Casinos Strengthen Their Security Hand

By Derk Boss, CPP, and Ann Longmore-Etheridge

As with first responders and government officials, gaming industry security chiefs have come to recognize the importance of having powerful and redundant crisis communication technology.

William A. Vicaldo, Jr., is executive director of security at Barona Valley Ranch Resort and Casino in Lakeside, California. He says that during the 9-11 attacks, he observed that traditional and cellular phones were disrupted by the collapse of the North Tower, atop which was a major cellular relay point, and radio communications largely failed due to a number of frequency issues.

In response, Vicaldo says, the property investigated cell-phone relay technology and eventually purchased phones “that could be used in our area even if a large percentage of the local relay towers was destroyed.” A satellite phone was also acquired to serve if all relays were indeed knocked out. Security, staff, and the local fire department were trained on the use of the new equipment.

News flash. Some properties, such as the Stratosphere, have breached the traditional sanctum sanctorum of the surveillance room by installing TV and radio.

Pre-9-11, surveillance room communication was mostly internal, concerning internal procedure auditing and other property issues, says Robert Prady, a former gaming industry surveillance chief. “We discouraged [outside input] to keep the agents focused on the casino. But we learned from 9-11 that having breaking news was critical to surveillance’s decision-making processes,” Prady explains.

This important change of worldview has assisted law enforcement. For example, one property’s surveillance officers watched a live local news report about police chasing a wanted individual. The officers turned their attention to the property’s exterior CCTV cameras and soon observed the suspect entering the casino and mingling with a crowd of customers. The surveillance department reported to police the subject’s exact location within the casino, and he was quickly apprehended without harm to guests or staff.

To further enhance the information flow to security and surveillance officers and other employees, the type of information regularly communicated to personnel at Barona Valley Resort was expanded. Vicaldo says that before 9-11, there had been meetings just before the beginning of each shift, but useful information was rarely shared at these meetings. “Now, this time is used to communicate current issues and ongoing training opportunities,” he states.

Many properties enhanced their employee orientation and ongoing training programs after 9-11 to include the new security policies and procedures. For example, the Barona Valley Resort created a post-9-11 training program and designated a fulltime trainer from the security department.

At Harrah’s, mailroom personnel are now educated on the U.S. Postal Service’s and federal government’s guidelines on handling suspicious mail and packages. Other hotels have conducted security awareness training in critical areas such as valet services, housekeeping, food and beverage, and property safety committees.

Some new terrorism awareness classes are added to existing curricula. Staff are also educated with regard to national-threat-level notification. As a result they now have a better sense of how to react when changes to the threat level occur.

Five years out from the agony of 9-11, almost all security chiefs contacted agreed that while security and surveillance efforts generally remain enhanced, employees, vendors, guests, management, and owners are once again becoming apathetic to security.

Similarly, security funding is again becoming a problem, as it often was before 9-11. Harrah’s Graber says that at the Council Bluffs property, the increased staffing and overtime needs caused by what became a “perpetual state of elevated alert,” resulted in considerable budgetary problems, which meant he had to discontinue ongoing officer training, except for conducting drills and tests of emergency procedures.

Faced with that reality, security managers must deter terrorists without breaking the budget. “It is a balancing act for the security manager,” says one security chief who asked not to be named. It requires “balancing the outside influences, the needs of the organization, and taking prudent precautions to make your facility less of a target.”

After 9-11, the gaming and wagering industry realized it could be a terrorist target. With this understanding, U.S. casinos enacted new security and surveillance practices. Some were reactive and ultimately unsustainable. Others proved beneficial and have been kept. Some have been refined to improve effectiveness or reduce costs.

To assess these evolving trends, the ASIS International Council on Gaming and Wagering Protection contacted a sample of casino security chiefs and other security experts. Among the findings was that several properties had installed metal detectors at strategic or critical locations to screen for weapons. Additionally, exterior HVAC, boilers, and other equipment accessible from low rooftops were secured, as were doors leading to electric equipment, pool chemical storage, and other sensitive facility areas.

Monitoring and patrols were significantly increased after 9-11 with the deployment of surveillance cameras and the addition or upgrading of access control systems. Two areas that have drawn increased scrutiny are the back of the house and food preparation and serving. New layers of security have been implemented in parking lots, and explosives-detection dogs have been purchased to check critical areas of the property on a consistent schedule.

Derk J. Boss, CPP, CFE, is vice president, surveillance, with American Casino and Entertainment Properties, Inc., of Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a member and former chair of the ASIS International Council on Gaming and Wagering Protection. Ann Longmore-Etheridge is an associate editor of Security Management. The authors wish to thank Douglas L. Florence, CPP, Joe McDonald, and John D. Horton of the ASIS Council on Gaming and Wagering Protection for their help with this article.



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