The Iowa State Sheriffs & Deputies Association plans to ask the state’s new public safety commissioner to soften the blow of legislation that slashes the number of state agents policing Iowa’s casinos.
The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation’s Gaming Operations Bureau made more than 800 arrests and responded to more than 6,000 calls for service in fiscal 2013 at Iowa’s 18 casinos and race tracks.
An appropriation package approved in June reduces by half the number of DCI agents working at the 15 casinos and refocuses the agents on financial crimes – leaving the vast majority of arrests and calls for service to be handled by local police and private security.
“When the casinos were sold to the state, Iowa Code said they would be staffed by DCI 24/7,” Washington County Sheriff Jerry Dunbar said. “Now they are taking that away.”
Dunbar expects he’ll have to hire another deputy to respond to calls at the Riverside Casino and Golf Resort. The added cost, which comes to more than $100,000 with salary, benefits and a new patrol car, isn’t part of his budget.
As president of the sheriffs association, Dunbar plans to meet this week with Public Safety Commissioner Larry Noble about the cuts. Gov. Terry Branstad appointed Noble Sept. 4 to replace Brian London, who was asked to resign after less than a year. The gaming reorganization was one of London’s initiatives.
“I’m hoping he (Noble) will prioritize in a different way,” Dunbar said.
The Justice Appropriations Bill reduces the number of agents at each casino from six or seven to three over a three-year period. All agents working at the casinos will eventually be Special Agent IIs, which means they have the experience and skills to handle higher-level investigations, said Dave Jobes, DCI assistant director.
“It’s an opportunity to focus on financial investigations, including theft, money laundering and fraud,” Jobes said. “All the things that have the opportunity to come where a lot of cash is in play.”
DCI agents will no longer work regular shifts at the casinos, but they will continue to inspect dice, cards, games and money drops as well as approve surveillance at the facilities. The DCI will still do background checks on casino investors, board members, and employees, Jobes said.
In fact, scrutiny of casino operators and employees will likely increase with the reorganization, he said.
Dan Franz, general manager at the Riverside Casino, doesn’t mind the new focus, but isn’t sure there’s a problem with financial crimes at the casinos.
“I don’t think that it’s something I would view as running rampant,” he said.
The change saves casinos, which pay for the cost of the agents, $3.7 million. However, the casinos must submit plans by Dec. 31 to the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission for how they will handle the transition to fewer agents. Plans could include more private security or increased reliance on local law enforcement.
“I don’t necessarily see the need to call the Washington County Sheriff more often,” Franz said. “I think we can handle it with our own subcontract security.”
Riverside won’t lose DCI agents right away, but Dunbar fears the agents will choose to work in Linn County if a new casino is approved in Cedar Rapids.
Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman said he isn’t concerned about his officers being called to assist at a future casino. Fiscal 2013 DCI arrests and calls for service break down to just a few per day at each casino.
“When and if it (the casino) is approved, we’ll adjust accordingly,” he said.