Movies make casino cheaters seem like modern-day Robin Hoods, but don't be fooled. Regulatory agencies toss around jail sentences faster than mob goons used to break knees. But casinos can't prosecute what they can't catch; everything starts with detection.
Casinos are better than ever at stopping theft—employing a complex web of advanced technology to nab cheaters before they can slink away. You're being watched before you even enter the door. Check out the gallery above for a tour of how, where, and when you're being watched.
License Plate Readers
Your car can get you tossed off casino property long before security sees your face, thanks to cameras packing License Plate Recognition technology. It's pretty straightforward: the camera snaps a picture of the license plate of every car pulling into the casino. Optical character recognition software converts the letters and numbers on the license plates into text. The number is then compared against the plates of undesirables and known gambling addicts. If your license plate comes up hot, security turns you away before you even reach the door. The process is automatic and lightning-quick.
Image credit: PlateRecognition.info
Biometric Face Recognition
Your face is scanned by cameras the minute you enter the door. Most casinos rely on security personnel manning high-megapixel digital cameras to identify unwanted guests, but a new technology is beginning to make the rounds at some establishments: biometric face recognition. The tech's still young, but it has the potential to change casino surveillance forever.
There are two types of biometric systems out there: dumb and smart. Dumb systems automatically detect human faces and grab a snapshot of every person entering the premises. Smart systems do that too, but they then analyze the face of each guest and compare them against the images of undesirables in the casino's database. If the system finds a match, it alerts security.
As useful as smart biometric facial recognition sounds, not everyone is sold on it. "I don't believe in the success of biological facial recognition," says John Connolly, the chief agent for Eye on the Action and manager of the Casino Surveillance & Security Society. "Most of the images captured are taken from cameras either on ceilings or just below, therefore we see the head of the suspects from an angle which is usually above the subject's head." Connolly says "the time it takes to search through large databases" is another drawback.
Even if a cheater's Groucho Marx glasses and moustache combo gets him by the biometric facial scanners, the odds are still against him at the baccarat table, thanks to a nifty little system known as Angel Eye. Designed to put the brakes on a rampant card-switching problem in Asian countries, Angel Eye relies on bar codes placed on each card with invisible ink.
As the baccarat dealer deals cards, a sensor in the dealing shoe keeps track of the cards being dealt and transfers the information to a computer. After the cards on the table are revealed, the dealer presses a button on the shoe, and the results of the hand – as judged by the computer – are displayed. Security starts flexing its muscles if the results on the table don't match the computer's.
Image credit: cardsharkonline.blogspot.com
Taking your money and running also falls under intense technological scrutiny – the chip-cashing booth is the last line of defense against cheaters. Many casino chips now contain itty-bitty RFID chips in their core. These chips broadcast unique serial identifiers over radio frequencies (hence the term RFID). RFID-reading equipment tableside and at the chip cashing booth are tuned to detect the signal. Counterfeit chips won't sing the proper song – and casinos will refuse to cash them out. Casinos also use the RFID chips for more mundane tasks, like keeping track of the chips they lend to players on credit and tracking play data for specific tables.
RFID-embedded chips have already paid off big in at least one major heist. After a man robbed the Bellagio casino to the tune of $1.5 million in chips late last year, the casino simply turned off their transmitters – instantly making the chips worthless.
Image credit: popularmechanics.com
TableEye21 combines several technologies into a single impressive service: an overhead video camera keeps track of the action, and by using a mixture of video analysis software and information from RFID chips, it's able to overlay the video feed with real-time information of the cards being dealt and the chips being wagered. In the meantime, TableEye21's robust software methodically tracks all kinds of stats for the table, including dealer rounds per hour, trend reports, and player win percentage. Casinos use that information to help identify when a player is counting cards or working in cahoots with the dealer to screw the casino out of money.
Casinos can lose a ton of money when multiple cheaters join forces in a quest to win big. If a pit boss notices something funny going on or TableEye21 shows odd number trends for two or more people, casinos can turn to Non-Obvious Relationship Awareness software for help. Casinos maintain massive databases of information on transactions, cheaters, employees and other "people of interest." NORA – now sold as IBM Relationship Resolution – scans those databases and recognizes relationships that may not be obvious at first glance.
If you simply plug a person's information into NORA, it can identify if the John Smith applying for a job as a blackjack dealer is actually Johan Schmied, the notorious German blackjack scammer. It can also detect relationships between multiple people by identifying similar data in their backgrounds. NORA can tell security personnel that, hey, these two players belonged to the same fraternity at UNLV in 1987, or that the dealer and a hot-handed player used to share the same address and phone number – and they were both arrested for the same fraud case in 1994.
Need more proof of NORA's power? After 9/11, the Department Of Homeland Security began using the technology to help identify links between potential terrorists.
Image credit: playwinningpoker.com
Casino Security Off-Land
Not all gambling takes place in multibillion dollar casinos with full security staffs. Online casinos draw plenty of action, as do cruise ships.
Iovation's ReputationManager 360 software won a spot on Casino Journal's "Top 20 Most Innovative Gaming Technology Products" for 2010 and helps online casinos block access to cheaters before they can place a single dubious transaction. The software draws on Iovation's massive "Device Reputation Authority" database, which stores data on over half a billion different devices. "Over 2,000 fraud professionals and hundreds of online brands contribute 50,000 details of fraud each day," Iovation boasts. ReputationManager 360 taps into that resource whenever an IP address attempts to make a transaction and assigns it one of three ratings: Allow, Review or flat-out Deny. Just in case those cyber-cheaters trick to get tricky, Iovation's "Real IP" application (included with ReputationManager 360) traces connections routed through proxy servers back to its original IP address.
Security on cruise ships is still tight, but it doesn't require as many technical bells and whistles as their land-based counterparts. "Although these types of technologies are 'nice to have,' there is no real need for them," says Craig Morton, a cruise ship surveillance manager. Betting games at sea are "alternative forms of onboard recreation, (with) low levels of play and occupancy, (and) most passengers are on tight budgets." Without large amounts of cash changing hands on a regular basis, cruise ships can get by with smaller teams and fewer technical tricks.
The smartest technology in the world won't help if it's backed by stupid staff and procedures.
"One thing to remember is that all these technologies in themselves do not necessarily deter the professional cheat," Morton says. "They are fundamentally intelligence gathering tools which then provide the Surveillance Team with additional information on suspected play or persons. The real benefit of these systems is when proper procedures are in place to gather, analyze, manage and process the relevant data in a meaningful and productive way. If not, then the Surveillance Team finds itself overwhelmed with intelligence and data which they cannot handle."