Blacklist aims to instill confidence in N.J. casinos - Saturday 12th of March 2005

ATLANTIC CITY -- Benny Eggs is on the list. So is "Johnny Sausage" Barbato, "Petey Boxcars" Cosoleto and Sammy "The Bull" Gravano. That's just some of the reputed mobsters. Then there's the accused card cheats, slot machine manipulators and alleged swindlers, thieves and hookers. In all, the New Jersey Casino Control Commission's "exclusion list" contains the names of 169 people whose reputations, records or behavior make them good bets to be bad influences. Banned from setting foot on casino property, their names, aliases, rap sheets and backgrounds are memorialized in black books kept on file by casinos under strict orders to eject them. To casinos and regulators, the exclusion list is a necessary evil, a tool to keep unsavory characters out, honest gamblers in and public confidence -- in the integrity of the games -- up. To blacklisted gamblers and critics, the list is a toothless tiger that creates the appearance of vigilance but does little to keep organized crime out. Established in 1978, the year the first Atlantic City casino began taking bets, the criteria for the list is broader than a mob enforcer's shoulders: It applies to "career or professional offenders," anyone convicted of a crime that carries a prison term of six months or more and anyone whose presence in a New Jersey casino hotel is deemed "inimical" -- adverse -- to the interests of the state, the casinos, or both. "It keeps casinos clean," said Thomas Auriemma, director of the state Division of Gaming Enforcement. "And it instills confidence in the public that we're on the lookout for any organized crime individual that touches our industry, even as a patron." Not everyone who fits the criteria is put on the list, though. If they were, regulators say, it would number in the thousands and lose its effectiveness as a result. Benny Eggs was a cinch. Convicted of bookmaking four times, jailed for contempt, identified by organized crime investigators as a captain in the Genovese crime family, Eggs -- real name: Venero Frank Mangano -- earned his spot on the list in 1987. Indeed, organized crime affiliations, proven or not, are a key determinant. But regulators also want to know that the person in question has been seen in the casinos, or has some connection to Atlantic City, before putting him or her on the list. About 60 percent of the blacklisted people are on the list for cheating-related offenses or allegations; the rest are on for affiliation with organized crime. Of the 169, there are five women -- four included as alleged cheats, one for a prostitution arrest. The Division of Gaming Enforcement recommends people for the list and the casino commission then places them on it preliminarily before notifying them by mail, to give them a chance to fight it. Once placed, they're on for a minimum of five years. Their mug shot, name, address and "miscellaneous information" are kept at the commission's office -- in four-inch-thick loose-leaf binders -- and at all 12 Atlantic City casinos, as well as online at the Division of Gaming Enforcement's Web site. Anyone who violates an exclusion order is subject to arrest for trespassing; casinos, which are obligated to identify excluded gamblers and hold them for state police once they're in custody, can be fined for not doing so. At Trump Taj Mahal, copies of the list are kept in four black binders, arranged alphabetically. Surveillance officers are supposed to familiarize themselves with the list and its subjects and keep an eye out for them. "It used to be that they put every coin-cup thief and cheater on there, but now they save it for the organized crime types and the ones who are more sophisticated," said Ric Santoro, senior vice president of corporate security for Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts. Blacklisted gamblers rarely fight their inclusion on the list; rarer still is the one who persuades regulators to remove him. That happened last year, when 56-year-old Allentown, Pa., businessman Allen G. Perlman -- blacklisted in 1978 after being convicted of past-posting, or placing bets late, on a blackjack table -- formally requested that his name be stricken. His lawyer persuaded regulators that the cheating incident was a youthful indiscretion by a man who has since become law-abiding member of society. Some try to get off the list, but can't. David Morse, 52, of Cranston, R.I., a former stockbroker who moved to Atlantic City in 1989 to make a living as a professional blackjack player, was banned in 1995 after casinos complained that he was manipulating the cut card during dealer shuffles to gain an advantage. Never convicted of cheating, he was placed on the list anyway. He said the letter notifying him was mailed to the wrong address and he never got it. When he petitioned to have his name removed, the casino commission refused. "They put a dent in my livelihood. That was my main staple and it's no longer available," he said, referring to professional gambling. "After studying and applying my practice, when I was just getting toward the good years where I expected to do some actual earning is when they pulled the carpet (out from) under me." But it doesn't take a conviction to get on the list. Just as casino regulators can deny or revoke licenses of casino workers who have only been accused or suspected of a crime, so can they ban people they consider bad influences -- conviction or not. Edwin Jacobs, Jr., a defense attorney who has represented reputed mobsters blacklisted by New Jersey casinos, calls the list a joke. "To me, it is symbolic -- and nothing else. They want to have a blacklist so they can say they're keeping the desperadoes out of the casinos. But you could go to these 12 places and collect more desperadoes out of them than you could at Southern State Prison. "There are people with criminal records, people under indictment. You're never going to be able to sanitize them (the casinos). The concept of an exclusion list is next to meaningless when you put it in that perspective," said Jacobs. Organized crime experts question whether the list has played any role in keeping New Jersey casinos free of mob taint. For example, a blacklisted mobster who wants to launder money in a casino could do so by sending an underling who's not on the list, said Ronald Goldstock, former head of the New York State Organized Crime Task Force. He said the list has limited value. "Primarily, it serves now as a vehicle for letting the public have confidence that the casinos aren't being abused by organized crime figures. When the public or reporters comment on seeing organized crime figures in the casino, it sort of suggests that they have an in there," said Goldstock.

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