SNOW HILL — An increase in business has the Casino at Ocean Downs requesting more security than ever before.
It was a request that a majority of the County Commissioners were willing to grant last week, though two commissioners maintained doubts.
The casino contacted the Worcester County Sheriff’s Department about the possibility of having uniformed deputies on hand at the Ocean Downs facility over the summer.
“This is usually a rare feat for us,” Chief Deputy Dale Smack told commissioners last Tuesday.
Having the deputies in uniform puts an added amount of pressure on them, since they would be representing the Sheriff’s Department while serving essentially private security. County Attorney Sonny Bloxom explained that liability issues had to be considered before jumping into any agreement. Otherwise, the county could find itself on the wrong end of a lawsuit.
With that in mind, Bloxom drafted a memorandum of understanding that could serve as a contract between the casino and the county if the commissioners chose to grant the request. The memo states that the sheriff will devote extra patrols to Ocean Downs if the casino pays all costs, including overtime and an administrative fee, which will come to $66 an hour per deputy. Additionally, whether the deputies are in uniform will be left up to the sheriff.
“They’re only there for law enforcement duties,” said Bloxom.
With the memorandum in place, Bloxom felt liability issues for the county would be covered.
“Is this going to spread the Sheriff’s Department out?” asked Commissioner Merrill Lockfaw.
He worried that the number of deputies around the county was already stretched thin, and that devoting more to private security would mean less available for the public.
Smack assured Lockfaw his department could handle the extra work. He noted that the deputies at the casino could only do so on days they would be off-duty anyway. They would only be allowed to work a set amount of time so as not to fatigue them when they return to duty. There would be only two deputies at the casino and only for the summer.
“Once the race season is over, our time there is over,” said Smack.
Lockfaw remained unconvinced and was joined by Commissioner Madison Bunting in opposing the request. Their votes weren’t enough to sway the commission, though, who decided to go ahead with the proposal.
“I think we’ll learn a lot this first year,” said Commissioner Judy Boggs.