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Casinos want penalties for underage gamblers

Thirty underage gamblers have found their way onto the floor of Maryland casinos since January, a number that has led to some modest fines levied by the state on operators.

The crowds at Maryland Live Casino, shown in September 2012, have included at least 16
underage gamblers since January, state figures show. While casino operators can face fines,
police have no authority to cite the minors.

But when someone under the age of 21 is caught inside one of Maryland’s four commercial gambling facilities, there are no individual consequences — there is no state law that allows police to cite minors.

The lack of an enforcement mechanism has created a problem for Maryland’s casino operators, especially Maryland Live Casino next to Arundel Mills mall. At least 16 underage gamblers have snuck onto Maryland Live’s casino floor this year, according to Maryland State Lottery and Gaming Control Agency data.

“Given its scale, there are more issues there,” Lottery Director Stephen L. Martino told members of the state gambling commission at its most recent meeting. “Underage gambling is a significant point of emphasis for myself, for this agency.”

The casinos self-report all incidents to the agency, Martino said, and Maryland Live was only fined for instances where minors were allowed to spend a certain amount of time on the casino floor. Instances where minors are caught quickly or even immediately are included in casinos’ reporting, and those infractions have not led to fines.

But that doesn’t mean the casino — and others in Western Maryland, the Eastern Shore and Cecil County — aren’t trying to take control of the situation.

“This is a top priority for us,” said Travis G. Lamb, senior vice president and chief financial officer for Maryland Live. “We don’t like to get fined, and we don’t like these incidents occurring.”

Real penalties for underage gamblers could help, said Del. Eric G. Luedtke, a Montgomery County Democrat who chairs the House of Delegates committee that oversees gambling policy.

For the last two sessions of the Maryland General Assembly, lawmakers have sought passage of legislation that would make underage gambling a civil offense, punishable by a fine of $500 for a first offense and $1,000 for a second offense.

Both sessions, the legislation has failed to move out of committee, with the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee choosing to kill off a bill sponsored by Sen. Katherine A. Klausmeier, a Baltimore County Democrat, and Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Democrat from Baltimore city.

The Maryland Alliance for Responsible Gambling — which includes Maryland’s casino operators among its membership — has lobbied for the legislation the last two years. Luedtke said he hoped this year would be the year the legislation finally passed so that underage gamblers have a disincentive.

“Nothing is really done to them,” Luedtke said in an interview. “It’s akin to if we banned underage drinking but had no consequence for someone caught drinking. … My hope is we’ll be able to move it through both chambers this year.”

Six underage gamblers have been caught at both Hollywood Casino Perryville and the Casino at Ocean Downs this year. Two have been caught at Rocky Gap Casino Resort, which opened in May.

Other states have found ways to fight underage gambling. Under New Jersey law, anyone younger than 21 caught on the floor of an Atlantic City casino faces a fine between $500 and $1,000 and a six-month suspension of a driver’s license.

Some fear punishing minors too harshly, but Luedtke stressed the importance of holding underage gamblers accountable.

“It’s an eternal problem in the industry,” he said. “I want Maryland to be the best in preventing it.”