Operating a casino security and surveillance network is a difficult task in the best of times. These days, the chore appears positively herculean; thanks to the ongoing recession and uptick in crime that is forcing gaming security departments to be ever more vigilant while at the same time cutting costs and operating as efficiently as possible. The editors of Casino Journaland Securitymagazine recently took the time to poll a panel of casino operators and security and surveillance equipment suppliers about these challenges, and the steps and solutions they are taking to overcome these hurdles. Here are some of their responses.
What are some of the unique security challenges and concerns casinos face versus other security industry verticals? What make gaming unique from a security/surveillance standpoint?
Michael J. Bryant, security director, Michael Gaughan’s South Point Hotel Casino & Spa, Las Vegas:Gaming resorts are built with the intention to make access into the building as convenient as possible for the public. There two to three times as many are entry points at many large commercial facilities, which create a challenge for both hotel security & surveillance to monitor.
Darrell Clifton, director of security, Circus Circus Reno, Reno, Nev.:Each segment of our industry faces challenges as unique as the businesses they operate. Casinos further distinguish themselves because they have at least a small portion of most of the other segments, such as retail, amusement parks, lodging, parking, and even warehousing. Security needs to be aware of each of these aspects as well as the unique issues associated with casinos. Casinos deal with large amounts of money, guests, and employees and have to very adept at handling the various challenges associated with each of them. Access control requirements are different because we are an open/soft business, but we need to know who our customers are. Surveillance has to be unobtrusive, yet able to get detail necessary to prosecute felony cases and catch loss associated with “free-flowing” money. Alcohol-based issues are some of the most challenging for casino security. Handling large crowds is difficult enough without adding nightclubs, free drinks and a carefree tourist mentality. Security officers have to balance a welcoming guest-focused attitude with a firm and capable presence to prevent and handle problems.
Laurie Jackson, vice president gaming sales, North American Video, Brick, N.J.:Gaming applications require a more active surveillance design than non-gaming areas. Using advanced management and control software, the video and data from the casino’s cameras, NVRs, analytics, POS, license plate systems, access control and other security systems can be fused together to provide operators with all required information for intelligent response and improved knowledge management. Comparatively, non-gaming security and surveillance systems often rely more on passive surveillance that simply records video and data for later review and analysis.
Fernando Pires, vice president, sales and marketing, Morse Watchmans, Oxford, Conn.:Casinos have a very high need for security due to the large quantities of cash and the potential for theft, both by patrons and by employees. It is not enough simply to secure assets physically; there is a need for multiple levels of security for those assets. For example, securing physical keys and access cards in a Morse Watchman’s KeyWatcher assures that only authorized users have access to them. Adding a Remote Box enables security management to place another layer of control between personnel and keys by requiring a second credentialed user to authorize the key removal.
The casino games themselves also need to operate under a host of state-mandated security and surveillance regulations. How do you manage this challenge?
Bryant:Fortunately the regulations do not change often so with proven internal controls and vigilant surveillance agents monitoring the games, it becomes part of a daily routine of meeting those mandates.
Clifton:Surveillance regulations are not as strict as most people think. In Nevada, the state allows the casino to write its own procedures so that it can best manage its adherence to regulations. That is not to say it is easy, since there is much more to monitoring of cameras than just following people around. Surveillance officers are some of the most highly trained employees in the casino. They have to be adept at a multitude of games and disciplines while having that special ability to spot suspicious behavior and remember faces of undesirables.
Jackson:Video surveillance plays a crucial role in the gaming industry and is governed by rules and regulations established to preserve the integrity of the gaming activities. These gaming regulations, established by state agencies, set stringent specifications for the monitoring of gambling businesses and the performance of the surveillance function. Any installation or design must adhere to these regulations. North American Video (NAV) ensures its staff is up to date on all regulations and can assist clients in meetings those requirements. NAV also works closely with regulators, gaming inspectors, and lottery personnel, to ensure at the end of the day an approved operating surveillance system is delivered to the client.
Pires: We design and build our products with advanced features to provide maximum levels of security for our gaming clients. In doing so, we take existing regulations, which vary from state to state, into consideration as much as possible. To date we have never been rejected by a casino – a result that tells us we are doing a good job maintaining the necessary standards.
What role is the recession and slow economic recovery playing on casino security in terms of equipment purchases, personnel hires?
Bryant:Every company has had to reduce staff and cut costs during this difficult economic time. Although security has had to do more with less personnel, owners and CEO’s realize that the facility must have a sufficient staff and equipment for the employees and customers to feel safe while on property.
Clifton:Many casino properties have been doing without capital improvements in security for some time. The rest of the security industry seems to be catching up to the once cutting-edge ability of the casino to have the latest and greatest. Necessity has required security to do more with less. Many casinos have half of the personnel that they had 10 years ago. This has been a difficult adjustment but it has forced us to work smarter with the tools we do have. I think casino security officers industry-wide are smarter and better trained than they have ever been.
Jackson:NAV distinguishes itself as a technology partner rather than a sales organization and, to this end, we are not limited in our scope of services. In addition to designing and implementing systems, we also offer expert guidance to our casino clients for decisions regarding repair or replacement; we assist security and IT staff with budgeting; we provide predictable costs for support and maintenance through a single contract; we work toward the lowest cost of ownership and best ROI (return on investment); and we help deliver a future proof investment to the client with scalable systems that can grow as budgets allow.
