Security & Surveillance: Protecting the Cage

Trends and Countermeasures for Casino Robberies

Although there is not a specific study that identifies casino-related robberies throughout North America or within the U.S., news reports indicate that incidents involving some form of robbery on a gaming property are becoming more frequent, or are being reported at a higher frequency in the news.

The U.S. Department of Justice does not specifically track casino-related robberies, but the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR), produced annually, track all types of robberies.

UCR reporting demonstrates that robberies overall have been on an uptick over the last several years in the U.S. Measured in metrics of per 100,000 residents, the robbery rate went up slightly on average—1.6 per 100,000 residents in the three years between 2014 and 2016. This equates to 4,000-5,000 more robberies annually in the U.S. in the last three years.

Overall, robbery has decreased from its peak in the 1990s and appears on an incremental trending increase over the last few years, yet still has significantly decreased overall in the since the 1990s, when it was more than double the current levels based on population.

 

Casino Robbery

There are two basic types of robbery that can occur on a gaming property. The first is the robbery of the casino itself, which involves a cashier’s cage, a satellite cashier, venue cashier, and occasionally the employee that carries a cash wallet for jackpot payouts.

At the time of this writing, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police are investigating four separate robberies of casinos occurring within a week, and another robbery that had occurred two months prior. This local trending is of concern, and is the focus of local police to conduct simultaneous investigations that do not appear to be related.

One of those instances involved three patrons who simultaneously grabbed chips from a table game much in the fashion of “flash robberies” that occurred some years ago when multiple people would enter a convenience or other retail store and conduct mass theft in a swarming method, making it impossible for employees to prevent. This is something that should be managed quickly to assure dealers and pit supervision are well trained in protecting table game bankrolls, monitoring customers on games, identifying potential perpetrators, contacting surveillance and security, and managing the employee and customer behavior in their workspaces.

Security and surveillance can work together to monitor the peripheral areas around table games pits, identify patrons who closely watch or “hawk” players, and take appropriate action to “back them off” or request identification. Periodic scans of the people and faces of people not gambling but near table games also become beneficial.

And yet another Las Vegas robbery involved the jumping over the counter of another Strip casino, grabbing cash, and fleeing out the casino doors. This is another example of when designers move away from cage bars and barriers that prevent these types of robberies, which most casinos implemented and still use that were installed after several high-profile similar events back in the 1990s. Aesthetics changes and decreases in formidable barriers are noticed by criminals as an opportunity for robbery.

 

Follow-Home Robberies

The second type involves a robbery committed upon a patron or visitor by an unknown third party. These typically occur in locations such as parking lots, garages, restrooms or remote-area ATMs. There is some trending in what have been coined by the media as “follow-home robberies” where a patron is marked or selected by a criminal while gambling, usually winning, and is discreetly followed away from the casino and subsequently robbed of any winnings at their home.

Regardless of operational executives’ opinions concerning a customer who has been robbed after they have traveled a distance from the casino, the negative publicity and potential litigation exposure can have lasting impact. Depending on the state and jurisdiction, these have some potential for liability based on individual state case laws regarding responsibility for criminal events off the premises. The negative press can create customer concerns for their safety.

It would appear that these have somewhat decreased over the last few years, with the occasional high-profile robbery such as the recent one in Rhode Island where the perpetrator watched a woman gamble and win, followed the victim 43 miles to her home and then committed the robbery.

Casinos should consider having a well-designed plan that involves deterrence, documentation, customer warning processes for carrying large amounts of cash, cash payout protocols, and training of employees who distribute cash. Specific training of security personnel and surveillance agents on proactive practices also would be beneficial.

 

Motivated Offenders

Many criminologists are of the belief that a motivated offender is not deterred from committing violent crimes by traditional crime prevention strategies. In casino environments, these strategies would include uniformed security presence, CCTV surveillance, and environmental conditions designed to make it harder to commit a robbery. Recent history appears to support this, in that even with an abundance of surveillance cameras and uniformed security, incidents of robbery are occurring in larger Las Vegas properties on the Strip during busy periods.

In previous studies involving interviews of incarcerated offenders convicted of robbery, Athena Research concluded that these robbers often did not consider those basic crime prevention strategies a deterrent to committing a robbery. This becomes a challenge to casinos in attempting to prevent robberies from occurring. If a criminal is not deterred by traditional security measures, robberies will continue to occur.

Studies by criminologists also demonstrate that criminals evaluate their target to include potential yield or how much they could obtain, and what risks are present that would liken them to being caught, jailed, convicted and sentenced to a prison term.

Robbery is one of the most difficult violent crimes to deter or eliminate in any environment, including casinos. The banking industry painfully realized that they could not prevent bank robberies from occurring regardless of the precautions taken over the last several decades. Even wide posting of screen captures from surveillance cameras in the press has not reduced robberies from occurring in banks, where a more controlled environment is present.

There are more casino areas that are susceptible to robbery based on the public’s desire and demand for convenience when it comes to cash transactions. This consumer demand gives more opportunities to the criminal intent on committing a robbery. Additional points of sale or cash transaction locations have increased the exposure.

Regardless, the gaming industry should be vigilant in providing as much crime prevention strategy as possible to chip away at the problem of robbery, and attempt to deter and reduce violent crime by proven strategies incrementally.

