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  • Willy Allison

Casino Surveillance: Size Does Matter

Updated: Oct 8, 2019

This just in: Las Vegas is not the center of the casino universe. Okay, so it is the undisputed home of fun and excitement. No argument here. Vegas did bring us the 99¢ shrimp cocktail, thong-wearing waitresses, loose slots, and the movie Casino. But let me let you in on a little secret: the gambling buck doesn’t stop in Vegas.

Countries and governments around the world are falling in love with “casinomics.” The word has spread. Casinos make money. Go ahead and say it. Shout it from the rooftops. If it hasn’t already happened, there’s a casino coming to a town or country near you.

So what does the expansion of casino gaming around the world mean to Las Vegas? Like the game of Monopoly, major Las Vegas players are passing go and collecting other opportunities (and the money). It’s not enough to just sit on the Boardwalk. Las Vegas gamers are looking at other opportunities around the board. This means branching out and diversifying their product mix.

The big players are also looking for growth opportunities outside the U.S. Can you say Macau or Moscow? What about he U.K, South America and Singapore? Okay, so casinos are not new in these countries, but what has prompted all the opportunities lately? In my mind (besides the sound of cha-ching) there are two things:

Firstly, the successful Las Vegas model has made casino gaming a fresh, appetizing tossed salad for the governments once reluctant in considering casino gaming. Mix the gaming part up with a bunch of other wholesome goodies and you have yourself a politically nutritious meal.

Secondly, casinos have proven to be one of the most easily regulated and transparent businesses in the world. An important contributing factor is casino surveillance. Casinos’ intensive video coverage and vigilant monitoring procedures are second to none in the industry. The introduction of closed circuit television in the ‘70s has been as major factor why casino gaming has been accepted by governments and the public over the last couple of decades, and it continues to be a primary criteria for casino operators setting up shop in new jurisdictions.

As we sit back and see the casino industry grow, it is interesting to examine how other countries approach the running of their gaming operation. Some call them croupiers, some call them dealers. Some call it baccarat some call it baccarat, some call it Punto Banca. Some call them chips, some call them checks. But one thing is universal around the world: everyone calls a cheat a cheat.

When talking to game protection executives from around the world, it is apparent that when it comes to the threat of cheating, often size is a factor. By size, I mean gaming activity. When the volume of gaming activity puts a strain on surveillance resources, I call it the “surveillance bandwidth” factor. This is when the demand for monitoring is disproportionately balanced against the amount of resources available. To use an I.T. analogy, it’s like streaming video on the internet using a dial-up connection.

A current example of surveillance bandwidth challenges is Macau. Without doubt Macau is becoming home of the “mega casino.” My definition of a Megan casino is a casino that has 200 or more gaming tables. Currently there are 7 in the world (5 of them in the Asia/Pacific region). The largest table game operation of them all is the Sands Macau, which recently increased its table numbers to over 400.

This is only the beginning in Macau. U.S. investments bank Merrill Lynch & Co. predicted last year that the Asian region will have at least 50 more casinos by 2012. They believe the average casino in the region will cost at least $1 billion to build.

In terms of casino surveillance, the spotlight will certainly be on Macau over the next 5 years. With the big Las Vegas companies coning to the region with plans to build multiple mega casinos, there are a great number of challenges to overcome.

One of those challenges is determining how much surveillance bandwidth is required. Let me explain. When casinos are designing a game protection program for their property, there is no real standard for determining how many surveillance personnel are required to monitor the casino. Years ago when I was setting up a surveillance operation for a major casino in Australia, the state regulators requested my rationale for determining how many surveillance agents I needed on a shift to adequately monitor the gaming operation. Specifically they wanted a ratio of how many table games would be monitored by one surveillance officer. I conducted a survey with the other casinos in that country, which concluded that the average ratio was about 20-22 table games for each officers.

This was the ratio we finally agreed on (we had 200 gaming tables) and we staffed the surveillance operation accordingly. But this ratio is a little too simplistic and doesn’t take into account a number of other factors like the cage and slot area, the volume of people visiting the casino on a daily basis and the amount of high action on the tables.

In Macau, the casinos are often packed three deep at each table with players that wager 8-10 times the amount of the average U.S. wager. It is this type of gaming activity that puts a demand on the resources and priorities of both the gaming floor and surveillance. The volume causes a strain on monitoring demands that may increase the casinos’ vulnerability for cheating activity.

New casinos in Macau have already fallen victim to large organized cheating scams over the last two years. The sheer volume of gaming activity has prompted casino operators to implement state of the art digital surveillance systems and game protection technology uniquely developed as a result of those scams. An example is the Angel card shoe, developed by combat card mucking scams by baccarat players. The card shoe electronically tracks the cards dealt using micro sensor technology. This allows the casino to detect if any foreign cards have been introduced to the game. It is safe to say Macau is leading the world in casino surveillance technology and is a must-visit destination for any game protection professional over the next few years.

The Las Vegas casino operators take game security very seriously in Macau. A major casino opening in Macau this year will employ approximately 9 surveillance officers. They re not taking any chances. This number is 3-4 times the average head count of most Las Vegas surveillance departments.

Think about it from a game protection perspective: lots of inexperienced dealers being monitored by lots of inexperienced surveillance personnel. Throw in lots of cheats taking advantage of the current situation and you have a casino manager’s nightmare. The bottom line is that there is no choice. Casino organizations that invest in Macau are advised to invest well in quality trainer.s

In a way, Macau is going through what every other new of expanding jurisdiction goes through. Local regulations usually dictate that a high percentage of local people must be employed, so training from scratch is normal.

But what makes Macau unique is the sheer size of the gaming operations being built. Chine has opened the floodgates for casino gaming and the demand from both players and casino employers is red hot.

Macau is a real example of why size does matter when it comes to game protection. It is sometimes hard for casino managers in smaller properties around the world to relate to the challenges and threats that exist with high volume mega casinos.

Generally speaking from a cheating perspective, the new casinos with inexperienced staff and high gaming activity levels have bigger targets on their backs and present greater opportunities for the cheats. From a game protection perspective, it can sometimes be like the song “More Money, More Problems.”

With future plans to create a Las Vegas-type strip of casinos over the next five years, companies are looking for new and creative solutions for overcoming the challenges of limited expertise pool while at the same time providing effective game protection. A solution currently being researched and developed is a remote surveillance monitoring. Plans are in the pipeline for companies to centralize monitoring capabilities for multiple properties. The development of this technology could revolutionize the way casinos do surveillance in the future.


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