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  • Willy Allison

The Four Pillars of Surveillance Part 2: Information & Communication

Updated: Oct 8, 2019

"Knowledge is power. Information is power. The secreting or hoarding of knowledge or information may be an act of tyranny camouflaged as humility". - Robin Morgan


When it comes to game protection, surveillance is the information hub of the casino. From collecting data to analyzing data, surveillance has one thing that no one else in the organization has - video. Video allows us to capture the truth. It is not data inputted by human beings. It is data captured by unbiased and totally objective cameras. I have never a met a camera yet that I don't like.

1. Internal Reporting Systems

In a dynamic casino environment, information must be able to be accessed easily. Gaming guys know the pressure of having a disgruntled or irate player accuse the casino of cheating them. Some will even threaten to take their business elsewhere unless it is sorted out in a timely manner (like within the next 10 seconds).

Over the years players have come to believe that casinos are recording everything. In fact some players take the attitude that surveillance cameras are an "on demand" service provided by the casino to them. You know the kind of player I'm talking about. The one that thinks they're an NFL coach and can throw a red flag on the table every time they don't like what they thought they saw. Fortunately unlike football, at least the game continues while surveillance conducts the review behind the scenes.

When an organization has access to so much information it is important to organize the information in an efficient manner. Observations from surveillance cameras are often relied on to resolve financial disputes or provide evidence that a crime has been committed. The key word here is EVIDENCE.

Video is one of the best means of evidence you can get. Just ask Rodney King. Evidence should be treated delicately if it is to be called upon in a legal environment. Not only must video be stored securely but observations and subsequent communication must be formerly documented in an internal reporting system.

Before computers, surveillance personnel would write their observations down and file it away. Today we use internal databases which house anything from staff shift reports and observations to images of persons of interest. Technology also allows us to attach video files to accompany the reports.

Regardless of the sophistication of the software used for storing information there are two primary factors that should be considered when assessing the effectiveness of a reporting system. The first is the ability to capture the necessary information required by law enforcement agencies. I suggest consulting with your internal legal council and local enforcement agencies on what information they advise should be contained within your reports to make them appropriate in a court of law.

The second consideration is the speed in which surveillance information can be accessed. The following is a data base efficiency test. Call the surveillance monitor room supervisor and ask whether anyone was watching a particular blackjack table on a given day and time within the last seven days. Do you get the answer back over the phone? If not, how long does it take? Later, try the same question again but give a period within the last 12 months.

The surveillance database should allow operators to search for information with ease using different search criteria. The ability to find information quickly in today's casino environment is a testament to being a well organized and customer focused department.

2. Gaming Financials

Reviewing the numbers should be a daily routine for a Surveillance Director. Trend analysis is an important tool in game protection and should be conducted by surveillance management in a regular and pro-active manner. Don't wait until the casino manager tells you there is a problem. Know about it well before you get the cry for help.

The daily financial statistics show the pulse of the gaming operation and can often give indications of a "health problem". The first step is to understand casino math. This subject should be a pre requisite for any gaming or surveillance manager. Too often statistics are misinterpreted because of lack of knowledge and understanding of the business. There are a number of good books out there on the subject of casino math that have been written by authors who are academically recognized as experts in this field.

Surveillance management should have access to all gaming reports within the organization. If you don't, ask why. Some of the daily reports that should be reviewed regularly are the daily flash reports, the master gaming reports, fills and credits, slot jackpots and cage inventory. Day after day, month after month, you will begin to see what is normal within your organization and what is not. Trends may develop which can be detected at an early stage. Not all "downward turns" require action but at least it takes a needle out of the haystack in terms of what should be monitored a little more closely.

Here's a long story (made short) that illustrates the point that surveillance should take an active role in monitoring the numbers. A few of years ago I was contacted by the cage manager and advised they had a problem in the cage. The cage shift manager responsible for generating a daily report on the chip inventory had just returned from an extended 5 day long weekend and had observed the casino appeared to have more $500 chips in the system than they had in their standard inventory. The cage manager went on to add they had done some preliminary checks and "we appear to have some bogus chips".

