Una's blog

Viva Las Vegas: February 2015

by Mark Rowe

Viva Las Vegas, writes our regular contributor, back in the United States, Una Riley.

Last year I briefly visited Las Vegas and stayed at The Mirage, one of the many MGM Hotels and part of the MGM resort portfolio. I later returned and stayed at The Bellagio next to their ultra-modern Aria Hotel. I wanted to meet the person responsible for the technology at such a modern complex to see exactly what they were using by way of electronic systems. A security colleague in LA kindly arranged for me to meet with Ted Whiting, Director of Surveillance at the Aria Resort & Casino one of Las Vegas’s biggest casino-led entertainment venues. Whiting has been in the gaming industry since 1989. From the start he was curious to know how everything worked on the floor and early on in his career he held various casino positions such as dealer, cage cashier, and poker room brush. From 1995 until 2009, he worked at The Mirage Resort & Casino surveillance room and was promoted to director of surveillance in 2001. Since 2006, he has worked on creating the casino surveillance system at the multi-billion dollar resort and casino project known as City Center and was promoted to director of surveillance for the City Center’s Aria Resort & Casino in 2009. Since that time he has built quite a reputation as the ‘go to’ person for surveillance. Although a former military man specialising in electronics Whiting dismisses that as a reason for his current knowledge. It is his fascination with how things work … even people. His time as a veteran of the gaming industry is where he has developed his expertise. The day I met Whiting I was greeted by one of the PR team and led to the security offices and control room area, I will not describe the location within the building for obvious reasons. However, what I will say is that it is most impressive.

I was then taken into a meeting room and in came Whiting. I was aware that he did not have time to waste, so the first thing I asked was how he got into security. “I started as a bar tender. I have held every job in the casino, including dealer, cage cashier, and poker room brush.” We then went on to discuss surveillance and the interaction of the electronic systems and physical side working together as an overall integrated security approach to the casino resort security. Whiting explained that he is analytical in regard to security and gave an example of how technology and people work together. Although they have great facial recognition software in situ the best results of all come from Rita! I thought this was an acronym for a facial recognition system I had not heard of, but Rita is actually an exceptional human being. Whiting explained that she is phenomenal in recognising prospective cheats and suspects. “She is the best facial recognition we have.” He also explained that he hires people not only with security experience but also people from different backgrounds to work in his department. He has former dealers, cage cashiers and he has ‘face people’ … one being Rita. Whiting went on: “You have to have ‘face people’. You have to have this entire mix but face people are the most valuable. We identify about 300 people [perpetrators] a year here and most of those we catch just by recognising their faces.” Whiting went on to explain the communication system they have with the MGM properties and how if one incident occurs at one venue they are availed of the information and description and are ready for action. He explained that Rita can remember people that entered the property five years ago … it’s a good job she doesn’t play cards!?

I wanted to know more about the technology side. Whiting talked at length about his relationship with technology manufacturers and installers. He said that the relationship was a two-way street but in essence he said: “What I demand from my manufacturer-installer is that they do whatever I want. If I want a specific camera and require it to be integrated into the current system … then they do it.” I enquired as to how that worked in relationship terms. Whiting said: “They have been really useful and they helped design the existing system which I call ‘video on demand’.” We talked about the old days when you had to wire each camera back to the control equipment and old video cassette recorders and trawling through hours of tapes … how things have changed. Now the technology with integrated software including biometrics, access control and surveillance constitutes what Whiting calls ‘video on demand’. He is entrenched in the casino resort surveillance business in Nevada and has contributed to the MGM Resorts IAPI (International Advantage Player Identification) training, and casino loss prevention training for table games and casino surveillance. He is the administrator for iTrak, the corporate surveillance report and suspect database, and the chairman of the MGM Resorts security and surveillance technology steering committee. He is innovative when it comes to surveillance and has been among the first to introduce new technologies to Nevada casinos. One of the products that Whiting uses in the mix is a UK camera … Oncam GrandEye. This 360-degree IP camera is able to monitor a larger area, cutting the need for large numbers of cameras and reducing the number of monitors and security staff required. Which is why his team of casino surveillance operators can be focused and released from the traditional task of having to view banks of monitors. Hence, the team can concentrate on identifying only the hostile or duplicitous behaviour of prospective ‘bad guys’ and successfully challenging them, while other guests are oblivious and free to enjoy everything that the Aria has to offer.

I asked what changes Whiting would like to see in the surveillance technology world. He said: “Everyone that knows me is aware that I love the 360 degree cameras. I talk about them constantly but want to take them to the next level where we place them in our bespoke cloud and stitch them together. Cameras are just data. So I can paint a target and just programmatically track it from beginning to end, everywhere that person goes. Just like you have an app on your phone that tracks you with GPS when you are out running … that’s what I want inside this building. We can do it and we are going to get there but it is just a little bit expensive. The other think I want to do and in fact I am doing it elsewhere … is playing card recognition. In the past I worked with a company for almost three years and they partnered up with a Canadian gaming company and now we are dealing with just that group. The resulting product seems to be working, it is awesome and I love it.” I asked how it works. Whiting replied: “What it does is cards come out and the camera will read the value of the card, so now the algorithm is done and we have all of the algorithms done. So we just have to tell the computer what to do with it.” Whiting enthusiastically went on to demonstrate the interaction between dealer and player by gesticulating when the dealer does this the player does that. He explained that all the ways of dealing and receiving mean something to him and how he and his team analyse play. He explained that instead of only being able to analyse one player at a time this software would mean that they are analysing every single player all of the time. Whiting went on: “We are going to be able to identify if someone has marked the cards, if the dealer is flashing the card, all that information we can grab on every single table all of the time.” He also described many of the tricks of the trade and how this software combined with his existing technology can monitor card counters who exhibit specific behaviour patterns. He understands anomalous and passive behaviour. He demonstrated and explained many of the classic body language ‘tells’ that identify wrong doers in an instant and he and his team know them all. He explained that when he is teaching people about behaviour and recognition he says: ‘You don’t only recognise people by their face … you recognise them from their gait and the way they walk. That is why you can identify someone from 100 feet away because you know how they move.’ Whiting explained that his trained team once alerted to the variances are able to compare present and previous behaviour to enable them to challenge a target once confirmed. At that stage Whiting’s team has the technological justification in terms of enough information to confront the target. They can never make a mistake because the ethos is that everyone is at the resort to enjoy themselves and a false accusation is not an option. The entire business takes the MGM ‘brand protection’ seriously. This includes all service; food, gaming, entertainment, accommodation and of course security.

Whiting recognises that technology is an enabler for both the criminals and law enforcement and we discussed other products and innovations that he is working on at present but does not want to publically divulge yet. What he did say was: “All the answers are in the date.” That is a clue to his next big project. He also wanted to say that he felt that security is a strong customer service tool in any business. I asked for an example. He said that due to surveillance for instance that they return money to people all the time, customers get up from tables and leave their cash or drop it as they walk away. He added: “If we see a dealer made a mistake … the customer gets the money back every time … they sure do.” That was a cue for me to finish; and hit the tables.

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