Expert: Casinos have invested heavily in security since 2017 shooting but there’s more to do

Expert: Casinos have invested heavily in security since 2017 shooting but there’s more to do

  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports
January 18, 2020 9:40 PM
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports
  • Other

Las Vegas casinos have spent millions of dollars upgrading camera systems and adding artificial intelligence to detect threats in the aftermath of the Oct 1, 2017 mass shooting on the Strip that killed 58 people.

Despite those efforts, gaming security expert Douglas Florence Sr., a former director of surveillance at the Mirage and Rio resorts and executive director of security at the Hard Rock Las Vegas, said casinos need to further upgrade their systems and curtail threats.

Florence was a featured speaker Friday at UNLV Boyd School of Law’s day-long conference dealing with artificial intelligence and biometrics.

Prior to the mass shooting, Florence said casinos operated “in an analog world.” Cameras have since upgraded to digital over a larger footprint on their properties to provide a high-definition images and use of artificial intelligence software to interpret them.

“The analog convergence is still going on here in Vegas and since 2017 we have seen a huge swing because there was a tragedy,” Florence said “The cost of security and surveillance is too high until security is not enough and then we see management gives us the money we ask for and how we need to invest in software programs to do these things.”

Florence said some integrated resorts around the world can have up to 4,000 cameras. It’s impossible to watch them all with 20 to 30 surveillance staff so the use of artificial intelligence and facial recognition and firearm and threat recognition is vital.

“Some of the video that came out of 7-Elevens looked better than those that came out of casinos,” Florence said. “There were 30 to 40 percent of casinos in this town using VCRs to watch their gaming areas before they went to digital and improved the digital,”

Traditionally, digital technology had been limited to cages and other areas handling cash such as table games in addition to key areas of casino entrances and doors, Florence said.

It was harder to justify having digital cameras outside of those areas and using artificial intelligence software with facial recognition capability to assess behavior, including whether someone has a gun. Casinos have now added technology that detects gunshots as well. Those technologies send an alert to the surveillance team and shows them the high-definition video, Florence said.

“I think the high-definition and software they have deployed is no question it’s making a difference,” Florence said. “That’s going to set the bar for future upgrades that are going to happen. It provides security departments a tool to do their jobs better. The amount of data we provide the software impacts how accurate it is.”

Florence said he’s uncertain of the exact investment by Las Vegas casinos. He said an estimate of tens of millions for upgrades in more than two years could be conservative. It may have surpassed $100 million, and yet about 70 percent of the cameras in Las Vegas casinos remain analog, he said.

“If 70 percent of the cameras are still analog and the average property has more than 1,000 cameras, with 42 properties on the Strip, that would put at (30,000 that need to be replaced),” Florence said “When you think about the 400 unrestricted licenses in Nevada and the average camera count at 500 that are still analog, you are talking about 200,000 cameras out there that still need to be converted to high-definition of some kind.”

Florence said the casinos should be forced by regulators across the country to upgrade their camera systems beyond cages and table game areas where they have been focused. In some states such as Mississippi, there was a sunset on the use of video recorders and analog video recording for security, he said.

Unfortunately, Florence said, such moves are driven by tragedies like the Oct. 1 shooting – the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. As time passes, there is less urgency to act. Adding high-definition cameras and artificial intelligence serves as a deterrent. Potential incidents have likely been thwarted that could have turned deadly.

“It would help stop it,” Florence said. “It’s not just facial recognition and not just artificial intelligence. You are going to use programs saying someone checked in and the valet person scans how many bags they had with them. Now when someone has more than 10 bags and they’re not a conventioneer, that (raises a red flag).”

Steven Paddock, the Las Vegas shooter spent several days amassing an arsenal of assault-style weapons and ammunition in a two-room suite on the 32nd floor at Mandalay Bay. Paddock, a 64-year-old retired accountant and high-stakes video poker player, fired on the festival grounds across Las Vegas Boulevard during the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival. Fifty-eight people died – a 59th person died from her wounds last year – while hundreds were wounded.

“Wherever we (as an industry) have seen advances in facial recognition and AI, it goes back to some of the incidents we have had where we had terrorist bombings or terrorist events that have driven what we use because now we’re held accountable,” Florence said.

“When you think about the legal settlement with our October event and hundreds of millions of dollars, it says we need to start listening to our security and surveillance executives who say there are things out there we need to do.” Florence added.