ALMOST VENICE
 
ALMOST VENICE

Mar 1, 2001 12:00 PM
RANDY SOUTHERLAND

You deal with almost anything ! purse snatching, people slipping, auto accidents, and many of the other things you find in a city.

With its gondola-filled canals, majestic arches and weathered statues, The Venetian Resort, Hotel and Casino might convince a traveler that he has somehow stepped into the splendor of Venice. Landmarks such as the Campanile Tower and Bridge of Sighs stretch across the Grand Canal, lending an air of authenticity you could easily lose yourself in.

Still, this isn't Italy and it isn't Venice. It's all part of an opulent pleasure dome in the middle of the American West ! Las Vegas to be exact.

The highly successful $1.5 billion Venetian Casino is a striking tourist destination in a desert city that prides itself on man-made extravagance. Built on the site of the famous Sands Hotel, the Venetian complex offers guests 3,036 hotel suites. Each standard suite measures 700 sq. ft. There are 120,000 sq. ft. of gaming floors, 500,000 sq. ft. of retail space at The Grand Canal Shoppes, and an additional 500,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

More than 50,000 people pass through the glitzy Canal Shoppes every day, mingling with hotel guests and conventioneers from the nearby meeting facility. Inside its windowless casino, time stands still for thousands of hopeful gamblers, and millions of dollars change hands in games of chance.

Throngs of tourists with a lot of money could offer an open invitation to opportunists. Here at the Venetian, however, separate security and surveillance teams make sure the fun and games don't turn ugly.

"The problems that we encounter are usually from the outside," says Daniel Eitnier, the Venetian's director of surveillance. "There's a lot of money here, so there are people who come in and try to take advantage of players. They try to scam them out of their money. They try to steal money from the tables. It's often just simple theft."

Eitnier's job is to keep a watchful eye on the casino operations which include 120 table games and 2,500 slot machines.

Making sure that the games are honest and the money always goes to its rightful owner requires a team effort. Dealers must follow strict procedures in the way they run their games, and the unblinking eyes of nearly 500 Philips CCTV cameras track their every move. An additional 300 cameras cover facilities outside the casino.

"When dealers don't follow procedures, it goes off like an alarm," explains Eitnier. "You zoom in on it and try to figure out why the person is changing the procedure. Is he making a mistake or could there be collusion with a player to steal money? There are a lot of people out there who look for weak dealers. Maybe they handle the cards by showing their hole card when they pull it out of their hand. They might be pulling it out too high. There are people who go through the casinos every single day looking for just that."

Scam artists are drawn to the big money of casinos like proverbial bees to honey. Eitnier recalls that his team identified and intercepted five scam artists within minutes of the casino's opening in 1999.

Surveillance works closely with a 150-member security force directed by former FBI agent Dave Shepherd. "We cover the entire 6.5 million sq. ft., which encompasses guest hotel rooms, the casino floor, the convention space, or the people out front," says Shepherd.

While the security force ! both uniformed and plainclothes ! spends a great deal of their time directing visitors around the extensive property, they must also deal with the same problems found in any small city. In fact, the Venetian ! in buildings and people ! is almost four times the size of the average American city.

"You deal with almost anything ! purse snatching, people slipping, auto accidents, and many of the other things you find in a city," Shepherd remarks.

They also team up with the surveillance operators to keep tabs on suspicious characters, sometimes moving in to detain a suspect and sometimes dropping back to allow the cameras to follow the suspect.
A room with a view

The observation takes place in the main surveillance room. Trained staff members carefully watch two constantly shifting banks of 60 JVC and Philips monitors. Images from any of the 800 cameras can be brought up on any of the 13-inch or 27-inch screens.

"We have many people in the surveillance room and our priorities change constantly," says Eitnier. "One person might be watching the drop boxes in the tables being picked up, and that's a priority. Then something might come up in the surveillance room that takes a higher priority."

Team members monitor all areas from the gaming tables to the cage to the soft and hard count rooms.

"We pick up a lot just by viewing certain areas and making it routine to look at an area," he explains. "There are certain table games, such as Blackjack, with more of a liability than others. We have handheld games in which the dealer is holding two decks of cards or we have a six-deck shoe or an eight-deck shoe. The more liable games are the handheld games, so we concentrate on those."

After years in the surveillance end of the casino business, Eitnier has seen almost every imaginable scam. One of the more traditional scams involves card counters, although many of these "experts" lose more than they win because they don't manage their bets properly.

"It's not the individual card counters that we have a problem with ! it's the team card counters," says Eitnier. "They don't even play. They just have a bunch of people around the pit counting down each individual game and when they see a game that's really high with a lot of tens ! a high plus count ! they signal the money player, who hasn't been playing at all, to sit down and start playing."

These scam artists are often asked not to play certain games or are escorted out of the building. However, they don't represent the greatest threat to the integrity of the game.
High tech, high stakes

It is only natural that technology is changing everything ! including cheating. Computerized devices now offer the dishonest an easier means of plying their trade.

"Many of these teams and card counters are using computers," Eitnier explains. "Just because they're card-counting, that's not illegal. Our big concern is those using a computer system to help them count the cards ! that is illegal. It's a felony in Nevada. There are self-contained computer systems. They have a program that is built specifically to cheat at Blackjack."

Cheaters sometimes carry the devices on their bodies. The device may be concealed in a shoe and operated by using toes, or kept in a pocket where furtive fingers can input the cards as they come out.

"The computer signals the bettors what to do, how much to bet and so on," says Eitnier. "These things are very dangerous to us. That's something we have to look at."

