Challenges are the coin of the realm in casinos; everyday life may feature card cheats and common thieves, inebriated guests turning belligerent, and pickpockets preying on patrons entranced by one-armed bandits. A well-run casino requires a well-trained security force and a crack surveillance team, with skill sets ranging from verbal diplomacy to active shooter readiness to pinpointing detection of gambling table irregularities. Nothing can be left to chance when it comes to gaming security.
While the fundamentals of casino security remain constant, particular challenges may differ depending on the individual facility and its location. Here, we discuss the security programs at two distinct venues: Baha Mar in the Bahamas and the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas.
Sand and Sea
If all goes according to plan, the largest casino resort in the Caribbean will hold its grand opening in just a few short months. Organizers are hoping that Baha Mar, located in Nassau, Bahamas, will join Las Vegas, Monte Carlo, and Macau as a leading international gaming and entertainment destination and attract visitors from all over the world.
But not every visitor will be welcome. “Many will come,” says Marvin Dames, vice president of security for Baha Mar Ltd., “including those intent on committing crime.”
That reality necessitates an extensive security program, and Dames’ security team has been preparing well in advance of the scheduled opening in December. There’s a lot to secure. Besides the 100,000-square-foot casino, Baha Mar also features the largest convention center in the Caribbean, with 200,000 square feet of convention facilities, a Jack Nicklaus brand golf course, one kilometer of beachfront with 20 acres of adjoining beach and pool facilities, and more than 2,000 guest rooms.
“Let’s be real—this is like a city. And one can expect that we will have incidents,” says Dames, who spoke to Security Management about Baha Mar’s security at a recent ASIS CSO Roundtable meeting in Miami.
Perhaps the distinguishing characteristic of gaming security is that it plays out through two sets of operations. There is the surveillance side—the facility will be protected with surveillance cameras and facial recognition software. Staff will be on the watch for professional card counters, card cheats, and other forms of misconduct. And there is the security officer force, consisting primarily of officers who patrol the gaming floor, access points, and other áreas.
Superior security, always important at a casino, is even more crucial at an upscale resort like Baha Mar, which markets itself as “The Bahamian Riviera.” The resort’s economic success will hinge on its ability to deliver what it advertises— a casino described as “one of the most discreetly opulent and sophisticated to be found anywhere in the world,” amid harmonious and relaxing island ambiance. Maintaining this atmosphere will not be easy, especially when casino visitors heady with alcohol face dramatic changes in fortune.
“We talk about all of the cheating that takes place on the casino floor. But when you look where most of your problems come from, they actually come from people misbehaving, carrying on crazy and silly, and having too much of a good time. That’s a significant challenge,” says Dames. Setting the right tone, and knowing when to step in, is “all about knowing your customer,” he adds.
Security preparation for such a facility has several layers. It involves building, training, and maintaining a team; running live exercises; and developing a working relationship with local law enforcement. In sum, Dames describes Baha Mar’s security philosophy as: be proactive, and ready for anything. “From the most minor incident like a slip and fall, to an intoxicated guest on the casino floor, to an incident that maybe can be described as a crisis—we are designing our security strategy to effectively address it,” he says.
Training. Dames estimates that, out of roughly 5,000 resort employees, more than 250 will be dedicated to security. But security training—including the customer service aspects of security—will be part of the onboarding process for all employees. “We’re thinking of security holistically. We’re talking about the person at the front desk, the guy on the beach, the lady who’s cleaning the room, the bartender, the waiter,” Dames says.
Most of the full-time security employees being hired are required to have significant security training under their belts. “Some of the professionals that we’re bringing have already been exposed to training at a global level—everything from executive protection to crisis management to investigations to guarding,” Dames says. Once Baha Mar opens, training will be ongoing, and the company is considering implementing its own internal program in casino security.
The ongoing training, and any certifications that staff may receive, will be monitored by a security manager, who will be charged with keeping the team sharp by conducting regular live exercises and drills. Overall, the facility is striving to have not just the best dealers and croupiers, but the best security officers and best surveillance staff. “To function independently, people really have to be on point. It comes with leadership, it comes with training, it comes with ensuring checks and balances,” Dames says.
