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Smooth sailing for casino

By: Roger Phelps, The Telegraph
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Predictions of traffic jams haven’t panned out around Red Hawk Casino. But, as predicted, the casino has not been a crime-free locale. Then again, in three weeks since opening, no off-site reported crimes are regarded as related to the casino, said Sgt. Bryan Golmitz of the El Dorado County sheriff’s office. A combination of planning, money, technology and manpower have proved equal to the task of regulating thousands of extra automobiles using U.S. Highway 50 near Shingle Springs, said Officer Sean Ricci, a spokesman for the California Highway Patrol. Patron volume has remained high for the three weeks following the casino’s Dec. 17, which drew 25,000 people, but a system devised by officials, from the casino, the highway patrol and the state Department of Transportation has worked well, Ricci said. Casino owners the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians have long maintained the casino would be a good neighbor, and have put their money behind the claim, according to Ricci. “Opening night, we drew 14 extra officers, on overtime, and they paid every dime,” Ricci said. “Probably 80 hours of overtime total, and a car plus officers on overtime runs close to $100 an hour.” The tribe and casino also funded lit-up, directional highway signs installed by Caltrans. Planning began two months before opening. Compared to a deluge of complaints around the opening of Thunder Valley Casino in Placer County, virtually no one has complained of casino traffic in El Dorado County, said Ricci and Golmitz. “I got one complaint, about a backup between 7 and 9:30 opening night,” Ricci said. “Pretty good compared to Thunder Valley, with 17 hours of gridlock.” “If it hadn’t been planned, we would have got the worst, but we got the best,” Golmitz said. Heidi Hamers, vice president of casino marketing, said, “Red Hawk Casino has averaged nearly 19,000 visitors per day. The overall operation is functioning seamlessly. (Including traffic and) parking, the operation is performing as if it has been open for years.” Of those hundreds of thousands of visitors, with a single exception, they have been law-abiding as far as what has involved the highway patrol, Ricci said. “We’ve got nothing, no arrests,” Ricci said. “I can’t put down anything attributable to that casino yet -- except some jackass came off the freeway too fast, and ran into a stoplight pole. Then, they ran away, so no arrest.” Golmitz said he is taking a wait-and-see approach to the Sheriff’s Office prediction of a 15-to-17-percent jump in local crime related to the casino. “From the Sheriff’s perspective, this is a long-term thing,” Golmitz said. “With a progression over time, the criminal element might move in.” So far at the casino, the following reported crimes have occurred, Golmitz said -- two purse thefts, another grand theft, and one each of receiving stolen property, possessing a controlled substance, battery, domestic violence and drunk in public. Golmitz said he believed the pattern of no crime off-site related to the casino over the first three weeks shouldn’t be used as a predictor. The tribe has funded a beef-up of Sheriff’s Office law-enforcement capability. The Telegraph’s Roger Phelps can be reached at rogerp@goldcountrymedia.com.