At the Frontline: A Q&A with Casino Security Consultant Alan Zajic

[Editor’s note:] The following is from a joint Security Technology & Design and interview with Alan W. Zajic, the owner of AWZ Consultants, a consulting company specializing in casino security. The other half of Zajic’s interview appears in the March issue of Security Technology & Design, on page 92, as part of the regular “Back Page” series of interviews with top-level security directors and consultants.

In the last two years, two Atlantic City casinos had their hands slapped because CCTV monitoring staff were using the cameras inappropriately to zoom in on women. What kind of checks program do you recommend so that the surveillance director and casino security director ensure this doesn't happen?

I'd like to emphasize that that is a very rare occurrence. Out of the couple of thousand casinos that operate hours and hours every day, there's only been a couple in the country that have actually had issues in that regard.

Good, effective management should be common sense, but in any surveillance operation you still have to have a check and balance on your surveillance because they're the end of the chain. A lot of surveillance rooms even have a camera in the surveillance room to watch the surveillance agents who are watching the property. That's typically watched by a surveillance director and sometimes it's piped into the general manager's office, so that he has a little bit of oversight. And a good manager can go to the surveillance agents' station and spot check them to see what they've been watching and how they've been watching it.

There are circumstances where you're going to look at somebody's body. If a dealer puts chips into her cleavage, should you go into that area and look at it to see if you can see them? If you have an indication that you have a theft, I think it's appropriate. But it's not appropriate to look just because you have an interest, or you want to play games.

Is the background check still the most important part of a casino security program?

My opinion is the background check isn't the most important thing. I think the training is the most important function of security operations. Background checks are certainly important, but I believe the important part of the program has got to be how you train your personnel. Selection and hiring are one thing; once you get up to that point you still have to show them how to do their job, and they can't do their job without training. So I think that's the thing that has to be hammered into every security and surveillance operator's head every day.

What are the most successful staff training activities/techniques you've seen?

I find that the more visual the training program is, I find that the students tend to accept it faster. So in a surveillance operation you may have a board that shows what every surveillance agent's been trained on within the last 12 months, be it table games, craps dealing, sliding of dice, be it roulette cheat moves, back of the house, food and beverage-something that as you walk in the door to your work every day you can see the progress of every agent and they can see their own training. Those types of visuals can be very helpful in the overall program. And taking your training on a regular basis and absorbing it into your operation is the best way to get it going, because it's difficult to get budgeted amounts for independent training other than your normal shifts.

What are the new concerns in advantage gamblers? How many new "tactics" are you seeing a year?

Well, understand that an advantage gambler is different than a cheat. An advantage gambler is somebody who merely looks at the operation and takes advantage of a weak procedure or something that's not being done correctly down on the floor. If the dealer is showing their whole card from the opposite direction and they have a partner, that's an advantage player. If the dealer's not paying attention or there's something going on and the craps dealer isn't watching the dice closely, then an advantage player will play that game. Or a slot machine that is malfunctioning-they'll look for those on the floor and play those because it's paying out more than it should. From a cheating standpoint I think all the old cheating methods are what's new. So everybody's going to try to cheat whatever's out there.

There's "ticket in ticket out" technology-if you go to most casino environments now, if you win a jackpot you get a barcode ticket that spits out of the machine rather than the money. Now you take that ticket and you bring it to the cashier and they pay you money, because it's an encoded barcode and it's cancelled as soon as you bring it to cash it in. You can't get another jackpot off of that, so that limits the amount of cheating that you can get regarding jackpots and collusion with other employees. Those types of things are new in the industry, and it's too new to tell whether they're going to take advantage of that.

How do you stop advantage players then? Basic management techniques? Training?

Yes, and when you look at a typical casino now-you see the foreman and the box men or whoever is in the table games area-most of their time is tied up in tracking the particular customers: how much they're spending, what their spending patterns are, who they are, what time they arrived, what their average play is. Rather than supervising and managing the operation of the game, most of them are so much focused on what's coming into the game and what's going out, that they're really not focusing on what the dealer's doing or what the customer is necessarily doing.

What are your thoughts on RFID chips and reader tables? Is this going to become a widespread solution?

I think from a management perspective, RFID chips are very useful because it assists in what I was talking about before: the table management perspective. So you know the average bets because it's being tracked by the table, it's a smart table. So you're lessening the job of managing in and out funds for the management, and making them focus more on what the game's about and the procedures, whether a dealer's accurately dealing like they're supposed to. So I think it's going to continue, from a gaming management perspective. The hurdle the industry's going to have to get over is the customer's perception of Big Brother-it's invading my privacy. Why do they need to know if I have 10 $500 chips in my pocket or whether I have one, and where are they tracking you? Are they going all the way up to my room, or are they not? So there has to be a certain amount of controls, and the public has to understand it's a management tool; it's not necessarily made to track exactly where you walk with your chips. The drawback is public acceptance, and that's a big "if" in the industry.

What can they do to improve the perception of these technologies?

I think their marketing departments need to be well informed. I think their security surveillance and floor personnel all need to be educated in the process and what exactly the property intends to do with it so that they can communicate it to the customers. If you educate and train your employees, they automatically train the customers in that regard, but if you don't have any training on it, or any education of your staff of what it's there for, they're going to make their own assumptions and communicate it to the public.

Just a few weeks ago there was a standoff with an armed man at Harrah's in Vegas. Three floors of the hotel were evacuated and the suspect was taken into custody six hours later. The casino never closed. From what we've heard, it sounds like they coordinated a pretty effective emergency response. How do you recommend casinos stay prepared for instances such as this?

Harrah's is a very progressive company and I personally know the security director at Harrah's in Las Vegas where it occurred. He's very capable and he's an excellent security director. It takes good management to manage a program. From a crisis angle, every property must have a crisis management program that includes everything that you could possibly think of-and then some-that can occur on your property, or that's ever occurred on a casino property, and have a basic contingency plan for it.

In that situation you had two people inside of a room that was rented, so it was inside a domicile where this incident started, and then it progressed and became a major issue. I find it interesting that in the news articles, the biggest push was the public was inconvenienced because they'd been sent to another room, because they'd been evacuated. And to me that's one of the best compliments in the world that the security was effective.

Your emergency plans have to take into consideration accidental or intentional food poisoning, air conditioning systems, hurricanes, floods, forest fires, closed roads, power shortages such as the Bellagio had to go through-these are all emergency operations so you have to be prepared, and then you have to make sure your staffs are in compliance with what they call the incident command system, that the law enforcement and fire departments are going to be responding under. They need to make sure they actually have a written plan that says these are the contingencies, if we have to evacuate this is how we do it, if we have a shooting in a casino-and we know that there are going to be shootings in casinos since there have been a couple dozen in the last 10 years-all the way through to major flooding like we experienced in the LA market.

You can't be responsible for thousands of people without preparing for these kinds of emergencies. And the disaster recovery has to be just as intense, because once your situation is done, you have to get immediately-if not during the incident-back on track. If your sprinklers go off because you've had a minor fire and it wets half of your casino, you've got to be back up and running, so you have to have plastic available to staff to cover certain areas. There are all kinds of things that a contingency plan should include. And there are a lot of crisis consultants who will come into your property to help train you in these issues.