As long as gaming has been around, someone has been trying to game the system. Maybe it’s a disgruntled gambling addict who lost all his wages to the Evil Casino, and wants to cheat to get his money back. Or maybe it’s just a mathematician who decided to use a natural gift for numbers to count cards to supplement a paltry paycheck.
Either way, casinos are in it to win it, otherwise they wouldn’t exist. Just as a store employs security measures to protect their inventory, casinos also act to protect their stakes. But casinos take security to a whole new level. Casino security marries technology with a human interface of security cameras and personnel, monitors and specialists, each tasked with protecting billions. According to state laws, all casinos are required to carry millions in cash on the premises at all times in order to stay in business.
The impressive amount of cash on hand is tempting for those who would try to cheat at a casino. Casinos constantly wage war against thieves, cons, and cheats. These are some of the impressive ways casinos protect their assets—as well as the safety and security of their customers.
The Reasons behind the Tech
Why do casinos go to such great lengths to watch over the casino? For every security measure, someone invents a countermeasure, and the process continues at the speed of technology. But today’s seemingly sinister web of wireless cameras, CCTV, and highly-trained security personnel was developed as a reaction to the advent of the computer, and a few cheaters who employed them.
Back in the 60s, computers took up entire rooms, and dozens of scientists in lab coats busily took notes on the flashing lights and spinning tape reels. By the 70s, several intrepid individuals were already hard at work thinking of ways to miniaturize the computer.
One of these early pc pioneers was a computer engineer named Keith Taft. Taft had read a few books about how to get an edge in blackjack, and asked a game-breaking question: couldn’t a computer count cards? Of course, hauling a roomful of computer equipment into a casino was hardly an option. So Keith Taft developed a 15-pound, wearable ‘computer’ vest that he could hide under his shirt.
Taft’s system underwent many changes, improvements, and bug fixes. The first major fix was to stop battery acid from leaking out of the crude vest and burning his skin. Taft made quite a living out of his concealed weapons of math destruction; so much so that casinos eventually banned all electronic devices and counting machines in the casinos.
But people continued to count cards without the aid of electronics, which is technically not illegal. But as a known method of cheating, casinos can and will ask you to leave if you appear to be counting cards. Most of the current security utilized to protect the casino’s assets are there to catch cheats who use various means to beat the system.
The Eye in the Sky
The first weapon in the casino’s arsenal is the infamous surveillance camera known as The Eye in the Sky. And there’s not just one; there are hundreds of them. All tucked neatly in the ceilings of every land-based casino. Everybody knows about The Eyes and ignores them, as they are unobtrusive little black domes high above them.
Casinos are designed to dazzle your senses; the blaring lights and bells and whistles of thousands of slot machines, the glitz and glamour, the free drinks. With so much going on, no one really looks up. But if you do, you’ll notice the cameras. Tons of them, usually numbering in the hundreds (and sometimes over 1,000 at the big casinos). The cameras feed into a main command center where dozens of skilled security experts pay attention to everything that’s happening on the floor. The security personnel can zoom in, pan, tilt, and maneuver around the room as if they were right on the floor. These people know what they’re looking for. Each and every one of them knows the ins and outs of every game, and they’re well aware of how players cheat at each game.
Eyes on the Ground
It’s not just people sitting in a command center who pay attention to what’s happening on the casino floor. Pit bosses, dealers, and undercover officers are tasked with making sure players are playing by the rules and cheats are kept away.
The ground personnel on the casino floor all coordinate and cooperate with security personnel to identify, record, and catch cheating. While technology is great at recording events passively, it still requires human decisions to be made quickly in real time. When security personnel in the command center monitor a camera which reveals a possible cheater in action, they signal a pit boss to assess the situation.
Pit bosses have years of experience on the casino floor; they have acquired expert knowledge of all games, playing styles, and a cheater’s ‘tells.’ Without the aid of illegal electronic devices, card counters may display physical ‘ticks’ which give them away. Often a pit boss will observe the potential cheater in action, and then make a decision. The decision is not always an aggressive one, however. Often an amateur card counter might just get a dealer change ordered by the pit boss. Changing the dealer requires new decks and a reshuffling of the cards, which passively thwarts any card counting underway at the time.
If there weren’t enough eyes watching above an on the ground, there’s an Angel Eye on the cards. Angel Eye is a hardware and software solution employed in casinos to prevent card switching at the tables. In baccarat tables of certain casinos in Asia, they employ Angel Eye as a guardian.
Each official casino card has an invisible barcode printed on it. The baccarat dealing shoe is fitted with a sensor which traces and records all cards dealt. The information is transferred to the central security computer, and if any card suddenly appears on the table which does not bear the barcode, someone is attempting to switch cards. And the cheater is caught red-handed.