The inside story on high-tech casino security

Engineer built systems used by up to half the world's casinos


"If you show up and don't tell them who you are, and play at one table and then move to another, and then move to an entirely different area of the casino ... [and then] you go to your room and change and come back, they're obligated to try to track you through all of that," he said.

Sensors are everywhere. "Each resort has tens of thousands of sensors, every doorlock system, every slot machine, ATM machines, point of sale machines, it just goes on and on," Jonas said. "There might be more sensors per square foot than anywhere possibly other than a battleship."

Casinos face legal and financial risk if they let the wrong people play. People with gambling addictions can place themselves on exclusionary lists, and can actually sue casinos if they are allowed to place bets, Jonas said.

An additional list maintained online by the Nevada Gaming Commission shows a few dozen criminals who have cheated casinos and must be prevented from gambling.

"If a casino gets caught transacting with these people, they could lose their gaming license or be heavily fined, no matter how hard they tried to spot them," Jonas said.

The job gets harder when criminals start recruiting people to help them, in some cases people the casinos are unfamiliar with, and in other cases high rollers who have lost a lot of money and would therefore not be suspected of cheating.

"They have false identities," Jonas said. "They just make up names, they buy fake credential packages. When you get to know who they are, they go distances far away, start recruiting people you've never seen. They train them in their own lab, so the first time they step foot in a casino, they're a pro."

One system Jonas developed for casinos more than a decade ago uses facial recognition technology to quickly compare suspected cheaters with mug shots and uncover fake identities.

But for all the technology and security guards employed by casinos, they simply stand and watch when faced with the most brazen types of theft, Jonas said.

"We've had armed cage takeovers where they jump in with guns and take out the money," Jonas said. "Now a very interesting thing that is not widely known is that when surveillance sees this happening, they don't bring security in. They push security back, because you don't need a shootout. So when you have something like that happening you hold the door open for them - have a good day."

Casino developer Steve Wynn's daughter was kidnapped in 1993, and Wynn paid over $1 million in ransom money to get her back.

"They did not call the FBI first," Jonas noted. But the captors were eventually tracked down and caught due to their flashy spending habits.

"That's the way they catch the bad guys," Jonas said. "They're generally idiots."