The inaugural Golden Dome Awards was one of the featured events of the last day of the WGPC. Video of some of the best scams caught by surveillance in casinos across the country were shown in three major categories:
1) Table Game Takedowns
2) Slot Takedowns
3) Theft Takedowns
The video clips were judged on the following criteria:
1. Slickness of move
2. Uniqueness of move
3. Financial reward
4. Quality of footage
While watching the video clips two things really struck me. One, cheaters are a completely different breed. As I watched cheaters commit illegal acts such as marking and switching out cards, I was amazed by their audacity. Not only was there a lack of a moral code. It was apparent they did not have much regard for the distinct possibility of ending up in jail. As an advantage player, the combination is something I can’t relate to. As in any occupation, there is a wide range in skill among cheaters. The videos of amateur cheaters and their clumsy attempts to rip off casinos drew laughter from the audience. On the other end of the spectrum, the pros were incredibly smooth, and I could almost sense an air of adversarial respect among attendees.
The second thing that struck me was just how daunting a task it is for casinos to prevent internal theft, which is the number one threat to casinos. Even with strict rules and protocols in place, there will always be casino employees who try to steal, especially those who find weaknesses in procedures. Casino procedures that gamblers may find unnecessary and even amusing such as dealers clapping out their hands before leaving the table have a legitimate purpose. Given the myriad of potential employee theft, surveillance has a very full plate, especially when you factor in the additional responsibilities of detecting cheaters, scam artists, and advantage players.
Among the video clips that involved employee theft there were two that stood out. One video caught a woman who worked in a cash counting room stuffing money down the front of her pants with her co-workers very close by. She didn’t earn any style points, c0nsidering how awkward her move was. Given that the cash counting room is always monitored I don’t know how she thought she could get away with it. The second video clip was of a craps dealer pocketing chips at opportune moments after collecting lost player bets. Up until that point, the dealer had a clean record with nearly 30 years in the industry. He was caught with about $1400 in chips in his pocket, and odds are he stole quite a bit of money over the span of his career.
As far as player cheats and thieves, two of most memorable clips involved a grab and dash and a pickpocket. The grab and dash unquestionably could have been on World’s Dumbest Criminals. A man wearing a bright orange cap stood behind a table watching two ladies play blackjack . Suddenly he snatched about $1000 in chips from the blackjack table and sprinted out the front entrance. The nearly fluorescent color of his cap made it easy for surveillance to track him as he was running in the parking lot. There obviously wasn’t much planning to this crime because in addition to wearing a very conspicuous cap, he parked very far out. The real kicker was his speedy getaway vehicle – a huge rig. He was apprehended before he could start the engine.
The highlight of the session and the winner of the Golden Dome Award for best overall video clip was the nabbing of a 58 year old pickpocket by a surveillance director. After observing an older lady standing close to and leaning suspiciously into another gambler, the surveillance director went down to the casino floor to get a closer look. Dressed as an average Joe with a beer in hand, the surveillance director sat down near the suspect and acted tipsy as he played a slot machine. Sure enough, the lady moved toward him. She stood close to him and then pointed at his slot machine display, making some comments. That’s when she made the lift. She was very slick in her move. It was not caught by the cameras, but after she walked away the surveillance director checked his jacket pocket. He had not felt the pickpocket, but the money in his jacket was gone. He calmly detained the lady on the casino floor. As they waited for casino security, she offered the money back in hopes of getting off, but the surveillance director was not about to cut a deal. From detecting the suspicious behavior to going undercover to making the take down, he went all out to get the job done.
After the Golden Dome Awards I had some time to check out the surveillance software and technology on display at the Expo. I was extremely impressed by the latest surveillance camera systems. In terms of software and technology that can help casinos evaluate the play of advantage players and cheaters, I agreed with the consensus among WGPC attendees that these tools are only as good as the human operator. Without a doubt, the surveillance cameras of today are invaluable in tracking any person of interest throughout a casino’s property, with the capability to pan in and out at multiple angles with very high resolution. But as far as analyzing play, picking up on potential criminal activity and recognizing players who are in “the book”, there’s no substitute for well trained, knowledgeable surveillance people.
Since I had to catch a flight home I missed out on the conference’s last event, the Innovation Forum, which was an open discussion for attendees and exhibitors on how surveillance can increase its value, especially in the midst of a challenging economy. One of the recurring themes in my conversations with WGPC attendees is how surveillance often has to justify its value to casino management. It’s human nature to place value on things that can be easily measured, like revenue, and minimize the value of preventive measures whose benefits may not be as apparent in the short term. Recognizing the significant long term payoff of a well trained surveillance staff rather than viewing surveillance solely as an expense is integral to a casino’s success. Smart companies, for example, know that encouraging and subsidizing healthy lifestyles for their employees (such as paying for gym memberships) is a very cost effective approach that will increase productivity and decrease healthcare costs in the long run. It may be difficult to assign an exact dollar amount to what surveillance and game protection saves casinos in terms of internal theft, cheaters, scam artists, and advantage players, but it is undoubtedly a significant amount. And how can you put a dollar figure on the contribution surveillance makes to maintaining a safe and enjoyable casino environment that gamblers are willing to patron?
Big picture thinking can also benefit casino management in terms of operations. Practices such as shallow penetration, no mid-shoe entry and bad rules such as 6/5 blackjack discourage, rather than enourage players to gamble. I know some of you may now be reminded that I am a former professional blackjack player. True, card counters do seek the best rules and ideal conditions. It’s also true that casinos make money through betting volume, the overwhelming majority of which is generated by gamblers who have no chance to beat the house over the long run. I do think the surveillance and game protection community has some culpability in how the fear of card counting largely dictates casino operations. When it comes down to it, the business model for casinos is very simple. More player action equals more revenue and profit. One of the things I love most about blackjack is that its a game based on mathematics. The same mathematics that can work in a card counter’s favor are the same mathematics that work in the casinos’ favor across all games. There is always an optimal strategy to maximizing expected win and revenue.
Knowledge of course is the key, whether you’re a blackjack player, surveillance director or casino manager. The people I met at the WGPC came to the conference with an open mind and a willingness to learn, just as I did. I had a great time and it was a very educational experience. Kudos to Willy Allison and Jo Allison for organizing a very informative and engaging conference with an impressive group of attendees. I came away with a new found respect and admiration for the surveillance and game protection industry. To top it all off, I even left Vegas with an open invitation for a future tour of a casino surveillance room.