Security Advice from Casinos

July 1, 2007
Through the integration of departments and system components, casinos set the bar for top-notch security

Casinos are like small cities. They offer more than gambling and can entertain visitors with concerts, magic shows, animal attractions, and shopping - not to mention the myriad restaurants and abundant guestroom accommodations. For security operations to be successful in these mixed-use facilities, a blend of strategy, synergy, and high-tech solutions is necessary. While not every facility must watch for card switching and slot-machine scams, the security practices and equipment in these buildings can serve as models to security professionals in many other types of facilities.

1. Communicate effectively to gain cooperation from other departments.
Security isn't just the responsibility of members of the security team. It takes tremendous cooperation from others to truly provide a safe and secure environment. The most effective security strategies are ones that integrate functions such as IT, human resources, facilities management, risk management, and loss prevention. "Even landscaping crews can help with security by finding the hedge cutters or rake that was left outside," adds Gary L. Powell, a consultant for Santa Cruz, CAbased Cyrun Security Software.

Establishing a positive relationship with law enforcement (both local and national) is essential in casino security operations. Facility professionals and administrators in schools also benefit from opening these lines of communication.

2. Employ passive solutions so that security isn't obtrusive.
Casinos must effectively balance security and hospitality. "They have many points of entry. You don't want the people in a casino hotel to have their bags checked or go through metal detectors," says Brad Schulz, principal and COO, JMA Architecture Studios, Las Vegas. These security strategies can be off-putting to patrons. Using passive solutions such as closedcircuit television (CCTV) to monitor activity is effective without being obtrusive. Hallways, retail stores, egress and ingress points, and gaming areas are all being watched. In casinos today, nearly every area - including the perimeter of the building and parking facilities - is being monitored (with the exception of the restrooms).

Creating a welcoming experience is important - bad experiences can be costly. "Any time you are upset with an institution, you're less likely to come back and more likely to discourage friends from going there. In a casino environment, that is a huge loss of money. For every patron that leaves, on average, there is a loss of $500 per day. And, if they are telling 10 friends not to go there, there is a net loss per instance of up to $5,000 per day," says Cyrun Security Software President Glen Haimovitz. When security personnel are courteous and CCTV is placed appropriately, incidents can be resolved quickly without leaving patrons with an unfavorable impression.

Large, immovable cameras are being replaced by models half the size with pan, tilt, and zoom functionalities. Hemispherical domes that once littered the ceilings of retail stores and casino gaming environments are now so discreet that they blend in with other ceiling fixtures. Thanks to smaller technology, a facility's interior aesthetic is no longer compromised by security equipment.

3. Structure surveillance and security professionals as two teams, with security falling under surveillance.
Corporations don't often make the same distinction that casinos do when it comes to separating surveillance and security into two functions. While these teams must work hand in hand, Haimovitz explains that "the security department is actually the enforcement arm of the surveillance department." The benefit to this is that surveillance professionals can monitor the performance of security team members. "Surveillance personnel are not only watching the customers and protecting the public, but they're also watching to make sure security personnel are doing the job they're supposed to do," explains Alan Zajic a consultant based in Wadsworth, NV. If the duties include patrolling the parking garage four times per shift, the professionals manning the CCTV displays should verify the completion of these checks. It's the ultimate accountability system for on-site guards.

4. Put your access control to work for you.
Card-key access does more than just open doors: It can become a tracking mechanism that provides a record of who entered (and when) in situations that warrant investigation. Particularly helpful when criminal activity in hotel guestrooms is suspected, items such as lock interrogators can be used with the electronic access-control system to reveal when the room was accessed by the guest and by housekeeping (or other perpetrators).

Authorization can be granted to specific areas when access control on the property is segregated, keeping food and beverage employees out of areas that require stricter security, for example. It makes more efficient use of guard services. "With card-reader access, you can clear a vendor to come in. Now, the Pepsi man can service all the machines in the building without having to walk around with a security officer," explains Zajic.

5. Integrate components to create a smarter security system.
The old cliché that states "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts" is an apt description of why integration is a must. Intelligent systems are made from integrated components, something professionals tasked with casino security are well aware of. Employee ID badges can be noted by proximity readers that are strategically placed throughout a facility, and CCTV can capture and confirm an individual's whereabouts. Even more sophisticated is the coupling of motion sensors with CCTV. "You can have a motion detector in a particular room that will turn the camera on and film as soon as there is activity," says Zajic. The benefit to this is the amount of memory that is spared from use on the digital camera by having it "sleep" during periods of inactivity.

Casinos and other large entertainment and retail facilities can benefit from the use of digital video recorders designed specifically for both optimum storage of digital video surveillance and tracking of cash register transactions. "Almost all of the gaming facilities and restaurants have an interlock between a camera and any point of sale. If somebody opens a cash register for any transaction, the camera clicks on and [watches]," explains JMA Architecture Studios' Schulz.

Jana J. Madsen ([email protected]) is managing editor at Buildings magazine.

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