Dames is also coordinating with local officials to prepare for potential crisis management situations. To that end, Baha Mar’s legal department has been working on a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the government’s emergency services agencies, including the country’s national emergency management department and the police. In the MOU, according to Dames, all parties pledge to work to together and conduct live exercises a few times a year. These exercises will involve Baha Mar security staff, the police, and representatives from the private sector.
“So in the event of an emergency, we are not meeting up for the first time and everybody is like, ‘well, who are you?’” Dames says. “Our approach will allow us to improve our management of a crisis, so when we’re going in, we are comfortable with our roles; we know what we ought to be doing. And then it’s a matter of execution.”
Physical security. With developers of Baha Mar trying to use the natural island environment to best advantage, the casino will have a few more potential access points than the average gaming facility. There will be blackjack tables on the beach, for example, so casino security needs to extend to the sand, and will do so with extra patrols.
Moreover, a central design feature is a glass wall, unusual for a casino. “Most casinos are designed in such a way so that once they get you in, the goal is to keep you there. So there are no windows, you can’t see outside or anything,” Dames says. “Our casino is different. You walk into our casino and you look outward, and there’s the most beautiful panoramic view of the ocean.”
The island setting also makes planning for potential hurricanes a required task, and Dames says developers are building out with the intention of making the infrastructure as stormproof as possible. In addition, the developers have plans to construct a secondary emergency operations center (EOC) off site, to have a backup ready in case a storm or another such crisis affects the primary EOC on site.
On the surveillance side, Baha Mar is building a staff experienced in identifying card counters and cheats. “We’re going out there, recruiting the best and we will provide training on an ongoing basis,” Dames says. Staff will use a range of technologies, including camera analytics and facial recognition tools.
As for Dames himself, he says that his previous career managing crime fighting operations has prepared him for his current role. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in criminology from Ohio State University, he joined the Royal Bahamas Police Force in 1988 and became deputy commissioner of police, until leaving the force to take the Baha Mar job in 2011. “I was in charge of investigations, in charge of surveillance, in charge of intelligence, and was one of those setting up money laundering [prevention programs] in the country,” Dames says. “So you’re going with all the skills, all the tools. It shouldn’t be a difficult transition at all.”
Viva Las Vegas
Meanwhile in Las Vegas, Derk Boss, CPP, vice president of security and surveillance at Palms Casino Resort, has his own security issues to deal with. For the Palms, a key factor influencing security is not a Bahamian island vibe, but something Boss refers to as the Las Vegas Syndrome.
“People come into town, and they just start partying. They drink a little more than they do normally. They eat more than they do normally. Some people will go for days like that,” Boss says. Mix that with adrenaline from the excitement of gaming, the hot Nevada sun, any preexisting medical conditions a guest may have, and the result is “always a challenging security premise.”
“When they start partying, they stop thinking. Our job is to think for them,” Boss says.
Crowd control. Partying at the Palms doesn’t just mean drinking on the gaming floor. Besides the 100,000-square-foot casino, the facility features three hotels, two pools, and two nightclubs, which has made the Palms a popular entertainment destination. One of the nightclubs, the Pearl Theater, is a 2,500-seat venue featuring performances by popular musical acts. And the resort never closes, so the security operation can never cease. “It’s a 24/7 operation. People always forget that. That takes a constant presence. We don’t shut down at five p.m.,” Boss says.
Carrying out the baseline security objectives—protecting the property from damage and the guests from harm—requires a multifaceted approach, much as it does in Baha Mar. The bedrock of the operation is the security presence on the floor, being ready for and dealing with a variety of disruptions and negative situations.
For Palms security officers, training and temperament are both key. Officers are trained to be adept at defusing situations, even if the guest becomes belligerent, rude, or aggressive. That takes a certain kind of professional, and Boss has found that the best security officers are often those who “really like people,” enjoy working in a busy environment, and understand the importance of providing good customer service. “[Successful officers] come with an attitude that people are going to say things and do things, and they are able to deal with that and shrug it off,” he says.
And so, in the casino’s on-site security training program, officers are educated in the art of verbal judo. Sometimes called “the martial art of the mind and mouth,” verbal judo is based on several universal principles, including “all people would rather be asked than told what to do” and “all people would rather have options than threats.”
