• Willy Allison

The Yin and Yang Of Casino Surveillance In Macau

A word of advice for casino managers thinking of packing up the golf clubs and moving to Macau. There's an old saying that goes something like this: "There are those that make it happen, those who watch it happen and those who wonder what just happened". From what I hear there is a big demand in Macau for managers that can "make it happen".


When Macau opened its doors four years ago to foreign owned casinos there was (and still is) great excitement in the industry. Companies eager to get a foot in the door of the Asian market mustered all their resources and energy to put their bid into the lottery. It reminded me a little of the story about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Golden licenses are awarded and the lucky licensees get to spend the rest of their days making candy. A sweet story with a nice ending.


So two years after the opening of the first U.S. owned casino in Macau the candy is flowing. By the end of this year all three licensees (Sands, Galaxy and Wynn) will have new casinos up and running in Macau. All three have already started making plans to expand their operations. In effect they are creating an Asian Las Vegas.


The projected revenues over the next few years are phenomenal. Sands Macau, the first U.S. casino on the block, continues to pull huge crowds on a daily basis. The casino consistently expands its gaming table numbers to cope with the demand. They now have 450 table games and the count continues to grow like a bodybuilder on steroids. Macau is truly the land of opportunity for companies looking for growth.


From a career perspective, if you are a casino professional looking for a challenge, Macau is the place to be. For those of you that miss the old days when casinos were built and run for gamblers, Macau is the place to be. If you're tired of checking the rating system to see if your player has enough play to get a comp at the buffet, Macau is the place to be. If you're looking for a regular early-out on a swing shift, well maybe Macau is not the place to be.


Now if you're in the game protection business and love the thrill of the chase, Macau is definitely the place to be. Casinos in the region have taken some huge hits in the last two years. The new casinos, inexperienced staff and sheer volume of gaming activity make Macau very susceptible to cheating and scams. Having had the opportunity to tour the front and back of house of some Macau casinos I can safely say the guys upstairs in surveillance are just as busy (if not busier) than the guys on the floor.


SURVEILLANCE CHALLENGES


So how does a Surveillance Director prepare for battle against the sheer mass attack of gamblers and other "interested parties?" Well a good way to start is to throw away the surveillance manual you photo copied from the last casino you worked. You will need to sit down and re-write the book after you have conducted a thorough threat analysis. Here are some of the things you should consider:


High volume gaming activity: 85% of gaming revenues come from the game of baccarat.


On most games the cards are handled by the players which make the game vulnerable to threats like card mucking. The players control the pace of the game. The baccarat limits are high and it is not uncommon to see chips or plaques with six digit numbers on them. A table can lose large amounts of money at the flip of one card. Staff may be laissez faire regarding these large bets and after a while may become complacent and don't question large wins. A table that seats 9 players can often cater to three times the amount of players. It is not unusual for players to stand 2-deep behind a table to participate in a "lucky streak" on the table. Remember that the average amount wagered by a player in Macau is 8-10 times the average amount wagered in Las Vegas.


Inexperienced croupiers: There's a very good chance that at the time of opening most of the croupiers have never dealt a game using real money before. Hopefully training has been adequate enough to provide a competent level of proficiency but it can take a few months before croupiers really feel confident. This period is valuable work experience and procedures should be enforced without compromise (it sets the tone for the future). The first 3 months of a casino opening is usually marked down in a professional cheat's yearly planner.


Inexperienced surveillance staff: Where do you get surveillance people? Contrary to popular belief, there is not a Top Gun Academy in the Nevada desert graduating elite game protectors and assigning them to casinos around the world to uphold gaming integrity and the casino way. According to their job description surveillance officers are supposed to have an excellent knowledge of all facets of the casino operation including every game offered and internal accounting controls and procedures. They are highly skilled at detecting criminal activity and have a wealth of knowledge on the latest cheating scams. This is probably the Surveillance Directors biggest challenge working in Macau. Actually it is probably the Surveillance Directors biggest challenge anywhere. The problem is compounded in Macau because of the need to staff entire operations from scratch in a short period of time. There really is no option for the new casinos on the block. They have to provide their own induction training programs. This is not unusual but consideration must be given to the fact that game protection is a skill developed from a combination of training and hands on experience. Like new croupiers the first 3 months on the job will be a transition period.


TECHNOLOGY TO THE RESCUE


Casino executives in Macau are concerned about the shortage of expertise. The threat of cheating is high and good experienced surveillance managers are very hard to come by. The Macau immigration laws place tight restrictions on the issuance of work permits. Companies opening new casinos can apply to sponsor experienced managers from overseas but there are budgetary considerations that make recruitment of foreigners limited.


Macau is not everyone's cup of tea and attracting qualified candidates for management positions can be difficult. Keeping them is just as difficult. The frantic pace in which the new casinos are building and expanding means that managers are in big demand. Experienced casino managers from regulated backgrounds that have already acclimated to the "Macau way" are seen as highly favorable by casino recruiters.


Given the current situation, casinos are tackling the challenge with a new and innovative approach. They say the solution is simple. Don't have management. Ok, maybe it's not that simple. Let me explain.


The casino licensees in Macau are permitted to build and run multiple casino properties. Some of these licensees plan to build and operate at least five casinos in the next three years. Normally five casinos would require five management teams but the chances of developing trainees into managers in that short time frame are highly improbable.


This is where innovative new technology comes in to play. Instead of having a surveillance room in all five casinos, a large central monitor room would be used to monitor all five. This way one management team could oversee and monitor all five casinos.


Centralized monitoring is not new. Security companies have been monitoring facilities for years from a central location. The technology is very similar but the bandwidth demands required by a casino surveillance system are much greater. Casinos require 30 frames a second video at high resolution while most security type applications may only require 2 frame a second at low resolution. Until recently, real time video was difficult to stream over a network but bandwidth capabilities have increased to the point where it is now possible.


Let's examine some of the advantages and challenges of centralized monitoring from an operational perspective:


Advantages:


Management costs: The Company saves money by using one management team and technical support crew to oversee multiple properties.


Space savings: No monitor rooms needed for satellite properties.


Communication: Easier to keep gaming management in all properties alerted to suspicious activity and persons of interest (one alert to all).


Centralized database: One corporate database serving all properties.


Challenges:


Cost of bandwidth: Although technically the bandwidth required can be achieved it does come at a price.


Operator knowledge: Operators of the camera system will have to remember thousands of camera locations spread across multiple properties.


Flat organizational structure: A restricted career path for front line surveillance personnel.


There is no doubt that if successful the casinos in Macau could revolutionize the way casino surveillance is conducted around the world. In fact in the near future we could see surveillance professionals in one part of the world monitoring casinos in another part of the world.


Centralized monitoring is another example of how Macau is leading and pioneering the way in the development of gaming technology to solve issues surrounding the ever growing casino industry.

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