Casino security work to curb DUI problem www.privateofficer.com
Tribal Police Sgt. George McCarthy, standing in front of the doors to the Sky garage, spotted a 20-something man who stumbled and slurred his speech when talking to his friend.
McCarthy stopped the man and a friend as they headed toward the garage.
“How ya doing, sir?” McCarthy asked the man. “How are you getting home tonight?”
Three people have been killed this year after patrons left the casino allegedly drunk and caused a crash. Other people have been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs after leaving the casino and causing minor crashes or driving erratically.
In response, Mohegan Sun has expanded measures to reduce the number of patrons who drive away from the casino drunk.
“We’re not in the business of overserving,” said Chuck Bunnell, the tribe’s chief of staff. “The employees are very dedicated to this process. It’s very bad for everybody for any type of accident or incident to happen.
“The tribal council feels they want to set the standard and protect their patrons and the general public of southeastern Connecticut.”
At the checkpoint, McCarthy and another security official took the two men aside. They explained that the casino didn’t want to see them drive drunk and be arrested by state police.
Patrons whom casino officials determine would be unsafe driving get the option of resting in the Cabaret Theatre until they sober up or taking a cab ride home – sometimes paid for by the casino.
The men said they had no money for a cab back to Norwich, so a tribal officer gave them a ride.
The Cabaret option with doughnut
The Cabaret at Mohegan Sun is rarely used for shows anymore. The space just off the gaming floor near the Sky entrance can seat up to 350 but some nights holds just a few patrons too drunk to drive home.
Patrons identified as being dangerously intoxicated or who have been cut off can choose to be escorted to the Cabaret, where they get a free coffee, doughnut or sandwich and a quiet place to relax. When a person feels ready to leave, a casino security officer determines if he or she is sober enough. Others choose to take a cab ride home. Patrons pay for their own cab, but in cases where they don’t have enough money, the casino will provide them with the cab ride if they live locally.
Mohegan officials said that in those cases where the customer can’t pay for a cab, it is worth the investment for the casino to pay for it.
“The tribal council has set a tone for the property that they want to be good corporate citizens,” Bunnell said. “It’s a direction that we follow through on these things. Just like for people walking here to work, we invested and put in sidewalks to make sure they’re safe.”
4,000 employees trained
Since 2003, more than 4,000 casino employees have been certified through a training program that helps them detect intoxicated patrons, casino officials said.
A Foxwoods Resort Casino spokesman said the casino uses similar training, as well as training from the Liquor Control Commission for many of its employees to spot intoxicated patrons.
Servers and other employees learn how to spot someone who is intoxicated. They keep an eye out for people laughing too loudly or someone who has glassy eyes, for instance.
Those are some of the cues McCarthy looked for when scanning the crowd headed for the garage after the Lynyrd Skynyrd concert.
Checkpoints are typically manned by one or two uniformed tribal police officers, a beverage supervisor and a security supervisor. They all look for the same cues and then engage the evidently impaired person in conversation. If there’s any question about whether a person can drive, the officers have one-use Breathalyzers that simply display whether blood alcohol content is over the legal limit of .08.
Sometimes a person stopped at a checkpoint will be intoxicated but will have a designated driver. McCarthy said once he talks to the designated driver, the patrons are sent on their way.
On a typical night, McCarthy said, they approach about 25 people at a checkpoint and a handful take the casino up on the options offered. The others are given the Breathalyzers. If determined to be over the legal limit they are told state police will be notified if they head to their car. If an intoxicated person turns on the ignition of the car, tribal police can arrest and detain the person until members of the state police casino unit arrive.
Servers are also looking for cues.
If a server believes a person should not have more to drink, the server notifies a beverage supervisor who informs the customer that he or she will no longer be served alcohol.
At that point, the surveillance and monitor rooms have already been notified and will use one of the property’s 3,400 cameras to capture an image of the person’s face. The surveillance rooms are also where security officials can track a person’s movements throughout nearly every square foot of the casino’s property.
“It’s really not a place to do something stupid,” Bunnell said.
The picture and a description of the intoxicated person are uploaded and displayed on flat-screen TVs, visible only to staff, in service areas and restaurants.
The night of the Lynyrd Skynyrd concert, floor servers were busy as they hurried to fill drink orders while the photos of about eight cut-off patrons rotated on the flat screen TV above the door. The servers didn’t seem to pay too much attention to the screen, but casino officials said it’s nearly impossible to ignore the constantly rotating images.
“They’re excellent at what they do,” said Richard Zazzaro, the vice president for food and beverage.
The cutoff period lasts 24 hours, during which time the photos remain on the slide show.
Restaurants were required to install the screens this summer. Previously, beverage supervisors would hand deliver picture printouts of intoxicated patrons.
Besides the screens, dozens of license card readers throughout the property enable servers to verify IDs.
Casino officials can also electronically cut off the minibar in a guest’s room and notify room service that a guest has been cut off from service, said Gary Crowder, senior vice president for resort operations.
Liquor Control Commission agents also have a presence at the casinos and watch to see if servers break the law by continuing to pour drinks for already intoxicated patrons.
The night of the Lynyrd Skynyrd concert, tribal police and casino security stopped intoxicated patrons leaving, but also trying to enter the casino. Three teens between 17 and 20 years old were stopped from entering when officials became suspicious of their age and actions. The teens had driven to the casino and told police they had been drinking tequila in their car.
Police escorted them to the Cabaret while they called their parents.
The parents said they wouldn’t drive the 80 miles to pick them up and asked police to drop them off at a motel. Casino officials said they didn’t want to risk the safety of the teens and arranged for them to spend the night at the casino’s hotel at the parents’ expense.
Shortly after the first in a string of fatal crashes earlier this year, state police began DUI checkpoints and roving patrols near Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun.
Between Aug. 1 and Nov. 25, about the same period as Mohegan Sun’s new efforts, the number of intoxicated driving arrests by state police totaled 144, three fewer than the same period last year.
State police and casino officials said it’s hard to determine the exact impact of the new efforts.
Lt. J. Paul Vance, a state police spokesman, said state police examine not only the number of DUI arrests but also the number of crashes and their causes to determine how effective checkpoints or other measures have been and where more efforts need to be made.
The Troop E area, which covers Sprague to Voluntown and East Lyme to Stonington, reported 755 total car crashes between Aug. 1 and Nov. 25. During that period last year, 885 crashes were reported.
“That’s what we’re looking at – cutting down on fatals and cutting down on injury accidents,” Vance said. “We evaluate ourselves and look at what we’re doing on a continuous basis to plug any possible leaks.”
Bunnell said the impact for casino and tribe officials is seen during nearly every checkpoint.
“It’s a success if that on a weekly basis one (intoxicated) person or two or three people are not on the roads,” Bunnell said. “There’s only so much you can do to try and control personal behaviors … but we are certainly hopeful that between all of those things we’ve put in place someone doesn’t get that last drink that they shouldn’t have.”
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