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  • Willy Allison

Casino Surveillance: The Rules of Engagement

As the camera panned across the room, it zoomed momentarily on each of the four suspects. They shared a nervous look of anticipation. What happened next is shocking, unprecedented and cost Caesars Casino, Atlantic City $185,000 this month.

No, this wasn't the MIT team, the European roulette computer users or the false shuffle collusion cheats. This was the Nightly News and the four suspects were surveillance officers. That's right. The watchers were being watched on prime time television and sat helplessly in a New Jersey courtroom as the verdict came down to fine the Atlantic City casino for which they used to work, $185,000 for breaches of misuse of the casino surveillance system.

Was this is a reality show? Or maybe it was an episode of Las Vegas? What's going on here? Four surveillance guys in a courtroom in front of the television world accused of "ogling women" in a casino? Shock, horror, does that kind of stuff happen in a casino? Oh, did I mention they recorded their "ogling" on a company video tape for future enjoyment, entertainment or whatever.

Beyond my vision of the Michael Jackson or Kobe Bryant courtroom dramas, this incident raised, once again, the importance of casino management addressing the need for tight controls and a code of ethics in relation to the use of CCTV in the workplace.

This article takes a look at 4 ways in which casinos can strengthen there controls against the misuse of CCTV.

OK, so let's start at the beginning. Is this incident really so shocking. Damn right it is. Two reasons; First, this is the second time since 2001 that the casino in which the breaches occurred had been fined by the State Regulators for misuse of the CCTV system. Second, this is not an isolated case. Although I must say it is rare, there have been documented cases in the past like in Australia in the early nineties and Canada as recently as 2003. Each incident was devastating to not only the victims of abuse but the professional reputations of the casino involved, not to mention the industry. Honestly, I thought the budding porn directors had been weeded out of surveillance in the "Naughty nineties" and casinos had learnt a costly lesson.

So why is this type of activity still happening in casino surveillance? Let's define what we're talking about here. No one can dispute the job of a surveillance agent is to watch people. The question is why. In simplistic terms, casino's use surveillance camera's to detect people attempting to scam the house. Oh alright, they're also there to make sure the house abides by mandated regulations and legal obligations (isn't that the same thing?). We must acknowledge that the role of surveillance has been stretched like a rubber band over the last 20 years to include other things but one thing that has not been included is making "girls gone wild" tapes.

When a casino surveillance "blooper" tape hit the airwaves in Australia back in the early nineties, it was a huge wake up call to the industry. Suddenly a lot of us in surveillance realized, to quote a politician from a previous decade, that operating CCTV was just like owning a casino, "It's a privilege, not a right".

Management of casinos across Australia instantly implemented the 5 second rule similar to the duffers missed tee-shot rule in golf. If while you were conducting surveillance of the floor, you stumbled across an "object of desire" the supervisor would turn their head for 5 seconds and when they turned back, presto, you were watching the games. I've got to admit I had a few close calls but hey, on some nights the casino was wall to wall in objects of desire playing big money on the tables. Was I to focus my attention on the old guy who may have been stealing keno pencils?

The casino for which the tape belonged to (originally) was dragged through all the current affair television shows in Australia (the country that founded "shame on you" television). The casino response to the airing of the tape was comprehensive if not costly. Over $300,000 was spent by the casino on introducing technical and policy measures to ensure strict video tape controls and proper use of the CCTV system.

Was this casino the only casino in the world misusing their surveillance privileges? Judging by the money spent on magnetic video tape erasing equipment across the country immediately following that incident, I think not. The incident drew unwanted attention to the casino involved and to the industry as a whole at a stage when companies were trying to convince cautious State governments that casinos were professionally managed and a good thing for the community.

Fast forward to today. Have the lessons been learnt over the years or even passed on? The rapid growth of the industry in the last decade is diluting the pool of expertise and it is apparent that even though the world is getting smaller casinos do not do a very good job of sharing lessons learnt on a global basis. Some casinos refuse to share information but my feeling is that it is in the best interest of casino companies worldwide to discuss and formalize an industry standard for such matters such as ethics in CCTV use.

How do we approach the subject of CCTV Ethics in the casino? First let's put the issue in perspective. Recording inappropriate activity in surveillance for personal enjoyment and entertainment is rare in this day and age. Hell, why would you want to when you can see the same stuff in one of three television's in your house, "on demand". Unfortunately there's always going to be someone who can't get a date and is empowered by a joystick that is going to slip through the cracks. So, how do we prevent this type of activity from happening in our surveillance room?

Establish a CCTV Code Of Ethics.

Make it very simple and very clear that breaches are not tolerated. Make sure all surveillance employees read it, understand it and sign it, then place it in their personnel file. Enlarge it, laminate a copy of it, frame it and hang it in a visible place in the surveillance room. Here is an example of a CCTV code of ethics developed and implemented in a major Australian casino. Senior management and the State Privacy Committee were also consulted in the process.

