Des Plaines police, fire radios don't work inside casino

  • The Rivers Casino in Des Plaines is causing communications headaches for the city's police and fire personnel, who have responded to more than 500 calls at the facility since it opened July 18.

      The Rivers Casino in Des Plaines is causing communications headaches for the city's police and fire personnel, who have responded to more than 500 calls at the facility since it opened July 18. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Updated 12/5/2011 2:22 PM

It was a problem city officials hadn't anticipated when the $445 million Rivers Casino was being built in Des Plaines.

After the frenzy over the casino's July 18 opening died down, officials discovered emergency personnel were having communications problems when inside the fortresslike facility, situated on 20 acres off Devon Avenue and Des Plaines River Road.


Des Plaines police didn't test the radio system at the time of casino construction, said Deputy Police Chief Mike Kozak.

Officers noticed a problem while responding to the many service calls received from the casino almost daily.

"It's pretty much anywhere inside the casino -- 98 percent of the time, our radios will not receive," Kozak said. "Basically when our officers are inside the casino, we can transmit, but we can't receive. And the fire department is experiencing both transmitting and receiving problems ... I think because of the metal and the way the structure is built."

After months of studying the issue, the city and Midwest Gaming & Entertainment officials have determined the radio equipment used by emergency personnel is not powerful enough to penetrate the steel walls of the casino.

Officials have come up with a roughly $49,000 fix that will involve installing upgraded telecommunications equipment -- receivers, amplifiers and antennas -- inside the casino so police and fire radios can work indoors.

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Des Plaines is on the hook to pay half that sum after negotiating with casino representatives. Rivers Casino is responsible for future maintenance of the equipment, Kozak said.

The city council approved the expense at a recent meeting, though some aldermen were not entirely happy.

"This deal kind of stinks," said Alderman Mark Walsten, who represents the city's 6th Ward, which is home to the casino. He said a multimillion-dollar company like Rivers Casino shouldn't be squeezing city taxpayers to pay for its security equipment.

The city's portion of the equipment upgrade cost could be funded through the police department's asset forfeiture fund and/or the general fund, which could be reimbursed later through gambling revenues from the casino.

"At this point we are still looking into it," Kozak said. "The city manager hasn't made a decision."

Having working communications equipment inside the casino is imperative for the safety of police and fire personnel who are called to handle emergencies there, Fire Chief Alan Wax said.


Since the casino's opening, police have responded to nearly 500 service calls, while firefighters have responded to nearly 100 ambulance and other emergency calls.

Fire officials had been monitoring the communications situation as the building was being constructed.

"When it (was) finally completed and we did a thorough test, we recognized that there was a problem," Wax said.

It wasn't until firefighters started responding to emergencies there that officials realized the full extent of the issues, he added.

"There's a lot of wiring, reinforced areas of the building, a lot of steel (and) construction elements that serve to block radio signals," Wax said. "We have had situations where personnel have been trying to (radio) out to obtain more equipment or help where they were not able to do (so)."

As a result, the fire department has sent additional responders on certain types of calls, he added.

Kozak said installation of the radio equipment likely will be done in a couple of months. The equipment has to be ordered from the casino's surveillance company, United Radio Communications, which could take six to eight weeks.

City officials are pondering making such amplification systems part of the city code requirement for larger buildings that pose communications problems for police and fire personnel.

"There are some buildings where we have spotty coverage but not to the extent of the casino," Kozak said.

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