ATLANTIC CITY, N.J.—New Jersey casino regulators handed out $115,000 in fines Wednesday to Atlantic City casinos who failed to immediately catch a cheating dealer and customer, had a malfunctioning alarm system that let a robber walk away with $8,000 after holding up a cashier, allowed someone other than the winner to fill out tax forms for five slots jackpots, and allowed underage patrons to gamble and drink.
The fines come as state lawmakers are set to consider a bill that would remove full-time inspectors from the casinos in order to let the gambling houses save money.
But Gov. Chris Christie, who supports a rollback of some of New Jersey's famously strict casino regulations, said he's not concerned about eliminating a requirement for inspectors to be stationed on the floor of all 11 casinos around the clock.
Christie said the acts for which the casinos were fined happened even though inspectors were present.
"It didn't stop that, did it?" he asked. "As a former federal prosecutor, I know that no matter how many laws you put on the books, people will still figure out a way to break the law. Our job is to make sure they're punished."
Christie said the fines were proof that the casino commission was doing its job.
The biggest fine, $40,000, was against the Tropicana Casino and Resort for not immediately catching a dealer and a customer who had been cheating at a table game for seven months ending in May 2009.
According to documents filed with the state Casino Control Commission, which issued the fines, the Tropicana was accused of failing to adequately supervise a game of blackjack, failing to properly collect losing bets and pay off winning ones, and failing to detect cheating.
The case involves 20 to 30 occasions from November 2008 to May 2009 in which a Tropicana dealer admitted he overpaid a patron, or failed to take his chips when the customer lost a bet.
An unidentified patron notified a Tropicana security shift manager, who confronted the dealer and removed him from the game. He later confessed to the cheating scheme and was arrested.
It could not immediately be determined what eventually happened to the dealer or the customer, who were not identified in casino commission paperwork. The state attorney general's office could not immediately locate records on the case, and Tropicana officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Caesars Atlantic City was fined $10,000 for a July 2009 incident in which a silent holdup alarm malfunctioned twice, allowing a robber to get away with $8,000 in cash. The cashier hit a button activating the alarm, which was supposed to alert the security and surveillance departments, but it failed to work.
Trump Plaza Hotel Casino was fined $20,000 for allowing an underage player to gamble in September 2009. The 19-year-old man played slots, roulette, a card game known as Spanish 21 and blackjack. New Jersey's minimum age for gambling and drinking is 21.
The Atlantic City Hilton Casino Resort was fined $15,000 for allowing a 20-year-old Maryland man to play blackjack for 45 minutes in March 2010, and Trump Marina was to be fined $10,000 for record-keeping violations stemming from a February 2010 incident.
In that case, a man playing slots won five jackpots of $1,200 or more, each of which required a manual payout by casino personnel, who are required by law to fill out tax forms for the winner. The man showed a casino player's card that bore his friend's name, and filled out the tax forms in that person's name, according to records in the case.
Casino security located the friend, who claimed to have been the real winner of the jackpots, and then filled out a new set of tax forms as casino security destroyed the original tax forms, according to documents in the case.
And the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort was to be fined $20,000 for allowing a 20-year-old woman to play slots and drink in May 2010.
The casinos involved all either declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment.
Later this month, the state Assembly is expected to consider a deregulation bill that would entrust the casinos to police themselves to a much greater degree than they do now. It would, for example, eliminate a requirement that at least one state inspector be on the floor of each casino 24 hours a day.
Those proposals have drawn fire from critics who fear it would open the door for more criminal acts to occur in the casinos. But the gambling halls strongly favor the proposed changes, saying they are paying for unduly restrictive supervision that is hurting their bottom line.
In an interview last week with NJN, the state-run TV network, two former New Jersey governors said it would be a bad idea to water down regulation of Atlantic City's casinos.
"When I signed the law, I told the mob to stay out of Atlantic City," said former Gov. Brendan Byrne, a Democrat. "There's a big pile of money in Atlantic and since Biblical times, where there's money there's corruption. And we've got to watch out for it. The regulations we have in place are working."
Former Republican Gov. Thomas Kean agreed.
"Gambling is corrupt in a number of places," he said. "Not in New Jersey, because this governor put in good solid regulations to make sure it didn't happen in New Jersey. You start to ease those regulations, and we'll have corruption, corrupt gambling like we do in so many other places. It's too big a pot of money and it's gonna attract flies. And the worst kind of people, and so I think we ought to keep the regulations strong."
The deregulation bill has already passed the state Senate.