After examining the chips under blue light it was confirmed they were counterfeit. The circulation of $500 chips was immediately ceased and security retrieved all the $500 chips from the tables and cage windows. After all the chips were collected and examined the worse was confirmed. Our casino had been hit with a $403,500 counterfeit chip scam. A long police investigation followed as well as an eye opening internal investigation. It was discovered there were more holes in our internal controls than in a slice of Swiss cheese. Apparently no one was made responsible for looking at the numbers during the 5 day absence of the manager who had taken a long weekend. It could be argued that if the numbers were monitored on a daily basis (as they were supposed to be), the bleeding could have been detected and I dare say stopped on the first day.

3. "Red Flag" Systems

Trend analysis is a good tool for possibly detecting mid to long term problems. But what about detecting scams as they happen? Training and knowledge will always be the best weapons against cheating but let's face it - we can't watch everything. As the gap between the ratios of surveillance monitoring personnel to patrons/employees in a casino at any given time continually gets wider, it is even more important now to develop and compliment the skills of your staff with inbuilt alert systems.

Most gaming operations have "red flag" systems in place. These are the events that trigger alerts to surveillance for subsequent investigation. Most focus around the financial disposition of the casino or in other words, "the casinos getting whacked". Traditionally the alert systems ranged from the cage system alerting you that a rush fill was being sent to a table to a sweaty pit boss making a call upstairs to ask for some "eyes on the table".

To ensure surveillance get the alerts they require, a request should be discussed with gaming management and explained why the information is required. I have always found it better to sit down with gaming managers and discuss the threat and rational behind needing the information as opposed to sending a memo. Both parties should develop procedures and controls which will ensure communication is consistent, accurate and timely. These procedures should be reflected in the internal controls.

Technology is beginning to play more of a part in traditional table gaming. Like slot machines, table game technology is being developed to add more accountability to gaming transactions. RFID, smart software and player tracking systems are being incorporated to allow for real time status reporting. This technology has benefits for all parties including the marketing department, the gaming department, regulators, players and surveillance.

By creating an interface to surveillance this type of information can be interrogated and incorporated into an automatic red flag system upstairs that would not rely on human instinct. Back in the 90's a number of casinos in Australia developed game tracking interfaces with the surveillance CCTV systems. This technology gave instant alerts via the camera system whenever a transaction or event took place that was on the surveillance "watch list".

Heres an example of the capabilities of the system. A player is put on the watch list because his profit and loss statistics showed over a 12 month period he had constantly won more than the "statistical norm". In fact he seemed to have never lost although he played an average of 4 hours a day, 4 days a week for the last year. By inputting the players name and number into the system, surveillance video was automatically activated and recorded whenever his player card was activated at a table. His image and play would appear on a big screen located at the front of the room. This would alert surveillance personal and initiate pro-active monitoring. Even though he moved from table to table throughout the night his play was automatically compiled on video along with the financial data into a single database. Cool stuff.

4. Staff & Customer Database

Most casinos administer a H.R database that contains staff names, photos, positions and employee numbers. Surveillance requires access to the H.R. system to be able to identify who staff members are. This database should be updated immediately whenever the status of an individual changes i.e. resignation, promotion.

It is also essential for surveillance to have access to current and updated scheduling information of casino employees. I suggest this type of information can be accessed by surveillance management without having to ask for it. When there is a need to monitor an individual for whatever reason it can compromise the investigation if you have to ask their supervisor for their schedule. The system should be set up so no one outside the department knows you are monitoring anyone.

A casinos customer database contains information that can assist surveillance conduct trend analysis. It is a great tool for developing your "watch list". But a word of warning. A casinos customer database is priceless and proprietary. Like any business, it should be guarded like the casino vault. Controls and measures for security of the information should be implemented within the department and audited on a regular basis. My suggestion would be to have an audit trail that confirms access electronically. Don't take this for granted. If your department abuses the privilege of gaining access to the customer database it can be devastating to the casino management internal "circle of trust".

