How Can We Keep Nightclubs Safe?

From ‘wanding’ to metal detectors, experts ponder the future of Strip security


The recent tragic shooting at Drai’s after-hours club in Bally’s casino hotel has raised questions about just how much security both casinos and nightclubs in Las Vegas should provide. Not surprisingly, there is no consensus on the answers.

The shooting reportedly happened after suspect Benjamin Frazier paid the $30 cover charge but before he entered the club (though he had previously gone in to assess the activity for himself). Police say that after shooting two security officers, Frazier shot and killed patron Kenneth Brown, who was attempting to wrest the gun from him.

Online commentators almost immediately pointed to the shootings as evidence that Las Vegas casinos are not safe. Three security experts, each of whom has extensive experience in the field, disagree with those assessments.

“Las Vegas casinos are very safe when you consider the total customer volume versus the number of incidents,” says Steve Baker, founder of security consulting group VTI Associates. “But when you get something of this nature, it raises a lot of concerns.”

Baker points out that a Strip casino is a “microcosm of any community,” with thousands of short-term residents and a large amount of traffic, cash and goods. Factor in alcohol, and the potential for disorder increases. That leads to crimes typical of any place where large numbers of strangers congregate: pickpocketing, assaults, batteries, domestic incidents and crimes of opportunity like purse snatching.
Fred Del Marva, who specializes in hotel, casino, bar and restaurant security, believes that nightclubs present new and unique challenges for Las Vegas casinos.

“Vegas in the last 10 years has attracted a much different clientele,” Del Marva says. In his estimation, the typical nightclub crowd, which he believes is younger, drunker, and more prone to violence—or, as he says, “argumentative and assaultive behavior”—is a problem waiting to happen.

“We’re seeing a spike in nightclub violence nationally,” he says, citing a recent spate of stabbings in a Phoenix nightclub and incidents in Washington, D.C., that included four stabbings and two shootings. “They’re a cash cow, but if you’re soliciting a dangerous clientele, you need to develop a protocol to deter or prevent violence.”

Del Marva says the time is right for Strip nightclubs to ramp up their security. He believes scanning patrons with handheld metal detectors—known in the business as wanding—is long overdue. “They do it in larger clubs. It’s absolutely feasible,” he says, pointing out that with the rash of nationwide incidents, it now may be considered a reasonable security measure.

That word—reasonable—is key. By law, operators are required to exercise a “reasonable” standard of care; they need to take steps to prevent dangerous situations that the average person would find prudent. Given enough gun/knife incidents at nightclubs, it becomes prudent to take stricter security measures than at, for instance, a Celine Dion concert.

When it comes to screening people entering the larger casino resort, there’s a consensus that such an undertaking would be neither reasonable nor feasible. The complex is simply too large, has too many entrances and sees too many occupants in a day to secure in that way.

But even if metal detectors were universal, they wouldn’t be enough, says Stan Kephart, who helped to utilize metal detectors in their first “large venue appearance” at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. “Metal detectors in and of themselves don’t prevent crimes,” he says. “Any security measure invented by man can be defeated by man. They can’t hurt, and they can help, but they are not going to stop crime.”
Metal detectors also present some logistical problems.

“The question becomes, where would you put it?” Baker says. “The Drai’s shooting took place where the metal detector would have been. It might have ensured that he’d be denied entry, but it couldn’t have stopped him from getting that far.”

So should you expect to get wanded before heading into a Las Vegas club anytime soon? Much of that depends on incidents around the nation; if violence at nightclubs continues, it will become “reasonable” to foresee it, and the wands will come out.

David G. Schwartz is the director of UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research.

What are your thoughts on the safety of nightclubs? Tell us in the comments section below.