The road of life doesn’t always lead to where one might expect, as was the case for Karen Delgado. While in college studying sociology with the goal to be a teacher, a career in the security field wasn’t even on her radar. However, as fate would have it, a local job posting at Empire City Casino caught Delgado’s attention, and, as they say, the rest is history.

“Throughout your career path, new doors open and you sometimes find yourself at a crossroads. The decision to join Empire City Casino became a great opportunity to explore a different field which quickly became my passion,” Delgado says.

Delgado was first hired as a Surveillance Operator at Empire City Casino in 2011. Her director at the time saw Delgado’s potential and soon a new position — Report Writer — was created within the department as an initiative to promote growth from within. From there she was promoted to a supervisory surveillance position, then Manager, before eventually taking the lead as the Director of Surveillance.

Empire City Casino was acquired by MGM Resorts in January 2019 and immediately became the largest casino floor in the MGM Resorts fleet and the sixth largest in the country. The casino, located in Yonkers — New York’s third largest city — is one of the city’s largest private workforce and hosts an estimated 9 million visitors annually.

“I have been very fortunate in my career to have been guided by great leaders and mentors who have inspired me to transcend boundaries,” Delgado says. “Empire City Casino has paved the way for my success. I attribute a large part of my accomplishments to my team, who have supported me at every level of my career, and my direct reports, who have helped me find my voice and hone my creativity and vision.”

Eye in the sky

As the Director of Surveillance, Delgado leads a high-performing team of operators, technicians and managers to provide the core surveillance functions of guest, team member and asset protection at Empire City Casino. The team is also responsible for operating and maintaining a state-of-the-art surveillance system. In addition to monitoring billions of dollars of gaming activity on the casino floor, Delgado’s team’s role is not just guest-centric.

“Employee activity is also part of our surveillance,” Delgado says. “This industry is highly regulated, and it requires us to ensure adherence to extensive policies and procedures and enforce compliance with all company, state and federal regulations.”

Delgado says the technology employed by casinos to observe employee and guest activity is at the forefront of the industry.

“Typically, casino operators spare no expense to deploy new equipment to monitor gaming operations, so we can reduce instances of fraud and crime — things such as false claims, employee theft, collusion or even money laundering,” she says.

High-level technology is certainly necessary to observe all the activities occurring on the 160,000-square-foot gaming floor, which includes more than 4,500 video lottery terminals.

“It is important that we use high-tech cameras and that our personnel is adequately trained so that they can detect hazards such as fires, vandalism, fraud and identification of wanted or missing persons,” Delgado says.

Industry challenges

Delgado says that, for her, one of the best things about the casino industry is that it’s always changing. However, that is also one of the biggest challenges.

“New technology can pose a risk to our operations,” she says. “There are so many opportunities that bad actors can attempt to take advantage of. The way to combat this is by continuing to evolve as these new threats emerge.”

This evolution includes looking for areas of opportunity, consistently updating systems as new technology becomes available, and retraining staff.

“Anytime new policies or procedures go into place, it’s important that the necessary training be implemented so that we can stay on top of the newest scams or new threats specific to our industry,” Delgado says.

Learning from others

If Delgado was to offer advice to anyone, especially women, looking to get into the security industry, it would be to seek out opportunities and learn as much as you can from leaders and mentors. She attributes a lot of her success to the support and encouragement of her team at Empire City Casino by MGM Resorts.

“It’s important to be self-driven and have a desire to learn,” she says. “Find an organization that fosters inclusion and diversity and promotes growth. With the right drive and determination, you can take ownership of your career path, and strive for continuous improvement along the way.”

When it comes to the security industry, Delgado is a believer in knowing what you don’t know and learning from others.

“The industry is constantly shifting and there are always new vulnerabilities and new forms of attack. It’s beneficial to stay informed and continue being aware of emerging trends,” Delgado says. “It’s important to accept that you may not always have all the answers, and you should ask for help when needed. There are many different subject matter experts that will be able to guide you and enhance your understanding, as long as you ask.”