Casino Turns to Security Patrols to Cut Down on Drunken Driving

Concerned over image in community, casino security run patrols in its parking lots


Apr. 29--The quiet, suburban city of Parkland is unhappy about the recent opening of a second cocktail lounge at the Seminole Casino Coconut Creek, which is licensed to sell alcohol almost around the clock.

But the Seminoles say they have strategies for dealing with inebriated patrons, both in Coconut Creek and at their Hard Rock Casino near Hollywood.

Their secret? They patrol the parking lots for drunks, and keep them out of their cars, even if it means picking up the cab fare for a ride home.

"The Seminoles have been doing that since they opened the casino seven years ago," confirmed Coconut Creek City Manager John Kelly, who said the city hasn't had problems with drunken drivers leaving the casino.

The Safe Ride Home Program is operated by Seminole police -- aided by casino security at both of its facilities -- who patrol the parking lots and casino exits, looking for people who have had too much to drink.

Joe Davis, vice president and general manager of The Yellow Cab Co. in Broward, has contracted taxis to the Hard Rock.

"We are very happy to be part of this program to get people home safely," said Davis, adding that the number of people taken home on any given weekend ranges from three to six.

WORKING WELL

Casino officials say the program has proved effective at the Hard Rock on U.S. 441 at Stirling Road near Hollywood, which has dozens of restaurants and bars, as well as three big nightclubs that can serve alcohol 24 hours a day.

Tens of thousands of late-night partyers descend on the 100-acre complex during prime-time Friday and Saturday evenings, according to casino officials.

"Picking up the cab fare of someone who is too intoxicated to drive is a bargain compared with dealing with the tragic consequences of drunken driving," said Jim Fair, director of security for the Hard Rock.

ONLY TWO BARS

Seminole Coconut Creek, a five-acre site, has only two bars -- one on the casino floor that's open 23 hours a day and a new 80-seat nightclub called The Nectar Lounge, open from noon to 4 a.m.

A measure approved April 12 by the Coconut Creek City Commission allows the casino to sell alcoholic beverages from 7 a.m. to 6 a.m.

Parkland Mayor Michael Udine said such long drinking hours will inevitably lead to trouble.

"It makes no sense to sell alcohol during the morning hours," Udine said. "You have school buses on the road. You have parents driving to work or taking their kids to school. This threatens the safety of everyone. These are accidents waiting to happen."

According to Seminole police statistics, annual DUI arrests at the Hard Rock have been below 35 since the facility opened in 2004.

"If we see someone who is obviously intoxicated, we stop them and offer them three options," said Seminole police Capt. Aaron Wright.

They'll pay for a cab home; call family or friends, and wait with the patron for a pickup; let the patron get in and start the car, then stop them and give a sobriety test.

"If they fail, they are arrested," Wright said.

Hollywood police spokesman Carlos Negron applauds the Seminole program.

'AWESOME PROGRAM'

"We can't do that due to funds, but it is an awesome program," Negron said.

Wright said policing the loud and intoxicated is tough work, but sometimes he does get some appreciation.

"What the Seminoles are doing is a good idea. They want to protect their patrons, people outside their community, and their business reputation," said Diane Holmes, president of Miami-Dade's Mothers Against Drunk Driving. "It is a good idea other businesses should adopt as it can save innocent lives."

But Udine has a more aggressive plan for saving lives: Parkland wants to permanently ban any business that sells liquor -- other than restaurants.

"We have no stand-alone bars, nightclubs or liquor stores, and we want to keep it that way," Udine said. "We are a family-friendly town."

<<Miami Herald, The (KRT) -- 04/30/07>>