Law enforcement preparing for new Kansas casino

Flashing lights, rows of slot machines and gaming tables are expected to bring swarms of people to the new Kansas Star Casino in Mulvane, Kan., but that also means a heavy flow of traffic and alcohol.

As the casino officially opens at 8 a.m. today, law enforcement agencies in the area are preparing for traffic congestion, an increase in accidents and more DUIs. The two agencies most affected by the casino turnout — Mulvane police and the Kansas Highway Patrol unit contracted to work the Turnpike — have plans to ramp up, while other agencies are taking a wait-and-see-approach before making any changes.

Authorities are hoping the $7 million spent by Iowa-based Peninsula Gaming to build a toll plaza on the west side of the Kansas Turnpike’s exit 33, roundabouts and more ramps will make the traffic flow smoother. Peninsula Gaming is managing the casino for the state.

Since the casino is in Mulvane’s city limits and expects to be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week within a month, Mulvane police will increase its around-the-clock officers from one to three. Chief Dave Williams hopes to make that schedule work without hiring more officers.

“We’ll see how it works,” he said. “We’ll play catch-up if we get caught with our pants down.”

Customers can get to the casino off K-53, which borders the Sedgwick-Sumner county line between Broadway and Mulvane. But most will probably use the Turnpike. Coming from the north, the casino is only a nine-mile drive and a 50-cent toll from the south Wichita I-135 entrance.

That means particularly busy times for Troop G, the highway patrol unit that works the Turnpike 24/7. Capt. Joe Bott said he’ll increase the staffing of the district closest to the casino from 19 to 23, but the four new troopers won’t be hired until June. A total of 47 troopers cover the Turnpike.

“This is going to be a learning curve for us,” he said. “I have a pretty good idea of some of the issues that are going to come from the casino. That’s why I asked for extra manpower. And if we’re having problems (before June), where we’re kind of getting overrun, we might change some shifts around and bring in some extra people.”

Traffic volume means more accidents. Alcohol served at the casino opens the possibility for more drunken driving.

“We hope they’ll do their part and designate a driver like we normally ask,” said Lt. Roger Baughman, of the Highway Patrol’s Troop F. His unit covers 13 counties in south-central Kansas, except for the Turnpike.

He said there are no plans to increase staffing.

“If alcohol tends to be a problem, then we’ll set up (sobriety check) lanes,” Baughman said. “Whatever is necessary to get it back under control. At this point, you can’t project what’s going to happen.”

Sheriff departments for Sedgwick and Sumner counties also plan to see if problems develop before they change staffing.

“I have extra people available,” said Capt. Mike Yoder of the Sumner County Sheriff’s Office. “We want to get an accurate measurement of how this is going to affect us. If we start flooding the area with patrol cars, the activity (in traffic stops) is going to increase. Most of the traffic will be going into Sedgwick County.”

Sedgwick County Sheriff Robert Hinshaw said his office will be assessing the call load around the county in 2012.

“If the Sedgwick County side of the casino is seeing a lot more activity,” he said, “that will be factored into the equation.”

Kansas Star general manager Scott Cooper projects 1.8 million people will be beating a path to the casino in the first year. About 3,000 showed up last week for the first day of a soft opening, and he expects even larger daily crowds this week.

“Traditionally, the week between Christmas and New Year’s is good time for casinos,” Cooper said.