Lessons Learned from the Casino Floor

Before Jessie Beaudoin joined forces with Douglas Florence Sr., at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino (HRH) in Las Vegas, the facility's security and surveillance departments typically did not see "eye to eye." However, the two men have begun a new era in best practices at the casino after forming an integrated security and surveillance team.

"It is important to remember that neither department is better than the other," says Florence, CPP, Hard Rock's Executive Director of Security. "In order to mitigate situations and potential litigation, the two departments have to become one cohesive team, day-in and day-out."

There should never be a disconnect between the security and surveillance departments, adds Beaudoin, CPO, CSP, who is the Executive Director of Surveillance at the casino. "Occasional meetings with key members of the departments should be scheduled to enhance the relationship and trust between both sides."

At the Hard Rock, Florence and Beaudoin have formed a cohesive team, and they are using technology to resolve criminal matters and guest claims - all with the goal of meeting and exceeding regulatory compliance requirements, and improving important and much-needed relationships with regulators and law enforcement agencies.

Creating a Team

The first order of business for the integrated security team was to "right size" the security department with assistance from the Hard Rock's human resources department. That involved forming a Security Management Team and defining roles for security employees.

Since the casino is a 24-hour-a-day operation, the roles are split into three "shifts," and each one has distinct duties. The "Graveyard Shift," for example, typically deals with casino cash movement, the casino's night club, and concerts in "The Joint" concert venue. The "Day Shift" deals with check-in/check-out, lost and found, guests needing assistance with safes and follow-up on reported room damages. The "Swing Shift" typically deals with the casino, restaurants and the opening of concerts, special events and night life.

"First and foremost, all three shifts deal with 'guest service' - which is of significant importance," Florence says. At all times, the security team on each shift must handle intoxication issues, underage persons, disorderly conduct, domestic issues, theft and ladies of the evening. The facility also deploys a K-9 Unit on each shift doing ongoing patrol and training for bomb detection. HRH has a fully staffed K-9 kennel, so resources are on property and available 24/7.

Perimeter & Parking Security

The Hard Rock is not located on the famous Las Vegas strip. And although it is just a few blocks away, being off the strip presents a few unique challenges. According to Florence, the parking area at HRH is located in a more "urban or city-dwelling area" than the parking garages on the strip.

To deal with security and the safety of both incoming patrons and their cars and valuables, HRH uses Code Blue emergency contact towers in its parking garages and at strategic points around the building. A bike patrol is also part of the exterior security and safety plan. Typically, multiple bike officers assist with traffic control during peak periods and events, and they actively patrol the parking garages for guests in need of assistance, abandoned vehicles and any safety issues. Additionally, HRH's K-9 patrols are conducted in the parking areas as well.

"We have guests walking to the casino with large sums of money, and we don't want anything stolen or vandalized," Florence says.

Risk Management

At HRH, the surveillance team manages all CCTV video resources from a single control room, with Risk Management as a major component of the Security Operations.

The team uses risk management software integrated with the i-Trak report system from i-View Systems, which provides the security department a computer-based platform to provide the Risk Management Team with timely reports. This enables surveillance personnel to add notations and other supplemental information to the CCTV coverage.

The risk management module enables the security and surveillance staff to collect evidence and put together an investigation that can then be given to decision-makers such as attorneys, judges and juries.

"Risk Management reports to me today; however, the security practices now being used could provide an avenue for the legal department or corporate services to assume the responsibility," Florence says. "The reports mitigate potential claims and provide the Risk Manager with the ability to make an informed and timely decision with guest services. This is very important for HRH and the industry as a whole."

Meeting with key security management personnel to discuss pending investigations, safety and risk management issues is key to measuring improvements in performance, Florence says. "Using the decades of experience that the staff brings to the table, combined with the day-to-day experiences of the business operations is essential," he says. "Letting the future leadership of the department contribute also ensures participation and fresh ideas to be nurtured and implemented."

Although surveillance does not bring direct revenue to the bottom line, teamwork and communication between Risk Management, Security and Surveillance can save a company hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.

"Risk Management relies heavily on CCTV resources that are managed by the Surveillance department at HRH," Beaudoin says. "This emphasizes another reason why Security and Surveillance teams have got to work together closely and efficiently."

Safety is administered by the Risk Manager, who uses a Security Investigator to pull permits for events and to conduct investigations.

Formal Training Programs

The Security Management Team has revived a once-discontinued formal training program for. The first sessions required security officers to read the book "Verbal Judo - The Gentle Art of Persuasion" by George J. Thompson, PhD, and Jerry B. Jenkins - which provides discussion material for de-escalating security contact in a night club setting. This was followed by Report Writing Content, Ethics and use of computer -based report writing tools.

