With the first casino in set to open this spring, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board has presented Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Ferman with a $150,000 grant to help fight illegal gambling operations.
"This is an opportunity because of an appropriation that the [gaming control] board gets from the general assembly to award grants to law enforcement agencies here in Pennsylvania who are willing to deal with the problem of illegal gambling," said William Ryan Jr., chairman of the gaming control board.
"We know it's out there, but it sometimes doesn't get the attention it deserves," Ryan said. "Providing these funds will enable Risa and her office to continue an effort against illegal gambling here in Montgomery County."
Ryan said that both the state lottery and the casinos offer sizable benefits to taxpayers, but efforts need to be made to fight some of the undesired effects of legalized gambling. Ferman took Ryan's concern a step further, adding that illegal gambling is typically tied to other criminal activities.
"With gambling being legalized, we're looking at all of the different areas where there could be illegal gambling," said Ferman. "We're mindful of the fact that [illegal gambling activity] is often connected to other criminal activity, so we're trying to look at it as a global picture."
The majority of the funding received through the grant will be used for investigative personnel who will specifically focus their efforts on the best way to combat illegal gambling activity.
"I think in terms of how the dollars are used, primarily the dollars will be used for manpower that can be devoted to these issues," said Ferman. "The investigators who are paid with these funds will be looking at the casinos, what's going on in the immediate environment and around the community, and then they can make the assessment of how we can make the most impact."
Regarding the potential for organized crime activity at the Valley Forge Casino Resort, Ferman said her office intends to learn from the mistakes of others.
"We all know what has happened in other jurisdictions where casinos have opened," said Ferman. "We want to make sure that the casinos that are in Montgomery County are operating as institutions where people can go, have fun and enjoy themselves. We do not want to let organized crime—or any other criminal element — get a foothold inside of our community."
Ferman added that her office will work with the casino directly, in addition to their contact with the Gaming Control Board and state and local law enforcement.
Montgomery County was awarded a grant by the Gaming Control Board several years ago in the amount of $250,000, though no reason was given for the reduced funding within the current grant.