Although illegal in Nevada and some other jurisdictions, the devices are easily obtained from Internet Web sites. A typical computer designed to assist in cheating at Blackjack costs as much as $4,000.

"To certain individuals that would be pretty good," says Eitnier. "They could probably get away with it in a lot of other jurisdictions. It's a little harder to use those devices in Las Vegas because of the expertise we have here in the surveillance room and on the casino floor. When you get into the outer areas where they don't spend a lot of money in the surveillance field or game protection, you could use them and get away with it."

Other enterprising con artists resort to using cameras themselves. They position a tiny lens along the table so they can catch an image of the dealer and perhaps see his hole card. That image is then transmitted to a distant watcher, who in turn informs another accomplice ! usually seated at the other end of the table ! how to bet.
Signs of cheating

While Eitnier and his crew employ some high-tech methods of their own, there's no substitute for personal observation. They look for signs such as large fluctuations in bets, coupled with near-perfect decision-making on the cards as they are coming out and being turned over.

They also take note of the cheater's stance and position. Does he have his hand in his pocket the entire time? They look at his shoes and see if his feet are moving. Are his shoes large enough to hold these devices?

With upwards of $130 million at stake, however, Eitnier relies on sophisticated software programs to give his team access to an extensive databank of known cheaters and criminals.

The Venetian uses a subscription service with Las Vegas-based Griffin Investigations. Dating back to the early 70s, the Griffin Gold database contains photos and backgrounds on a variety of criminals and con artists.

"We go right over the Internet with that," says Eitnier. "We can search for an individual who we see on the casino floor. We can search through the database very quickly and see if that individual has had any problems prior to this."

They also employ the VisualCasino facial recognition software package developed by Las Vegas-based Biometrica Systems, Inc. This system is paired with an extensive collection of 1,000 photos in the electronic database created by Casino Visual Identifications (CVI), a division of Biometrica.

"We use the CVI database, plus we have about 1,000 photos that we have collected over the last two years for our own database," says Eitnier. "There will be times when we don't have enough to convict somebody. They may be breaking some rules, but they may not be breaking a law. It will just be time for us to ask them to leave and not arrest them. When they do break the law, we press charges."

When a suspicious character is found in the Griffin or CVI databases, Eitnier and this team use that information as a tool to determine who the individual is and what he might be up to.

"We don't throw the person out just because he is in the database," he asserts. "We observe the individual and determine what's going on, and then make a decision. It's just a tool to give us a little more information to work with."

Knowledge, after all, is the key to protecting the most vital assets of this entertainment palace. By using technology and their own finely honed skills, Eitnier and his staff are keeping a watchful, but unobtrusive, eye on the Venetian to make sure everything is just fun and games.
CCTV at The Venetian

The potential for crime, safety hazards or other dangers at a location such as The Venetian can be immense. To prevent potential danger, an effective hotel surveillance team must be able to watch all of the areas of the property at once.

"When we use video surveillance, we are protecting the company's assets," says Daniel Eitnier, director of surveillance. "We watch and record every table game and all cash transactions that occur on the casino floor. We watch all the money being counted when it is picked up every day."

The Venetian is furnished with surveillance equipment throughout the property. Says Eitnier: "We are always looking for criminal activity on the casino floor, whether it's coming from the outside or from within. We have cameras all over the casino floor watching every game, every machine. We have cameras outside. We have cameras in the hotel lobbies and the elevators. They are just about everywhere."

The surveillance equipment installed throughout The Venetian includes Philips cameras and monitors. "We are using the LTC 0829 domes, the pan and tilt cameras, and Philips fixed cameras," says Eitnier. The equipment is managed by the Philips LTC 8900 Allegiant Switcher/Control System. The LTC 8900 switchers/controllers are full matrix switchers, capable of displaying video from any camera on any monitor, either manually or via independent automatic switching sequences. The system can accommodate up to 4,096 camera inputs, 512 monitor outputs, 64 keyboards, 1,034 alarm points, and a computer interface port. "We have it up to about a thousand cameras," Eitnier says.

"You always have to be up," says Eitnier. "No matter what system we are working with, no matter what piece of equipment we are using, everything has to be dependable. If something breaks down, then the whole system becomes worthless. So, we depend on the technology of this equipment."

Eitnier found the LTC 8900 switcher to be easy to program. "There are not a lot of bells and whistles to interfere with basic operation," says Eitnier. There has been no downtime on the system to date (two years), he adds.

Beyond equipment, an effective security plan requires an effective team. Eitnier leads a team of experienced professionals who man the surveillance room 24 hours a day. "I've got an area that surrounds 3,000 square feet up here. That's my surveillance area. It's probably the biggest one in the city," says Eitnier. "There is a minimum of three to four people in the room at a time, at all times. And, we are constantly looking at every area and responding to phone calls from the casino floor. Our priority as a surveillance operation changes constantly."

Plans for expansion at The Venetian are always in the works, meaning Eitnier's area of surveillance will keep growing. Current projects include the Hermitage/Guggenheim Museum, featuring exhibitions of Russian art, and an additional 1,000 rooms to be added to the existing property between the two suite towers. "We are a big property, and we have a long way to go yet," he says.

With the introduction of new digital CCTV products throughout the industry, Eitnier is keeping his options open. "Going digital is always an option. It is something I am always looking at. I am always looking at the future and trying to make things better." Eitnier has been the director of surveillance at The Venetian Resort since December 1999, six months before the casino opened.

 
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