Sunday, February 06, 2000

Casinos watch security

Shooting unusual for industry

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Twenty minutes after an armed off-duty police officer shot himself in the head at a Detroit blackjack table, Ken Braunstein's phone rang.

        A Reno, Nev.-based, national casino security consultant who has worked in the industry for 15 years, Mr. Braunstein immediately began fielding media calls about the safety of casinos, and how such an incident could have been prevented.

        His answer: It couldn't.

        But, he quickly added, casinos such as Indiana riverboats the Argosy Casino in Lawrenceburg and the Grand Victoria Casino in Rising Sun, are still some of the most secure places in the country.

        “If you're concerned about your safety, don't go to minimarts after dark. Go to the casinos. You'll be a lot safer,” he said. “Very little (crime) happens in a casino considering how many people are in them.”

        On Jan. 26, 38-year-old Solomon Bell, an off-duty sergeant with the Oak Park Police Department in suburban Detroit, lost thousands of dollars playing high-stakes blackjack.

        Officials at the MotorCity Casino where Sgt. Bell played his last game said the officer lost about $4,000 on a single hand at a $100-minimum game.

        He then pulled his gun and fired a shot into his temple so abruptly that no one had time to stop him.

        Although each state with legalized gambling has its own way of doing things, many states, including Michigan, prohibit weapons inside the casinos.

        In Indiana, state law also bars people from bringing weapons into gaming establishments, said Jennifer Arnold, director of external affairs for the Indiana Gaming Commission. If caught carrying a weapon, the person has to relinquish it, she said.

        If the person refuses, he is ejected from the casino. The law also requires the riverboats to post signs informing patrons of the prohibition of weapons on boats and to provide a place for people to check their firearms.

        “There have been a handful of incidents where people have carried weapons onto the boats,” Mrs. Arnold said of Indiana's nine riverboats.

        Many times, people ignore the signs, she said.

        At Grand Victoria, which opened in 1996, there has been one incident in which a person carried a weapon onto the boat and was caught, said Rick Probst, the casino's director of security.

        The person had a permit to carry the weapon, but was unaware of state law, Mr. Probst said, adding that the gun was checked and the person was allowed to remain on the boat.

        In 1999, a 25-year-old Louisville man threatened to kill himself in a parking garage of the Caesar's riverboat casino in New Albany, Ind., after leaving a cruise.

        Authorities were able to subdue him before he hurt himself, but it is believed he carried his handgun onto the boat.

        Officials at Argosy declined to disclose their security policies or information about any similar incidents.

        Though safety is a high priority in the industry, security experts are hesitant to use more obvious security measures because they fear it might turn people away.

        “To be more secure you must give up some of your freedom and people are only willing to give up so much to be secure,” Mr. Braunstein said.

        Mr. Probst agreed.

        Casinos are considered part of the hospitality industry and frisking someone or making them go through a metal detector isn't the most hospitable situation, he said.

        As a result, casinos rely heavily on surveillance cameras and utilize uniformed and plainclothes gaming commission agents to watch people. Ultimately, security experts agree that the amount of problems are minimal considering the millions of people who visit casinos annually.

        The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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