All facilities have security concerns unique to their environment. Casinos tend to have a broader set of security issues than many other settings. Casinos are entertainment centers, hotels, restaurants and possess substantial amounts of cash. A primary factor that contributes to these potential dangers is that at any given time a casino is often extremely crowded. Massive crowds are a concern because the more people in any given area the more likely something is going to happen. This could be an assault, a group of thieves looking for an easy target, or an accident that may have been prevented or detected if there were fewer people present. Casinos have developed specific ways to help reduce the likelihood of these events occurring. They also found ways to detect any potentially detrimental concern before it becomes a major problem. However, if all of these fail they have developed strategies to handle the issue to the best of their abilities. This paper will discuss some of the various problems that are prominent in casinos, how to take precautionary measures against these dangers, and what to do if a security issue presents itself.
Security and Surveillance Officers
The primary goal of any security officer or surveillance officer in a casino is the same as in virtually any other facility: to protect the visitors, employees and assets of the organization. Because this role is so vitally important, both of these security positions are very detailed about what their job entails, as well as what their qualifications must be. A security officer's main responsibilities include patrolling the area, inspecting anything suspicious, enforcing the casino's rules, handling emergency situations, and escorting anyone transporting chips. Requirements for this job include having a high school diploma or a GED, a clean criminal record, on the job training, good communication skills, and in some cases a state license. Security officers generally remain highly visible throughout the establishment so they can better assist any customer or employee. High visibility also helps to deter potential criminals (Field, 2000, p.94-95).
A surveillance officer has a more behind-the-scenes job. Duties include monitoring CCTV cameras, videotaping and observing activities around the casino as explained in https://www.casinositeshelper.com/, and identifying any suspicious activity. Questionable activity may include a host of various behaviors. Questionable/suspicious activity may be indicative of employee embezzlement, cheating at the games, stealing from patrons or attempted fraud. Due to the critical nature of the surveillance position, it has a more extensive list of requirements. These include training in a school designed exclusively for dealers and the surveillance team and having a background in casino games, such as slots, roulette, craps and poker such a background is necessary to provide a better understanding of the game which aids in spotting anyone attempting to cheat. A surveillance officer must also have a state license allowing them to operate (Field, 2000, 96-97). CCTV cameras are absolutely essential in the daily running of a casino, so surveillance officers must be well trained in how to monitor them.
Some of the particular challenges that occur in a casino are based on the fact that there are simply not enough security officers available to monitor the massive crowds that are frequently present. To do this the security officers must work very closely with the surveillance officers. Working on their own, a security officer may not see an incident that is occurring on the other side of the casino. However, if a surveillance officer sees something suspicious he will use a two way radio to inform the security officer, who will investigate the situation (Field, 2000). There are many things that both security officers and surveillance officers must stay alert for. These include accidents, fires, criminal activity, assault and having minors on the property.
All security officers must be aware of anything that could cause harm to an individual in the future, even if it appears to be harmless at the moment. Seeing a potential safety hazard and assuming someone else will fix it could mean that the problem will not be taken care of until after an accident occurs. This could be something as simple as a drink that was spilled on the floor, or a customer who has a pile of bags partially blocking a heavily traveled aisle. Both of these are good examples of minor things that could become a danger to someone who does not notice them. If an officer realizes that something could be a potential safety hazard he must either fix the problem himself or find someone else who can. In the meantime the immediate area should be blocked off. A report must be written as soon as possible, while all details of the incident are still fresh in the officer's mind. The report should document exactly what the hazard was and what actions were taken to correct it (International Foundation for Protection Officers [IFPO], 2003, p.60).
Unfortunately, all accidents are not real accidents. Some are an attempt to defraud the casino. Although it is more common for someone attempting to file a fraudulent lawsuit to be a customer, occasionally an employee will have an "accident" and collect workman's compensation. CCTV cameras are used to capture an accident on videotape that has obviously been faked giving the plaintiff no legal grounds to sue for negligence, or no chance of the employee getting workman's compensation. Another possible fraudulent claim that may be filed is damage done to a patron's car while in the care of valet parking. In an attempt to protect against this, casinos have started taking a series of eight photographs of the car when it first enters the parking area. This includes all sides of the car as well as a picture of the license plate for identification (Florence, 2002).
Fires are a major risk in any casino. Enormous amounts of people frequent casinos on a daily basis. The noise levels are also extremely high; making it difficult to hear in the event that a fire alarm would be activated. This noise may include people talking, bells going off, and background music. However, another factor may be just as important, if not more so: patrons are often completely immersed in their game, so even if they hear the fire alarm they may not respond immediately (Kirch, 1998).
