For the 20-year-old gambler, that was the end of it: There are no penalties in Maryland — yet — for people younger than 21 who find their way into any of the state’s four casinos.
But it will cost Maryland Live: The February incident — and three others in March, one involving a slots-playing 18-year-old — resulted in a $20,000 penalty against the state’s largest casino.
A consent agreement signed by Maryland Live on Sept. 5 and by gambling regulators last week marks Maryland’s first financial penalty for underage violations. It won’t be the last: Hollywood Casino in Perryville will soon pay $10,000 for two such episodes, Maryland Lottery Director Stephen Martino said.
After months of negotiating with casino operators to fix the problem — statewide, there were 30 known underage violations in 2012 — it was time to start cracking down “by exercising our fine authority under the law,” Martino said. The state can impose a maximum fine of $5,000 per incident. Technically, the $20,000 penalty Maryland Live has agreed to pay for the four incidents is not a fine, Martino said, “but it is a difference without distinction.”
“We all recognize that it happened, and we’re going to continue to work towards zero tolerance,” said Joe Weinberg, managing partner for Maryland Live’s owner, Cordish Cos. “We’re proud of our record. We have about 9 million people a year who go through Maryland Live, and on a per capita basis, we have one of the lowest rates of underage [violators] on a national scope. But we don’t want any underage in the facility.”
Not all violations are equal, Martino said. In 2012, they ranged from a couple playing slots on Christmas in Perryville with their 11-month-old in tow to a 20-year-old with an outstanding warrant using a fake ID to get into the Casino at Ocean Downs.
Of greatest concern, Martino said: “Underage people who are clearly trying to get on the floor to gamble.” Keeping them out is a pillar of the state’s responsible gambling efforts, Martino said.
The crackdown on casino operators has brought renewed attention to Maryland’s policy for punishing underage violators, which is: It doesn’t.
Bills that would have established civil fines for anyone younger than 21 who sneaks in to play slots or table games in Maryland have died in House and Senate committees during the past two General Assembly sessions.
The Senate version would have imposed a fine of up to $500 for the first violation and $1,000 for subsequent violations. The House bill would have imposed a maximum fine of $100 for the first violation, $500 for the second and $1,000 after that.