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Security plans taking shape for local casino Bruce Loprete  has run security and surveillance departments for half a dozen casinos over three decades.
Bruce Loprete has run security and surveillance departments for half a dozen casinos over three decades.
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Published: Sunday, 3/18/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Security plans taking shape for local casino

Ex-FBI analyst to head effort

BY GABRIELLE RUSSON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Early in his career, before the glitzy casinos, Bruce Loprete worked for the FBI and taught agents how to play cards so they could infiltrate and bust underground gambling rings in the 1970s.

Mr. Loprete's FBI job sounded glamorous. But, in reality, it wasn't always so pretty.

When FBI agents raided casinos or racetracks, they scooped up everything -- documents, shredded papers, even a half-eaten chicken salad sandwich -- and put them into brown bags for a crypt- analyst/gambling technician, such as Mr. Loprete, to study back in Washington.

During those eight years at the FBI, Mr. Loprete absorbed how the casino industry operated.

Now 61, Mr. Loprete, who later ran security and surveillance departments for a half dozen casinos over three decades, will lead the security department at the new Hollywood Casino Toledo.

With the $300 million East Toledo casino's opening date only a little over two months away, Mr. Loprete and local law enforcement officials meet regularly to prepare for its opening. Planning for the casino's safety issues doesn't fall just on Toledo police.

Inside the casino, the only armed security presence will be 11 agents and a supervisor, all of whom are from the Ohio attorney general's Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

The agents, who typically don't wear uniforms even though they carry guns, will deal with gaming-related issues such as people who attempt to bribe employees or who cheat at games.

BCI is contracting with the Ohio Casino Control Commission to have an office and presence inside the Toledo venue.

Mr. Loprete, a New Jersey native who now lives in Bowling Green, will lead a team of more than 70 security guards in the casino.

The guards, however, won't have the power to make arrests or carry guns. They will use a vehicle and bicycles to patrol the grounds as well as cover the gaming floor.

The biggest headache for the casino staff is likely to be working to stop those under 21 from entering the casino or the restaurants, Mr. Loprete said.

With so many different agencies, it can be a logistical challenge of narrowing down a specific plan for which group will handle what if problems arise.

On March 8, Toledo police Sgt. Joe Heffernan and Capt. Brad Weis toured the MGM Grand Detroit to learn how other casinos handle security.

"That's probably the biggest thing we had to get across -- it's really important to have great communication among all the entities," Lt. Mary Kapp, head of the Michigan State Police's gaming section, said after she met with the Toledo officers. "Everybody has to communicate and work together."

A helping hand

One thing that is expected to improve communication will be new police and fire radios in Rossford.

Using about $70,000 of a $200,000 donation from the casino, Rossford plans to upgrade 39 radios and to switch this summer to the 800-mhz radio frequency operated by Lucas County.

The new radio system will allow a Rossford police officer to speak directly with a sheriff's deputy or Toledo police officer instead of communicating through dispatchers, as Rossford currently does.

"Really for today's technology, it's pretty antiquated," Glenn Goss, Sr., Rossford police chief said, referring to the current system.

The casino's $200,000 donation in November was followed by an additional $12,750 in late February for Rossford to purchase a police dog to strengthen drug enforcement on the I-75 corridor.

"They didn't have to do that," Chief Goss said. "That was a goodwill sign of 'we understand there could be an impact on your community -- good or bad -- and we want to let you know we want to work with you as neighbors.' "

Looking ahead

For Chief Goss in neighboring Rossford and Sergeant Heffernan in Toledo, the new casino, expected to draw 2.8 million people annually, brings uncertainty.

It's difficult to plan police staffing when there are so many unanswered questions about the casino's impact on the community, they both said.

"We don't like to be reactionary. We want to be proactive, but it's hard to do in a case like this," Chief Goss said.

The Toledo Police Department plans to have a stronger presence with patrols in the casino area, where the most common crime is expected to be petty thefts, Sergeant Heffernan said.

"Most crimes in a casino are crimes of opportunity," he said. "That happens anywhere you have something like this. Anytime you have a destination spot, where there's a lot of people, you are going to have an increase in some of these kinds of crimes."

Mr. Loprete agreed that minor thefts in the facility will be the biggest crime problem.

"This is my fifth casino opening," said Mr. Loprete, a former surveillance manager at the Playboy Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City.

"I've never really seen a huge impact of any type of crime. You're going to still get the guy who pickpockets and wants to be in the casino. But even then, it's very minor. You don't see an uptick in the community. I've never experienced it anyway."

Down the street

In Rossford, next to the Maumee riverfront casino, trouble isn't expected to come from the casino property itself. The issues are more likely to be on city streets from the sheer number of visitors, such as car crashes or drivers who have been drinking, Chief Goss said.

"Whenever you have more people, you have more problems. That's just the way of our world. You can't do anything about that," said the chief, adding that his department will closely monitor calls for service and look for trends after the casino opens. That will help plan for future coverage, he said.

The Toledo Police Department, which has 543 sworn officers, is expecting about 50 officers to retire this year.

Helping to offset the retirements will be 40 recruits who are to graduate from the academy in early May and another class of about the same size to start in September.

But officials won't determine the staffing levels to cover the casino area until closer to its opening day.

"It speaks back to manpower," said Sergeant Heffernan, adding that the casino could also contract individually with off-duty officers for beefed-up security.

"Do we have the manpower to do that or not on an already strapped police department that has already low personnel?" he said.

Hopes and concerns

Aside from police, area residents are confronting some unknowns about the pending opening.

For Luke Kwiatkowski, 31, a Toledo Refinery Co. worker and father of four, the casino means it's time for his family to move away.

About 100 yards away from him, across the road, is the casino, so close that dust blew onto Mr. Kwiatkowski's street during the facility's construction.

Fearing the worst it could bring, including the anticipated influx of traffic, Mr. Kwiatkowski and his wife decided to buy a house elsewhere and next month will move away from the place they've rented for the past nine years.

"It's the only reason why we're moving," said his wife, Sara Kwiatkowski.

Some residents question whether crime will increase or traffic will become congested once the casino opens.

"I think everybody is worried," said Stephen Vedra, 75, a retired Rossford electrician who was a member of city council in the 1970s and 80s. "Everybody is worried about it being so close to the schools and all. We just have to wait and see."

But other residents and local officials talk about the possibility for spin-off businesses and other development, which they hope will rejuvenate the economy, especially in Rossford, a blue-collar community of about 6,300 people.

Ken Szczesniak, 65, a retired Rossford police officer, said the casino will give a new life to Rossford.

"This community needs to redefine itself. We are a changing community. A great many of our residents are afraid of change based on some of the perception of the casino."

Contact Gabrielle Russon at: grusson@theblade.com or 419-724-6026.



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