Like players in a poker game in the era of the Wild West, everybody’s watching everyone else in Mississippi casinos. But no one likes to talk about it.
“When you start admitting that you have a problem, then people will become aware of it and start taking advantage of it,” said Sam Adair, president of Adair & Associates Security Consulting in Evergreen, Colo. “So you never admit that you have a problem.”
Casino floor employees are trained to watch patrons. “Eyes” in the ceiling monitor employees and patrons. And the state watches closely over everyone.
“Let’s be honest. You want a regulatory body that’s fair but firm in complying with the requirements of the Gaming Control Act,” said Andy Bourland, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Association. “It’s very important, not just to ensure compliance, but to uphold the image of the industry and the state. And I think one of the success stories of gaming in Mississippi has been the very fair but firm regulatory environment.”
Chuck Patton, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission, said the commission is in constant contact with casinos concerning security issues.
“We get information from a lot of different sources, and we’re in contact with other gaming jurisdictions and casinos,” Patton said. “It all depends on where the information comes from, whether or not we think one of our licensees needs to be aware of something.”
Ashley Skellie, spokesperson for the Mississippi Gaming Commission, confirmed that casinos report enforcement and security information on a monthly basis, but the report is not made public.
Adair, who has 15 years of experience establishing casino security systems and worked with the Colorado Division of Gaming to establish its operating procedures, said Mississippi mirrored Colorado’s strong internal control policies and regulating procedures.
“Now, Mississippi has more stringent regulations because of higher gaming limits,” Adair said.
Casinos’ sometimes-bad security rap can be traced to the days of mob connections in Las Vegas, Adair said.
“The reason there is a perception of, for lack of a better word, mob connection, is that it started in Las Vegas when the mob was heavily into money laundering and skimming,” he said. “That, however, has been regulated out of existence because of the observation and close scrutiny of the industry. Not only are the operations scrutinized on a daily basis, but also the license holders, their affiliations and key employees. In Colorado, if there was even a hint of a past improper association, a license was denied.”
Mississippi has one of the most sophisticated operational requirements for security in the gaming industry in the U.S., perhaps even more so than in the banking industry, Bourland said.
“There’s excellent communication between the Mississippi Gaming Commission and the casinos, in terms of refining regulations and future direction,” he said.
Professional cheaters? A very small problem. Employee theft? A very big concern, said Bourland.
“One of the main concerns among casino operators is that once we have identified an individual, let’s say an employee who has embezzled money, even when that employee has been caught on video tape and casinos have other sorts of evidence corroborating that, there have been cases where D.A.s or judges have not prosecuted or allowed the cases to go forward,” Bourland said. “Why? I would probably have to defer to them, but I think there is a general impression…that you have a big company versus an individual.”
For example, a slot technician or floor person accesses slot machines for jams and repairs. This person generally removes a coin or token to play off the machine, or to reset the machine for play. In many cases, the employee takes several coins, only uses one to reset the machine and the rest go into a concealed pocket to be later exchanged as tips. If this happens to be a $1 slot machine and the person accesses up to 300 machines during a shift, then $300 could be removed daily from the casino in internal theft.
“Multiply this by five to 10 employees and your daily losses can quickly add up,” Adair said.
Another example is the blackjack dealer that gives his associate $100 in chips for a $10 cash buy-in at the table, then leaves after playing one hand and cashes in his chips. Later, they meet and split the $90
“The reason casinos are so concerned with internal theft is that casinos deal heavily in cash, and cash can’t be proven to belong to anyone. Cash belongs to whoever is holding it,” Adair said.
If an employee is caught stealing, he’s terminated, Bourland said.
“But it’s illegal in the casino industry, or any other industry, to compile a list of employees who have done that sort of thing,” he said. “So there’s no way to warn other casinos, particularly if the employees beat the legal system.”
Collusion between employees and patrons is the biggest security threat to casinos, Patton said.
“Training provided to casino personnel encompasses all scams,” Patton said. “They know what to watch for. The problem comes when employees begin to collude with a player, and that’s why CCTV is employed so heavily. If a question comes up, casino security can go back and observe the employee and the player and confirm or disregard the collusion aspect.”
Security issues aren’t limited to money on the floor. It’s what happens in the counting room, where the state oversees every penny. And it’s what happens in the parking lots, where thefts are likely to occur, and where patrons, who may be inebriated, drive away.
“In the four years I’ve been here, I’ve only heard of a handful of incidents in parking lots,” Bourland said. “In fact, we put out a release after the Mississippi Highway Patrol provided us with a study that included an analysis of the state. It said that people are safer driving in a gaming county in Mississippi than in any other part of the state.”
Lanny Rhoades, president of The Rhoades Co., an accident reconstruction company in Corinth, said casinos have called on him in “drunk driving” cases.
“We start with all those eyes in the ceiling,” he said. “We stack up videotapes, study the perception and reaction of people, and whatever incident caused them to leave. We check tapes in the parking lot and follow their trail. We were able to show recently that certain people didn’t leave the casino and hit the highway. They left the casino, spent the night with a relative and had an accident because they drove to work too fast because they were late.”
Casino employees are trained to identify individuals who might be getting into situations where they’ve had too much to drink and are taught to intervene in a variety of ways, Bourland said.
“The safety of customers is very important to us,” he said. “That’s why the surveillance systems and security operations are so much at the heart of every Mississippi casino.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 853-3967.