Surveillance CCTV Code of Ethics

1. Cameras are only installed in areas where there is a potential security risk.

2. Camera Operators are not to focus on individuals for reasons other than performing their job function.

3. Cameras are not to be used for monitoring the work performance of individual employees.

4. Videotapes are kept for a period of seven days before they are erased, unless required for purposes of evidence, investigation or training.

5. Access to video tapes is restricted to approved personnel whose use of the recordings will be limited to the original purpose of surveillance.

6. External parties do not have access to video recordings unless required by law.

7. Covert video surveillance is prohibited without specific legal cause.

8. Cameras are prohibited in toilets, showers, change rooms and employee recreation rooms.

Leadership in the room

Surveillance supervisors must walk the talk. In a confined environment such as a monitor room it is easy to become one of the boys or girls. But "perving" should not be apart of the culture in the team. It may offer some light relief and break up a boring grave shift but don't forget the 5 second rule. Suck it in, get your mind back on the job and get back in the game.

Team Leaders should also be responsible for minimizing boredom during quiet times. The most common phrase heard when an incident like this happens is "don't they have anything better to do?" The answer of course is yes. It is the role of management to ensure company time is utilized effectively. Incidents like this promote the unfortunate perception by some, that surveillance don't do much. The term "there's nothing to do" should never be heard in the surveillance room.

Regulate the Testosterone & Estrogen Factor

Watch for clicks in the room. Too much testosterone can mean trouble in a confined environment when the tribal frat boy urges and rituals take over. Ladies are not excused here. I've done a few shifts with the ladies and heard things that made me blush. The only difference is the objects of desire on the casino floor are just a little lop-sided towards the male. And besides, last time I looked, there are not too many guys getting around the casino floor with revealing cleavage and VPL (visible panty lines).

Be conscious of the T.E. factor when scheduling shifts. There is less of a chance of a click developing if you mix the make up of the room regularly. Sometimes familiarity does breed contempt.

If you haven't already, digitize.

One of things I have noticed in my travels recently is the great divide between analog surveillance rooms and digital surveillance rooms. Visit a digital room and you will more likely find a clean, efficient room full of motivated professionals in harmony with technology. Go into an antique (sorry analog) room and the word that springs to mind is dust. Dusty tapes, dusty VCR's and in some cases, dusty operators.

One of the things that impresses me the most with digital rooms is the security. There is no risk of video footage being lost due to faulty or worn VCR's and tapes. I've seen broken tapes stacked to the ceiling in some analog surveillance rooms.

At a major casino in Australia they have 17,000 video tapes in the cycle at any given time. They re-use the tapes once a week and replace them every 2 years. The 17,000 tapes are taken to a remote outback destination and securely destroyed and used as landfill. The tapes are taken to the site in a skip the size of a shipping container. That's a lot of tapes.

This process highlights three things. First, video tapes don't last forever and are consumable items that wear over time. Second, the process is conducted in a manner similar to flying the President in Air Force One. Well maybe not the same extent but the point is that the casino concerned is very serious about protecting the information and their customers privacy by ensuring even one video tape doesn't fall out of the back of the truck and into the hands of the wrong person. Thirdly, wouldn't it be easier and more secure to stop using video tapes and go digital?

Digital Surveillance Directors gloat about the control they have with digital technology. Most digital systems have means in which management can monitor and track digitally what there staff are watching.

Digital systems also allow operations to isolate the recording devices in secure restricted access rooms. This means no one except a select few have any reason whatsoever to physically go near the recorders. Unattended recording eliminates the possibility of anyone physically "taking" the video.

Dubbing (an old analog term for saving a video file) is physically restricted to a select few that have authority. This adds accountability and ensures copies can't be made without management approval. A Surveillance Director can digitally monitor who and what was reproduced with a few strokes on their office keyboard.

Until, casinos throw away their VCR's and video tapes there is always going to be a risk that video can go astray or be duplicated without a record.

It's ironic that only a few years ago casino managers were concerned about the security of digital video recording systems. Talk to those who have gone digital and they would probably argue they add more security and integrity to the CCTV system.

So there we have it. Four ways to keep you from having to explain to the CEO, not to mention the judge, the sex, lies and videotape. If you think it can't happen to you, think again.

Although it may seem incidents like the one in Atlantic City are the result of a few bad apples with too much testosterone spoiling the bunch, consider the incident in Australia that took place over a decade ago. That incident was an attempt by a disgruntled employee to extort the casino by demanding money for the tape.

Could this happen to you and your organization? I just finished reading a survey that made the claim that 60% of employees in the U.S. don't like their job. Hmhhh. Maybe its time to do some dusting.


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