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If there’s one thing casinos are better at than relieving people of money, it’s holding onto that money afterwards. Thieves throughout the ages have successfully broken into targets described as “impregnable”, “unbreakable” or “the safest place on earth” with almost embarrassing regularity including banks, museums, and the Tower of London. As far as we know though no thief has ever successfully penetrated a casino vault and returned with the proceeds. In this article we’ll take a look at the vast security operations behind the scenes, trying to maintain that perfect record.
A successful casino security operation needs to overcome several natural handicaps. For starters casinos need to hold vast amounts of cash; in Vegas casinos must hold enough to cover the total value of every chip on the gaming floor. Secondly, the public must be able to access much larger areas of the premises than, for example, they would at a bank. Third, and not least, staff face enormous temptation to cheat, collude or steal on a daily basis and often aren’t held back by loyalty to their employers.
Security starts at the design phase for a new casino – and one of the easiest ways to control entry and exit is to make as few as possible. A typical casino will have one customer and one service entrance, heavily guarded and set back as far from roads as possible. Gaming floors are often a maze of short, narrow passageways (a design feature which hinders escape and, apparently makes players more comfortable). If you were to make it to the restricted areas the same pattern would repeat, corridors are identically painted, twisty and repetitive; making it almost impossible for an unexpected guest to navigate smoothly.
The player reward cards you hand over at a table aren’t just so you can get free drinks. In fact they gift management a huge amount of information from the player’s name to every single bet they make at a particular table, who they go with and how much they’ve lost. The casino can even look back through their player’s addresses and places of work to throw up NORAs (non obvious relationships), possibly an indication of collusion. In the security room powerful computers sift through vast databases, looking for unusual behaviour, atypical betting patterns or prior player/dealer relationships. These computers might notice if, for example, a player had consistently good results with one particular dealer or if two or more people played exclusively together, which can be a sign of collusion.
The main tool used by casino security is, of course, the vast network of cameras that will often cover the entire gaming floor. In large establishments there may be networks or hundreds, or even thousands, of cameras monitored 24/7 by the security team. These cameras aren’t just passive observers, and can be manually controlled to follow specific players seamlessly throughout an evening, without them knowing anything about it. Modern security cameras can run facial recognition on customers, track chips using Radio Frequency ID, automatically detect card counting and even tell if someone is carrying round more chips than they have purchased or won.
The vast security operations run by casinos have made successful heists a near fantasy and collusion extremely difficult. Casinos employ security experts, programmers, cryptographers, and game theorists to monitor the behaviour of customers and staff to a level some find unsettling. Nonetheless these security machines are faultlessly and endlessly present. So to any budding casino robbers out there – don’t bother; try something easier like Fort Knox.