MGM-Backed Bill Would Criminalize Casino Cheating in Maryland, Where Scammers Get an Easy Ride

Posted on: February 13, 2019, 08:09h. 

Last updated on: February 13, 2019, 08:09h.

Of all the cheating that goes on in MGM properties across the US, an extraordinary 63 percent of it occurs in just one casino, the MGM National Harbor. That probably makes the Prince George’s County, Maryland facility the most cheated casino in America.

MGM National Harbor
Has the MGM National Harbor become a safe haven for cheaters? The casino’s director of security said his team caught 172 in 2017, which he estimated were responsible for about a quarter of all the cheating going on. (Image: MGM Resorts International)

Maryland is also the only state where MGM has a casino presence that does not have specific laws and penalties for cheating at table games. The casino giant believes this is no coincidence and that — in the absence of a substantial deterrent — cheaters see the state’s casino sector as a soft touch.

A bill that would make cheating at the state’s six casinos a criminal offense surfaced in the state legislature in Annapolis this week. This is an updated version of a bill that failed to gain traction last year, but this time around its being pushed by a large group of lawmakers and is being lobbied hard by MGM, as well as Caesars Entertainment, which operates the Horseshoe Casino Baltimore in the state.

Soft Target

The bill would bring casino cheating in line with current criminal statutes, which means that someone who had diddled a casino out of $500 would face the same sentencing guidelines as someone who had stolen $500.

MGM’s vice president of government affairs Kerry Watson told a House hearing in Annapolis last April that the bill would simply make the law consistent with other states that have casinos. He said it was common for states to legalize casinos — as Maryland did in 2012 — only to realize afterwards that their criminal statutes needed to be updated to better serve the sector.

You don’t want Maryland to be the target, the place that’s a little weaker and where people come to target our casinos specifically,” said Watson.

Cheating a Daily Occurrence

According to the National Harbor’s director of surveillance, Michael Ruggiano, the casino is currently playing a game of Whack-a-Mole with cheaters.

“We’re essentially just evicting them and if they come back we can cite them for trespassing, but if they come back and don’t provide ID or bring someone else’s ID, we’re counting on my team to recognize all the people who we have caught cheating,” he told state lawmakers at the April hearing.

Ruggiano said cheating was a daily occurrence. In 2017, his team caught 172 cheaters, which he estimated represented about 25 percent of all that was occurring. In response to a question about how much MGM — and by extension the state — was losing each year, he said he had the figures but was not at liberty to disclose them publicly.