Anonymity. Once a mystery player service has been selected, the casino must make sure that no one other than senior management, such as the CEO or security director, is aware that a covert operation is occurring. Casino managers, as noted earlier, should be kept in the dark.
The mystery players should remain anonymous, unless they overhear discussion of an impending egregious act, such as a planned robbery, or witness an act. Senior management should provide operatives with a client contact phone number for such emergencies. Barring that type of incident, however, agents are trained to first contact their service provider to decide the best course of action if they see or hear something.
Integrity tests. It is said that opportunity makes a thief. While mystery playing is mostly a passive act of observation, a number of integrity tests can be made to spot shady-hearted, as well as inattentive, dealers and cashiers.
At the roulette table, for instance, past posting can occur when the dealer’s eyes aren’t on the layout when he waves his hands and announces “no more bets” just before the ball drops into a number strip. This lack of attention may be due to boredom, fatigue, or laxity in following procedures. Another possibility is that the dealer is colluding with a cheater or is purposely being distracted by the cheater, a trick known as “turning the dealer.”
In one integrity test, the agent goes to a cashier cage with a bucket of silver dollar tokens. He turns to gaze mindlessly toward the casino floor while holding a drink. The idea is to give the impression to the cashier that the agent doesn’t know the sum of the tokens when in fact he or she does. Sometimes a dishonest cashier will pretend to pour all the tokens into the counter when in fact they hold back some or simply reach in and take a few when they think no one’s looking.
Another integrity test probes the possibility of dealer favoritism or dislike. The agent can look for and note any purposeful overpayments of bets, failure to collect all or portions of losing bets, offering playing advice beyond the casino’s policy, or inappropriate remarks, flirting, insults to players, or any other indications of dealer bias.
A third type of integrity test is of a casino slot machine technician. During this test, the agent plays a machine for a while, then stops a roving technician. The operative privately tells the technician that someone left a cup of coins and never returned. The client can later check to see whether the coins were turned in by the employee.
Off the floor. Agents also spend time in the gaming establishment’s other common areas, such as restaurants and lounges. This is not necessarily only to monitor customer service. Often conversations overheard can reveal other scams.
As an example, a mystery player in a casino bar late one night overheard two men bragging about their day’s take made by cheating. They also mentioned a dealer who was working with them. The operative contacted the service provider, which in turn passed information to the client. The casino surveillance department was able to pinpoint the table where the cheating had occurred and retrieve enough video evidence to warrant the arrest of all three men on the following day.
In another case, operatives detected a collusive scheme on the part of five bartenders to make extra money from customers by selling them drinks with less alcohol than they had paid for (called “underpouring”), then using that skimmed alcohol to make and sell extra drinks off register, pocketing the money from those drinks. One of the bartenders later admitted that the four were stealing approximately $4,000 per week and had been doing this for several years.
In gaming establishments, constant vigilance is necessary to ferret out dishonest players and employees who collude with cheaters or who facilitate cheating by failing to follow procedures. One casino director reported that mystery players resulted in tightening measures that boosted the casino’s bottom line by $480,000. That illustrates how casinos can win big from mystery players, but only if the contractor offers well-trained “spies” with qualified sets of eyes.
Doug Kelly is president of Kelly Security International, based in Clearwater, Florida. He specializes in casino mystery player services and technical surveillance countermeasures. A member of ASIS International, Kelly has authored other articles for Security Management and his mystery shopping services have been featured in newspapers and on TV.