Experts Tell Penn. Gaming Panel How to Spot, Avoid Casino Cheating

Security experts gave the Gaming Control Board a lesson yesterday on how to protect Pennsylvania's 14 new casinos from being cheated by real-life versions of the "Ocean's Eleven" crew

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Security experts gave the Gaming Control Board a lesson yesterday on how to protect Pennsylvania's 14 new casinos from being cheated by real-life versions of George Clooney, Brad Pitt and the rest of the "Ocean's Eleven" crew.

Tom Sterling, president of the Information Services Group of suburban Harrisburg, a consultant hired by the state Department of Revenue, listed a few casino-security pointers for state officials to keep in mind.

If you don't look for corruption, you'll never see it.

It's what you don't see that will hurt you.

Good surveillance sees everything that's important to protecting casino patrons, assets and gaming integrity, but the surveillance equipment itself is unseen.

Surveillance requires never-ending vigilance.

Sterling and two top state police officials, Lt. Col. Ralph M. Periandi and Capt. Ronald P. Petyak, took several hours to brief the seven gaming board members on how to implement casino security measures and how to do background checks on casino employees.

These checks will almost certainly include tough, wide-ranging criminal and financial background investigations of the 100 or so top officials of each casino, and, depending on "how deep" the board wants to go, less detailed looks into the backgrounds of lower-level employees such as waiters and waitresses, contractors and janitors.

Thousands of casino executives and employees will have to be vetted to some extent, said Sterling, which in some cases will require weeks or even months of investigation. This is one reason why the new casinos probably won't be open for business until mid-2006, although a firm timetable isn't known yet.

The board first has to hire its staff and then design license application forms. Casino licenses probably won't be issued before summer or fall and the casinos themselves, depending on how elaborate they are, probably won't open until summer or fall of 2006.

The background investigations of personnel could be costly, depending on how long they take and whether investigators have to travel around the country or world to complete them. The cost will be charged back to the casino companies and vendors seeking to do business in the state, said board Chairman Thomas Decker, who heads a Philadelphia law firm.

Petyak directs the state police's new Office of Gaming Enforcement, created by the new gambling law. The office now has only three officers but will likely have more as state police begin their background checks into casino officials and workers, as well as checks of non-gaming vendors, firms that sell food, cleaning services and other materials and services.

Petyak warned the Gaming Control Board that criminals -- both casino patrons bent on stealing and insiders such as employees and casino executives who cook the books -- like to pick on jurisdictions where casinos have just opened up, hoping their security procedures won't be as tight as they are in established places such as New Jersey and Nevada.

"Slots cheats prey on new gambling facilities. These facilities are vulnerable because the staff isn't used to their practices," he said.

He said that theft by casino employees "is one of the most prevalent forms of theft and the hardest to detect. More employee theft has been documented than theft by patrons." He said one employee of a Connecticut casino was "caught placing $97,000 [in casino funds] in his socks."

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