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Minor Problem

Managing underage people in casinos

Minor Problem

Most casino executives are well aware of minors as both a liability and an asset. Whether you cater to families and welcome the little ones onto your property or you spend a lot of resources keeping teenagers out of your nightclubs and casinos, you know the challenges can be great.

This double-edged sword requires your facility to protect children from hazards and predators while protecting the company from those threats and the minors themselves. Following is a compilation of several of the strategies used by family-oriented resorts to reduce exposure while keeping guests of all ages safe.

They may not all apply to your business climate, but you may want to consult your risk manager or security expert to see how these measures can keep everyone out of trouble.


Visibility

Uniforms are a controversial topic in our industry, especially in casinos. Many casinos prefer the friendlier look of the blazer or suit. In my experience, young children, juveniles and even criminals respond better to a police-style uniform.

Kids are taught from a young age to identify and respect the badge and duty belt. Juveniles and adults see the uniform as a sign of authority and consequences for criminal actions. The security “blazer” was meant to put “security” in the background instead of calling attention to it. This is the last thing I want to do in my kid-friendly area.

The uniform here is a positive, and can even be used as a PR tool in your arcade. Smaller children love to have the attention of the uniformed officer. They will ask about the duty belt gadgets and love to get stickers from the “police.” The older juveniles—more likely perpetrators than victims—will generally mind a uniform over a “suit.”

 

Patrol Techniques

The patrol of your kids’ area should be as frequent as that of your casino or any other area of your property. Imagine yourself on the witness stand explaining why you put the value of casino chips over the value of a 6-year-old girl. The deployment, frequency and strategy of security patrols are designed to prevent or detect bad things that could happen.

Documentation of these patrols is just as important as the patrols themselves. The security department should keep a factual log of the patrols. Other department employees, patrol scanners and cameras are great supplements to security patrol, but do not replace a trained officer.

The officer on patrol should be armed with some valuable tools to keep everyone safe. Policies on dress code, loitering, curfew and alcohol, as well as some behavioral training, can all be used to prevent problems before they become a liability.

 
Behavioral Recognition

Behavioral recognition is a form of profiling that is not discriminatory to race, gender or any other protected class. We all make judgment calls every day based on the actions of others. A good security officer uses his experience and knowledge of the business to observe these behaviors and identify the ones that seem out of place or suspicious.

I call this “JDLR” (just doesn’t look right). A person crouched behind a video game is suspicious. A lone male watching someone else’s kids play games is suspicious. These are not crimes by themselves, but they just don’t look normal and are suspicious enough to warrant further investigation.

So, for predators, we might want to watch for people without kids, people not playing games, people who approach other kids, etc. For most other types of crimes in this area, we use the same behaviors that help us in the casino. Examples of this behavior might be persons loitering, “rubber-necking” (looking from side to side), watching security or employees, not playing, or showing an interest in everything except the actual attractions. Security officers should be trained to either watch the behavior or confront the person who appears suspicious.

Behavioral recognition also applies loosely to juveniles. Teenagers who are not accompanied by parents or are not patronizing your business are generally not welcome guests. Taking steps to prevent your property from becoming a “hangout” or meeting place for teenagers will save you in the long run. Lone juveniles who are not spending money are likely opportunists, and it is not your job to care for them. Groups of juveniles are either intent on criminal activity or they will attract it.

These groups can provoke fights or be provoked by a simple hand signal or look from another group. “Flash robs” generally start with a meeting at a popular hangout like a parking lot or arcade. Start with a warning by breaking up groups. If they continue to loiter, get them out. Of course, precautions should be taken to make sure barred juveniles do not have a guest/parent on property.

Because this type of behavioral recognition is based on common sense and real-life experience, training of the entire security department can be accomplished quickly, inexpensively, and probably in-house.


Dress Codes

Dress codes are a popular but controversial way of addressing inappropriate behavior. Make sure your dress code, if you have one, is based on behavioral issues and not on someone’s perception of a “hoodlum.” Avoid prohibiting attire like oversized white T-Shirts, Raiders jackets or baggy pants. These appear discriminatory, unless you can justify them as a safety hazard or other behavioral issue—and then apply them consistently.

Instead of targeting clothing styles, which may appear negative to some of us, target provocative items such as gang tattoos, profanity, swastikas, etc. One way of checking your dress policy is to ask yourself if you would exclude your highest-rated casino player if he/she violated it.


Curfew

0You absolutely need to enforce a curfew on your property. There is no valid reason for a juvenile to be on your property late at night without parents. Close your kid facilities at night and keep everyone under 21 (or 18) out after midnight (or whenever closing is).


