, many of the changes would affect some of the more mundane internal workings of the casinos. Other proposals involve the way slot machines and table games are run.

For instance, casinos want to extend the life of the dice and tiles used in pai gow as a cost savings. Regulations currently require new dice every day and new tiles every eight hours for pai gow.

In blackjack, dealers would be allowed to draw additional cards when holding a soft count of 17 (a hand that includes an ace having a value of 11). Currently, dealers may not draw extra cards in that situation.

In slot operations, the casinos want to eliminate some requirements that slow down the payout for jackpots.

"If you can make somebody wait 10 less minutes for a jackpot, that is a good thing," said Joseph A. Corbo, general counsel for Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.

Casinos also want to make it easier for gamblers to cash in promotional offers. Casinos currently may redeem only their own promotions. The industry wants sister properties owned by the same casino company to be able to redeem each others promotional giveaways.

There were nearly 100 proposed changes in a 57-page wish list submitted to gaming regulators over the summer. Since then, the list has been revised, but casino lawyers declined to release an updated version this week.

Corbo estimated the industry would save millions of dollars annually if the changes were enacted.

"A lot of these regulations require us to hire additional staff to comply with the rules," he said. "If there is a more efficient way to do things, it helps us to save money."

Joseph A. Fusco, a senior executive with Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc., said there is an open dialogue between the industry, regulators and acting Gov. Richard J. Codeys office.

"Were looking for ways to say yes instead of looking for ways to say no," Fusco said.

Wild said the proposals would allow the gaming industry to operate more efficiently while offering customers better service.

"Individually, they may seem like small items, but when taken collectively they make a big difference in our ability to do business in a more flexible way," she said.

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