Policing in the Casino Gaming Environment
Methods, Risks, and Challenges
By Kenneth J. Peak, Ph.D.
Legalized gambling exists almost everywhere in the world. It has been spreading for the past 25 years as more jurisdictions realize the huge revenue source. There are approximately 2.9 million gaming machines and terminals in 180 countries and territories located in over 6,200 casinos, horse and dog tracks, racinos, and cruise ship casinos. In addition, there are more than 3,000 online gaming casinos, poker rooms, and bingo halls.1 Global gaming profits are expected to continue to grow at a rate of 9.2 percent per year and reach $182.8 billion in 2015.2
The United States leads the world in this pastime with 23 states having commercial gaming establishments, which generate more than $37 billion in revenue per year. Patrons spend another $28 billion annually in 425 commercial tribal casinos in 29 states.3
With the large numbers of customers, huge sums of money on gaming floors and in cashier’s cages, and extensive physical property and assets, as well as the positive image the gaming industry wants to convey, there is major emphasis and expense dedicated to protecting those people and material goods and reducing casino liability. At the forefront of these efforts stand “the other police”—casino security and surveillance officers.
As with many private enterprises, casino security exists largely to protect properties from themselves. Sometimes employees attempt to cheat at games, steal from patrons, execute some form of fraud, or commit internal thefts and other crimes, often in collusion with someone not employed by the casino.
Surveillance duties include monitoring all gaming properties with closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras or Internet protocol (IP) cameras, videotaping, observing activities, and being vigilant for any criminal behavior. Because of the nature of the duties, surveillance operations normally have high standards for hiring and training employees who must understand the games, dealers’ methods and routines, and scams involving each, as well as all types of false claims, money laundering, drug possession and use, and employee theft.4
Dr. Peak is a professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at the University of Nevada, Reno.
Surveillance personnel mainly focus on “following the money,” or watching for any illicit activities that might affect the outcome of a game. These efforts include tracking gaming chips on the tables, observing what dealers are doing with bets and payouts, and looking for anyone illegally pocketing chips. One of the greatest challenges involves catching dealers in collusion with players—allowing patrons to win and splitting the profits with them later. Officers must be attentive to subtle forms of cheating, such as “pinching bets,” where a person with a winning card hand conceals a gaming chip in one hand and surreptitiously places it on top of the initial bet so it appears that the amount of the wager was greater. Surveillance officers also must be alert for an armed robbery or someone grabbing money and attempting to run out the door, both of which are possible at any time.
The technology employed by casinos to observe activities on their property is at the forefront of the industry. Typically, casino operators spare no expense to deploy video cameras and recorders that monitor gaming operations to reduce instances of fraud, and crime, such as false claims, money laundering, and employee theft and collusion. High-level technology is necessary to observe all activities on the property and cover what could be in excess of 100,000 square feet of gaming floor—sometimes requiring more than a thousand ceiling cameras.
Crime prevention and security are paramount concerns for every casino operator. One publicized incident on the property, such as a shootout between rival motorcycle gang members (like the two that recently occurred in Nevada casinos), can affect public confidence and, thus, casino earnings.5
Security operations often use cameras; however, theirs generally are not as high tech as those used by surveillance personnel. Security officers typically do not have access to surveillance cameras, but surveillance operations normally have access to security cameras. Security officers cover several areas of the property—the hotel, restaurants, and pit areas—and escort chips to the tables. In these areas security overlaps with surveillance; however, surveillance cameras observe security officers as they fill gaming tables, complete paperwork, and watch the money cages.
Video and IP cameras are the backbone of casino security operations, keeping the clients, employees, and property assets safe. High-tech cameras used by surveillance personnel can detect potential hazards, as well as actual ones, such as fires, vandalism to parked cars, and identification of wanted or missing persons. Some casinos combine their cameras with facial-recognition software that enables them to match images in a database to a casino patron with a 95 percent accuracy rate.6 However, even the most advanced technology is worthless if it does not cover all property areas, if someone is not monitoring the screens, or if the information is not retrievable.
