Protecting the Game

Right now, casinos around the world are under attack.

They’re not besieged by outlaws with guns and masks, but they are facing a threat that’s no less daunting. Cheaters are working their craft at the blackjack tables. Cashiers are pocketing money that should be making its way to the register. Counterfeiters are passing bogus bills and casino chips.

That’s why casino surveillance and security is such a big deal. And from Feb. 27-29, the global casino surveillance community turned its eye on the M Resort, which hosted the seventh annual World Game Protection Conference.

Catering primarily to casino surveillance directors and operators, the conference had a mix of shared operational insights, detailed information on the latest scams and big-picture musings on where surveillance is—and where it should be. About 400 attendees drawn from as far afield as South Africa came to the M to get an edge on the army of miscreants who threaten casinos daily. It’s a very focused, very intense three days, where experts gain more expertise through sessions such as “Internal Theft and the Occupational Fraudster” and “Interpreting Blackjack Survey Voice Reports.”

The World Game Protection Conference fills a well-defined need in the industry. As technology has become more sophisticated, so has cheating. Organized cheating teams can wreak havoc on an international scale.

To an extent, casino surveillance remains true to its loss-prevention, law-enforcement roots: Surveillance operators get paid to catch the bad guys. But, conference organizer Willy Allison believes, the discipline is in the process of a profound transformation.

Allison thinks casino surveillance will evolve from loss prevention to enterprise intelligence as managers are able to better understand and analyze the data that’s at their fingerprints.

“It’s no longer all about security,” the Australia native says. “We’re now providing intelligence—real-time information—so they can run the business more profitably. We’ll have a role in producing revenues by monitoring how successfully new bets are introduced and analyzing what goes on in the casino.”

The average surveillance employee used to be a law-enforcement veteran or an ex-dealer. Now, Allison says, a different skill set is needed.

“It’ll be like Peter Brand from Moneyball,” he says, referring to the film’s Yale econ grad turned baseball-stat guru, “someone with a grounding in math and economics, who can analyze data and present it to managers.” This brave new world has a local twist. Even though casinos have spread throughout the United States, Las Vegas is still a center for casino-surveillance technology and know-how. At a time when everyone’s preaching the diversification mantra, surveillance is one area where Las Vegas-based companies are leading the way.

One local company, eConnect, has expanded from its Sahara Avenue headquarters and opened offices in Bogota, Colombia, and Macau in the past few months. The company doesn’t make surveillance systems; instead, it builds software that helps companies better use all of the data those systems generate by combining video feeds with point-of-sale data. Operators looking at a suspicious pattern, like an employee registering a high number of discounts, can immediately see video footage of the transactions in question. Investigations that once took hours can now be wrapped up in minutes.

With about two dozen Las Vegas employees, eConnect is a prime example of a local high-tech company that’s built on a gaming base. With casino clients such as MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment and Boyd Gaming, eConnect has diversified into general hospitality, adding Starbucks, Burger King and HMSHost, which owns airport restaurants throughout the nation. It’s a Vegas business that’s thrived during the recession.

“We’ve never sold more systems than now,” eConnect marketing director Chris Swanger says. “Companies are looking for new ways to extract more profits. We increase profitability and decrease losses.” The eConnect website even boasts an ROI calculator that lets potential clients learn exactly how long—usually less than six months—it will take for eConnect to pay for itself.

These are bold claims, but they’re ones that surveillance practitioners, with more tools than ever at their disposal, are starting to make. And they’re delivering. One of the highlights of the conference was the Golden Dome Awards, a presentation Allison describes as “the Oscars of the surveillance industry.” There’s no red carpet—suits sans ties and polo shirts predominate—but there’s plenty of drama, with categories for Table Games Scam, Slot Scam and General Theft.

The World Game Protection Conference might be a celebration of the power of surveillance and a chance for a few lucky Dome winners to bask in some glory. But it is also a reminder that there will always be those who try to steal from casinos and cheat at games, and that those charged with protecting those casinos have to keep on their toes.