 

Presence

The visibility of obvious security personnel has decreased over time in many casino environments. The desire by management to put security in soft uniforms such as blazers as opposed to traditional distinct hard uniforms with badges, patches and exposed equipment should be given a new look by management. The main objective of the soft uniform was to make security personnel less intimidating to the legitimate customers and promote a friendlier environment for a positive customer experience. The decrease in obvious security presence visually may contribute for increases in robbery events at certain properties.

In my experience, the more times an obvious security officer is observed in a particular area, the less likely a violent criminal event will occur at that location. This also aligns with contemporary criminology theories. Patrol tactics should include increases in patrol of cash-handling areas, and not decreases. As an example, in previous decades, the presence of uniformed security officers in booths or podiums in close proximity to cashier cages was fairly consistent. In recent years, this position has been removed and absorbed by other security officers.

Careful evaluation should be made regarding either posting a security officer in cash-handling areas, or in the alternative, increase the frequency of patrols of those areas dramatically to create a higher perception of security to the customer, employees and the bad guys.

Properties in jurisdictions where liquor liability laws (dram shop) are in place should post security personnel at all ingress/egress points to assist in compliance. The benefits of this security measure also significantly reduce robbery and other violent crime. Jurisdictions such as Nevada do not deploy security in this manner, and Nevada does not have liquor liability laws. Nevada casinos may benefit from posting obvious, uniformed security personnel, highly visible to all who enter and exit a casino. Properties that do deploy these measures by increasing the security footprint typically experience fewer incidents, including robbery events inside the casinos.

According to most experts in criminology, an important element for a crime to occur is a lack of capable guardians. The other elements are a motivated offender and a suitable victim. The best opportunity for a casino is to provide as many capable guardians as possible both in the traditional sense through uniformed security personnel, and other employees who regularly work in the environment. Slot and other departments will tend to mimic security practices as they relate to observations and practices which can extend that important security footprint or perception of security by the legitimate users, employees and most importantly, by the potential perpetrators of violent crime.

 

Employee Training

What is obvious is that employees will typically do what is appropriate when a robbery does occur. The age-old training—that includes not to resist an armed robber and give them what they ask for—has saved many lives in casino robberies. In those instances where the employee may resist, it increases the risk of injury, as well as injury or death to bystanders. Thankfully, injury or death in casino robberies are very rare as a result.

A higher frequency of overall training of cash-handling employees can be considered. This training should include specific training in response to an armed robbery, training in observation of the perpetrator, alarm activation, and crime scene protection should a robbery occur.

Surveillance personnel can be instructed to conduct more camera scans of the areas surrounding cashier cages to identify persons who may be collecting intelligence for a future robbery. Once a person is identified as unusual or suspicious, notify uniformed security, who can respond and identify the person who may be observed.

Additional camera scans of parking areas and selective following of customers leaving the casino and walking to their cars may prove beneficial in detecting perpetrators before they commit a robbery. Security personnel can be specifically trained in robbery response and prevention to increase awareness of the risk of robbery occurring and those prevention strategies desired by management.

In some environments, a specific time period of captured video can be reviewed forensically to determine how much security officer presence is observed, at what frequency, and if security personnel are actually practicing positive patrol tactics and techniques. These practices can include acknowledgment of the legitimate users in the gaming areas, identifying those without a business purpose, assuring contact is made, and ejection of those who cannot produce identification or for undesirable activity.

Surveillance can capture the time period, and provide it to security management, who can then conduct a review for compliance. Surveillance can, and should, conduct audits of high-risk areas, and report the findings up the management chain.

There should be some crossover between physical security and surveillance as it relates to crime prevention in the areas of violent crime. Traditionally, surveillance personnel see themselves as protectors of the bankroll (follow the money) and security personnel see themselves as the responders to incidents or calls for service. A review of these two departments with a focus on prevention of violent crime may prove beneficial and provide increased protective measures.

The more instances of a “stop and talk” with people who appear suspicious for the location, the faster word will get out in that criminal community of the positive security footprint. Incarcerated inmates trade information on criminal activity, including how they got caught and when they were successful and avoided getting caught and arrested.

 

Cash Inventory

It may be productive to evaluate accessible cash inventory or decrease the impress cash bank. The retail convenience store industry successfully keeps low balances to reduce the amount of cash on hand at any given time. Although this may increase frequencies of cash fills, those fills would be made by security personnel, or involve a security escort, and again, increase the visibility of security at the location.

Surveillance can also observe the cash-handling areas and pull video for selected times to evaluate cashier practices regarding visible cash, excessive cash practices, or other conditions that create an increased opportunity for robberies.

 

A Fresh Look Is Needed

Trends in marketing and customer service standards have had a cumulative impact on security performance and deterrence in casinos. The move toward being warm and fuzzy towards customers is moving away from traditional, time-proven crime prevention strategies. Casino executives should review their overall property crime prevention strategies and balance them to the risks of violent crime occurring at their facilities.

Evaluating the long-term impacts of major decisions on security uniforms, staffing levels, deployment strategies and teaming efforts between security and surveillance should be completed for an effective strategy to reasonably attempt to deter and reduce as much violent crime as possible.

Alan W. Zajic is a Nevada-licensed security consultant, and teaches security and surveillance for the UNLV and UNR gaming management programs. For more information, go to www.alanzajic.com.