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SURVEILLANCE SPECIAL REPORT: Guns and Gaming: Armed or Unarmed?

Does it make sense to arm your security guards?

SURVEILLANCE SPECIAL REPORT: Guns and Gaming: Armed or Unarmed?

Many casino executives have been struggling with the topic of guest and team member safety over the recent past as incidents involving guns and shootings in gaming environments receive a heightened attention. Currently, most casinos in North America do not have armed security officers.

As gun incidents continue to escalate throughout the U.S., casino operations will eventually need to meet the increasing risk and deploy some form of countermeasure to deal with it and attempt to keep their properties as reasonably safe as possible. While the typical response by law enforcement to an incident inside a casino is usually after the incident has been concluded, having armed security personnel may be prudent if a careful and deliberate analysis is conducted prior to deployment.

A few land-based casino corporations have gone to the development and deployment of Security Emergency Response Teams (SERT) that are trained and armed to respond to dynamic incidents involving weapons. This process limits the number of armed security personnel and the associated training and costs including wages. SERT teams have been used in many casinos in the past, especially during special events when customer volumes are increased and condensed in one area such as a concert or sporting event.

Some other casinos arm exterior security patrol officers in vehicles or bicycles for a method to respond inward when necessary. This process has been successful in some Las Vegas Strip properties and casinos in certain metropolitan areas. The process uses a perimeter layer of enhanced security that can respond anywhere they are needed.

Although armed SERT teams are far from the common practice, they demonstrate that major casino companies are moving toward at least a few security personnel who are experienced, trained, adequately equipped, and experienced to respond to incidents. The massive size of some casino resorts still creates some delay in internal response. Some casinos hire former law enforcement or military specialists and pay them comparable wages. Not all casinos can accomplish this.

I have received calls from casino executives who are interested in making their properties as safe as possible, and dealing with the complex issue of deciding if security personnel should be armed, if they even can be armed by law, and how to implement a policy, procedure and training to equip personnel with the right knowledge and weapons to do the job.

The process to decide should be very careful and deliberate when it comes to having your security officers carry lethal weapons that have a much higher risk of fatal results or very serious injury. A single firing of one round that strikes an innocent bystander could not only be devastating to everyone involved; it can be costly to manage any litigation, can cause enormous negative public perceptions and relations, and can impact an operation in many ways.

The wrestling with the decision whether to arm security officers or not is an age-old one that dates back centuries. Taking into consideration the additional risk that having employees with guns creates, and the potential for something to go wrong, the decision should involve a comprehensive review and independent risk assessment before a final decision is made.

The following are some considerations to consider when conducting a needs assessment, and making the decision to arm security officers.


Legal Authority to Arm Security Personnel

In many jurisdictions and especially on tribal lands, there are codified prohibitions for anyone, including security officers, to carry or possess weapons on any reservation or tribal property. The first serious review should involve if it is even possible from a legal perspective in the first place. In some instances, it requires the approval of the chief of police of the local police department, sherriff’s office or tribal police. In others, it is prohibited by law under any circumstances.

A legal review should be accomplished to determine if it can be done in the first place and what the legal exposures are.

Some operations have solved this concern by hiring off-duty, sworn police officers to be present on their property, in full uniform and in marked police vehicles, as a potential deterrent and to allow for rapid response to incidents involving weapons. Some urban police departments do have a prohibition for police officers to work in uniform for a casino property, and often other agencies such as the county sheriff’s office have that ability.

Many operations have been able to accomplish this at a higher cost per hour, with the end result being positive for deterrence and response. Ideally, the presence of a police officer should be from dawn to dusk, or at least 12 hours. A review of past incidents will also dictate times that would benefit from a law enforcement presence.

Other properties have difficulty in first, getting police officers to volunteer for the overtime duty, second, coming up with an agreement or memorandum of understanding (MOU), and third, managing the police officers when they are on a property to assure they are deployed effectively.

The use of off-duty police officers is by far the less complicated and least expensive method to have someone armed on a property with the full powers of a sworn police officer. If this method is available, I would certainly recommend it be considered.


Liability Insurance

Always of concern is the impact that arming security may have on claims and insurance premiums generally, and in the event of an incident where litigation occurs, future premiums. Coverage levels should be evaluated to cover the typically higher claims costs involving shooting incidents.

Generally, insurance providers will have questions regarding the policies, procedures, training and equipment carried to determine if premiums will increase and by how much. With larger, multi-property companies or tribal operations, the power of volume in negotiations will play a role in insurance quotes.

Surprisingly, many insurance carriers do not increase premiums if there is an organized plan to reduce the risk of an incident involving a security officer discharging his weapon and injuring a patron or employee with “friendly fire.” In some cases, limiting weapons to security managers and supervisors has positive effect on actuaries who determine premiums.

