Casino security enters new hi-tech era

Jun 7, 2005 6:19 AM

If Las Vegas is the city that never sleeps, then Big Brother is an insomniac.

Casino security — the ever-vigilant surveillance system that watches over everything like George Orwell’s ubiquitous Big Brother — is a crucial component in the operation of any hotel, especially the major resorts on the Strip.

The role of casino security landed in a rare spotlight when Wynn Las Vegas opened five weeks ago. Finding center stage were the resort’s security dogs — Ace, Jackpot and Deuce — who made their debut sniffing out luggage, vehicles and convention halls.

But they are just part of an extensive security system designed to protect both the hotel and its patrons.

"Security is a very big issue," said Jerry Keller, vice president of security at Wynn Las Vegas. "We have a force of about 265 employees, including 230 security officers, 20 supervisors, eight canine handlers — it’s like a small police force."

The "police force" and all of its high-tech equipment make an Ocean’s 11 type of casino heist a virtual impossibility.

Consider what the bad guys are up against:

Wynn Las Vegas has more than 1,500 security cameras.

There is a special team of trained employees to monitor those cameras.

There are undercover investigators who work the casino floor. Many of them have video cameras hidden in their lapels.

Dealers are trained to make choreographed actions to indicate trouble.

License plates are checked against an FBI list.

Some security agents have chemical and radiation detectors.

Security is tight at other hotels, as well as throughout the city.

For instance, taxi cabs now have video cameras built into the rear view mirror. So, if you’re doing something bizarre in a cab’s back seat ”¦ smile, you’re on cabbie camera.

"We couldn’t have a safer environment out there, but a city full of tourists is a target-rich environment for criminals," said Las Vegas Sheriff Bill Young. "You go on vacation, you let your guard down, you might be a little more of a risk taker than you normally are."

Despite all the high-tech gizmos that aid security, nothing can replace the human element, experts say.

First, there is Nevada’s black book that bans certain individuals from the casino — it’s up to human security agents to be on the lookout for these colorful characters.

There’s also a super-secret "Griffin" book of undesirable persons that contains known cheats and advantage gamblers that security personnel are always watchful for.

"All the state-of-the-art surveillance equipment is great," says a security guard at a downtown casino. "But at some point, an agent or security guard will have to step in and take control of a situation. That’s when your training and good old-fashioned know-how comes into play. We never know what’s waiting out there. Being ready is the name of this game."