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“Over the last three years, casino security departments have operated very successfully under very tight budgets. For better or worse, this is now considered the norm. Once an employer finds out they can accomplish the same task with fewer employees, why should they go back to the way things were?”
– Alan W. Zajic
Alan W. Zajic is a licensed independent security consultant specializing in hospitality, gaming and retail security environments. He has more than 30 years of practical hands on experience in security and surveillance operations, including stints as security director for the Sahara Tahoe and High Sierra resorts in Lake Tahoe, Nev., as well as corporate security for Nevada-based Del E. Web Corp. Zajic recently took some time to sit and talk about casino security trends, challenges and cost-saving solutions with Casino JournalEditor Paul Doocey. Here are some excerpts from that conversation:
What are some of the unique security challenges and concerns casinos face versus other security industry verticals?
Zajic:Casinos are like little cities in that they have the security needs you would normally associate with banks, hotels, retailers and a host of other businesses but in a much smaller space. They also have the gambling itself. These functions generate a large amount of cash, which makes casinos an attractive target for both outside criminals and internal theft.
In addition, gaming properties are the very definition of a “soft target,” in that they do not have a security-controlled perimeter. Casinos actively seek open access—they want customers to freely flow into and out of the casinos and elsewhere around the resort. So there are multiple entrances and exits to a casino, and it’s not like there’s someone at every entrance checking photo IDs.
Casinos also operate under a wide array of state-mandated security and surveillance regulations to ensure the viability and fairness of slots and other gaming devices. How do you manage this challenge?
Zajic:It can be difficult, since compliance can be the responsibility of one person or a number of people and departments and can be different for security versus surveillance. To start, a casino needs to meet minimal internal control standards, or MICS, if it is going to maintain a state gaming license. Every facility has MICS, and they are managed through compliance and internal audits of surveillance and security systems and departments.
Is it the responsibility of the security director to make sure MICS and other compliance issues are being met?
Zajic:Not just the security director, since in most gaming properties, security and surveillance are independent functions with different reporting structures. For example, surveillance usually reports to compliance which in turn reports to state or tribal regulators. Security departments tend to deal with the operations staff. Some states insist on this separation—they don’t want the physical security personnel who handle the money to be the same people who watch over the money.
But there are some operators employing a single security and surveillance director to oversee and manage both departments. This is becoming more commonplace in Nevada and other larger, more mature gaming markets.
Do you think this trend to put one person in charge of both security and surveillance departments will spread to more gaming jurisdictions?
Zajic:I think that will depend on what the economy does since it is the economy that is driving this trend. For example, New Jersey has been one of the most regulated gaming states since the inception of casinos there in the 1970s. Compliance to this strict regulatory structure was costing operators a lot in time and money, which became harder to justify as casino revenues continued to shrink. To help the gaming industry, New Jersey recently liberalized its casino regulations. This could happen in other markets and may lead to more jurisdictions combining security and surveillance functions.
But once again, I really see this happening in the larger gaming markets. In Nevada, you already have two or three resorts that have a single person managing security and surveillance departments. Caesars Entertainment, which is the largest gaming operation in the United Sates in terms of number of gaming properties, appears willing to combine the management of these departments.
What role is the recession and slow economic recovery playing on casino security in terms of equipment purchases and personnel hires?
Zajic:Customer volumes are down in almost every gaming market. Five years ago, you may have had 10,000 people a day going through the casino; today you may have a fraction of that amount. The less people, the less need for physical security, and the more likely operators will look to trim payroll in security department. Managers are expected to provide the same level of protection with less and less resources… and they are doing it.
This may lead to problems however. In my office I have a sign that reads, “Doing the impossible has become part of the normal job description.” Over the last three years, casino security departments have operated very successfully under very tight budgets. For better or worse, this is now considered the norm. Once an employer finds out they can accomplish the same task with fewer employees, why should they go back to the way things were? Of course, this mind set is not unique to gaming…
On the surveillance side, can using better technology make up for the lack of security personnel?
Zajic:It can to a point. You have a legal duty to make sure you are protecting all your customers. That includes physical security, the boots on the ground that patrol the common areas and parking lots. You just can’t put extra camera in these areas in order to eliminate the patrolman. That would be ideal from a cost-savings standpoint, but would not work from a physical safety perspective.
What the new surveillance technology can allow is better coverage of non-essential areas. The technology has gotten much more sophisticated—for example, you can automatically set up CCTV cameras to focus on a door when an entrance or exit alarm goes off. That type of automation helps and is much more cost-effective than having a guard watching over the door.
Is there any other cost cutting advice you can give casino security managers?
Zajic:I would recommend managers take a long hard look at payroll and staff. Sometimes you can re-arrange shifts to save money—instead of having traditional swing and graveyard shifts, create a single “power shift” that can handle nighttime activities. Take a close look at job functions and try to remove tasks that can be done by personnel in other departments. A security person should not be the individual putting notes under doors late at night. That’s not really a security function.
Has the downturn in the economy had any effective on casino safety? Some operators have mentioned increases in violent crime…
Zajic: There has been an increase in robbery events around the world. Armed robbery at a casino was very, very rare a decade ago; it’s commonplace now. There was a well-publicized robbery of the cash cage at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. South Dakota had a casino robbery spree. Casinos in Mexico have been routinely robbed. Casinos can combat this with a combination of increased surveillance and physical security—the presence of guards is a good deterrent for this type of crime.
Litigation against casinos is also on the rise. In Las Vegas alone, casino incident reports are up close to 14 percent. There has also been an increase in internal crime—reports of cash draw shortages and collusion between dealers and customers, that sort of thing.
What cutting edge security product would you like to see gain greater implementation at casino properties? Facial recognition often gets mentioned as the must have security product of the future….
Zajic: That may be, but right now biometrics have a hard time in the gaming environment because of all the movement. It is a very useful tool to have however when there’s a fixed picture and you can zoom in and use biometrics to compare the image to known criminals.
Video switching equipment is another technology that comes to mind. A decade ago you relied on a wall chart to determine which camera to use. Now, thanks to the computer screen and joystick, you can automatically choose cameras and click to zoom. This type of interface technology, combined with access control systems and cameras, are vital when it comes to prevention and documentation. n
About the Author: In addition to being a licensed security consultant, Alan W. Zajic is a member of ASIS International where he holds the designation of Certified Protection Professional (CPP) and is currently a vice-chairman of the Hospitality, Entertainment and Tourism Security Council as well as being an active member of the Gaming and Wagering Protection Council. He is actively involved in the Northern Nevada and Las Vegas Chapters as well as the international security community. He was awarded the ASIS International “Outstanding Council Chairman” of the year for 2010.
He is also a member of the International Association of Certified Surveillance Professionals (IACSP) where he holds the designation of Certified Surveillance Professional (CSP) and is a member of the International Association of Professional Security Consultants (IAPSC). He is also a subject matter expert and track advisor for the American Gaming Association.
Zajic is an instructor for the University of Nevada at Reno in the Gaming Management Program and at UNLV for the International Gaming Institute in security and surveillance applications. He is frequently requested to present sessions at international security conferences and for various organizations throughout the country.
He is co-author of the book Casino Security and Gaming Surveillance, has written numerous professional articles and has been media interviewed internationally on various security and surveillance topics. In addition he is frequently requested to perform the services of a Forensic Security Consultant (Expert Witness) in gaming, hospitality, retail, bars and nightclubs, and multi-unit housing environments nationally and in Nevada.