News for the Hospitality Executive
|By Kristina Buchthal, The Indianapolis Star
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Nov. 17, 2003 - Employees at Indiana's casinos must be fingerprinted and pass background checks. They work under the constant scrutiny of security cameras. Many must wear uniforms without pockets and carry their belongings in clear plastic purses, all in an effort to prevent theft.
But the aggressive security didn't stop casino employees from making off with at least $62,000 during October, police reports show. That amount is the largest believed taken by casino workers in a single month during 2003, according to an analysis of Indiana State Police reports.
"Nothing surprises me anymore," said Rick Mazer, general manager at Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, where two of the incidents -- including $60,000 taken from the casino's vault -- were reported.
The vault heist has yet to be solved, but State Police suspect an employee is to blame, reports show.
More than $2 billion a year flows into Indiana casinos -- as much as $5 million on some weekends alone. That creates plenty of temptation to steal, even with the security measures in place, observers say.
Casino officials say they take steps to counter that temptation. For example, riverboat employees in Indiana are prohibited from gambling on the boats where they work. But they are allowed to gamble at other riverboats in the state.
That can lead to problems, those who study gambling issues say.
Casino employees are 3 percent more likely than the general population to develop a gambling addiction, said Fred Preston, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas, sociology professor who studies the social impact of gambling.
Researchers aren't sure whether that's because people interested in gambling are more likely to apply to work in a casino, or whether casino employees become interested in gambling after they've taken the job.
Rob Hunter, a clinical psychologist for Problem Gambling Consultants in Las Vegas, one of the nation's largest gambling addiction treatment centers, treats many casino employees. He said his patients often have no criminal history before they develop a gambling addiction. But once that addiction takes hold, many turn to theft to finance their habit.
"At the time they're doing it, (they don't consider it) a crime. It's a short-term loan," Hunter said. "They're going to win the money they need and put it back. Then they take more to cover what they've already taken."
Still, large thefts like the $60,000 taken from the Horseshoe vault are uncommon, casino officials say.
Iowa, which has 10 riverboat casinos, usually sees about 15 to 20 employee thefts each year, said Karlyn Dalsing, gaming board coordinator for the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission.
"One big theft of that nature, we haven't seen something that big," Dalsing said. "We have had lot of slot techs and cashiers steal money over time."
Bartender Christopher L. Henry was caught on Horseshoe's security camera taking money out of the bar's cash register at the end of his shift, according to court documents from the Lake County prosecutor's office. Henry allegedly admitted to police that throughout September and October, he rang up a fraction of his bar sales, charged customers the full amount and pocketed the difference, according to court documents. The loss is estimated at $2,000.
Henry has been charged with felony theft and is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday.
In another casino theft case, a riverboat security guard confessed Oct. 13 to stealing coins from slot machines while working at Belterra Casino in Vevay, according to State Police reports. He was never prosecuted, said Monica Hensley, the deputy prosecutor in Switzerland County. Belterra officials declined to comment on the case.
Casino managers say it would be almost impossible to root out every problem, because employees eventually will find a weakness they think they can exploit.
"Quite honestly, many of these individuals are clean, they don't have anything in their backgrounds," Mazer said.
And even though Horseshoe requires employees to attend a seminar to help them spot the signs of problem gambling, it's not a perfect system, he acknowledged.
"It would be impossible to screen out what domestic problems they could be having, the financial problems they could be having or the idea of temptation that comes over someone."
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(c) 2003, The Indianapolis Star. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.