Two o’clock in the afternoon, however, in a bunker-like surveillance room hanging 28 monitors on the walls show that not all the public has gone home, and in a casino of 10,000 m² some movement is visible. A security officer at the Mirage Resort (hereinafter referred to as Tom) connects to the system and starts checking the records left over from the night shift. Using a joystick, keyboard and three monitors on the table, he scrolls through the records from thousands of ceiling-mounted cameras – all of which looks like a walk through a huge gaming hall above the heads of unsuspecting players.
In board games, Tom is a specialist. He starts by taking a close look at a few poker players, then switches to a table where he plays moderate blackjack bets. A quick glance at the table where dice are played with passion. Nothing suspicious so far, but baccarat in the high limit room attracts his attention. Bets here start at $100. Here’s a young Asian man in a white suit who’s got a strange hold on his hands. Sometimes he covers the cards lying in front of him with his hands, then relaxently puts his hands on the table, but one hand slides on the lapel of his jacket…
Like many other players in Las Vegas, this gentleman presented his “player card” to the croupier, a kind of client discount card, before entering the game. With these cards, the casino keeps an eye on his customers’ game and, if necessary, encourages them with additional benefits (put enough money on the line and you’ll have a luxury villa with your own butler by the evening, if you’re lucky). With this card you can find out almost everything about the client – his name, date of birth, address, the amounts won and lost during previous visits, and much more.
Tom looks through the list of winnings of this client in a long retrospective and finds out that he is a chronic loser. It would seem that such a record would have to clear the client of any suspicions. However, Tom, trusting his intuition, turns to an internal search engine and displays a list of all the players and croupiers with whom our suspect had to intersect under the roof of this casino. One of the names pops up suspiciously often – it’s a very lucky player and also an Asian. He’s already lost hundreds of thousands of dollars to his partners during this visit. Yeah, yeah, there he is, at the same table as our friend.
Not an hour goes by when Tom picks up the phone. Now he’s convinced the guy in the white suit isn’t just rubbing his lapel, he’s sticking his fingers somewhere behind the lining. In the course of the game, he replaces the cards, which is called “hand picking”. The baccarat rules allow players to take sides with another player or croupier if they wish. Based on this logic, a criminal couple plays the game in such a way that the “white suit” constantly loses small amounts, while his accomplice puts the casino on a big score. People write a lot about casinos, but this situation is completely crazy.
When a winning cheat tries to cash out his chips, he gets a security guard right at the casino. Meanwhile, other guards invite his accomplice to leave the card table. The cheater breaks out, falls to his knees and hurries to swallow the card he recently put in his jacket. It seems to him that he has destroyed all the evidence, but – alas! – the digital cameras on the casino ceiling have tracked down his criminal activities.
All baccarat tables are now equipped with a special angel’s eye system. In games where several decks are used, cards are kept in a special plastic trough, reinforced on the table. Now this trough is equipped with a disguised scanner that constantly reads barcodes from cards, invisible to the ordinary eye. “Angel’s eye” captures all the cards as they come into the game and immediately passes this information to the dealer, so if any player decides to change the card, the dealer at the same time learns about it. Thanks to this scanner, all the “hand pickers” are immediately out of work.
When you enter any major casino in Las Vegas, you’re immediately caught by a computer system built specifically to learn all about you – your attitude to money, gaming habits and even your culinary tastes. Cameras track your every move, computer programs comprehend your way of playing, and specialized analytic and prognostic systems calculate how interesting you are to the casino in the long term.
According to Dave Shepherd, former executive director of security at the Venetian Resort Hotel casino, Las Vegas can be seen as an ideal testing ground for the latest security systems and tracking equipment, which will later find application on the stock exchange, in airports, trading halls and government agencies.
“Gaming houses attract the most talented cryptographers, computer security and game theory experts,” said John Pironty, chief risk and information officer at Archer Technologies, who’s in charge of data protection. – They feel very vulnerable, so they won’t be stingy, strengthening their defence.”
