THE BACK PAGE: First do no harm
Times are tough for some people. Or maybe they’re just lazy and don’t want to work for a living. Probably a combination of the two when it comes to casino crime.
Whatever the case, casinos attract their fair share of crooks, and the variety of tactics and offenses is impressively wide - wide enough that casino security departments are not the place where operators should be looking to save money these days.
This is for some fairly basic reasons. When Abraham Maslow devised his oft-cited hierarchy of needs theory of human motivation back in the ’50s, only food, clothing and shelter outranked personal safety. In the electronics age, safety extends from physical well-being to personal privacy, and criminals are always improvising on both fronts. Fair or not, bad word of mouth about a property’s security can eat away at revenue. With the industry poised to enter the mobile gaming and online spaces in earnest, it has every incentive in the world to continue to invest in security, on both the human and technological fronts.
That’s among the reasons it was distressing to read the comments of renowned surveillance security expert Willy Allison following the Bellagio chip robbery in December, when a motorcycle-helmeted patron grabbed $1.5 million in chips from a craps table and exited the building untouched.
Allison, who will be holding his annual World Game Protection conference this month at M Resort Spa Casino in Las Vegas, told the Las Vegas Sun that the Bellagio heist indicated that major Strip casinos “have the worst casino security in the world. You’ve got a better chance of walking into a hooker at the entrance of some of these casinos than a security officer.”
MGM Resorts International, Bellagio’s owner, took issue with this characterization, and a local police official noted that the Bellagio theft was the 10th armed casino robbery in Las Vegas in 2010, compared with nine in 2009, not bad numbers given 250-plus locations open 365 days a year. Moreover, major Las Vegas properties have certain challenges not found elsewhere in the country, where guards are often placed by entryways (easier to do with smaller locations), or internationally, where secure player registration areas at the entrance are not uncommon.
Security problems are not confined to grab-and-runs, nor are matters always controllable on site, or business outcomes fair. SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia was hit with two widely reported robberies within two months of opening last fall, including a parking lot pistol-whipping and a customer who was trailed home to New Jersey and robbed of $2,000 in winnings. The property has gotten off to a slower-than-expected start, as chronicled in an article last month in The Philadelphia Inquirer which analyzed the business situation in technical terms (too many slots chasing too few customers, properties shouldn’t be judged on the first four months of results, etc.). Representative or not, the accompanying comments, however, were littered with references to the robberies and perceived insecurity.
Perceptions, of course, matter, so it’s good to be pro-active whenever you can. It was smart for the new Gun Lake Casino in Wayland, Mich., to invite the media in last month to tout its security guard training. With 54 guards manning a 1,400-machine property, the casino generated headlines such as “Gun Lake Beefs Up Security,” and local television stations grabbed the baton. One even dusted off a decade-old study commissioned by the Department of Justice on the impact of casinos on crime rates in new jurisdictions (minimal) and an interview with the local police chief who had asked around and learned that increased traffic is where law enforcement feels the impact most.
Still, new forms of mischief abound. The Nevada Gaming Control Board last month sent a letter to all licensees noting that it has recently investigated numerous incidents where player data bases have been compromised, identifying the potential for points and/or identity theft. The growing use of personal devices such as smart phones that interface with property data bases is a key part of their concern.
Not coincidentally, we’ll be focusing on this issue with our partners WhiteSand Gaming at the Gaming Technology Summit at Green Valley Ranch in Las Vegas in May. At a session called “Privacy Concerns” we’ll address the challenges that accompany the rise of social networking connectivity, GPS information and personal data submissions, forcing companies to protect both personally identifiable information of employees, customers and vendors and create new policies for handling location-based data. Not only is real-time information about location a risk, but companies will have access to information about where people (or their devices) spend much of their time. How that information is used and protected is yet another security issue that will occupy operators for many years to come.
BIO: Charles Anderer is executive editor of BNP Media Gaming Group and also oversees content development, sales and marketing for the company’s trade shows and conferences, which include Bingo World, Southern Gaming Summit, Gaming Technology Summit and Casino Marketing. He can be contacted at email@example.com.