Pires:The casino market remains very strong for us, as there is an ongoing need to optimize security with updated technology. The cost of our products is extremely easy to justify as it provides a rapid, high return on investment (ROI). Nothing speaks more directly to their bottom line than protecting cash and assets.
What ways have you found to save money, cut costs when it comes to casino security and surveillance? Have you turned to money-saving products? What practices have you adopted to save money?
Bryant: We replaced some of the security trucks with golf carts and ATVs that use less gas along with building up bicycle patrols.
Clifton:As mentioned above, we have to turn to our heads when we cannot purchase new gadgets. Having said that, when we can justify replacing a body with a gadget, we will do so to save money. Access control and video analytics have allowed us to do that. Otherwise, we still need people to serve people in a hospitality environment, so we always try to cut on the back end rather than where it affects our exposure to our guests. Specific practices we have adopted include variable scheduling based on business volume, automated access control, report-writing software, and use of cameras, alarms and analytics to replace some human patrol.
Jackson:As discussed above, our comprehensive experience in the gaming industry also provides us with the knowledge of current rules and regulations that affect casino surveillance. We know where megapixel cameras can best be utilized or that entry/exit access to/from money counting rooms must be equipped with mantraps. As a premier technology partner, we can assist our clients and save them time and resources with this knowledge and experience.
Pires:Providing the best possible way to secure assets like cash drawers is a very specific and direct solution for casinos. Keeping unauthorized individuals from obtaining keys helps meet this objective.
Has the downturn in the economy had any effective on the security at casinos—i.e. have you noticed an uptick in crime? Robberies? Game cheating?
Bryant:I have not noticed any significant crime increases on property but there has been an increase in guests filing false or over exaggerated claims in an effort to get free services.
Clifton:Criminal activity is definitely on the rise community-wide and we get our fair share. As more people become unemployed or have a need for money, more have turned to crime to supplement their income. Crimes of opportunity have skyrocketed. Where a neglected purse might have been turned in by an honest person 10 years ago, it is more likely to be rifled and disposed of if found now.
Game cheating is an acquired skill and not really conducive to the street thug or opportunist. This skill is seen even less as technology used and experience acquired by casino personnel has advanced. We focus our surveillance more on internal theft and crimes of opportunity than cheating.
Pires: Desperate individuals will do a lot more to try to find a way to get money, and these times can be a challenge to security on that basis alone. This is one more reason it is especially important now to put the best possible protective measures into place.
What cutting edge security product would you like to see gain greater implementation at casino properties?
Bryant: I can foresee gaming utilizing a comprehensive facial and license plate recognition program once all the lighting issues are adapted to the many casino environments.
Clifton: Some of these advances are used now with license plate recognition, abandoned baggage and customer counts to some degree, but I think we will see facial recognition and guest behavior used more as that technology advances.
Jackson: Advanced imaging technologies can provide significant benefits to a casino’s video surveillance operating system. From megapixel technology and 360° panoramic viewing to digitally enhanced functionality, today’s video surveillance cameras can help ensure that captured images are the ones needed instead of multiple frames of unusable data.
Megapixel cameras offer extremely high resolution and can also cover a broader viewing range than comparably situated and lensed analog cameras. When combined with the high resolution, these cameras are well suited for the casino gaming environment.
Panoramic 360° viewing offers complete situational coverage with the added advantage of forensic pan/tilt/zoom functionality. A 360° camera can complement the overall video surveillance system by helping to eliminate potentially susceptible weak areas, and with electronic pan/tilt/zoom capability, viewing can be enhanced in both live and playback modes.
Pires:We have had great penetration into this market with our KeyWatcher cabinets. As I mentioned, we have a Remote Box that adds a further layer of security to accessing keys or assets in a KeyWatcher, and for that reason we would recommend it to every customer we have in the gaming sector.
The Forum Participants
Michael J. Bryantis a security director with Michael Gaughan’s South Point Hotel Casino & Spa in Las Vegas. He is also president of the Las Vegas Security Chiefs Association, and has also served as a committee member on the Resorts Council, the Commercial Facilities Sector Coordinating Council (CFSCC) and Local Emergency Planning Commission (LEPC). He has worked seven years as a security director, and prior to that was a 24 year member of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, where he retired as a detective. Bryant also served four years with the military police force of the United States Air Force.
Darrell Clifton, CPP, is a director of security at Circus Circus Reno in Reno, Nev. He has been managing security departments and officers for about 25 years. He specializes in creating, writing, and implementing new policies and programs on such topics as workplace violence prevention, hotel security, casino security and surveillance, crime prevention, emergency preparedness and business continuity, drug recognition and many others. Clifton chairs many community and national organizations including the Downtown Police Tax District, Alcohol Advisory Board, Washoe County Business Preparedness Committee and the Northern Nevada Chapter of ASIS. He also sits on the board of directors for Secret Witness, AlertID and is the secretary of the Hospitality, Entertainment and Tourism Council.
Laurie Jacksonis vice president gaming sales for Brick, N.J.-based North American Video (NAV), a leading provider of security systems integration technology and services. NAV has built a reputation for excellence by delivering solutions to clients in the gaming, education, corporate, transportation, critical infrastructure, government, healthcare, and hospitality, financial and retail markets.
Fernando Piresis vice president of sales and marketing for Oxford, Conn.-based Morse Watchmans. For over a century, Morse Watchmans has served security professionals with innovative, high quality security solutions for key security, key control and key management.