Restrooms

Restrooms attract trouble in any venue, but there are some things we can do to protect the restrooms and the kids who use them. Mirrors should be covered with protective film to reduce the cost associated with etching or burning of mirrors. This is a 75 percent savings over mirror replacement, and is a faster solution.

A substitute for the restroom attendant is a camera mounted at the entrance of the restroom. I mount these at eye level in a vandal-proof dome with a panic button. Every person who enters the restroom sees that they are on camera, and the camera gives us a nice facial photo before they even decide not to go in. Combined with documented patrols of the restroom, the video will provide a great photo of anyone who was dumb enough to do something in the bathroom. I have actually caught taggers still on the property after reviewing video of them entering the restroom.

There are two bonuses associated with these restroom cameras. One is that many criminals, before they commit a crime in another part of the property, visit the restroom. (Everyone has to, right?) I often get my best identifying photos of purse thieves and others using these cameras. A second bonus is that mounting the camera on a wall facing out also covers a fairly large common area such as the nearby bar or lobby. The panic button is a great safety device for someone who witnesses an assault or accident in the restroom.


Graffiti

Tagging or gang graffiti is more than an eyesore. This should be part of the regular checks of your entire property, and a system for prompt removal should be instituted. Taggers are looking for the gratification of others seeing their name or moniker. Gangs are attempting to mark their turf and scratch out rivals’ markings. Keeping up with the cleanup will reduce its recurrence, since its continued presence increases its value to the perpetrator.


Gaming/Alcohol

Underage drinking and gambling is a huge risk that is often taken too lightly. Most jurisdictions check for these violations through “stings” and undercover operations. A first offense might result in a hefty ticket for a bartender or dealer. Subsequent offenses start to point accusations at management and can threaten your gaming or liquor license—or both.

Legal concerns aside, you do not want to be the casino that served the alcohol to the teenager who crashed his car. This makes it every employee’s responsibility to prevent, but the charge should be led by security. Make sure the entire casino staff is trained to check IDs and challenge every person of a certain age. Hold employees accountable who ignore or allow minors to break the law. This initiative should begin at the highest level, because it affects the ability to operate the business.


Lost/Unattended Minors

Before establishing policies on lone minors, check with your local jurisdiction to see if there are laws that allow kids of a certain age to be left alone or to babysit others. Security policy should be written around that law, leave room for discretion, and the police called when there is any doubt.

Make sure this policy is followed consistently and includes a procedure for reuniting a child in your care with the proper parent. Children who are “lost” should be addressed using the same age parameters. Your reaction to a lost 5-year-old will be  different from that of a 15-year-old.

Establish a procedure like “Code Adam.” This program trains employees to “lock down” a facility when a child is reported missing. Every employee gets involved, and other operations stop until the child is found. This is a very successful program; more information can be obtained from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.


Research/Intelligence

As a casino that attracts or may cater to kids, the security department should stay current on laws, criminals, and trends involving kids. The local law enforcement agency responsible for registering sex offenders can be asked to provide notifications directly to your security department when a new offender is registered. Keep these names in the same database as security’s “watched” or “excluded” persons. If your law enforcement agency is uncooperative, there are plenty of sites on the internet with the same information, but they are not necessarily current.

Use social media to watch for trends and issues involving local kids and their hangouts. Security investigators or analysts can use an RSS service like Google Reader to track blogs, posts and news on your property or neighborhood. If you have younger employees, security can engage them to keep them informed on things they hear, such as an upcoming fight or flash mob. Encourage them to use the company tip line if they prefer.


Flash Mobs

Flash mobs are not really a new phenomenon, but the way the mobs communicate, and the video coverage of them, has improved. Protecting your property against large groups of teens who take over the retail store is part of Loss Prevention 101.

Your security professional has likely already placed cameras at eye level to identify suspects, made employees aware of how to notify security and monitor outside of store or property for groups gathering, reminded employees to be good witnesses, and secured valuables in locked cabinets. Other solutions for security to consider include: networking with other businesses to warn of these crimes occurring in the area; use of sirens, bells and strobes to scare large groups away during a flash rob; safe rooms for employees; and subsonic deterrent systems for juveniles.

Children, minors, juveniles, assets or threats—whatever you want to call them—need to be an important part of the security plan. As with everything else you do, information is power. In fact, note that the measures suggested above are not cost-based solutions but knowledge-based. Keep yourself and your staff informed of the constantly changing world of juvenile liability and the result will be a safe, family-friendly environment.

Darrell Clifton, CPP, is the director of security at Circus Circus Reno. He is an instructor in the Gaming Management Program at University of Nevada at Reno and is a member of the Hospitality, Entertainment and Tourism Council for ASIS International.

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