When Parx casino officials joined other slots-parlor operators in 2008 to beat back a Harrisburg proposal that they issue their regular customers monthly gambling statements, the Bensalem casino pledged that Parx would "continue to identify quickly" anyone who showed problem gambling or drinking habits.
But it looks as if Parx missed a high roller who, Montgomery County authorities say, had no business frequenting the Bucks County slots joint.
In May, former Jenkintown tax collector Michael H. O'Neill, 50, was charged with blowing nearly $182,000 in tax receipts at Parx during a yearlong gambling binge.
If convicted of embezzlement, O'Neill would join a growing line of local government officials who couldn't keep their hands out of the cookie jar. Like many problem gamblers, O'Neill allegedly found a casino only too happy to help him burn through cash that, unknown to anyone else, wasn't O'Neill's to spend.
O'Neill's gambling addiction shines a light on the lack of any effective strategies to stop Pennsylvania slots patrons from becoming compulsive gamblers.
The millions of dollars set aside each year for compulsive gambling under the state gaming law provides for public-awareness campaigns and treatment outreach. Of the state's acknowledged problem gamblers, more than 1,430 have voluntarily barred themselves from the casinos under the state's self-exclusion program.
With the arrival of table games at the slots parlors, though, it's all the more important that casinos be required to make greater strides toward preventing people from blowing the rent money.
That should bring Harrisburg officials back to the idea of requiring monthly statements for regulars — an idea that casino industry officials still oppose as ineffective and too costly.
Gambling opponent Rep. Paul I. Clymer (R., Bucks) has been pushing the idea for several years without success. The concept is simple: Let gamblers see their totals each month. If their losses become unsustainable, the theory goes, they'll cut back on casino visits.
Critics of the plan contend that problem gamblers won't be swayed by such reporting, and they say that some gamblers may gamble even more in an attempt to recover big losses. Even granting that the strategy won't help in worst-case situations, it still could shape behavior for gamblers who decide their casino visits are getting too expensive. Or perhaps a family member will see the statement and get his or her loved one help before it is too late.
Clearly, it's an uphill climb for any reform likely to dissuade people from entering a casino. Sadly, that's in the interests of neither the casinos nor state officials. Despite its name, even the state Gaming Control Board won't back Clymer's proposal. Board officials say they first need to see definitive studies proving that monthly statements stem problem gambling. That's a cop-out.
A problem gambler allegedly ripping off the taxpayers should be enough to raise a rallying cry for better protections against the social ills of casino gambling.