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Joe's Neighborhood

One adult in the room

5/8/2013

Remember last Thanksgiving? Here, let me help. That was when your mom questioned your wife’s ability to make cranberry salad and both women marched angrily out of the kitchen. I would not call that a win-win for you. And you remember your sister? She arrived with her husband, which is all well and good, but, as you know, that guy was just days away from becoming her ex-husband. Not the smartest move on your sibling’s part. Then there was your wife’s brother who had a few drinks before he arrived and spent an inordinate amount of time in conversation with the fish tank. Go figure. And your kids? All three decided this was the day to act out their existential separation anxiety from their parents by fighting, yelling and throwing tantrums. So that leaves you. You were the only adult left in the room. And, let’s be honest, even you thought about leaving for the Greenwood Lounge.

Do you have that picture in your mind?

Now, let’s extend that Thanksgiving guest list to several million folks behaving just like your family. Welcome to the everyday world of Clint Pursley.

To find Pursley, you have to head to Altoona. Prairie Meadows is our destination.

joes1When you walk in, the lights are what you notice first. The gold and the blue, the white and the red, the strange pastels. Watch what happens when you look closely. The color from the stacked-up slot machines flows directly into your eyes, bounces off the back of your skull, and then ricochets back out your pupils in a kaleidoscope of hearts and spades and silly cartoon characters, causing your brain to shout “Jackpot!” Say, how much money did you bring?

It does seem a small step to become seduced by it all. Is that a jingle in the background? Has someone won the big one? Is your body twirling around? Are you teetering out of control? Are you thrilled to be losing?

joes2Just breathe. There is only one certainty in this strange place. You’re going to leave with less. In any case, you’re not here for all the clamor. You’re looking for Pursley. You know he’s here keeping an eye on things. He will not let this be your family Thanksgiving gone wild.

But as you’re looking, you squint into the corners and up at the ceilings, past the flashing lights, past the noises of the slots and past the soft sounds of cards against the green cloth, and you see carefully placed cameras. You realize that in some room upstairs there are walls of computer screens. And on one of those screens you have a starring role. Yup, you’re getting a cameo.

Last year more than three million people visited this place. Hard to imagine. But it’s not hard to imagine how mixing a little gambling, with a little drinking, with a little horse racing, with a little music thrown in for good measure, brings you trouble with a capital “T.” And it’s that concern that brings Pursley to work every day as head of security. He is in charge of more than 130 officers who keep Prairie Meadows safe and friendly.

And, thanks to Pursley and his crew, it is safe and friendly.

His major line of defense is Big Brother.

joes3“We have one of the best surveillance systems in the country,” Pursley said with pride. “Any place the public will be is monitored.”

You understand what this means, of course. From the farthest spot in the parking lot to the darkest corner of the casino and racetrack, if you scratch, it is being watched and recorded. Around the clock.

“We’re a casino; we’re a racetrack; we’re an all-around entertainment facility. Sometimes when people come out here and they drink a little bit and their inhibitions get lowered, they forget and get lost in the fantasy world of gaming and they forget where they’re at,” he said.

I’ll translate: Yes, there are even cameras in the elevators. So behave yourself.

Besides solving real crimes, the cameras also prevent many a scam.

“We’ve had everything from cheats at our gaming tables — people trying to cap a bet or pull a bet down before it is eligible — to false claims of robbery or assault,” Pursley said, shaking his head. An odd hustle is when people claim their car has been damaged in the parking lot and want compensation. But, sadly for this scam, the cameras will show every ding on the car when it is first driven onto the lot. Pursley said to give up on this trick. Good to know.

joes4Any issues unique to men or women?

“Women have a tendency to get entranced at a slot machine, and they forget about their surroundings and they forget about their belongings. Tracking down purses is another helpful tool of the surveillance,” he said.

Protector of women. Thwarter of evil plots by cheaters. Enforcer of the rules of etiquette and civility. I’m expecting an introduction to this man as “Pursley, Clint Pursley.” Instead, I find Pursley squirreled away in a nondescript office looking, not like James Bond, but like… an adult.

“Listen, we want everybody to have a good time,” he said. “We want everyone to enjoy themselves. We want them to be able to laugh and talk and have fun. But we want them to do it responsibly. One person’s idea of a good time isn’t necessarily another person’s. We try to promote behavior that works for all.”

See, what did I tell you? One adult in the room. Thank goodness. CV

Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, he writes about the frequently overlooked people, places and events in Des Moines on his blog: www.joesneighborhood.com.

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