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

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."

"He must have had very baggy socks," quipped board member Mary DiGiacomo Colins, a common pleas court judge from Philadelphia.

All three experts said that it's almost impossible to overdo security procedures, stressing the importance of looking into slots manufacturers and distributors, non-gaming vendors and casino employees. The surveillance of activities at the casinos has to continue every single day, since new ways of cheating and new types of electronic technology come out on a regular basis.

"This is very much a game of hide and seek, and if someone has something to hide, they're going to try to hide it from you," said Sterling, who was hired by the Department of Revenue just after the new casino law was enacted in early July.

Speaking of technology, Sterling said modern casinos are using hundreds of advanced security cameras called "pan, zoom and tilt." This means they can swivel their view 360 degrees around a casino floor, zoom in close enough to read the numbers on gambling cards the size of credit cards, and tilt up and down or right to left to keep an eye on patrons and casino employees in all directions.

The types of gambling, and the forms of cheating, are also changing continuously, as more advanced methods of using slot machines become reality.

Some gamblers use old-fashioned "hard currency," meaning coins or metal tokens, while others use "soft currency," meaning bills or $1, $5, $10 or higher, or slips of paper or tickets spit out to winners by some slot machines.

There is also TITO wagering -- ticket in, ticket out -- where a gambler gets a slip of paper spit out by one slot machine, containing how much he or she has won, and then feeds the ticket in another machine to gamble.

There is also "cashless wagering," where a card is bought for a certain amount, say $100. A player keeps playing, with the win or loss recorded electronically on the card, until he's blown the entire $100 or else cashes out with the amount of winnings recorded on the card.

The only action the board took yesterday, besides getting a group picture taken, was to direct state police to do complete background checks on all their staff members.

The board also directed that state police do background investigations into any company or individuals that want to manufacture or distribute slot machines to the state's 14 casinos.

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