Convicted chip thief is 37th added to Nevada’s “Black Book” exclusion list

April 18, 2024 8:27 PM
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports
April 18, 2024 8:27 PM

The Nevada Gaming Commission Thursday added a thief, convicted twice of stealing chips, to the state’s infamous Black Book as regulators debated how notorious and sophisticated the act should be for formal exclusion from casinos. Neal Ahmed Hearne, who didn’t attend the hearing, is the 37th person added to the list.

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Commissioner Brian Krolicki questioned whether the list should be reserved for the “worst characters and biggest stories” involving gaming acts that warrant the formal exclusion — beyond what a judge has ordered in his sentencing.

Senior Deputy Attorney General John Michela said Hearne has two felony convictions in Nevada. In January 2018, he was convicted of attempted theft of gaming chips from a patron at Aria Casino and ordered as a condition of probation not to enter any gaming establishment to gamble.

In June 2018, the judge ordered Hearne to stay out of the Strip corridor, unless he was employed there, in a case dealing with theft of gaming chips at the rack at the Silverton Casino.

Prosecutors opted not to pursue 13 additional charges of theft of gaming chips as part of the plea agreement. They involved taking chips from patrons or the chip bank.

All five commissioners approved the Hearne exclusion, but not before a 22-minute debate started by Krolicki about what the inclusion standard should be.

“I’ve thought about this a lot in the last two days,” Krolicki said. “Originally, it was hard to get on the list of excluded people. Today, we have someone who should not be welcome in any gaming establishments, not only with two convictions, but 13 attempts. He’s not very good at what he does and not someone we wish to come through the doors. I believed being added to the exclusive person’s list was not a regular occasion. I mean this with all due respect, but are we going to place anyone who grabs chips from a table in the casino on the excluded list?”

Krolicki wondered about the difference between people grabbing chips from those who steal shoplift from CVS or Macy’s or steal from a jewelry store.

“Is it a really big deal? Or is it just folks who committed crimes? We’ve seen people who’ve committed felonies in a very dramatic way stealing chips on casino floors in Las Vegas. Are we waiting for them to come in front of us to be on the excluded list?”

Michela said this case would not be precedent-setting for putting a person on the list, but he pointed out that adding people on the list helps casinos keep them out of their properties.

Krolicki cited the importance of excluding someone manipulating a machine or the dynamics at a crap table – issues that make casinos vulnerable. “We’re talking about adding a lot of people to the excluded list. If that’s what we want to do, I’ll support that. I want to make sure we’re that this is the policy goal.”

“This list could get out of control if everybody who did what this person did is put into the book,” Commissioner Rosa Solis-Rainey said.

Michela said Hearne was nominated after being arrested multiple times; Hearne isn’t stopping and it would help licensees to place him on the list. Also, other states have lists with hundreds and thousands of people excluded, because they add such cases as chip theft.

Commission Chair Jennifer Togliatti said it’s a dangerous or an improper assumption to take into account why other incidents weren’t prosecuted in the case against Hearne. As a former judge, Togliatti said plea deals are packaged and that restitution was ordered for three people. In addition, there’s no reason to fly people to Las Vegas to testify in those other cases.

“Thirteen is pretty prolific,” Togliatti said. “I agree with Commissioner Krolicki that a slot cheat using a device or some kind of table-cheating conspiracy are who we envision on the list. But the bottom line is every one of these people being victimized are contributing to our economy. I get what everyone is concerned about. I expressed the exact same thing with the panderer case, because the list of pandering defendants is so long. But in this case, I don’t have that concern.”

Commissioner Ogonna Brown said she’s not concerned about the lack of sophistication of acts, but is more concerned about the “brazenness and egregiousness of the conduct.” She said other cases involved Tropicana, Bellagio, Circus Circus, Harrah’s, The Venetian, and the Gold Coast. She said Hearne was accused of stealing $108,000 in chips from the MGM Grand.

“It’s unacceptable. It’s very bad for our reputation. We have an obligation to protect the industry and maintain the gold standard. There’s a distinction between the judge saying to keep out of the corridor versus being placed in the book and giving the casinos the ability to do something.”

Michela said now that Hearn’s on the list, it’s a gross misdemeanor if he enters a casino and can be arrested immediately. Togliatti said a person ordered to stay out of casinos by a judge as part of a plea deal could get their probation revoked in a drawn-out process.

Solis-Rainey said that she had no problem putting Hearne on the list, but she wanted to hear from the casino industry. “I wanted to keep these people out of the casino, but if it gets unmanageable, I’m concerned. If the industry isn’t concerned, then I’m not concerned.”

Commissioner George Markantonis, who previously served as COO at the Venetian, said Hearne shouldn’t be allowed “anywhere near a casino.” He said he can speak for the casino industry in saying they would support placing him in the book.

“He’s looking at the casino as his little sandbox,” Markantonis said. “That doesn’t work. As soon as this bad dude is locked out of everywhere, let him focus on CVS.”

In ending the debate, Krolicki said his concerns weren’t about Hearne in particular, but about the excluded list and how it’s approached. He said he now expects Black Book cases on a regular basis.

“This guy shouldn’t be in a casino, but there’ll be many other people,” Krolicki said. “We’ll be like other states and when we go through this process, that’s fine. We’re here to protect the integrity of the game and of the industry.”