THE MAGAZINE

Casinos Strengthen Their Security Hand

By Derk Boss, CPP, and Ann Longmore-Etheridge

Physical Security
Almost all of the properties contacted by the council had enhanced their physical security programs in the wake of 9-11, and most still have that enhanced protection in place. Most properties have, for example, upgraded existing access control systems or put in new systems. Several have installed metal detectors to screen guests and employees for weapons.

One such site is Las Vegas’s Stratosphere Hotel and Casino, where all guests and employees now pass through the metal detector before being cleared to travel up the property’s landmark 1,149-foot freestanding observation tower to the dining and entertainment venues at the top.

At Harrah’s Council Bluffs, in Council Bluffs, Iowa—a traditional hotel casino environment—exterior HVAC, boilers, and other equipment accessible from low rooftops are now secured, as are doors leading to electric equipment, pool chemical storage, and other sensitive facility areas, according to Jeff C. Graber, surveillance director. Perimeter doors are locked against entry, and both guests and employees entering the casino are funneled through designated security checkpoints.

Check-in and elevators. Many hotels now require that guests present a photo ID when they check in, and many establishments also run a check of the guest’s name against those on the government’s terrorist watch list. Many establishments also have a security officer posted around the clock at the elevators to check guestroom keys.

Rooms. Some hotels have instituted mandatory daily guestroom checks that occur when a guest has posted a “do not disturb” sign for a significant amount of time and does not respond to knocks or phone calls. These checks ensure that the guest has not suffered a medical problem, committed suicide, or been harmed. It is also a way to reduce the opportunity for the room to be used for illegal purposes.

Patrols and surveillance. Some properties have increased patrols and surveillance cameras. One property area that has drawn increased scrutiny is the back of the house. Prior to 9-11, daily back-of-the-house activities were recorded, but they were seldom monitored live.

The Stratosphere ties its level of patrols to the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS’s) color-coded threat assessment barometer. “The higher the threat level, the more back-of-the-house and perimeter patrols are conducted,” explains Jessie Beaudoin, the Stratosphere’s surveillance property manager.

Public response. As resorts have ratcheted up security, there has been some concern that the public might not welcome the change. For the most part, the worry has been unfounded.

“We felt that we would receive rejection from guests for initiating strict security procedure and policy,” says Harrah’s Graber. But, he notes, “We discovered that the public was actually grateful for the means used.”

That was not always the case, however. After 9-11, one Arizona gaming establishment added additional security personnel at the doors to search guest and employee backpacks, large purses, and other packages. This was eventually discontinued because of the additional personnel strain it caused on the security department and because of the numerous complaints from guests. No contraband of any significance was ever found.

Going to the dogs. One popular addition to security regimens has been explosives-detection dogs. Stratosphere Vice President of Security Arthur Steele conceived of the use of canine units and ultimately convinced corporate management to purchase a dog named Officer Dex, who is handled by Canine Security Officer Steve Lieberman.

Dex is trained in building search, explosives detection, criminal apprehension, tracking, scouting, article search, and area search. In addition to being used for regular checks of critical areas of the property, the two-year-old German shepherd, because he is on the site, also allows a quicker response to phoned-in bomb threats or suspicious packages or vehicles, says Beaudoin. Dex was “easily accepted” by guests, attracting appreciative crowds while on his rounds, he notes.

Other gaming establishments with their own explosives-detection dogs now include the MGM Grand and Wynn Las Vegas, the latter of which has a proprietary team of six.

Parking. Parking lots are also getting more attention. The Stratosphere was one of several gaming establishments that reported adding new layers of parking lot security. Security checkpoints have been created at the entrances of the casino’s multistory parking deck. Security looks for “suspicious persons or vehicles and conducts random vehicle checks, including using mirrors to view underneath,” Beaudoin states.

Another gaming property increased walking patrols in parking lots after 9-11. Later, this was changed to bike patrols. These patrols have been retained because they have proven effective in lowering automobile thefts and break-ins.

Parking restrictions have also been put in place at Harrah’s, which ties them to DHS threat levels. An elevated threat level means limiting parking in areas close to the facility, allowing no trucks within 75 feet of the structure unless they are following a prearranged and documented delivery schedule, and prohibiting unattended cars at entry points, near front doors, or in the valet registration area.

When the color code is elevated to red, the plan calls for checking all vehicles entering the property, checking guests’ cars again at valet registration—as well as their baggage, inspecting incoming shipments, and strategically posting security officers and erecting barricades.

Food handling. Another area of resort gaming properties that has seen increased monitoring is food handling and preparation. After 9-11 and the subsequent yet-unsolved anthrax attacks, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that further attacks might come via food contaminated by heavy metals, pesticides, dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls, and other pathogens.

To address the threat, it is now more common in gaming resorts to find surveillance cameras focused on food lockers, chefs as they cook, and the serving lines and steam tables of the buffets for which casinos are so well known. While these cameras were originally deployed to mitigate the threat of terrorism, they are also proving useful in injury liability and theft cases.

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