Swindlers and cheats were the first to be blacklisted from Atlantic City casinos. Later, mob figures were added to the list.
Recently, however, the state Division of Gaming Enforcement not only has been blacklisting more people than ever, but those proposed for exclusion are more likely to be prostitutes or “defiant trespassers” — often members of the homeless population — than cheats or mobsters.
That’s because officials are stepping up their “clean and safe” initiative and using the exclusion list as a part of their tool kit to keep Atlantic City safer.
“What we’re trying to do is deter people from engaging in bad behavior,” Tourism District Commander Thomas Gilbert said.
The list was created as a way to keep track of career criminals who had a history of unsavory behavior inside casinos, particularly cheating, and later included people connected to organized crime and violence — all of whom are considered harmful to the industry.
Last year, 19 people were blacklisted from Atlantic City casinos. Another nine were recommended for exclusion; their cases are still pending. So far this year, the pace has picked up greatly, with another five added to the exclusion list and an additional 17 being recommended.
Only one name was added to the list in all of 2010, nine were added in 2009 and two were added in 2008. Among those proposed for the blacklist this year, four have prostitution charges and eight are repeat defiant trespassers, according to gaming enforcement data.
Those being added to the exclusion list contrast drastically from those listed when it first came about in 1979, when only eight names were added the entire year. All were accused of being cheats or swindlers. Records show the first woman placed on the exclusion list who was accused of engaging in prostitution did not come along until 1984.
The above figures do not include about 1,200 people who put themselves on the exclusion list due to gambling problems or other reasons, the Division of Gaming Enforcement said.
Gaming enforcement officials said that while the demographic has changed, the list remains dominated by repeat criminal offenders considered harmful to casino operations.
“These persons have been convicted in Superior or Municipal Court and are not marginal cases, but rather are persons who have multiple convictions for conduct which is detrimental to casino operations or casino patrons in New Jersey,” said David Rebuck, director of the Division of Gaming Enforcement.
The policy falls in line with the “broken windows” policing theory, in which officials seek to curb petty acts of crime before they escalate into more serious ones, Gilbert said.
“It was viewed as a viable tool to curb some of the behavior (that was) getting people on the exclusion list,” he said. “Little things can lead to big things.”
The commander said putting on the exclusion list prostitutes, defiant trespassers and petty criminals who consume a lot of law enforcement’s time is part of a wider and coordinated effort to enforce zero tolerance for such crimes and make the entire Tourism District — not just the casinos — safer.
“There are many layers in place,” Gilbert said.
Atlantic City Public Safety Director William Glass said the initiative was a state one but that everyone involved was committed to making sure crime was not being moved out of the casinos and onto city streets. City and state officials have been talking about bringing in social services and other agencies to help address issues such as prostitution and provide a comprehensive solution, he said.
“It does no one any good to move the problem,” Glass said. “From our perspective, we’re on the same page. ... We’re trying to fix a problem, not move a problem.”
Atlantic City isn’t the only casino market with an exclusion list. Other states with casino gambling, such as Nevada and Pennsylvania, maintain similar lists but with varying objectives.
For instance, in Pennsylvania, cheats and swindlers also were the first to be blacklisted from the casinos — including a woman who was caught cheating in Atlantic City.
However, as time passed, the state began seeing a disturbing pattern of behavior that they sought to deter — parents who came to gamble for hours at a time while their children were locked in their cars, said Elizabeth Burch, a program analyst in the Office of Compulsive and Problem Gaming who is in charge of updating the list.
“It was happening so much, and they had to do something as a deterrent,” Burch said. “We’re trying to be proactive.”
In the two years since Pennsylvania began keeping an exclusion list, 73 people have been added. By contrast, Nevada has been maintaining an exclusion list that dates to 1960, but only 33 people are on that list.
That is because the list is reserved for people who commit “serious and repeatable offenses,” and that does not include prostitutes or defiant trespassers, said Mark Lipparelli, chairman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board.
Those criminal elements are kept out by law-enforcement agencies rather than appearing on the exclusion list, he said.
“In our process, that is all handled by the metropolitan police,” Lipparelli said of prostitution and trespassing crimes.
Only one woman has ever been added to Nevada’s list — Sandra Kay Vaccaro, who, along with her husband, John Joseph Vaccaro Jr., was involved in one of the largest slot cheating cases in Nevada history, according to gaming officials.
Nevada also publishes a separate list of denied or unsuitable people who are prohibited from working in the casinos or doing business in the industry. There are dozens of people on that list, which is published on the gaming board’s website.
The belief is that because Nevada places the burden on people to prove that they are worthy to work or do business in the casino industry before they are issued a license, that will keep the criminal element from infiltrating the ranks, Lipparelli said.
“We set the bar really high to get in,” he said.
One issue Nevada has had to address, however, is keeping drugs out of casinos, Lipparelli said. The board recently levied a fine against Hard Rock for drug use and other illegal activity that allegedly took place inside the hotel casino.
“There is a real high sensitivity to drug infiltration,” he said.
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