Kirch (1998) gives a very in-depth view of what the fire alarm system is like in one of the largest casinos in Mississippi, The Grand Casino Biloxi. This system includes 11 alarm panels, over 900 smoke detectors with varying degrees of sensitivity to allow for more smoke to be needed in an area like the kitchen where smoke would be expected, 450 pull stations, CCTV cameras, fire walls that will not allow fire or smoke penetration for at least two hours, and smoke evacuation air handling units. Along with all of this technology there must be a supervisor on duty at all times trained in life-safety issues who will act as a liaison with the fire department in case of an emergency. Each security officer is also trained to use a fire extinguisher, although any major fire is handled by the local fire department. All local fire department members are given an annual tour of the entire facility to ensure that they will have some degree of familiarity with the layout of the casino (Source : casinositeshelper.com).
Certain safety measures are also taken within the alarm system itself to minimize the chances of a false alarm. Some of these measures include a 20 second time delay for all smoke detectors. This means the central alarm station is given a signal before the actual alarm goes off on the floor, giving them time to investigate if there is actually a fire. Each area of the casino has a different color light that alerts central dispatch to the exact location of the supposed fire. CCTV cameras are then used to give a visual verification of a fire. If no fire exists staff is able to deactivate the alarm before it sounds. Another way the Grand Casino Biloxi has enhanced fire safety is by connecting all elevators to the central alarm system. As soon as an alarm is activated, all elevators immediately shut down and descend to the ground floor letting off all passengers (Kirch, 1998).
Another major concern is criminal activity which takes place on casino grounds. This includes fraud, theft and gambling schemes-many of which are felonies-and assault. David Nichter (1998) presents an incredible video documenting many of the common gambling schemes and other illegal activities present in casinos across the nation today in PSTN's documentary Preventing Fraud in the Gaming and Lodging Industry). Some of these crimes are committed by employees trying to get some extra cash from the casino. Employee embezzlement is a very serious issue in a casino environment with its ready cash availability. Some employees will steal alone by pocketing chips; others may work in collusion with an outsider to cheat the casino. Popular forms of theft perpetrated by outside thieves who work the casinos include purse snatching, stealing wallets and switching. Switching is when someone chooses a mark that appears to have a large amount of cash or other valuables with them and is carrying a similar item, such as a briefcase or suitcase. The thief will casually switch the expensive item with the similar item filled only with rocks and newspaper.
There are far too many gambling schemes to list here, however some of the most popular are stringing, distraction schemes and manipulation of the cards. Stringing occurs when a customer takes a coin and inserts a piece of fishing line into it. The line is then wrapped around their finger to keep yo-yoing the coin into a slot machine for repeated use. Distraction may occur when other patrons distract an employee and then change a bet to the cheaters favor. Manipulating cards is a way to place the bet in the cheater's favor. This can be done solely by the cheater or in collusion with the employee running the game. These cards may be marked in some way such as a crimp or dot of whiteout to tip off the cheater as to which card is in play. Another method is to manipulate the cards is with a false shuffle, stacking the deck to allow an outside partner to know which card is being played (Nichter, 1998). What these cheats may not count on is that CCTV cameras are watching their every move and once a security officer is alerted they will be caught.
Other criminal activities casinos are prone to include assaults and robberies, sometimes at gunpoint (Nichter, 1998). A ready availability of cash is the common motivating factor in an armed robbery. An assault in a casino is often a combination of aggression over losing a game and a substantial amount of money, as well as drugs and alcohol. Unfortunately, customers are not the only ones who use, and possibly abuse, drugs and alcohol. In a survey conducted by SECURITY Magazine only 46% of employees in the lodging and hospitality industry were given a drug test before starting work (Zalud, 1998). By not being fully aware of any potential preexisting drug or alcohol habits, a potential employer is exposing themselves to what could become a serious liability. This liability may come in the form of the employee stealing to support their habit, or a possible injury to the employee or a bystander if the employee is under the influence of a substance.
As bad as some of these crimes are; they are nothing compared to the horrific actions perpetrated by two 18 year old California boys visiting what was then called the Primadona Resort, currently known as the Primm Valley Casino, in 1997. The entire gaming industry was devastated when seven year old Sherrice Iverson came to visit the casino with her 14 year old brother and her father, LeRoy Iverson. Sherrice was raped and strangled by two young men, Jeremy Strohmeyer and David Cash. Her body was found in the early morning hours in the casino bathroom where the attack took place. Many factors contributed to this tragic event, but the primary factor was a father too busy playing the slots to watch his daughter. LeRoy Iverson claims that the only time his daughter was out of his sight was when she went to the bathroom. However, security reports show that Sherrice had been found wandering around the casino unsupervised on at least three separate occasions that night, the last being at 1:33 am (Jet, 1997).