"These programs provide a better environment for ethics, and for our officers to apply security and guest services at the same time," Florence says. "Through this training, they pick up a sense of how to negotiate with people in an irrational state (drunk), or in a hectic environment. The training is allowing us to make better decisions and giving us more tools to make better decisions."

Florence says he has spoken with the Verbal Judo Institute to set up future hands-on training sessions, and to go more in-depth into the philosophy. He adds that outside consultants, speakers and experts will also be brought in to educate the security and surveillance teams.

Guard Tour Management

"Security dispatch is the lifeblood of our response, and communication is the key," Florence says. "It is accomplished by telephone, alarm activation and radio."

At HRH, bar code scanning provides documentation of security patrols or guard tours as they are called and for inspection of safety equipment. "We use bar code scanning from ScanExec," Florence says. "This provides an audit trail that ensures guest safety is being maintained - and this should be a common practice for any resort property."

Surveillance Best Practices

Slip-and-Falls and other Injuries: As it pertains to Risk Management, the surveillance teams must remember to be detail-orientated and extremely thorough when investigating cases of guest and employee slip-and-falls, injuries and any other potential claims that can lead to lawsuit, Beaudoin says. "When an employee or guest falls, rather than just finding the incident occurring on video then saving the video surveillance, teams must verify that the fall wasn't staged or fabricated in an effort to get a settlement from the casino," he says. "Treat every case as a potential fraud case by saving all camera angles (if available) that show how the fall occurred. In the event that there is no coverage of the incident, you can save the closest cameras in the area of where the incident occurred. This will help you later if the case goes to court.

"Any coverage being saved - even if it doesn't necessarily show the incident - is always better than no coverage at all," Beaudoin continues. "Fraudulent claims can cost a company thousands of dollars monthly."

Also, he says it is important to remember that just because the person does not need medical attention at the time of the incident, does not mean that they will not return a few weeks later - after the video is no longer available - reporting injuries.

When the investigation is concluded, Risk Management should be contacted and given the results of the review. In every case, Risk Management should be asked to review the coverage, so they can make a fair, concise decision on how to proceed.

Keep the Cameras Rolling: Another best practice should be immediate initiation of video coverage prior to any officer approaching a patron in the casino. For instance, if Security is arriving to a bar to deal with a rowdy guest that was brought to their attention, they should always notify the surveillance team prior to approaching the person, and the surveillance team should verbally acknowledge when coverage is initiated.

"This process helps ensure better protection for the responding officer and that optimal coverage can be obtained if the incident gets out of control," Beaudoin says.

Technological Evolution Impacts Security

Evolution of technology has made the job of casino security and surveillance easier - mainly because it has become much harder for crooks to steal from casinos. Here are some examples:

Slot Machines: "There were 100 ways a slot machine could be ripped off internally or externally when they were operated on coins," Florence says. All slot machines at HRH have been converted from coin-operated to ticket-in/ticket-out - and while the new machines can still be ripped off, the scams are typically more sophisticated and happen a lot less often, Florence adds.

Liquor guns: Many establishments are moving towards or have premium liquors only being offered on liquor guns that pre-measure the amount of liquor disbursed and automatically ring up the drink to the register. If a guest wants two shots, liquor guns ensure that two shots are charged. "This minimizes the act of bartenders free pouring or intentionally over pouring using jiggers or shot glasses in an effort to get a larger tip from the guest," Florence says.

Surveillance Strategies

Just as the technology has evolved, so have the surveillance techniques employed by Beaudoin and Florence. "These days in surveillance rooms, we use the data to lead us into the crimes," Beaudoin says. "For example, instead of just watching a bar or nightclub for incidents of theft and hoping to be watching the right employee or guest at the right time, we in Surveillance audit and fine-tooth-comb the reports in the area to lead us to red flags or theft indicators."

Prior to monitoring a bar, the surveillance team runs reports for no sales, voids, refunds, revenue, etc., to determine (based on that data) who or where attention should be focused.

The same concept applies to data mining of Security and Surveillance reports. "If we see a spike in reported incidents of theft or illegal activity in a nightclub or other area within the establishment, we will turn this area into a focal point to catch the criminals," Beaudoin says.

Newer technology, such as pinhole cameras, wireless Digital Video Recorders (DVRs), and point-of-sale interfaces that enable the surveillance team to see exactly what is taking place in real time are more tools in a surveillance team's arsenal.

It is important to remember in nightclubs or other low-light areas that black-and-white cameras are optimal, Beaudoin says. "These tools, combined with teamwork and a close working relationship with security, will deter crime in your establishment and lead to more proactive catches," he says.

Paul Rothman is managing editor of Security Technology Executive