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Monday, January 24, 2011

Watching the people...professionally

     Working as a security officer in a Las Vegas casino is an adventure just about every night for me.  One of the other jobs that can be pretty entertaining is surveillance.  Those guys pretty much spend their work time in a small room with a bunch of monitors to watch.  And they get to watch the best show in Las Vegas:  The people!  I do have a friend who works in surveillance at a different casino from where I work.  I thought it would be fun to interview him about what he does, and some of the whacko things he’s seen.  Since surveillance people aren’t supposed to talk about what they do, or really tell about anything they see, I’ll keep my friend anonymous and just call him “Merlin.”  My friend Merlin the surveillance wizard.  *chuckle*
I know surveillance watches the casino's table games.  So what's the most cash you've ever seen a player lose at one time?  

     Well for a single wager it would be $25,000.  Of course this pertains only to a table game on a single hand wager.  Some players have lost in excess of a million dollars on a single trip of 3 to 4 days, for example.  And I think the largest single sports wager was over $100,000, which lost.  It is funny though when some players show up with a bag or suitcase full of cash, and they have to pull 3 or 4 dealers out the pits to count the money, per procedure, just to keep up with his wagers.  Very funny to watch.

     That honestly does sound like a tv fantasy, someone bringing in a briefcase full of money to gamble with!  
Since there are cameras all over the casino, have you ever seen anyone having sex in a public area?  Any stories you'd like to share about that?  

     I have seen a woman so upset about her losses, that after being approached by a male, she gave him oral sex for a price to recuperate her losses before going back to her room to meet her husband.  Other employees have been drinking after work, and take hookers to back of the house areas for ????

     They take hookers...EWWWW!
Have you ever caught anyone cheating on a table game?  This isn't very common anymore, is it?  

     Not really common but it does happen.  You get the occasional card counter or hole carder.  I have caught my share of both. The rules have been changed so much that it makes it very difficult.  Card discard racks are red for a reason: the red helps to identify marked cards, on blackjack games that use six decks of cards the dealer never goes through the whole deck.  They deal through only a certain amount of cards before shuffling, which makes getting an accurate count more difficult, if you’re trying to count cards.  Auto shufflers, or continuous shufflers get rid on any chance of collusion with a dealer.  They would have to signal their bottom card which would be easy to see if it happened consistently.  It is more about tito theft (tito is the term for the ticket you now get out of a slot machine instead of coins.  Just about all slot machines in Las Vegas are now “coinless”), and employee theft these days.  Then again there is always the occasional snatch and grab type theft…  Think motorcycle helmet… 

     Ok Merlin, you know as well as I do that card counting isn’t illegal, or cheating!  *chuckle*  The casinos just frown on it because it gives the player an advantage over the house, and the house doesn’t like to lose.  So those guys (or girls!) are just thrown out and trespassed.  As for the motorcycle he’s referring to a guy who walked into a casino a bit ago wearing a full helmet, jacket, and was completely covered.  He grabbed a huge amount of casino chips from a table game and then made his getaway.  Good luck trying to cash in the $25,000 chips you took, buddy!  *chuckle*  What’s even funnier is that after the theft, a lot of people who thought they were being funny put up ads on about selling $25,000 casino chips.  I guess the police didn’t think the ads were very funny, though.  *chuckle*  
Since you are the "Eye in the Sky," I'm sure you can tell some really great stories.  Can you maybe tell us one of the funnier ones?  

     Well this is a one line answer…  The employees.  Yeah, I mean you see plenty of funny shit with the patrons, but watching the employees sometimes making stupid mistakes because they aren’t paying attention to what they’re doing, or because they think they aren’t being watched, is just hilarious sometimes.  Some of the people don’t even seem motivated to do their jobs, and with so many other people out of work, you’d think they would be grateful to have a job!  Let the mafia take back over.
     When you see them on camera, do you actually recognize some of the hookers, and know their names?  I know some of the security guys I work with do.  

     My place doesn’t have too big of a problem with the working girls.  We get our share, but they usually just get walked out by security.  They only end up getting taken into custody for a trick roll, or something else the Metro police will respond for.  But surprisingly, I don’t recognize any of them most of the time.  I really do work in a low key kind of place.  
Ok Merlin, rant away:  Since you pretty much see everything, what are the biggest problems the casinos have, in your opinion?  

     That would most definitely be the prices here.  Now we have $30 rooms and expect people to play $20 a hand for blackjack?  They use our rooms and then go to the Hooters hotel, or downtown and play $3 blackjack.  Why not keep them in house and take all their money?  $100 shows, $50 steaks, and $30 rooms?  It simply doesn’t compute.  Nobody is spending money, so why have a jewelry store, or a retail outlet that sells a t-shirt for 30 dollars?  Drop everything down and the people will come. 

     I do have to agree with you here.  What is the point of lowering room rates, but making the table game limits really high?  I understand they want big players, but isn’t that what a “high limit pit” is for?  Why grind the regular people coming to town?  We don’t all go to the Strip with a briefcase full of cash! 
In my book "Terminating Vegas" a couple security officers are caught sleeping on duty.  Have you ever caught security doing things they shouldn't?  Any really funny security stories you'd like to share with us?  No names, of course!  

     No not really.  Security is actually well behaved.  I don’t think they have time to sleep because there is so few of them that they stay pretty busy on routine security work.  No real problems, or at least not very often.   
Surveillance today isn't really like in the movies, or on tv, is it?  

     Not at all…  I mean of course we are not walking on catwalks with binoculars anymore.  Everything is mostly digital now and we can go back in time and see anything without leaving our chair.  But…  Current surveillance is pretty much reactive rather than proactive.  We should be looking for employees stealing, card counters, cheaters and the like, but instead, we are always looking back at what happened yesterday, or last week.  

“Did my employee clock in last Tuesday?”

“This guy claimed he bet $5 on black, not on red”

“This guy slipped and fell outside because he was intoxicated, can you see how many drinks he had on blackjack?”

     I mean whatever happened to actually protecting the assets?  Now it is like figuring out where the assets went after they are already gone.  That being said…  I remember my dear departed grandpa telling me when I was 5 or 6 that “The more time you spend thinking about what has been taken from you, the more is going out the door.”  Maybe the powers that be should remember that.
I have a few...trophies from past Las Vegas.  Have you collected anything? 

     I have collected a lot of uniforms and as you know, name tags.  I also have some table layouts which are really cool.  The most interesting things are kept in my head as memories.

     Well, thanks Merlin.  *chuckle*  I know this wasn’t a “60 Minutes” type of interview, but it was still fun!  And I do appreciate your time in answering my questions.  I really would have liked to post a few, “Oh man, I remember when...” things, but we both need to stay employed at this point.  *chuckle*  So thanks for answering what you could.  


  1. $25K... oral sex... Yikes- But my question is- what is a hole carder? New term for an innocent like

  2. A "hole carder" would be a dealer who tries to be sneaky and let a player see his "hole card." That's the dealer's down card in blackjack.