CCTV cameras recorded the moments leading to the child's death. Unfortunately, staff was not alerted to any potential danger because as technologically advanced as these cameras are they are still not capable of interpreting human interactions. Strohmeyer and Cash were apparently playing hide and seek with the little girl. Strohmeyer followed Sherrice into the bathroom where he proceeded to rape and strangle her, while Cash stood in front of the bathroom door. Sherrice's mother claims that casino security did not provide adequate care in protecting her child, even though the father had been warned repeatedly about not supervising the child (Longmore-Etheridge, 1999).
According to Longmore-Etheridge (1999) this was not the first time a child was murdered in a casino. In 1987 a seven year old boy was found suffocated after being abducted from Whiskey Pete's. Tragically, it took two innocent children being killed before many casinos took action to protect them because children were just not very common in that environment. Today child safety is a major concern for all involved in casinos. New laws have been passed, new programs developed, and new training has been provided for security and surveillance officers. Ordinance 1212 was enacted after Sherrice's death to limit the times a child is allowed in casinos, as well as ensuring that a security officer is posted in any arcade that has 20 or more coin operated amusement machines.
Assertive intervention is a technique that is used to protect the children who are present in casinos. This teaches all officers specific behavioral cues to be aware of that are common in child predators. Assertive intervention also enables officers to apprehend predators if they have the necessary legal justification to do so. Bathrooms are also commonly patrolled now to search for any evidence that a child may have had their clothing changed, as that could be a sign that the child has been abducted and the perpetrator is trying to hinder the search by changing the child's appearance.
A new program known as Kid Quest has also been incorporated into several casinos. This allows parents to drop their child off in a qualified facility within the casino that will watch them while the parents are gambling. Kid Quest is devoted to child safety. Kid Quest operators require photo ID to drop off the child. The same parent must also produce photo ID to get their child out of the facilities locked doors. Besides ID, the parent must produce the same adhesive label that their child will be wearing, which gives the child's name and any known medical condition, in order for the child to be released. CCTV cameras continuously monitor the area (Longmore-Etheridge, 1999).
CCTV cameras are an essential element of casino security. By using the pan/tilt/zoom features CCTV cameras can monitor a relatively large area without the extra expense of needing additional cameras (IFPO, 2003, p.83). They capture an unarguable image of cheating, embezzlement, and assault. Or in Sherrice Iverson's case, a critical time line showing when security found her unsupervised, her playing hide and seek with Strohmeyer and Cash, Strohmeyer following her into the bathroom and coming out 25 minutes later without the child while his accomplice stood watch by the door (Longmore-Etheridge, 1999). CCTV cameras are also used to verify if there is a fire on the property, as well as any damage to a car before it enters the care of valet parking. This incredibly versatile technology also aids in spotting runaways, missing persons, known offenders and others sought by police. By using facial recognition software, images in a database can be matched to a patron of the casino with a 95% accuracy rate. Disguises are not generally effective in preventing detection because the match is made by facial points and is not influenced by hair or weight changes. Surprisingly, the most effective disguise appears to be sunglasses which often cover a large portion of a persons face, interfering with the software (Florence, 2002).
Even with this extensive technology it is virtually worthless if someone is not continuously monitoring it. It can't be stressed enough the importance security and surveillance officers play in attempting to keep the casino employees, visitors and assets safe. This is accomplished through their hard work, dedication and above all else, teamwork. Casinos will continue to meet the unique challenges that they face. Casino protection staffs will utilize a variety of approaches to improve the safety or the property and to minimize risks from criminal activity.
Amy Strickhouser is a Psychology and Criminal Justice major at York College of Pennsylvania. She is a member of ASIS International and Psi Chi, the National Honors Society in Psychology. Upon graduation she plans to obtain her Ph.D. in child psychology.
Field, S. (2000). Career opportunities in casinos and casino hotels. New York: Checkmark Books.
Florence, D.L. (2002). Facing facts: crooks can't bet on anonymity. Security Management,46, 101-106. Retrieved February 15, 2004, from the ProQuest database.
International Foundation for Protection Officers(2003). Protection Officer Training Manual 7th ed. Naples, FL.: IFPO.
Kirch, J.F. (1998). You bet your life. Security Management, 49, 121-125. Retrieved February 14, 2004, from the ProQuest database.
Longmore-Ethridge, A. (1999). The high stakes of child safety. Security Management, 43, 52-57. Retrieved February 14, 2004, from the ProQuest database.
Nichter,D. (1998) Preventing fraud in the gaming and lodging industry. Videotape Professional Security Training Network.
Seven year old girl murdered in casino restroom; 18 year old suspect arrested. (1997, June 16). Jet. p.53.
Zalud, B. (1998). Safe stay basic; access CCTV play roles. Security, 35, 22-24. Retrieved February 14, 2004, from the ProQuest database.