From Mobsters To Scam Artists: Casino Exclusion Lists Have 60-Year Precedent In US

Posted on January 14, 2020

You’d rather not end up on certain lists.

For casinos, lists of “excluded” patrons have historically served as an important method of security.

Nevada’s famous — or infamous — Black Book first circulated in 1960. A reflection of the times, the first list of 11 men were all members of the Mafia.

The Pennsylvania involuntary exclusion list follows in Nevada’s footsteps. Many other legal casino states have also created lists of banned persons, with varying degrees of attentiveness.

Nevada sets the Black Book bar

Officially known as the List of Excluded Persons, the Nevada list was not printed as a black book for long. Today, it is available online rather than in print.

Of the 11 men on the original list, one, Louis Tom Dragna, remained on the list for the longest. He was removed only in 2014, two years after he died.

Death is generally the only way to get off the list.

The current Nevada list holds 35 names, several of whom are presumed to be mobsters now in their 80s. Most of the newer entries are scammers, many of whom once worked in the casino industry.

While the list consists almost entirely of men, a certain Sandra Kay Vaccaro has the distinction of being the only woman ever to make Nevada’s Black Book. The alleged card cheat and slot cheat remains on the list after getting excluded in 1986.

A wide range of reasons for exclusion in PA

In contrast to Nevada’s rather short list, Pennsylvania had 983 people on its list as of Dec. 18, 2019. The list appears only to have individuals charged with infractions at PA retail casinos, sportsbooks and poker rooms, not the newer online casinos or online sportsbooks.

Like most exclusion lists, it’s available online. The list includes a mugshot and a short description of what led to the exclusion.

Most exclusions stem from offenses such as pocketing chips or vouchers or showing fake identification. But there are more elaborate thefts, such as a $40,000 one by a casino credit manager.

One of the more outlandish reasons for being banned resulted when two years ago, a woman tipped her cocktail server with cash — and a bag of methamphetamine.

As far as criminal charges, the woman got just a year of probation. She also got herself a lifetime exclusion from casinos in the Keystone State.

Another barred individual may have tipped off security with his state parole number tattooed on his left arm. The man and several confederates attempted to falsely claim a slot jackpot valued at $400,000.

State lists can overlap, on occasion

It is rare to see individuals make multiple states’ exclusion lists, but not impossible.

Skinny Joey Merlino, a Philadelphia organized crime leader now in Florida, has the distinction of being on both the PA exclusion list and New Jersey exclusion list.

Authorities barred him in 1984 in NJ, but he didn’t make the PA list until 2016. At the Jersey Shore, he was a presence in Atlantic City and Margate, a nearby beach town.

The tiny state of Delaware adds names of many of those barred by New Jersey, according to Muck Rock, an investigative website. That is, in part, why DE, with fewer than 1 million citizens, has 248 individuals on its list.

Vigilance for exclusion varies across states

The vigilance of states in adding to the exclusion lists appears to vary widely.

PA is clearly among the most vigilant, with nearly 1,000 on the involuntary exclusion list. NJ had 464 individuals listed as of October 2019.

Muck Rock reports New York state, which is supposed to have an exclusion list, currently has no one on a list. That, despite having a population of 19.5 million people.

The following sampling should indicate the disparity that exists across states when it comes to keeping a list of the banned.

StatePopulationNumber of excluded persons
Pennsylvania12.8 million983
Illinois12.7 million26
Ohio11.7 million11
New Jersey8.9 million464
Massachusetts7 million29
Missouri6.2 million99
Nevada3.1 million35
Delaware975,000248

Other ways to land on the list

States, including PA, have begun adopting self-exclusion as an option for those struggling with an unchecked gambling habit.

Our sister site PAOnlineCasino in October showed how self-exclusion could, in some instances, lead to unintended exclusions. Overall though, it appears exclusion lists serve an essential purpose for states that have to take the bad with the good when it comes to land-based casino gambling.

It should be common sense on how to avoid landing on a mandatory exclusion list. But for those who want to play it safe, there’s always the option to play at PA online gambling sites from the comfort of home.

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Written by
Kevin Shelly

Kevin C. Shelly is an award-winning career journalist who has spent most of his career in South Jersey. He's the former assistant city editor of The Press of Atlantic City, where he covered the casino industry and Atlantic City government as a reporter. He was also an investigative, narrative enterprise, and features reporter for Gannett’s Courier-Post.

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