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Above and Beyond

Why NSFW-Not Surveillance-Friendly Work-needs to be defined

For the most part I love what I do, but sometimes surveillance gets bogged down in a quagmire of silliness and unproductive work that distracts us from the bigger picture. Don’t get me wrong here; I get it—I know why this happens. I just struggle with managing it. So let’s just dive right in to the quagmire, shall we?

It’s a Saturday night and the joint is jumping when surveillance receives a call from table games. “I have a customer John Smith, account 12345, who says he played here over the last few days and his ratings are wrong. He says he lost $4,000 and the system shows he lost $3,000. Can you look into it and let us know?” So, you pull up John’s account, and it shows he played on 12 different occasions over the last three days. Piece of cake, right?

I am all about getting it right for the customer, and I understand why this type of review could be necessary, but let’s break it down and bring some perspective to the situation. In this scenario, this review could take as long as three hours. At $15 per hour for the agent’s time, that is a cost of $45. The $1,000 the guest is claiming he was not rated for represents about $10 in cashback.

Good Business Decisions

Some people would say that is why we have surveillance, and if the customer is trying to gain a little extra we should know about it. I agree, but it’s all about making good business decisions. Has this customer ever done this before? What type of customer is he, and can I justify an adjustment to his account?

In most places, the whole rating process for table games is not an exact science, and the tendency is to err on the side of the customer. Based on some of my own research, I would say that ratings are wrong at least 40 percent of the time. The reasons for inaccurate ratings vary from missing buy-ins to average bets to time on the table.

I can’t say with any certainty, but the poor execution of the data entry at the time of the ratings is probably costing the organization a lot more money than Mr. Smith who just tried to get an extra $10. Let’s get it right the first time, and then manage our business appropriately. As for me, I will still be waiting on the call that a customer says they were overrated.

We all have those big players whith whom we just grow comfortable. They’ve been coming to your place for years and have never really been a threat—they win some, they lose some. Big players like this are sometimes placed on a pedestal and considered above suspicion by the management team. This behavior, and more importantly the perception of being a great customer, can be translated to the surveillance department. We have all heard “that’s just so and so; he’s harmless,” or “that’s how so and so is.” It is OK for other departments to have this mindset, but it’s not OK for surveillance.

Healthy Suspicion

Complacency can be costly to your organization in terms of the big player. They get away with more and expect more because they are valued customers. There is also a lot of pressure to retain that customer, so the idea that they may be cheating or taking advantage of your casino usually isn’t received well. My advice: Nobody is above suspicion in this business.

Here are some pet peeves that the entire surveillance community can relate to. I don’t know about everyone else, but if one of my team members is late, either the supervisor is aware of it or I just ask them what time they came in. The idea that a video review needs to be done to find out what time somebody clocked in or clocked out is crazy under most circumstances. Most of the time, the employee is being honest or the supervisor knows they were late and they “just want to confirm.” If it’s an exception, correct it and move on, but if it becomes a habit, then document it and give surveillance a call.

I hear this next one more often than any other: “Can you watch this guy? He’s acting funny.” Really?

The next thing that happens is the most frustrating part; the surveillance agent says “sure” and hangs up. They don’t ask any questions and they don’t get any information. Maybe it’s me, but isn’t that like driving your car to a mechanic, dropping it off, and then saying it’s acting funny?

Getting an Advantage

I have always been fascinated by management’s perception of advantage players. If you think about it, we spend a tremendous amount of time and resources on this “frowned-upon” activity. To make matters worse, there seems to be no rhyme or reason for requesting a count check on a customer. I have heard everything from “he’s winning; we can’t seem to beat him” to “I can’t figure out what he’s doing.” I have actually gotten requests for count checks on continuous shuffle machines.

So why does this happen? I can’t isolate one reason; it’s really more of a collection of reasons that drag us into this quagmire of silliness. This usually occurs across the operation, including surveillance. Accountability and ownership can be challenging in today’s work environment. Nobody wants to be the bad guy, so it’s just easier to call surveillance and get an answer. Maybe I am just old-school, but when I have an issue with one of my team, I own it, regardless of where the information came from. My feeling is that employees respect this approach and will take the feedback more seriously if it comes from their boss.

Working in silos and a lack of communication is all too commonplace. Surveillance is probably the biggest offender in this behavior. The days of the “Secret Squirrel Society” are over, and our mission should always be aligned with that of the enterprise. No separate agendas and a level of transparency are the real keys to success.

Finally, knowledge and training of everyone involved is crucial. Proliferation of gaming has created a huge gap in experience and knowledge. Back in the day, if you lost a manager, you could have him/her replaced in a day or two with someone of equal or greater experience. That just isn’t the case today, and oftentimes we promote less experienced employees to fill that void and hope that they get the experience as they go. Many times, this sets the employee up to fail because he doesn’t have the tools needed to do the job.

I am a realist, so I know the quagmire of silliness will always find its way into surveillance, and it’s nobody’s fault. So the next time someone asks you to do a count check on a guest playing at a table with a continuous shuffle machine, tell them to call you back when they get to the top of the deck.

Darrin Hoke is the director of surveillance at L'Auberge du Lac Hotel & Casino in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Hoke has also held various positions in security management, investigations and law enforcement, and  has developed a number of surveillance classes and programs over the past 10 years as a regular instructor with the University of Nevada, Reno gaming management division.  

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