Iowa Casino Safety Tips Urge Patrons To Have Situational Awareness

Written By Marian Rosin on August 10, 2022 - Last Updated on September 21, 2022
Safety tips for Iowa casino gamblers

Not all — or any —Iowa casino crimes are as exciting and glamorous as portrayed in movies like Ocean’s 11. But even more mundane, real-life ones can end in cops, handcuffs, and prison time for offenders. And very real distress for victims.

A few Iowa casino crimes that happened recently are listed below. Read through to the bottom for a few safety tips to heed while visiting casinos.

Corn-ered at Grand Falls Casino in Larchwood

Officials have charged two men after a visit to Grand Falls Casino in Larchwood. During an attempted arrest after allegedly using a false license or ID card, Rigoberto Lopez ran to a corn field and hid there.

A trained search dog belonging to the Sheldon Police Department failed to locate him.

The next day, Lyon County deputies spotted Lopez near Gitchie Manitou Preserve. Lopez was arrested and charged. Authorities also stopped Ricardo Herrera while trying to enter Grand Falls Casino at the same time as Lopez.

Charges for both men included:

  • Possession of a false ID
  • Interference with official acts
  • Possession of a controlled substance
  • Possession of drug paraphernalia
  • Unlawful use of a license

Like Lopez, Herrera was put in Lyon County Jail in Rock Rapids. Online jail records indicate neither man is still there.

Elite Casino Resorts owns Grand Falls Casino, which is located about 12 miles east of Sioux Falls. The company plans to open up more casinos in Illinois and Nebraska.

Iowa casino winner ran off the road for her winnings

A fun and winning night for one 71-year-old casino patron at Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino in Altoona morphed into a frightening one.

The winner-turned-victim had won two jackpots at the casino. Together they totaled in a reported range of $10,000 to $18,000.

On her way home on Jul. 19 a little after 3 a.m., two cars forced her car off the road. When two men stole her purse containing her winnings in her car. She remained unharmed.

Allegedly it was Timothy Spencer, age 30, of Berwick who exited one of the cars with a handgun. Then, he seemingly tried to shatter the driver’s side car window before opening the car door and taking the purse.

Surveillance video showed that before the crime, Spencer had been surveilling the woman at Prairie Meadows. The criminal complaint indicates he left the casino “around the same time the victim exited.”

The second suspect — who “pounded on the front passenger window” — has been identified as Jared Shoning, age 29. Surveillance revealed he was also at the casino when the victim won and left about an hour before her.

Charges for the two men include:

  • First-degree robbery
  • First-degree theft
  • Conspiracy to commit a forcible felony
  • Going armed with intent
  • Possession of controlled substances
  • Possession or use of a false drug tax stamp because Oxycontin was found in his car

A preliminary hearing date of Aug. 1 was set for Spencer, who has denied wrongdoing and requested a court-ordered attorney.

A clothes call at Grand Falls Casino

The third case resulted from the investigation of a “suspicious parked vehicle” at Grand Falls Casino. Authorities identified Christine Larson as the driver and found her to have outstanding arrest warrants.

At a nearby jail, a plastic bag allegedly fell from her as she changed into inmate garb. Radio station KIWA reported that the bag’s contents tested positive for methamphetamine.

According to radio station KICD, that resulted in charges of:

  • Possession of a controlled substance
  • Possession of contraband in a correctional institution

Division of Criminal Investigation focused on Iowa casino crimes

Crimes linked somehow to casino gaming are nothing new.

According to Casino City Times, in the past, casino-linked crime in Iowa was so prevalent that in 2006, the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI), was increasingly  “becoming a casino enforcement agency, with more agents working on gambling than on general crime cases”.

At the time, Assistant DCI Director Joe Diaz said: “Everybody that we are hiring now goes straight to the Gaming Bureau. Those are now our entry-level positions.”

Tips for how to keep safe while gambling at Iowa casinos

Most casinos have operational security. That includes security cameras with multiple views all over the property. Like those that helped police identify the alleged robbers of the Prairie Meadows winner.

In that case, parking lot footage even showed the suspect’s Grand Cherokee with the license number readable following the victim’s car away from the casino.

Still, patrons need to have “situational awareness,” especially since customers often carry cash into the casino and sometimes out. offers some casino safety tips:

  1. If possible, request your winnings in a check, rather than cash.
  2. Use the service button to request a slot attendant.
  3. Request security to escort you to your car, especially if you are carrying winnings.
  4. Visit the casino with a friend. Slots players are especially vulnerable, as they play alone facing forward. Friends can take turns watching each other’s backs.

Crimes perpetrated against patrons can have repercussions for businesses as well as customers.

Casinos can suffer reputation and economic damages since criminal activities are reported in the news or discussed among patrons. Therefore, they have a vested interest in customer safety as well as their own.

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Marian Rosin

Marian Rosin is a freelance writer who has been published in Upnest and Psychology Today. Rosin brings experience in the gambling sector as the senior copywriter for Isle of Capri casinos.

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