5. Sources of Information

The Beatles and Joe Cocker said it the best: "I get by with a little help from my friends". In the digital age we tend to rely on the internet, e-mail and work place databases to do our job. But in my opinion nothing beats hearing the word. To get the word you've got to give the word. Ask yourself the question; are you approachable to everyone and do you make the effort to find out what is on people's minds. Am I only talking with people who tell me what I want to hear?

Get to know everybody in the organization and get to know your customers. Some of the best information and tip offs come from customers. I know it's difficult in a large organization but set a goal of meeting someone new every day. Don't limit your communication to managers. Talk to the dealers, bar servers, valet guys and housekeepers. Most people don't like thieves and you'd be surprised at how many people want to tell somebody when they think something smells.


Okay, we've rounded third base and we're on our way to home plate. In this the final pillar we take a look at surveillance and communication. In a dynamic, fast-paced casino environment the role of surveillance is often called upon to adjudicate or add a voice of reason. This is where we are called upon to take the grey stuff and organize and articulate it into black and white.

Actions and observations in surveillance must be communicated and documented in a clear and precise way so that no ambiguities exist for potential legal fodder. Surveillance people know that when dealing with possible criminal behavior what they say and do may be used against them in a court of law.

Most surveillance departments have a standardized approach to documenting observations however in my opinion it is what is done with the information that determines the value of your casinos surveillance operation. If the role of surveillance is to be broken down in business terms; our product is information, our service is communication.

To fairly measure the quality of service that surveillance is providing to the organization, one must ask stakeholders in the business to assess. I have found in the past that the common thread with successful surveillance managers is the ability to communicate at all levels within and outside the organization.

1. Internal

One of the phrases a surveillance manager dreads to hear from his staff is "I didn't get that memo" Try giving an explanation to the casino manager or G.M. on a Monday morning for the large win incurred by a blackjack player over the weekend by a guy that recently appeared in the "Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous" for winning millions of dollars for card counting. Not fun.

One of the many challenges of managing a 24/7 people driven operation is internal communication. Most casino departments conduct verbal and written handovers from shift to shift. These seem to work OK but inevitably as time goes by the message that may have been a priority in the previous shift becomes a diluted memory and old news after a couple of handovers. If the person who was originally involved in an incident takes some days off (temporary or permanent) the message can be lost in the shuffle unless it is documented accurately.

Formal communication within the department is important and has its place. Management tools such as memos, operational manuals, written procedures, policies and standards are all needed to ensure there is a consistent means of reference. I consider them to be an effective way of getting management's position across and a good fall back if an individual's performance is not satisfactory.

However when it comes to high performance, it is recommended that surveillance managers encourage a culture of listening and soliciting the thoughts of surveillance employees. Often surveillance people see and know more about the casino operation than they report (or are required to report).Try asking "What do you think?" A little informal communication (off the record) can be valuable. When the Sgt Joe Friday "All we know are the facts ma'am" approach sets in, you may possibly miss out in gathering valuable intelligence or even ideas that may be able to help you determine trends or even help the organization improve its bottom line.

2. Customers

What's that? Surveillance has customers? Traditionally, surveillance has assisted gaming with inquiries, disputes and maintaining integrity. Over the years with the increasing capabilities of technology our customer base has grown to include almost every department in the casino. In another casino life I once worked for an organization that had 77 departments (and counting). Surveillance is no longer just a gaming, security or regulatory function. It plays a major role in loss prevention and risk management within the entire organization.

Regardless of the ever increasing role of surveillance, gaming and security remain our number one customers. It is important that the relationship between what I term the "triangle offense" is always professional to maintain the goals of the organization. This means regular meetings with department heads and an understanding that one can't do ones job without the other (sorry gaming guys).