The IP camera, a digital video camera that can send and receive data via a computer network and the Internet, is a relatively new addition to casino surveillance. Experts consider such systems easy to use and dependable, affording a wide variety of applications and providing a security or surveillance officer with real-time access and control of live and recorded activity.7
A major difference between private and public policing is that private security officers are not bound by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Fifth and Sixth Amendment decisions, such as Miranda v. Arizona, informing suspects of their right to an attorney prior to questioning, or Escobedo v. Illinois, allowing suspects to have an attorney present during questioning.8 Security officers can interview suspects without “Mirandizing” them and attempt to get a statement. Once they obtain the information, they turn the matter over to the local police.
These security officers have several options in their approaches to investigations, and their success often lies in the ability to obtain an incriminating statement from a suspect. Sometimes they attempt to exert leverage by implying that “If you cooperate, we will tell the police that you worked with us, and you might not be arrested.” They send a clear message that “We got you, but we will be your advocate with the police.” In the security officers’ world, potential violators have few, if any, rights while visiting the casino property; however, officers can make only citizens’ arrests because they lack the full arrest powers of the public police.
Private security officers must follow many of the same laws as municipal police. They cannot detain someone for a misdemeanor offense unless they actually see the act being committed in their presence. Although, shoplifting, even if not observed directly, involves the security officer making a citizen’s arrest, detaining the suspect, and calling local police. A common approach with trespassers is to give first-time offenders a notice, then, if they return, security has discretion (as do the public police) to detain or not. Security officers can warn and release the individual again or detain the person, call the police, and sign a complaint. Local law enforcement determines whether to release or arrest depending on certain factors, such as whether the jail is crowded, if the individual has identification, or whether the person is employed.
The security operation of a casino typically includes both uniformed and nonuniformed personnel. While uniformed officers are the most visible and have additional public contact, nonuniformed officers also serve valuable purposes, such as keeping out or removing undesirable individuals who bother guests by begging, sleeping in restrooms, or urinating on or near the premises, thus, projecting a poor image for the property. Undercover officers mingle with such people who often roam the property panhandling, looking for a warm place to sleep, or picking up loose change left in coin-operated machines.
In addition to becoming knowledgeable of state gaming laws and the physical structure and function of the casino property, private security officers also must be competent to—
- address such occurrences as bomb threats, gift shop robberies, holdup alarms, domestic disturbances, and vehicle burglaries on the property;
- manage fire alarms;
- identify and use several keys and various types of equipment;
- fill tables with the correct amount of required gaming chips;
- prepare an extensive array of reports;
- handle service calls pertaining to food-borne illnesses, property loss, and vandalism;
- attend to injuries caused by accidents and discern individuals who feign events and merely want compensation; and
- testify in court.
Much like public police, casino security officers respond to a wide variety of calls. However, some individuals in the field argue that these officers lack the tools needed to address many of the potential problems they may encounter or that are necessary to protect the guests and themselves. Security officers and local police share similar concerns about their respective equipment and training.
Sometimes private security officers do not have the tools they need. They often break up fights that have been fueled by alcohol, and if one of the combatants brandishes a gun, the result can be catastrophic. Typically, private police carry only handcuffs. Some carry handguns and pepper spray; however, those situations are rare possibly due to liability issues.
The nature and quality of individuals employed in private policing often have been questioned. A federal task force noted that “Of those individuals involved in private security, some are uniformed, some are not; some carry guns, some are unarmed; some guard nuclear energy installations, some guard golf courses; some are trained, some are not; some have college degrees, and some are uneducated.”9
Fortunately, hiring standards for private police officers have increased in recent decades, and casino security executives are hiring better applicants. State statutes typically do not establish minimal hiring and training requirements—specific hotels and casinos usually determine these. Security officer training and equipment should correlate to the job requirements and expectations—minimally a high school diploma or GED, clean criminal record, viable communication skills, and in some cases a state license.10
Private security officers often start work with little or no formal training and only a week or two of orientation, compared with public police who typically must complete a 4- to 5-month law enforcement academy in addition to mandatory in-service training and specialized sessions. Each hotel or casino determines the amount of training required in certain areas, such as defensive tactics, first aid, and CPR.