The gambling business is riddled with control systems. The presence of a vigilant eye here is not only objectionable, but in many cases is simply mandatory. On the other hand, some human rights defenders express concern that many services are operating in secrecy here. “By what right do gambling houses have secret files on their best customers? – asks Mark Rotenberg, Executive Director of the Information Centre for the Protection of Privacy against Electronic Interference (EPIC). – People need to know what information gambling house services collect about them”.
Digital data is stored almost forever, sophisticated surveillance tools are spreading everywhere. A program that today is analyzing your card table tactics can tomorrow assess your performance in the workplace.
From the moment you take out your “player card” and make your first bet, the casino keeps an eye on you. “Information about this financial transaction goes straight to the sorting system,” said David Norton, head of marketing at Harrah’s Entertaiment. The easiest way to link modern slot machines to a data processing system is to connect them. Almost all slot machines now have an integrated control processor. However, until recently, they were a “thing in itself”. For any changeover the operator had to stop the game, open the body of the machine and pick up its mounting boards. It’s different now. Casino Mirage will soon open a subsidiary, where all the slot machines will be tied to a single server. In other words, all the one-armed thugs in this establishment will be managed from a single center, so that the management can change their programs just by clicking the keys. This way it will be possible to replace existing games and rules, bets and restrictions, tracking the situation and customer behavior. If a guest arrives in town hoping to watch the national rodeo finale, it will be possible to upload a program on the game machine. The machine will be able to notify the client about the inclusion of any other attractions or tell him the schedule of the nearest events that interest him. The machine will even wish him a happy birthday.
This kind of attention to your person may even flatter you – but only as long as the institution considers you a welcome guest. In the casino Venetian Resort Hotel special programs allow you to enter into the search engine description of the appearance of the suspect villain (say, mustache, tattoo on the wrists and the manner of spinning around the tables with roulette). If you find a match of the features with the database, the screen will show the portrait of the unwanted guest, and at the same time all his passport data.
According to EPIC representative Rothenberg, if any industry accumulates an excessive amount of information about customers, there is always reason to fear serious leaks. He advises to pay special attention to the fact that security services in competing establishments often exchange such information.
Mania pursuit – a state quite natural for many visitors to the casino. To do this, it is enough to realize how many cameras are tracking your every move, what data volumes settle in their databases. It would be useful to remember – the same services that protect the interests of the institution, at some point may stand up and protect your security. The casino is an attractive place for pickpockets. You bet – there’s a rich public wandering the halls. Their hands are full of glasses and cocktails and their jacket pockets are full of thousands of dollars. Reliable programs track information from video cameras, highlighting suspicious moments – for example, a stranger hiding on the stairs, or a lady’s purse, which is too long on the table without supervision.
The most advanced tracking system is organized at blackjack tables at Barona Resort & Casino (Southern California). The administration of this place is brave enough to test the latest approaches. Here is the TableEye21 system, developed by Canadian computer scientist Prem Gururadjan. It assesses players’ qualifications and ranks them by character and success.
The TableEye21 system uses ceiling-mounted video cameras and an analytical software package. The information also comes from the chips, each of which has an RFID microchip embedded in it. The system quickly identifies dishonest players and those who use legitimate tactics – counting the cards that come out and watching closely as the croupier shuffles the deck, which allows you to predict when the right cards will follow. Soon TableEye21 system will be launched in many gambling establishments in Las Vegas, security services are looking forward to it.
Sometimes in their surveillance, gambling establishments go too far. A few years ago the MindPlay control system appeared on the market. 14 miniature photo cameras
14 miniature cameras took pictures of the cards in the order they were taken out of the trough on the blackjack table. The processor analyzed the sequence and notified the croupier in real time whether the cards were “cold” or “hot”. In other words, the dealer knew whether the layout of the remaining cards was advantageous to other players. “If anything, the croupier could claim,” says security veteran Arnie Rothstein, “that the time had come to shuffle the deck again. Players found out about this trick and filed a complaint with the service overseeing the gambling business. Now, according to the developer of this system, it is no longer used anywhere else.
Of course, there is no gambling in the world that is fully protected from fraud. All the technical tricks described here – just another level of this age-old game of cat and mouse.