While the opening of Rivers Casino generated a lot of excitement and buzz in Des Plaines last year, it generated another kind of buzz as well.
The Des Plaines Police Department responded to an annual average of 6,822 calls in the city’s sixth ward from 2009 to 2011. Officers responded to 7,560 calls in the sixth ward in 2011, 681 of those calls to Rivers Casino, said Mike Kozak, acting police chief.
Several aldermen said the number of calls in 2011 concerned them.
“This has had a huge impact beyond what we ever expected,” Jim Brookman, fifth ward alderman, said at a public safety committee meeting on Feb. 8.
Reports show that Des Plaines police officers spent more than 800 hours to incidents at the casino in 2011.
“[Officers at the casino] are not patrolling the streets of my neighborhood and the streets of the city,” said Mark Walsten, sixth ward alderman. “These call numbers are disturbing.”
Deputy Police Chief Angela Burton said the while casino did generate more activity than expected, it did not cause a “significant burden” to the department.
Des Plaines Fire Chief Alan Wax said, after studying call statistics from other cities with casinos, they expected to respond to the casino every other day. Instead, the fire department responded to a call every 1.38 days in 2011.
On average, the Des Plaines Fire Department responded to 334 calls in the city’s sixth ward in 2009, 2010, and 2011. In 2011, the fire department responded to a total of 432 calls — 119 of them to the casino.
“[Rivers Casino] certainly has had an impact, but has been within our ability to respond,” said Alan Wax, Des Plaines fire chief.
Most are trespassing calls
About 90 percent of the police calls to Rivers Casino were for patrons on the Illinois Gaming Board self-exclusion list. As those patrons try to enter the casino, security guards detain them, and they are cited for criminal trespassing, Kozak said.
Fines for trespassing increased from $250 to $500 this year. Offenders received 148 trespassing citations in 2011 for incidents at the casino, which generated $37,000 for the city.
The self-exclusion list, started in 2002, is a voluntary program people sign up for after recognizing they have a gambling problem, said Gene O’Shea, Director of Self-Exclusion for the Illinois Gaming Board.
Anyone on the list who tries to enter a casino will be charged with criminal trespassing, a misdemeanor crime that results in a $500 fine with the possibility of up to 180 days in jail.
Individuals can petition to be removed from the list after five years, O’Shea said, but no one has ever succeeded in this.
Hollywood Casino’s experience
Aurora Police Chief Gregory Thomas said when Hollywood Casino opened in the early 1990’s there was an initial increase in numbers, but then things leveled off.
Thomas described Des Plaines’ increase in police incidents in the sixth ward as “not too outrageous.”
“Anytime you have a new business there will be a change,” Thomas said. He said many of the calls to Hollywood Casino are for underage patrons and people on the self-exclusion list.
Because Hollywood Casino is a boat, it initially had two officers on board at all times. As time went on, the department saw little need to have two officers on site and eventually eliminated that shift.
Wax said he hasn’t received any complaints from the community, adding that he expects the number of calls to the casino to go down once some casino staff members receive medical training so that they can treat minor injuries.
Rivers Casino has its own security system, which will call for criminal situations but works to take care of minor issues, said Mike Kozak, acting police chief.
“They aren’t just calling for nothing,” Kozak said.
“My main concern is citizens of Des Plaines are not getting the same coverage today as they did last year,” Walsten said.
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