Casinos without Crime: Is It Possible? Gambling in AmericaAny criminological theory that emphasizes the factor of “opportunity” would have to assess the casino industry – an industry where the essential product in money itself – as one which by its nature is a magnet for criminal activity.
Other studies establish that casinos in the United States have attracted criminal activity. There may be limits to the generalization offered, however. There may be casinos that do not manifest an aura of criminality. In my study tour of 140 European casinos, in 1986 and 1987, I gathered a distinct impression that these casinos were not magnets for crime.
The reaction of the casino industry and its regulators to crime is varied on the European side of the Atlantic. American regulators are defensive about crime. The American reactive posture can be contrasted with the massive roundup of public officials and casino operators following a simultaneous raid by the central Italian government on the country’s four casinos in 1983. The casinos were closed and only reopened with a supervisor from Rome placed in each. In 1958 Bavarian officials discovered skimming in the private casinos of the region; they were all closed. Subsequently, the state took over both ownership and control of the casinos. The Golden Horseshoe casino of London won a license over the objections of its neighbors on Queensway Road. The casino agreed, however, that its patrons would not drive on nearby streets. In the first year of operation, the casino permanently banned 167 players, many of them good customers, because they parked cars on adjacent streets. Such a ban can be contrasted with the difficulties the American casinos have in excluding the most notorious criminals from their premises, the legal challenges to the Nevada black book being a case in point. Why the difference? Let us look at a mix of factors distinguishing European casino environments from American environments.
In the United States, most casinos are concentrated in a few locations.  There are megacasino groupings in Atlantic City, on the Las Vegas Strip, and in downtown Las Vegas and Reno. European casinos, on the other hand, can be found throughout the continent. In all, there are nearly 300 casinos in Europe.
The European casinos are not concentrated in any immediate location. This pattern of dispersal yields very much of a local clientele for each casino. Typically the player is a regular who goes to only one or two casinos and is personally known to casino managers. Managers are aware when new players come to gamble. With the presence of strangers, they are alerted to the need for greater surveillance.
The monopolistic position of each casino relieves competitive drives that cause American casinos to use psychological traps to entice the maximum play from each gamer.
American casinos traditionally have been red, loud, and action filled. European casinos come in every color, but a calming blue is typical. Art objects purposely draw players away from games in order to break action and emphasize an ambience of relaxation. Windows present vistas – forests, sunsets, seashores, valleys, mountains – and also inform the player that time is passing and that time must be enjoyed. Drinks are not allowed on the gaming floors. The free drink is reserved for the special player only, and it is given to the player when he or she desires to take a break.
The American casino seeks to attract the best players—the biggest losers. This leads to policies of granting credit. European casinos do not have credit gaming. The registration desk is a major attribute of the European casino that distinguishes it from the American counterpart. Every player must register before being allowed to enter. The player must identify himself or herself and show a passport if from another country. The player must show his or her age and often occupation as well. The players are required to pay an admission fee. Great Britain’s casinos require membership.
The registration desk weeds out nongamers and hangers-on. Such people who wander through Las Vegas houses pose a constant threat as purse snatchers, pickpockets, and petty thieves. Prostitutes, once identified, can be permanently banned from the European casinos.
The traditions of European gaming are very definitely rural, and most casinos are still in rural communities. Additionally, the casinos of Europe are small in comparison to American casinos. A typical European casino might have ten tables and a separate slot machine room with 50 low-denomination machines. The average casino would attract 300 gamers per night during the week and 500 on weekend evenings. By contrast, the open entrance, big crowds, and multiple game offerings in the United States make it difficult to spot much criminal activity – gaming cheats, machine manipulators, gamers trying to launder money at tables, and gamers perpetrating scams upon one another. It is also more difficult to spot dealers who cheat. Being outside of strong bottom-line competitive pressures, the European casinos do not really want compulsive gamblers. These gamers are especially persona non grata if there is reason to believe that they might be gambling with other’s money. The casinos honor requests by family members to exclude relatives who might have gambling problems. The casinos observe the occupational status of players, and they can inquire about the nature of the player’s job. Belgium excludes lawyers, bankers, and civil servant from casinos. It is felt that these professionals are trusted to handle other people’s moneys, and the trust could be broken if they gambled heavily or were observed gambling at all.
The governments of Europe do not have a high financial stake in the casino gaining, yet they make their presence felt at the casinos. Inspectors are always present in most European casinos. They open tables, close tables, and participate in counts. In many they collect taxes on the spot each evening. Gaming tax rates are extremely high, as high as 80% of gross win. Yet even with the very high rates, the governmental units do not receive a large share of their revenues from casinos. It is typical for casino taxes to be less than one-tenth of 1 percent of tax revenues. The government – except at the local town level – has almost no stake in casino operations. Therefore, the government exhibits little reluctance in closing casinos if they engage in improper practices.
Another factor that limits criminality in European casinos is the career nature of gaming employment. Dealers are not salaried. Rather they are paid from a collective tip pool. They can more easily accept the notion that they benefit by giving service rather than just working for a check. They know that their success is tied to the success of the casino. Hence they have a greater loyalty to the casino. The loyalty is enhanced by the knowledge that all position promotions are from within and that they have only rare opportunities to gain employment with other casinos. Dealers think in terms of having long-range careers.  The bottom line is that it is a good job, it is a career, and it must be pursued in one casino only. Most European casino dealers have a lot to lose if they participate in scams. Skimming and cheating are not worth the risk.

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