Casino crooks still abound, despite security

Posted: May 02, 2011

WHEN DWAYNE JONES was told he wasn't playing craps by house rules at Harrah's Chester casino in January, he allegedly decided to ratchet it up a notch and not play by any rules.

Jones told a casino supervisor he planned to stomp his boot down his throat, police said. Then he threatened to shoot the supervisor in the head.

Jones, 27, of Chester, then made threats against other players at the table, saying he planned to come back and shoot them, too, police said.

When told he was no longer welcome at Harrah's, police said Jones claimed "he was only making a death threat against the dice."

What a bunch of craps.

Jones' case is one of 277 reported crimes at the three casinos in the Greater Philadelphia area so far this year, according to Pennsylvania State Police statistics.

The offenses range from cheating at table games and punching slot machines to the often fantasized - but rarely realized - crime of just taking both arms, scooping up all the cash on a table and running out the front door.

While these crimes don't attract a lot of attention, they are becoming all too familiar to casino patrons. Despite the extensive security measures employed by casinos, the only real sure bet at these entertainment venues is that crimes of opportunity - and stupidity - will always occur, according to George Joseph, a casino security expert based in Las Vegas.

"The only time casinos were totally safe from this kind of crime was back when the mob ran Vegas," Joseph said. "Then, you knew you didn't mess around in casinos."

Here's the People's Paper guide to avoiding the cheats, thieves and lowlifes at local casinos.

The hustle

Rosemary Otto, 36, of Staten Island, N.Y., was at a slot machine at Parx Casino in Bensalem on March 27, when she was approached by a man in a brown uniform, similar to that of a UPS worker, she said.

"He came over to me and was like, 'I'm at the blackjack table, I just ran out of money and the only thing I have left is these lottery tickets,' " Otto recalled.

The man showed her three winning scratch-tickets, totaling $505 and offered to sell them to her for $260, she said.

"I'm from New York. I don't know if things are different there but when I turn in a winning scratch off ticket, they take it, rip it up and throw it in the garbage," she said. "I was like, there is no way he can have these if he's cashed them in."

Otto made the deal.

"Sure enough, I went to cash them in the next day and they were cashed already," she said. "I guess I'm an idiot. When something is too good to be true, it probably is."

Otto went back to Parx, where they were able to pinpoint the thief on camera, but he has not yet been caught. She said she was miffed that casino staff didn't offer her $50 or dinner for her experience.

"I was a little shocked that they weren't better about the whole situation," she said. "I didn't go out to get robbed in your casino. At least buy me a damn dinner."

No "finders keepers"

The old "finders keepers" rule doesn't fly in casinos, where surveillance cameras allow authorities to easily determine the owner of lost property, said Sgt. Kevin Conrad, supervisor of the State Police station at Parx.

"Quite a few people are surprised there's a charge for theft of mislaid property," he said. "The law states you have to make a reasonable effort to find the owner."

Typically, if someone has money or a voucher that was dropped or left in a machine, State Police will give him the opportunity to return it to the owner.

Christina Iacomo, 31, of Roosevelt, N.J., probably thought it was her lucky day when she found a $907 voucher on the floor of Parx in January and cashed it out, police said. Her luck ran out when the rightful owner reported the incident to police and they tracked down Iacomo, who was hit with a charge of theft of mislaid property, according to records.

When winning means

you lose

No one knows about good luck gone bad better than Joseph Kahlert, 48, of Fallsington, Pa., whose fate played a nasty April Fool's joke on him.

Kahlert is one of 2,318 people statewide on the state's self-exclusion list from casinos, something typically done by those with a gambling addiction.

Kahlert is also one of the 305 people who have broken that promise, according a spokesman for the Gaming Control Board.

On April 1, Kahlert was at SugarHouse playing the slots when he hit a $2,500 jackpot. Since any winnings on a slot machine more than $1,200 require the winner to present identification, Kahlert was run through the system and found to be on the self-exclusion list for life, police said.

Instead of being handed money, Kahlert was handed a citation for criminal trespass.

John Sentell, senior supervisor in the Bureau of Casino Compliance, said if a winner is found to be on the self-exclusion list, his or her winnings go to the problem-gaming fund.

"And if they have vouchers or chips, those are taken too," he said.

Better safe than sorry

There is one upside to all the bizarre behavior in these gambling spots: There may be no better place to become a victim of crime than a casino.

Not only are State Police stationed at each casino by law, but security officers guard the doors and every patron's movement is filmed - for evidence - by security cameras.

"To quote our chairman, 'It's probably the worst place in the world to commit a crime,' " said Sentell, of the Bureau of Casino Compliance.

Yet people still do.

"Every square inch of a casino is covered in surveillance cameras," said Joseph, the casino security expert. "Casinos are safe places to be, but a lot of the crimes are crimes of opportunity. You see a woman's purse, even though you know it's on video, you don't think about it."

The biggest challenge, according to Cpl. Jeffrey Miller, State Police commanding officer at SugarHouse, is the sheer number of people in one place and sometimes, the attitudes they bring to the casino.

"A lot of people have a sense of entitlement because they are spending money," he said. "We're not interested in how much money you're spending because we're protecting the public."

Joseph, the casino gambling and security expert, said criminals and cheaters tend to hold a similar sense of entitlement.

"They start off with the premise that casinos are inherently unfair because they start out with an advantage," Joseph said. "To that I say two things: First, welcome to the business world. If you go to the grocery store and buy a loaf of bread, do you think you're paying what the grocer paid? Everyone has a markup.

"Second, no one had to come to a casino to play," he said.

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