For the first time in 32 years, the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission (IRGC) plans to raise fines for casinos that violate underage gambling and self-exclusion laws.
The commission may triple the minimum penalty for Iowa casino fines, raising it from $1,000 to $3,000, as was discussed at a commission meeting last week in Des Moines.
Not everyone seemed to welcome the idea. Wes Ehrecke, CEO of the Iowa Gaming Association, has said that his industry has concerns about how a fine amount will be determined. And he questioned the need for tripling it. “What is it that you’re intending to accomplish?”
He went on to say that the industry would like the plan to base penalties on the seriousness of the violation involved. He used a recent case as an example:
“The person who was on the floor for six seconds, one foot onto the gaming floor… You turn yourself in, report that, and that’s $1,000 fine. Should I be making it a $250 fine…? Everything just went to one thousand. So, now, what’s gonna change for those same infractions to go to $3,000?”
The Commission weighs in on Iowa casino fines
Commission members responded by saying that inflation is a reason for increasing fines and current fine amounts having stayed the same since 1990. They did agree to consider basing fines on the severity of any violations.
IRGC Administrator Brian Ohorilko said that recent violations caused the commission to review its fine policies. “Maybe it was time to take a look,” he said.
He said the commission has seen a recent, though “not significant,” uptick in violations. Some of the 162 fines levied by the Gaming Board in the last five years break down this way:
- Violations by minors: 79
- Self-exclusion violations: 24
According to Ohorilko, the rule process will now continue, using these steps:
- A period of public comment
- The Legislative Administrative Rules Review Committee will consider the new rules package and give feedback
- The IRGC will move on final adoption of rules
A look at Iowa casino fines in 2021
Just last autumn, the IRGC charged four Iowa casinos for having underage visitors on their premises. Even though Iowa law requires that casinos verify that anyone given access to a casino is at least 21. It was the first such penalty for each of them.
Catfish Bend Casino in Burlington was fined $30,000 when a minor was on the gambling floor for about 47 minutes.
Prairie Meadows Casino, Racetrack, & Hotel in Altoona had to pay a penalty of $20,000 after a minor entered with two adults and gambled for about an hour. A security guard eventually made him leave.
Horseshoe Casino got hit with two fines totaling $60,000. The first resulted from an underage female, who came with an adult and played the slots for more than 30 minutes.
The second fine was levied after a 17-year-old female gambled for five hours at the property operated by Caesars Entertainment.
Diamond Jo Worth Casino in Northwood had to pay $20,000 after a minor gambled at the Boyd Gaming property for more than two hours.
Some Iowa casinos have also been fined for violations, or have had other fines increased, because of nonworking surveillance cameras.
Two years before that, both Wild Rose Casinos in Clinton and Jefferson had fines imposed on them for self-banning violations. These led to the IRGC working with casinos to improve safeguards.
The topper of all these transgressions may be an age violation case that took place in 2019 at Horseshoe Council Bluffs. The minor involved played slots for almost eight hours — until 1 a.m. — and downed 13 alcoholic drinks.
Chances are he thought he was having the best night ever until security finally expelled him after he had “inappropriate contact” with a female casino visitor. As a result of the kid’s night on the town, Horseshoe paid a fine of $30,000.
Iowa’s Voluntary Self-Exclusion Program
Anyone in Iowa who wants to self-exclude from gambling can do so in the following ways:
- By mail
- In person at the IRGC’s Des Moines office
- In person at an Iowa Gambling Treatment Program agency
- At a state-licensed gambling facility
Enrollment begins on the date beside the enrollee’s signature, but casinos’ system updates may require two weeks. Self-excluders are self-banned from:
- Gaming areas of casinos, state- and otherwise licensed
- Sports wagering
- Fantasy sports
Someone who has self-excluded and then gambles with a licensed operator will be removed from the premises and forfeit any winnings. They may even be charged with criminal trespassing.