When it comes to security and surveillance, casinos face challenges that differ vastly from those of other hospitality venues. Their large and open environments with several entry and exit points make them difficult to safeguard. They also attract sizable crowds at all times of the day and night, many of which congregate in large groups. And more, modern-day casino properties are often sprawling complexes that include gift shops, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, spas and entertainment venues. Making matters worse, the enormous amount of money exchanging hands creates temptation on the part of employees and patrons alike.
As a result, today’s casino security department is as complex as a police station, said Derk Boss, president of the International
Association of Certified Surveillance Professionals (IACSP) and the director of surveillance at Angel of the Winds Casino in Arlington, Wash. “Modern casino security is typically divided between a physical security force that patrols the casino floor and a specialized surveillance department that operates the property’s closed circuit television system. Both departments work closely together to reduce crime and protect patrons.”
Violent crime increases
According to Boss, crime today is not only more prevalent but also more sophisticated. “We used to worry about unruly guests, cheats and grifting scams. Now, we worry about all of these things as well as cybersecurity, workplace violence, smash and grab robberies, and more,” he said. “I believe it’s a reflection of society in general and what’s happening across the country.”
Charles H. Barry, founder of Charles H. Barry and Associates, a Las Vegas surveillance consulting firm, agrees. “We’re witnessing more violence, especially in nightclubs.” He also notes an increase in follow-home robberies, where perpetrators wait in the wings for patrons to cash out and then follow them from the casino and rob them in route to their homes or when they arrive. In a couple of cases, homicides occurred.
Yet no event brought more attention to the issue of violence than the October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas. “We’re seeing a pro- liferation of guns along with an increase in violent crime,” said Boe Young, vice president of sales for SafePointe Security Systems, a product line of SoundThinking, a public safety technology company whose customers include local governments, casinos, hotels and resorts. “There’s a growing concern about public shootings and mass violence in general.”
The lockdowns during the pandemic only exacerbated the problem. During the summer and fall of 2020, the nation saw increases in aggravated assaults, homicides, gang-related activity, and a host of other crimes, some of which spilled over into gaming venues. As a result, Barry said, many casinos incorporated security measures that focus on these types of events. “Some properties have created emergency reaction teams—armed individuals identified as special officers whose job is to respond immediately to hostile situations.”
It should come as no surprise that as criminal activity has changed so has casino security. “It’s no longer enough to watch a video monitor, flip through mug books and perform manual security patrols,” said Henry Valentino, co-founder and chief executive officer of eConnect, a developer of surveillance solutions for the gaming and hospitality industries. “Casinos that want to protect patrons, staff and the bottom line must implement new technologies that cover the entire facility—from the parking lot to the gaming floor.”
Trends in surveillance technology
Fortunately, technology can mitigate or eliminate many crimes. Moreover, it often helps casinos reduce labor costs. “Staffing continues to be a challenge for the industry,” Boss said. “Technology can step in and help properties do more with less.”
So, what kinds of technology are generating the most buzz? Following are a few:
• Facial recognition - One of the biggest advancements in casino security is facial recognition, which enables gaming properties to track patron activity with a facial fingerprint matched against a database. And, because the technology identifies everyone, it’s as helpful with VIP engagement as it is in spotting criminals.
• License plate recognition (LPR) - With LPR, strategically-placed cameras read license plate numbers and match vehicles to patrons. Like facial recognition, the technology can help with guest engagement because it reveals VIPs as well as bad actors.
• ID scanning - ID scanning matches faces to driver’s licenses and database images, allowing casinos to check individuals against banned or external watch lists. It also prevents underage individuals from entering the venue.
• Radio frequency identification (RFID) - RFID technology is increasingly used to prevent theft and counterfeiting. Embedded in poker chips, the technology provides valuable insights into how much money is changing hands and how much is on the gaming tables.
• Key cards - When key cards are linked to players, a virtual paper trail is created that follows casino patrons and their actions at certain checkpoints. This enables casino security personnel to identify theft, cheating and other misconduct.
• Weapons detection - This technology uses disguised sensors to screen individuals and their bags for hidden guns, knives and other weapons. Best of all, it’s designed to ignore commonly carried metallic items, such as car keys, smartphones and coins.
• Mobile apps - Some forward-looking gaming properties are deploying casino apps that track guest playing history, which provides details on how much and how often guests win. Casinos can use the intelligence to alert key personnel to suspicious behavior.
“Casinos today can choose from among an enormous range of security and surveillance technologies,” Valentino concluded, noting that every property needs protection, regardless of its size. “Whether you’re a big casino in Vegas or a small tribal property in the Midwest, you must safeguard your operations. Leveraging technology is the best way to do that."