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Safety First

This month's annual focus on security and surveillance became more important than usual when, in December, a brazen robber stole $1.5 million in chips from Bellagio in Las Vegas.

Safety First

This month’s annual focus on security and surveillance became more important than usual when, in December, a brazen robber stole .5 million in chips from Bellagio in Las Vegas. While many theorized about his intelligence (he’ll never be able to cash in the ,000 chips) or his methods (wearing a motorcycle helmet to walk across the casino floor to steal the chips from a craps table), there were just as many questions about Bellagio and Las Vegas security and surveillance.

For example, how did an individual get all the way across the casino floor in a helmet with no challenge from security? Or why does the Bellagio still use the virtually antique VHS tapes rather that the state-of-the-art digital surveillance? Or why weren’t all Nevada casinos warned of this method after it was used two weeks earlier at a robbery at the Suncoast casino in northwest Las Vegas?

Late in December, a similar robbery happened at the small Bighorn Casino in North Las Vegas, minus the motorcycle helmet, that is. Casino security caught and apprehended the perpetrator, who grabbed a handful of chips off a blackjack table. Digital surveillance and alert security personnel helped bring the robber down.

So the Bellagio robbery raised more questions than answers, and in this special section of Global Gaming Business, we attempt to answer some of them.

The sometimes-arcane art of security and surveillance is broken down into “how-to” steps by five of our expert authors who have boots on the ground in many of the most cutting-edge casinos across the country. They discuss patrolling the perimeters of the casino resort, the top five issues facing a harried surveillance department in 2011, how to conduct video tours of the property to protect the guests, company and employees, why internal fraud is one of the growing problems for today’s casinos, and a proactive method to stop casino theft.

Willy Allison, the organizer of February’s World Game Protection Conference at the M Resort in Las Vegas, displays his usual blunt observations when discussing the state of security and surveillance in Las Vegas. Willy’s show, by the way, is one of the most fascinating of all gaming shows. He brings together experts from the field, both inside and outside the gaming industry, to discuss how to do it right. And it’s not just for security and surveillance professionals. Almost any casino executive—especially GMs—could learn a lot about what’s important in a casino environment by attending World Game Protection.

But safety is an issue that is not front-and-center enough in most casino resorts, especially in the U.S. In Macau, casino visitors must pass through a metal detector, similar to airport scanners, before entering casinos. In Singapore, you have to show your ID before you can enter. In the U.K., you must become a “member” of the casino before you’re permitted inside.

But in Vegas, anyone can stroll in with nary a sideways glance from anyone in authority. While there is a certain element of laissez faire—because this is, after all, Las Vegas—I can’t help think that this is asking for trouble.

Sometimes the Vegas casinos think they are invincible because of the high-tech surveillance equipment (even if it is VHS tapes that I don’t even use with my kids anymore). There is certain dependency on what we believe surveillance can do. But I think we might be overestimating their abilities.

OK, here’s a small confession. When I was a dealer many years ago in Atlantic City, I used to play a game to break the excruciating boredom of my job. About once a week, I’d make a mistake by either overpaying a bet or paying a losing bet. If I got caught, I planned to just plead to an honest mistake and never do it again. But guess what? I never got caught. Not by surveillance. Not by my supervisors. Not even by the players (although they likely wouldn’t say anything since my “mistakes” were always in their favor).

So how much money is being compromised when a casino declines to upgrade the CCTV system? Or when executives insist on deep cuts in the security and surveillance departments?

This is why we run an extensive section once a year on security and surveillance. They truly are overlooked departments in a casino resort. No, they don’t create revenues, but they can go a long way in saving the casino thousands if not millions of dollars.

Roger Gros is publisher of Global Gaming Business, the industry's leading gaming trade publication, and all its related publications. Prior to joining Global Gaming Business, Gros was president of Inlet Communications, an independent consulting firm. He was vice president of Casino Journal Publishing Group from 1984-2000, and held virtually every editorial title during his tenure. Gros was editor of Casino Journal, the National Gaming Summary and the Atlantic City Insider, and was the founding editor of Casino Player magazine. He was a co-founder of the American Gaming Summit and the Southern Gaming Summit conferences and trade shows. He is the author of the best-selling book, How to Win at Casino Gambling (Carlton Books, 1995), now in its fourth edition. Gros was named "Businessman of the Year" for 1998 by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Gaming Association in 2012.

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