Frank Floor Talk: Why not share more?

March 23, 2023 8:00 AM
  • Buddy Frank, CDC Gaming Reports
March 23, 2023 8:00 AM
  • Buddy Frank, CDC Gaming Reports

“Minimum standards are a joke.” When surveillance and security expert Willy Allison said that recently, it’s not because he doesn’t respect and follow these basic rules of casino operations. It’s because he feels the bare standards hardly scratch the surface of what we need to, and must, know to successfully run a casino. He thinks it’s imperative that we seek far greater training beyond any current minimums in each of the important areas of running a casino. (Nevada, all commercial casinos and the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act require everyone to follow nearly identical, Minimum Internal Control Standards [aka MICS]. However, operators are free to add their own additional standards).

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There’s little doubt that casino training is essential. But it can be hard to find. Allison particularly noted in the early days of this 21st Century that learning the ropes in the world of Surveillance/Security was pretty much happenstance. There were few books on the subject, and it seemed no one in this country was willing to share. Likewise, technology was rapidly changing, and it was hard to keep up.

That’s not uncommon in many departments, but due to the sensitive nature of surveillance, they may have been the most tight-lipped and secretive group you could find. They had a reputation for remaining isolated in dark rooms. Not anymore. At least not among themselves.

In May of 2005, Allison, who’d worked for 17 years as both a casino surveillance director and in sales for closed circuit camera vendors, quit his job and started working on the World Game Protection Conference. He, and his wife Jo, just wrapped up their 16th annual three-day conference, commonly called WGPC, earlier this month. (They skipped two years due to COVID).

This event is dedicated to teaching techniques from the basics to advanced skills far beyond the MICS. Best of all, the pros attending and speaking at these sessions openly share what they’ve learned. They talk about specific bad guys still roaming our floors, the latest electronic pitfalls, old scams that are making comebacks, new technology/equipment and how they can recruit, retain and lead strong teams.

If Allison were to broadcast or stream this event, it would be a top-rated reality show. Each year is different, but the 2023 agenda featured a veteran Italian roulette cheat, a CIA/Microsoft agent, experts in money laundering, card sharks, a spy recruiter (who worked for the DIA), a hacker, fascinating details on a major lottery scam, and dozens and dozens of undercover videos of infamous casino crimes.

But you won’t see that show anytime soon. In fact, as much the public would love to be a “fly on the wall” at these sessions, attendance is strictly limited to those within the security/surveillance profession. No journalists are allowed (a rare exception was for CDC reporter Buck Wargo and this author). Videos and sound recordings of the presentations are prohibited. But within this group, sharing was the theme.

When Allison first visited the States he said, “I thought to myself there’s probably a thousand casinos in the U.S., so how come nobody has a forum where all these surveillance people can meet? They need to learn, share and see the latest technology together in one place. But instead, there was no one talking to each other. It was a niche that nobody was servicing, not at the big shows or anywhere else.”

“Most of the talk at G2E and ICE is about marketing and about buying slot machines. While that’s all good, no one was really talking about back of house risks and all the bad things that can happen during casino operations.” He explained, “In Australia, where I come from, it was standard every year that we’d all get together and talk about the issues. We’d all meet and stay in touch. But that wasn’t happening in the U.S., and I’m not sure why.”

One example he, and many others, pointed out this year was about electronic table games. While there was universal agreement that ETGs have great potential, rumors of widespread cheating significantly slowed implementation of these games last year. Some of those stories were accurate, but others were not.

Accordingly, these security pros felt the games could have launched far better if they’d been given better training, and if the developers had sought input from operators and surveillance teams prior to launching. Indeed, some older frauds like dice sliding, past posting results and dealer distractions reemerged on ETGs. They were all old table game scams from decades ago. However, by getting together, as they did at the 2023 WGPC show, they discussed ETG management, better techniques and separated fact from fiction.

All that sharing has resulted in some major busts. Surveillance officer tips passed between peers in other jurisdictions led to the arrests and discovery of the Russian hacking of RNGs on older Aristocrat slot machines. The “Hot Lotto” phony jackpot scheme was amplified when the FBI shared tips on other possible contributors. A brand-new roulette ETG cheating scheme was revealed at the show this month. Not all the suspects have yet been caught, but it won’t be long since everyone at this year’s WGPC now knows the cheaters’ names and their methodologies.

Allison’s show debuted at the MGM Grand Las Vegas in February of 2006 with about 200 attendees. This year, like last, it was held at the historic Tropicana Las Vegas with around 600 conference goers and dozens of vendors over three days.

The first day is dedicated to “core training” in breakout rooms ranging from basic to advanced learning. The remaining two days are open to all in a theater setting with presentations from experts, not only on cheating and loss prevention, but in general leadership, technology and current events. Perhaps most importantly are the receptions each evening where sharing is the only item on the agenda.

But why even talk about an event like the WGPC when you probably aren’t eligible to attend? The point is: if a group of normally secretive and sequestered pros can get together annually to learn and share, why can’t the rest of us?

The closest program to what WGPC achieves is the annual TribalNet conference created for IT professionals working for Native American casinos. They, too, combine teaching and sharing. It is good work, but unfortunately that the forum is limited to Indian casinos.

We do have the “big” shows like G2E, ICE and this month’s IGA. The conference agendas at these exhibitions are superb, but they tend to skip the basics. Several years back, the first day of the Global Gaming Exposition was dedicated to those new to the industry, but that program has been dropped in recent years. It was probably asking too much for operators to send both veterans and new folks out of town at the same time.

This month, on their first day before the Expo opens, IGA added multiple sessions diving into all aspects of Class II gaming. This is a perfect approach and hopefully more topics will be coming in the future. IGA also does a good job with their Commissioner Certification workshops.

Of course, there are multiple casino instructional programs offered around the globe. The University of Nevada, both in Reno and Las Vegas, remains a leader in this category. Likewise, the College of Southern Nevada has a good program. Other schools ranging from Cornell to Atlantic Cape Community College also have casino classes, both in person and online. Some private programs from vendors like Clarion and Vector Solutions also have a lot to offer. Another often-overlooked educational source is the major slot machine vendors themselves. Their programs are vendor specific, but excellent. It is worth searching their websites to find the training that works for your teams.

Marketers, in particular, have made strides toward the WGPC model. Raving Consulting has a long-running “Casino Marketing & Technology Conference” held mid-summer that is excellent. On a smaller scale, J. Carcamo & Associates does a three-day “Marketing Bootcamp” with an emphasis on brand strategy.

Most of these programs are excellent to gain operational knowledge. But what is missing from many is the “open sharing” that is the foundation of the World Game Protection Conference. Perhaps many think slot strategies or marketing programs are so proprietary that they’d somehow lose a competitive advantage if they shared any secrets.

Perhaps Willy Allison says it best. Or maybe it was actually Sophocles, “Do nothing secretly; for Time sees and hears all things and discloses all.” Sophocles was also famously known for writing Greek tragedies. Having too many “secrets,” could be a tragedy for your P&L.

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Indian Gaming Tradeshow & Convention – March 27-30 – San Diego, CA

East Coast Gaming Congress – April 19-20 – Atlantic City, NJ

AML Bootcamp and Cage Operations – July 17-19 – San Diego, CA

Casino Marketing & Technology Conference – July 18-19 – Reno NV

OIGA Conference & Trade Show – August 14-16 – Tulsa, OK

Tribal Net – September 18-21 – San Diego, CA

G2E – Oct 9-12 – Las Vegas, NV

ICE – February 6-8, 2024 – London, UK

World Game Protection Conference – March tbd, 2024 – Las Vegas, NV