World Game Protection Conference set for Feb. 27-29 in Las Vegas

January 9, 2024 8:40 PM
Photo: WGPC
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports
January 9, 2024 8:40 PM

The World Game Protection Conference and expo returns to Las Vegas as the casino industry faces ongoing threats from hackers and criminals scamming properties out of millions of dollars.

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Since 2006, the WGPC has connected people responsible for observing, detecting, reporting, investigating, or acting on undesirable activities in a casino. The annual conference at the Tropicana Las Vegas Feb. 27-29 examines current and emerging threats, vulnerabilities, and risks to casinos and explores practices to combat those threats.

“I always look at our show as an album,” said Willy Allison, the conference founder. “This is our 17th album. How do you make it different and fresh? We’re starting to get more technical. I think 2023 was the year for cyber attacks, social engineering, a cage scam, and ransomware attacks. That’s where we need to go. We always have the old cheating, and that’s always relevant. More relevant these days is digital crime. It’s a huge threat.”

In September, MGM Resorts International was hit by hackers in a comprehensive attack that cost the company about $100 million. Caesars Entertainment was hacked starting in August and reported customer data was compromised. Both operators are facing lawsuits over the breaches.

“We all need to learn more about this,” Allison said. “It can bring your business down. It brings the registration system down and the lights down during a conference. It’s scary stuff.”

In July, the National Indian Gaming Commission sent a nationwide warning to tribal gaming operators and their
regulators alerting them of imposters pretending to be vendors or state or tribal officials who have stolen and
attempted to scam tribal casinos out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash. That came after Nevada gaming regulators issued a warning about a nationwide casino scam that targeted cage employees and netted $1.2 million from Circa Las Vegas and hit casinos in Mesquite and Laughlin. The scammers used social-engineering tactics to pose as casino executives who directed cage employees to withdraw cash and deliver it to them.

“There needs to be more information sharing on all the incidents that happened in 2023,” Allison said. “The social engineering that took place at at least six casinos across the U.S. is being investigated by the FBI, but we won’t find out exactly how that went down for two to three years.”

Allison said the digital threats to the industry are just starting and they’re coming from global actors, as evidenced by the attacks against MGM Resorts and Caesars.

“We’re talking about bad actors that are influencing elections and democracy,” Allison said. “Criminals linked with cartels realize the casinos are easy money. Who in the casino is responsible for all operational risks? We don’t have anyone right now, no one to tie the new-world threats together. We still have these old organizational charts. The security guy looks after physical security and throws people out. Surveillance is upstairs looking at game protection. Everyone is in their own little silo and the bad guys are working out how convoluted casino organizations are.”

According to Allison, 2023 was a challenging year for casino security and surveillance in other ways. Reports have circulated about surveillance systems going down, which might have been caused by vulnerabilities due to casinos not making the investments needed in equipment.

As it has for the last two years, the Game Protection Conference kicks off with three-hour classroom-type core training sessions dealing with table- and electronic-game protection, hotel security, advantage play, investigations, and surveillance management.

“It’s fundamental training by the leading experts in the world,” Allison said.

The first day also features guests from outside the casino industry, who’ll share their knowledge about issues relevant to gaming-protection people

A presentation from a penetration tester, Mishaal Khan, will discuss how hackers are using open-source techniques and social engineering skills to steal from organizations.

Dan Lohrmann, the author of Cyber Mayday and the Day After: A Leader’s Guide to Preparing, Managing, and Recovering From Inevitable Business Disruption, will talk about managing cyber emergencies, the causes for the increase, and lessons that have been learned.

Two speakers, R. Paul Wilson and Christopher Hadnagy, will talk about the social-engineering scams that hit the casino industry in 2023, the new technology advancing the size and impact of these scams, and how these new-age con men can be mitigated.

“Social engineering is a sexy term for conning and hustling,” Allison said. “Everyone is using it now. It’s a way to get through front-line staff. It’s always been a technique in casino cheating. Teams distract staff or persuade them to turn a blind eye. It’s the 21st century version of old-style cheating. We can’t forget the past.”

On the second day are traditional programs for the entire audience, featuring speakers in the Tropicana theater and focusing on people within the industry. Also on day two, Allison will interview Anthony Carleo, known as the “Bellagio Bandit,” who in 2010 robbed Bellagio for $1.5 million and the Suncoast Casino for $19,000 before he was caught by police and served nine years in prison.

Hasard Lee, a U.S. Air Force combat pilot and instructor, will share how to make clear decisions, cultivate mental toughness, process information faster, and apply the principles to business and life.

“His book resonated with me, because casino managers have to make decisions on the fly,” Allison said. “Things happen so fast on the gaming floor that you don’t have time to think about them. We need a dose of wisdom from a military man who’ll tell us how to make better decisions.”

The expo also starts on day two and the WGPC has added what it calls a “playground,” a place to have fun and learn with self-paced and interactive displays.

“We invited select vendors — some making news and some that are gamechangers — to hang out with us for two days, so people can learn by seeing, hearing, and doing,” Allison said. “It makes the expo more interesting and fun.”

There will be the Knightscope Robot Roadshow, the IOActive shuffle machine hackers, and Wynn Resorts K9s, which are nationally recognized. There’s also a Biometrica surveillance super-recognizer challenge and a roulette-spinning challenge.

“First Pitch,” a series of 15-minute classroom presentations by exhibitors showcasing their companies and products, will take place on Feb. 26, the day before the conference begins. It’s a chance to learn more about exhibitors in a more quiet and intimate environment before “the hustle and bustle of the expo” on Wednesday and Thursday, Allison said.

The final day starts with a panel discussion on opening a sports book from the perspectives of operations, surveillance, and auditing. The group will share lessons learned and best practices for those properties about to do so.

That will be followed by a sports-betting integrity talk by Matthew Holt, CEO and co-founder of U.S. Integrity. Holt will highlight the role that game integrity plays with all stakeholders in the sports-betting ecosystem —sportsbook operators, sports properties, gaming regulators, and consumers. He’ll share examples of compromised integrity and the associated consequences.

A session will also be led by casino veteran and slot consultant Buddy Frank, moderating a panel on casino threats through the lens of surveillance. The panel will discuss current threats, challenges, and solutions.

Allison and Frank will discuss the cheating busts that made the news around the world and others that didn’t make news and rank them with the help of the audience in terms of impact and ingenuity. They will talk about the types of scams that are trending, what the 2023 scams have in common, and what casinos should do to sharpen their defenses against scammers in 2024.

“I’ve asked well-respected seasoned veterans from all over the world — Macau, the Philippines, and the States —to give their take on the threat landscape,” Allison said.

That will be followed by an information-technology executive and a tribal-casino general manager sharing lessons learned from cyberattacks.

Earle G. Hall, an internationally recognized entrepreneur, futurist, visionary, and innovator in several fields of technology and neuroscience, will discuss the potential of artificial intelligence in casinos and what the gaming floor of the future will look like.

“I wanted to end the show about the future,” Allison said. “Most of our audience are surveillance and gaming people and I wanted them to see a presentation of what, over the next 10 years with AI, the floor will look like.”

You can register for the show here.