And finally, there are carriers that simply will not provide a quote to casinos that arm their security personnel with lethal weapons. I would suggest that after conducting a legal review to determine if it is even possible, the research to determine any additional cost in liability or crime insurance should be completed. Insurance carriers will also advise what they would require if security officers carried and potentially used weapons inside or outside of a casino.


Labor Pool and Wages

Almost every security professional I know reports difficulty filling basic security officer positions with even slightly qualified candidates with any experience. This can be as high as 20 percent of the total security complement.

Injecting into that labor market complication, the additional requirements of more comprehensive background checks, psychological evaluations, competency for response to incidents, and having the ability to be trained, many casinos would be hard pressed to find qualified candidates to function as armed security officers in a crowded casino.

As with contract security companies across the U.S., armed security officers typically are paid a higher hourly rate based on the higher occupational risk and in order to draw qualified candidates, especially in rural casino locations. Bringing on higher-paid security personnel to be armed will almost always create issues with existing security personnel who want the chance to be armed and make more in wages. Realistically, most security directors will admit that there are many of their security officers that they would not allow to work armed due to various reasons.

From a management perspective, any armed security officer will need to have more frequent background checks completed to assure they have not been in incidents with law enforcement that involve any violence, including domestic violence. In cases where security personnel have been involved, cited or arrested, the common practice is to remove the weapon from that security officer, reduce their wages, and monitor them unless the charges turn out to be unfounded.

Additionally, security officers employed to carry weapons should naturally be checked against databases where persons are prohibited from owning or possessing a weapon by law regardless of the reason.

If your property cannot fill basic security officer positions with qualified applicants, you probably should not arm your security officers.


Equipment and Supplies

Every professional in charge of security in a casino has different ideas and philosophies about whether armed security officers should carry their own weapons, ammunition, holsters and other equipment or if it should be provided as a work tool by the employer. A careful analysis should also be made when making these important decisions.

Employers should determine what equipment security officers use, to include type and caliber for consistency and to make sure an individual security officer does not bring in a weapon or ammunition that is unauthorized. Weapon capacity in magazines also is a factor to evaluate. Some security directors only allow revolvers and others only allow semi-automatic handguns.

Another key piece of equipment is the primary holster that is used on the duty belt. Triple- or double-retention holsters have safety provisions that make guns more difficult to grab by an uncooperative suspect. Other controls including additional magazines or speed loaders should also be controlled, as well as type and color of leather gear for the duty belt. This is also an important factor for evaluation when deploying armed security personnel in a crowded casino environment.

Weapons should also have a mandated schedule for cleaning, inspection and replacement of ammunition at regular intervals. Conducting surprise inspections of armed security officers’ weapons and gear is also productive for compliance to mandated procedures.


Policy and Procedures

As a lethal weapon, the carrying and use of sanctioned weapons should have comprehensive policies and procedures to assure all security officers follow the desired protocols and do not make their own interpretation. The local police chief or sheriff can be helpful in developing your policies and procedures.

They should include company policy, equipment mandates, and instructions on the use of lethal force, liability training, and de-escalation of incidents. Additionally, protocols should be in place for automatic incident review by a “Use of Force Committee” to complete an after-action review and recommend disciplinary action (if required), and to recommend future policy changes.



Training of personnel in use and carrying of lethal weapons is by far the most important function before allowing weapons on your property. Almost every U.S. state has statutory laws or administrative codes that address armed contract security officer training to include syllabus and length of training.

Some properties believe that if supervisors carry weapons concealed, that they should have a Concealed Weapons Permit (CCW), which also requires specific training that is different from contract security requirements.

The property training should at least match the state standards for training in both of these areas, regardless of sovereignty interpretations. By meeting or exceeding the state training standards, a first important step in meeting the legal standard of care can be accomplished, including refresher training and intervals.

Classroom training will typically involve review of jurisdictional codified laws, pertinent case law, use of force, de-escalation, scenario-based training, and safety. Additionally, training may include weapon operational functions, maintenance and care of weapons, holster retention, targeting and other areas. Situational training is valuable, and is recommended by most security professionals who teach security personnel the important and judicious use of force for a casino environment.

Actual range practice also is important to assure all armed security officers maintain their proficiency. The actual firing of a weapon in training keeps the perishable skills intact and assures that a particular security officer has not developed vision loss or other changes in critical senses or reaction time.

Although hiring ex-law enforcement personnel who have had extensive training is beneficial if you can find them, the training should not be bypassed, regardless of the level of experience.

Range practice and qualification intervals start at twice per year, and many operations require quarterly qualifications for security personnel. This also creates a hard cost for wages and equipment, and should be considered in the overall analysis. Careful review of the range qualification process should be documented and maintained.

In closing, a comprehensive documented review of the security operation to include a risk, threat and vulnerability assessment would be prudent prior to making the decision to arm security officers in a casino.

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