The techniques frequently come into play, as Palms security officers often must approach a guest who is angry with someone else or with what they perceive as a service issue. The officer wants the guest to talk. “We are not looking to make them leave if we can help it. That is a loss for us,” Boss says. So the officer will listen to the guest, using verbal judo techniques to let the guest know that his or her position is respected, and that they will work together to identify options to solve the problem. The officer avoids tit-for-tat verbal escalation. Ideally, the officer is able to redirect the guest’s aggressive energy toward resolving the problem and preventing the situation from spinning out of control.
Officers are also trained to make sure that inebriated guests get home safely. “We’re not going to turn somebody out on the street after they are drinking,” Boss says. Officers will put them in a taxi, or have an available friend drive. In cases of extreme intoxication, “we’ve been known to put them into a hotel room,” Boss adds. And EMT-trained staff are always at the ready in case of any on-site medical emergencies.
Training at the Palms is an ongoing process. For security officers, programs range from handcuffing techniques to CPR to supervisory leadership, as well as ongoing instruction for the emergency response team that deals with fire and electrical problems. “A lot of people don’t know what goes on behind the scenes. It’s a pretty incredible amount of things to deal with,” Boss says. “They have to handle life-and-death situations.”
Another situation security officers must be prepared for is thievery. When those playing the slots win, the machines issue a ticket, redeemable at the cage for cash. Some patrons—still used to the old system of a windfall of coins—do not realize they have won, and simply walk away without taking the ticket. So, thieves make the rounds, checking machines for unclaimed tickets and redeeming them.
Sometimes, guests will later realize their mistake and return, only to find the ticket gone, and complain to management. “We’re often in a customer service nightmare when we deal with that,” Boss said. “And that requires presence.”
Surveillance. Like most Vegas casinos, the surveillance operation at the Palms is extensive and sophisticated, with an estimated 1,500 security cameras. This includes both fixed and pan-tilt-zoom cameras; the latter are used to patrol the facility, with interactions between security staff and guests sometimes recorded.
Surveillance staff, Boss says, “never stop training.” They are constantly refining their skills for identifying cheating “tells” and behaviors and sophisticated card counting techniques. Once identified, card counters and cheats are treated differently. Card counting is not illegal, but as a privately owned facility, the casino retains the right to prohibit card counters (called “advantage players” in casino lingo) from playing the tables. This is done, Boss says, with respect for the players’ skills; card counters are welcome to play slots or roulette, but are prohibited from playing games involving cards. Card cheating, on the other hand, is “a criminal event, and treated like a crime,” he adds.
Trends. Boss, a veteran in the field and coauthor, with Alan Zajic, CPP, of Casino Security and Gaming Surveillance, has noticed two recent trends in casino security. One is the rise of social media, which affects casino security in two distinct ways. First, social media is now a useful source of intelligence for security purposes, so the casino monitors it.
For example, tweets may tip staff off to a huge upcoming private party at the Palms, or some other event that could affect security. “People don’t hesitate to put anything on social media these days,” Boss says. The casino uses that information—along with intelligence from other sources, like the local police department—to increase staff or make other warranted security changes.
Second, the combination of social media and ubiquitous smart phone use means that most incidents at the casinos will be filmed by guests, and some will later show up on YouTube—a reality that the casino can do nothing about.
As a result, security officers are trained to be familiar with dealing with guests while being filmed, a practice that can be intimidating. It’s one more reason to stress a calm, de-escalating approach in interactions; film showing an officer acting correctly and responsibly can be an asset in court if the guest winds up suing.
Another development is that the Palms has started active shooter training in its staff orientation sessions. At first, Boss was unsure how this would be received. “You don’t want to scare people on their first day of work: ‘hey, you might get shot,’” Boss says.
But he soon realized that interest levels were high. From the beginning, staff paid strict attention during these sessions, listening intently to instructors, and watching videos closely. When “Run Hide Fight” responses were taught, staff members were keen on learning tips like how best to hide, protect oneself and others inside a room, or fight back if necessary. “This is something that is a major concern in our country,” Boss says. Security officers at the casino are unarmed, so they welcome the training as well, he adds.
And so, Boss says his attitude has changed, from being unsure about providing the training to being confident that it is well-received. “I think the officers are very glad,” Boss says. “They feel a little more comfortable.”
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