Staffing levels pose another concern because often there are not enough security officers to monitor large crowds that frequently are present.11 Special events and activities, such as the “bar crawl” craze, may involve as many as 30,000 people traveling from bar to bar, drinking, socializing, becoming intoxicated, and sometimes creating predicaments for hotels and casinos.
As indicated earlier security officers must deal with a variety of activities—to include cheating, swindling, and defrauding, in addition to employee theft or deception—that public police may never encounter. For many years cheaters have sought to separate casinos from their money, compelling casinos to engage in expensive, long-running, “cat-and-mouse” games involving cons ranging from sleight of hand at the card tables to high-tech devices in gaming machines.
Public law enforcement can release information about suspects and arrestees; however, if a casino suspects someone of cheating, they cannot release the name or photograph. The only such dissemination may be to inform other casinos of a known cheat or thief by placing them on the excluded persons list. Gaming establishments have the same rights as other private property owners.12 Security personnel do not have to wait until they catch someone cheating or stealing to remove them; the same goes for individuals dressing in gang colors, flashing gang signs, or wearing pants pulled down low.
Private police frequently run stings. These involve an officer planting valuables—jewelry, clothing, cash, or cameras—in a hotel room and then watching to see if the housekeeping staff turns in the merchandise or keeps it. To protect the property’s alcoholic beverage license, they send minors to bars to see if bartenders sell alcohol to them. For the first offense, the bartender might only receive a 3-day suspension; for the next offense, however, the penalty may be termination. Security officers also conduct parking valet stings where they place a valuable item in a vehicle console and check to see if it is taken by the valet. Casino operators want people to know about these stings as a deterrent. They inform all new employees that they may be recorded and subjected to undercover operations. Security’s goal in these cases is quality control.
Similar to public police, private security officers prepare for all types of crime and unfortunate accidents while limiting their employer’s liability. Security officers have to anticipate, discover, and handle situations that could be harmful to guests—a spilled drink on a tile floor, an overcrowded doorway, or a blocked aisle—and prepare an appropriate report on each activity. These types of events could endanger patrons or staff, cause accidents, and result in complaints or lawsuits.
Occasionally customers and employees attempt to defraud the establishment by faking an accident and attempting to collect from the casino or through worker’s compensation. Therefore, surveillance cameras are invaluable for determining if accidents are real or staged. If an investigator determines that the casino is at fault, the gaming establishment pays for expenses, such as medical bills and lost wages. Casino operators want their guests to believe that the casino cares about them so they will return in the future. To help with this endeavor, security directors and investigators often are given the “power of the pen,” authorizing them to give guests free meals, rooms, or entertainment on the spot if a legitimate incident occurs.
If security officers suspect someone of stealing, casino management must determine whether or not to prosecute. If they pursue the situation and it is a felony, security personnel will thoroughly investigate, possibly interviewing dozens of people. If the matter is not worth prosecuting, fewer resources will be devoted to an investigation.
It is common for security personnel to spend several hours reviewing video recordings. Local police often contact casino security to obtain videos when a crime has been committed. For example, a woman accompanies a man to his room and steals his valuables, or someone breaks into a vehicle in the parking garage and steals a navigation system and CD player. The local police acquire the case and need the video to help them attempt to solve the crime and build a case.
If officers believe someone is cheating or committing a crime on the property, they may hold that person in a casino security room for a reasonable period, much like shopkeepers detain suspected shoplifters on store property. The security officers must have reasonable grounds to believe that a crime has been committed and that the person accused probably is responsible for that crime. Casinos often display notices warning individuals that they may be detained for cheating.
With the growth of legalized gambling comes an increase in the need for private security and surveillance officers. These officers are unique, yet they have much in common with public police officers. Private police differ from local law enforcement officers in that they can detain suspects and interview them without Mirandizing them. These private officers must address issues of cheating, stealing, and undesirable individuals entering and occupying casino property. Both private and public officers face risks and challenges every day. They sometimes encounter suspected gang members or armed offenders. In addition, they must tackle training, technology, and liability issues. Through all of this, it is important for casino security and surveillance officers and local police to work together to solve crimes by sharing technological data and factual information.
For additional information Dr. Peak may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.