Q. How are gaming security professionals leveraging technology to protect their assets?
A. While the protection of gaming assets is important, what about the nongaming areas of the operation such as food and beverage outlets, nightclubs, bars, lounges, and retail outlets? Many security professionals believe the second most-observed area for surveillance personnel should be food and beverage. Data from Moody’s Investors Service from September 2016 said that nongaming revenue was 55 to 65 percent of the revenue of a gaming property, with food and beverage being the largest portion of that. So no matter what city or property patrons visit, of the disposable income that people bring to the gaming industry, it appears that the food and beverage revenue is becoming at least as important to casinos as the gaming revenue.
To more closely monitor losses and possible theft in the food and beverage departments, security teams can leverage an effective point-of-sale control solution that is integrated with a hotel and casino’s surveillance recording system, which identifies errors in procedures and theft.
With a point-of-sale (POS) terminal, you basically have a cashier device of some type, such as a register. That transmits data to the server, where the data is analyzed and stored. Depending on what the food and beverage management team wants and what their parameters are, the POS generates reports. For example, if you’re talking about a bar, you have data on who the employee is, the time of day, what drink was ordered, what drink was served, what food was ordered, and what food was served. The solution takes that data and overlays it with the video of that POS terminal. You can go back and see what the employee is actually ringing up, and what their actions are compared to what the electronic data is coming out of that POS–and hopefully they are going to match. If you see any anomalies in the data, then you can go back and watch what actually happened, which is very helpful in catching any improper actions, mistakes, or thefts.
Q. Some thieves have learned to steal thousands of dollars by hacking and cheating slot machines. How can these incidents be avoided?
A. In 2009, virtually all gambling was outlawed in Russia, so the casinos there had to sell their slot machines to whoever would buy them. A lot of their machines wound up in organized crime groups. In 2011 the casinos in Europe started noticing certain brands of slot machines that were losing large amounts of money, but no physical cheating was noticed. That led to the theory that maybe the cheaters had figured out a way to predict slot machine behavior.
It was later discovered that cheaters were uploading footage of slot machines to technical staff in Russia. Someone would analyze the video, calculate the machine’s spin pattern, somehow interfering with or being able to determine that slot machine model in their pseudo-random number generator, and send a reply back to the cheater. This information would set certain markers for their play, giving them a better-than-average idea of when the machines were going to hit.
In the United States, law enforcement investigations led to the arrest of one Russian national in California in a casino in July 2014 who was engaging in this sort of cheating. The FBI later indicted all four individuals involved in the ring.
To give you an idea of the potential losses, the Russian cheaters tried to limit their winnings to less than $1,000 per incident, but a four-person team working multiple casinos could earn upwards of a quarter of a million dollars a week.
While some responsibility falls on the slot machine manufacturing company, the basic protection effort is still on the casino surveillance and security personnel. It’s up to them to follow up with surveillance observations and review that slot machine play to see if there’s anything that does not match up with the daily slot exception reports, which highlight unusually large losses.
Q. We’ve seen armed robberies take place at gaming properties over the years, most recently at a casino in Manila where 36 people died. What is being done to combat those incidents?
A. Armed robberies in the industry are a concern; they don’t happen that frequently, but they are very troubling when they do. In June of this year in Gardena, California, two men followed a victim who had just won a large sum of money from a casino and rammed into the back of his vehicle to create an accident as he left the property. When he pulled into a gas station to look at the damage to his car, they robbed him of his cash winnings and shot him four times. Fortunately, the victim survived.
And then you have the shooting in Manila. It was an active shooter situation where 36 people died. The motive for that individual? Also robbery. How do we prevent things like that? It’s very difficult. Most of the robberies occur at night, and most of the casino hotels are so large they have multiple entrances and exits.
For cage [money-handling area] robberies, the training is, give the subjects the money, don’t cause any problems, and hit the holdup alarm when the robber leaves your window. And you want him to get away—you want him to get out of the property, especially if he is armed. We don’t want our security personnel to try to stop them. We notify law enforcement and let them handle it.
You need to look at the scheduling of your security staff during hours of darkness, and you may want to increase the external patrols during those times. If you have winners who have large amounts of winnings, you may want to encourage them to take a check rather than cash. If they decide to take cash, offer them an escort to their mode of transportation. Most of the time it’s their own personal vehicle, so offer them a security escort to their vehicle.
If properties don’t already do it, they may want to consider posting a security officer by the cage. A lot of casinos have security podiums for public relations and assistance for guests that are located by the cage and serve as a deterrent. And finally, you can use plainclothes officers to be on the lookout for any unusual activity.
Q. How has the active shooter trend affected gaming security? Are more properties deciding to arm their guards?
A. One trend is that some gaming regulators are now requiring a copy of a licensee’s active shooter plan. The Mississippi Gaming Commission, for example, recently announced such a policy. Some casino companies are also considering arming some of their security force to be able to quickly react to an active shooter situation, if state law allows it. In many jurisdictions where gaming is a business, the state regulations do not allow security to be armed.
The approach has some pros and cons, and I would not disagree with any of my peers on what their decisions might be to protect their company.
Most active shooter situations are over in 11 minutes if it’s not a hostage situation, and in many cases first responders from law enforcement can’t get there that quickly. Sometimes they do, but if you had individuals on site, obviously their response would be much quicker.
Now your armed response team could contain and neutralize an active shooter, but they also have to be cognizant of what is lawful for a citizen’s reaction to such a violent situation. State laws pretty much dictate when deadly force can be used against an armed suspect. So if you’re going to arm these personnel, you have to be sure to operate within whatever your state law says about using deadly force on an individual.
Q. What are the pros and cons of arming plainclothes officers?
A. If your armed security guards are in uniform, that could be a deterrent to an active shooter in and of itself. But if your armed officers are in plainclothes they can blend in with the customers, concealing the fact that they’re armed. One of the disadvantages of such a policy—and this is strictly my opinion—how are your law enforcement first responders going to be able to identify a plainclothes security officer as a friendly with a gun in his hand? For law enforcement personnel responding to an active shooter, their first goal is to neutralize that shooter. And if they come into a property and you’ve got one of your plainclothes security officers standing with a weapon, it’s quite possible they’re going to be neutralized by law enforcement, which is not good.
You also need to take a look at how your security personnel with weapons are trained to respond. This training has to be thorough, the policies and procedures must be able to withstand legal scrutiny. How are security personnel trained in the use of firearms? What’s the selection process for such officers? Are they retired or former law enforcement personnel, are they military personnel? Finally, what’s your lability if one of your security personnel accidentally shoots an innocent bystander in a situation like that? All these things must be considered when deciding whether to arm officers.