Casinos praised for efforts to stop underage gambling - Friday 29th of May 2009

Early last year, Qullder Ariel Rodriguez Solls of Flanders, N.Y., tried to collect a $3,400 jackpot he won at Mohegan Sun.

He not only failed to collect, but at 19, he was arrested and charged with underage gambling.

Rodriguez Solls was one of 30 minors arrested on casino floors by state police in 2008. So far this year, police have nabbed 16 minors. At this rate, the numbers could come close to 50 for 2009.

Still, the figures — covering Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun — are less than the average per casino in Atlantic City, where authorities took 341 minors into custody in the 11 gaming halls in 2008.

“From what we know and what is reported, these are very few instances of underage gambling,” state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said.

Like Atlantic City, the casinos in Connecticut are subject to fines if minors gamble. The difference is who levies them. In Atlantic City, the independent New Jersey Casino Control Commission is authorized to impose fines, even if the casino is not found culpable in the incident, said Daniel Heneghan, a commission spokesman.

In Connecticut, such decisions fall to the tribes, said Paul A. Young, executive director for the Connecticut Division of Special Revenue.

“They have their own tribal courts,” he said.

Yet these courts have not issued a single penalty against their own casinos. The Mohegan Tribal Gaming Commission can fine the casino if it’s determined personnel were negligent, Mohegan Tribal Chairman Bruce “Two Dogs” Bozsum said.

“It has not escalated to that point,” he said.

Same thing at Foxwoods.

“We haven’t yet found any system deficiencies — in either structure or application — requiring that action,” spokeswoman Lori Potter said.

Indeed, officials from both casinos pat themselves on the back for efforts in preventing minors from gambling on premises. You can’t be too careful, Mohegan Sun CEO Mitchell Etess said.

‘Very good job’

The Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling also has high praise.

“I think casinos do a very good job keeping underage people out, with security at every entrance. I do know it’s taken seriously. If on the floor, minors are removed as quickly as possible,” said council executive director Dr. Marvin A. Steinberg.

The threat of a police record also looms large. First-time offenders can apply for the state’s accelerated rehabilitation program, which puts them on probation. If they complete the probationary period, the charges are dismissed, said Peter McShane, supervisory assistant state’s attorney. But subsequent arrests will lead to more charges.

Any money won would be voided out of the system, as if it never happened, said Cathy Soper, a spokeswoman for Mohegan Sun.

Casinos in Atlantic City have a track record of comping minors with rooms, show tickets and meals until someone in the casino asks for proof of age. That hasn’t happened in Foxwoods, Potter said.

“Any patron provided casino credit or comps are recorded in our systems as players or Dream Card holders, and thus are legitimate players of legal age,” she said.

Worker training

Foxwoods’ Responsible Gaming Program has focused on education. Employees learn about the problem of underage gambling through initial orientation, casino communication channels and supervisory training, Potter said. Information about problem and underage gambling is also available to guests throughout the property.

“Neither Nevada nor New Jersey have requirements as strict as ours for monitoring underage patrons,” Potter said.

“We post signs ‘No one under 21 allowed’ throughout the gaming areas and entrances, and security officers man both ‘fixed posts’ and ‘rover’ positions to check anyone deemed close to 21.”

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