On an operational level, most contact with surveillance is handled over the phone. It is essential that communication over the phone is conducted in an efficient and professional manner. This is an area that is often neglected. I recommend all surveillance employees conduct customer service over the phone training. This may sound a bit elementary but bad phone skills reflect badly on your department. Maybe we could learn from other industries that use voice recordings of customer phone conversations for quality assurance and training purposes.

3. Regulator/Law Enforcement

There's an old saying "You can choose your friends but you can't choose your regulators". Having worked in a number of different regulatory environments, I personally prefer a regulatory presence compared to none.

The goal of surveillance is to assist casino management with maintaining operational integrity. Regulators have the same goal. They are generally on your side and can draw on many sources of information to assist you and they achieve their goals.

The key once again is to maintain a professional relationship. This is a key relationship in a highly regulated environment and any casino organization that hopes to establish a good working relationship with government and local authorities should recognize this. Often the relationship is very one sided. Get used to it. For every 100 pieces of information you are asked to supply you may get one very important piece back that can help you and your organization greatly. The same applies to law enforcement.

4. Casino Network

Most casino surveillance managers belong or subscribe to a network. The purpose of a surveillance network is to share information and intelligence that can help members prepare for potential threats to there own casinos.

There are basically two kinds of surveillance networks. A voluntary group of peers that share information amongst themselves and a user paid subscription to an outsourced service. Some are highly organized and some are not so organized. The peer networks can range from local, state, national and even international. The subscribed networks are offered globally (if you are willing to pay for it).

Surveillance networks are now going digital. Members of certain networks can now access secure websites for up to date information on known casino cheats and thieves. Members also are sent e-mail alerts on current activity and reported sightings of known suspects. Teleconferences are sometimes used between members to encourage open discussion.

Regardless of the modus operandi, I believe the key to a network being more effective than another is participation. It is all too common to hear of surveillance networks that are non-productive. Members often complain that the contribution levels are unbalanced. In a lot of cases they have valid concerns and the old 80/20 rules seems to apply. 20% of the members contributing 80% of the information. This leads to a feeling that they are giving far more than they are receiving. As is often the case, informal breakaway groups will form and leave non-contributors to fend for themselves. The best way to get regular unsolicited intelligence is to give regular unsolicited intelligence.

Whatever the case may be it is important that you belong to a network. I can name countless times that an alert from a network member has prevented a major scam from taking place in my house because I knew the identity and whereabouts of cheats heading my way. Peer networks are more valuable mainly because of the wide range of information you can get from having a conversation with someone as opposed to reading a one page flyer. Peers can also help you with your career pursuits.

5. Key Suppliers

As a manager responsible for overseeing a highly technological driven area it is important that you build strong relationships with vendors and suppliers. Take the time to research and learn from experts in the business. If you are looking for new equipment or technology it is important that you look around. Visit tradeshows and meet with representatives from as many companies as you can. Invite vendors to your property to demonstrate their technology in your own environment. Find out where the vendors equipment is installed and request to talk to a previous buyer.

Before you purchase new equipment, make sure comprehensive training is provided and you are kept abreast of any upgrades to the product in the future. It is not a bad idea to have your surveillance operator's trial the equipment to get their feedback. After all they are the ones that will eventually have to use it.

Be objective and transparent when selecting a vendor to supply new equipment. 99% of companies would like a contract to supply a casino. The RFP process should be fair to all bidders and the decision or request to your superiors for approval should be able to justify why the product is better than the others and its purchase is in best interest of the organization.

Final Words

The Four Pillars of Surveillance is a management model that was designed to be used as a "health check" to measure where your surveillance department is today. It evaluates 20 key areas that contribute to making a surveillance operation a valuable asset to your organization. By giving your department a score out of 100 you can incorporate a SWOT analysis to help set clearly defined goals for the future. Just like your personal health you should have a health check on a regular basis to track your progress or identify problems. The Four Pillars model can be adapted to suit the priorities of your specific organization or you may only want to partially examine some of the areas mentioned in the previous articles. Regardless, the goal is to always to find ways to improve.

"There's always room for improvement, you know-it's the biggest room in the house".- L Leber


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