Penn. Gaming Commission Weighs Security Issues

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -- From cheating gamblers to dishonest casino employees, a myriad of people will be looking for ways to profit illegally from the state's new slot-machine casinos, a consultant told the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board on Wednesday.

Tom Sterling said that among the board's challenges will be to perform complete background checks -- a laborious process that could in some cases cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The applicants will have to pay the expense.

``This is very much a game of hide-and-seek, and if someone has something to hide, they're going to try and hide it from you,'' said Sterling, president of Information Services Group Inc. in New Cumberland.

Checking into the background of nationally prominent gambling companies and their principal officers may be relatively easy, because they operate in other states that perform security screening of their own, he said. But others may require extensive investigation that could entail foreign trips and contact with numerous friends and associates.

The threat of terrorism at casinos -- institutions viewed by some as emblematic of American capitalism and popular culture -- also is something the board should plan for, he said.

``You might think in Pennsylvania we don't have to worry about that, but in Las Vegas (such threats) are taken deadly serious,'' he said.

While casinos run extensive surveillance operations of their own, the state will have to establish some form of independent monitoring, he said.

He also urged the commission to establish stringent standards early on to guard against those who specialize in finding and exploiting weaknesses in new gambling enterprises.

``There's kind of a clique, if you will, of people who go around cheating gaming operations. And they're international,'' Sterling said.

Commission member Joseph W. ``Chip'' Marshall III expressed concern that the casinos' monitoring systems were primarily a form of deterrence, not protection.

``I just don't want people leaving with the impression (that) if we have all these high-tech cameras, we won't have problems,'' Marshall said.

The board is meeting this week for the first time since the Legislature approved up to 61,000 slot machines at 14 venues -- race tracks, resorts and stand-alone venues. About one-third of the projected $3 billion in gross revenues expected from slots gambling is supposed to go to reduce residential property taxes.