Top casino security concerns for 2012

With more than 30 years of security management experience and 18 of those years in the casino gaming sector, I know firsthand that casino security and surveillance executives face different a set of challenges. With the economy showing signs of recovery, casino security executives' top concerns should be rebuilding their programs to ensure regulatory compliance, guest service and safety, responsible gambling and alcohol programs, and maintaining the public trust.

As part of rebuilding the security program, casino directors should consider budget planning, balancing staffing levels, ongoing training, and upgrading and maintaining equipment. Doing so will ensure the business that never sleeps can continue operating.

The importance of annual budgeting

Prior to any new year, most security and surveillance executives have completed their budgets that include staff requirements and wages, outside services and training, and capital and operational expenses including equipment and maintenance contracts. Typically these budgets are prepared in the last quarter of each year and are reviewed by the CFO and senior management team for opportunities to reduce operational costs.

This is an opportunity to show C-level executives that the security and surveillance departments can contribute to the organization's bottom line. The advancements in security and surveillance technologies provide the ability to reduce liabilities, save on equipment costs and get better quality images for everything from combating money laundering to better customer service and employee conformance.

Often departments operate under a "use it or lose it" policy. That makes planning and following through on budgets a significant contributor to requesting new funds and rebuilding your program in 2012. So make sure that you use this year's budget to provide value for your business. This will help with future budgetary cycles.

Balanced staffing

Staffing has been one of the most significant areas impacted in the past five years of the economic downturn. For example, in Las Vegas as much as 30 percent of all casino employees -- this includes security hourly employees who are working "on-call" – are working two or more jobs.

With so many security personnel, this raises interesting red flags where an expectation of integrity exists. Many security staff members are not achieving enough hours to qualify for benefit packages, raising the question of loyalty and commitment to duty. Improving economic conditions provide an opportunity to make sure you have the right amount of staff matched with the right technologies to allow the company to save costs, but also better take care of your existing staff.

When I reorganized the security staff for a major casino operation, I had 33 full-time security officers and three times that many on-call. I was fortunate to have a senior management team willing to work with me to balance my team.

For those security and surveillance executives who are balancing their staffing, the human resource department and modern technology will become your best allies. In my situation, the HR department and I determined that the hire date would be the qualifier for on-call personnel re-assignment to full-time providing them with regular hours and benefits. The remaining on-call team was assigned to business units such as nightclubs, banquet halls and concerts where sufficient hours of operation made providing benefits an option.

When adding advanced technology to the mix, you can gain the trust of the senior management teams by showing them that you have the organization's best interest in mind. A great way to save on operational costs is by having your existing personnel operate more effectively. Providing security and surveillance staff with the tools they need, like mobile security management systems and HD surveillance systems, can help them react more efficiently. As a security director, you will then be in position to provide existing employees with better benefits and incentives to promote loyalty and commitment to duty.

The end result is a more balanced security organization with better control on staffing and operational costs.

Ongoing training

Besides having the staffing levels balanced and the right technologies in place to provide ROI for the business, the next issue of major concern is ongoing training. Whether training is provided by senior staff or outside trainers, there will be an expense for staff to participate in training programs because casino properties are 24/7.

The economic downturn saw widespread elimination of training programs for casino security and surveillance personnel. The risk of this action is a major loss of knowledge and leadership that can contribute to poor decisions in the field. Casino directors should incorporate training resources into their budget planning to ensure their people are prepared for situations in their respective roles. Security leadership should also consider training when adopting new technologies. For example, video management software can take days or sometimes minutes to learn depending on the ease of use of the system. Before buying anything, make sure you ask about training time required because that should factor into the overall cost.

With the reduction of casino operations on the whole training should also include guest service skills. Now more than ever, security staff must contribute to a positive guest experience. Like many industries customer service is a number one priority for casino operations.

Training can take many forms and costs. Staff can attend local security and surveillance meetings, trade shows and related business associations where educational programs are provided. Government agencies also offer specialized training on topics like homeland security, disaster preparedness or active shooter programs that are often times no cost to the attendee other than the time away from the property. Outside consultants can provide security audits to determine if practices meet current legal challenges, but they can also provide the roadmap to a successful ongoing training program. Professional associations and equipment manufacturers offer security related webinars that can provide security executives updates on what's new on the technology front, from high-definition (HD) video surveillance to significant improvements for report writing and the latest security software.

Upgrading and maintaining equipment

Planned and unplanned expenditures for repairing equipment have been hit hard over the past few years. Often times the reality of shrinking budgets meant having to take vehicles, bike units and surveillance resources offline because there was no money for maintenance and repairs. Whether it is a commercial or Indian gaming operation, casino security directors have to find creative solutions to improve their overall security program with limited budgets.

When choosing equipment and technology, it's important to consider the product's warranty and the company's commitment to upgrades and maintenance. This will allow security and surveillance professionals to get longevity and the most value out of their purchases.

Areas that are often overlooked when budgeting are maintenance of uniforms, bicycles, patrol vehicles, crowd control stanchions, traffic barriers and signage. One property I recently visited invested in a hybrid vehicle that reduced fuel costs when an aging vehicle was retired. While the initial cost might have been a bit higher, the organization will save money in the long-term. Don't forget that vehicles have to be registered and insured besides the mechanical maintenance.

This year casino security professionals will see signs of improvement as the economy recovers. It's important in this rebuilding phase that executives future-proof their businesses with the right people, technologies, education and plans for continued support from senior management.

About the Author: Douglas Florence, CPP, is the Business Development Director of Global Gaming at Avigilon. With 36 years experience with a variety of casinos and vendors, Florence is widely regarded as a surveillance, security, and gaming operations expert.

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