$73.7M wagered in week at casino

Some confusion occurs but crime not big problem

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Police reports from the first week of Rivers Casino operations show incidents of counterfeiting, theft and drunkenness that could occur in any enterprise where large quantities of cash and alcohol flow.

State police stationed inside the casino issued trespassing citations to someone trying to enter who was under age 21 and another person who had placed himself on the state's compulsive gambler self-exclusion list.

Meanwhile, the casino's first eight days of operations produced one big haul, generating $6.5 million in gross terminal revenue on $73.7 million in wagering.

Of the $6.5 million, 55 percent, or $3.6 million, went to the state in taxes. About $2.2 million of that will go for property tax relief. The casino kept $2.9 million.

Just how the Rivers stacked up against opening weeks for other Pennsylvania stand alone casinos and racetrack casinos is difficult to say. For the week of Aug. 10-16, Rivers Casino churned out $5.3 million in gross terminal revenue on $59.7 million in wagers.

That would put the North Shore venue behind The Meadows Racetrack and Casino in Washington County, Sands Bethlehem, and Harrah's Chester Downs for first-week revenues.

However, the total excluded Sunday's opening day when the Rivers produced nearly $1.3 million in gross terminal revenue on $14 million in wagers.

"We're satisfied with how we fared this first week, particularly in light of the fact that we haven't run any player promotions," Rivers President Ed Fasulo said. "Overall, we're very pleased with our performance."

Of the casino's first eight days, its worst, interestingly enough, was Thursday, the day of the Steelers preseason opener at nearby Heinz Field. The casino generated $477,767 in gross terminal revenue on $5.9 million in wagers that day, its lowest amount to date.

Mr. Fasulo said media hype over potential traffic snarls "probably encouraged people to stay away" that day.

As for the crime reports, a few incidents involved cash vouchers, machine credits or money itself that was stolen from distracted or careless patrons. (When you put a bill such as $20 in a slot machine, the device shows it as credits, and when you stop playing, any winnings are returned as a paper voucher.)

But casino veterans Jesse and Marcia Westehoff of Leet felt victimized in a way they'd never encountered at gambling halls in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, West Virginia, Washington County or elsewhere.

Mr. Westehoff, 70 and limited in sight by legal blindness, sought to redeem a $59.60 voucher at a cash-dispensing machine after an afternoon of slots play with his wife and daughter. It returned to him another voucher, which he assumed meant the machine was malfunctioning.

He walked away, not realizing an unfamiliar aspect of the Rivers Casino cash dispensers. Some of the North Side facility's dispensers pay out bills but deliver no coins. They merely return new vouchers for the small change, which then must be taken to a cashier or placed in a different dispenser (colored yellow instead of blue) giving coins.

In Mr. Westehoff's case, according to a police report, surveillance cameras showed that he left behind $59 in the cash dispenser's tray. His new voucher was for just 60 cents. An unidentified person behind him took the $59 and was never found.

Mr. Westehoff feels wronged, but not just by the thief he never saw.

"All the other casinos give you cash and change at the same time, and everything's in front of you," he said. "I see this slip come out and I thought the machine was just returning my voucher. Here, it was giving me a slip for 60 cents, and I didn't see the money coming out."

Another police report showed a second victim, unidentified, losing $33 Saturday when he inserted a voucher for $33.50, received a paper slip for 50 cents, failed to notice the $33 dispensed, and left to seek assistance. Someone came afterward and took the $33.

People identified taking the money in such circumstances can be prosecuted, or at least advised to return the money to its rightful owner to avoid charges, said state police Cpr. James DePaolo.

"There are certain casinos around the county that have a finders-keepers rule, but that's not the case in Pennsylvania," he said.

Mrs. Westehoff sees the casino at fault, however, with its no-coin dispensers. She said she called the casino about it yesterday, without getting an explanation. She herself is still holding a voucher she never redeemed because it was too much effort for the value.

"I had to come home with a voucher for 6 cents, because I wasn't going to go to a cashier for 6 cents," the registered nurse said. "The casino can make big money, though, if everyone with a voucher for under a dollar says, 'I'm not going to bother with that.' "

George Matta, the casino's director of community relations, said in an interview yesterday that he'd heard no complaints previously about the non-coin dispensers. He said they represent a new generation of machine, also installed recently in Las Vegas, and that they are marked as cash-only machines, with touch-screen messages that walk a patron through the transaction.

The benefit of the machines, Mr. Matta said, is that they can accept multiple vouchers in a single transaction, adding up a total amount owed the player instead of giving back lots of dollars and coins separately. Without coins, they run more efficiently and don't have to be re-serviced as frequently, he said.

Mr. Matta said those new, blue machines are typically right next to the yellow ones that return coins, which patrons can use as an alternative to seeing a cashier.

As to the more than two dozen incidents in which state police filed reports in the casino's first week -- with the facility itself the victim in seven suspected cases of counterfeit $10 or $20 bills -- Mr. Matta said: "We had over 20,000 visitors in the first week. It was an extremely small number of incidents reported."

Mark Belko contributed. Gary Rotstein can be reached at grotstein@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1255.


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