Security at the Hard Rock
Mar 1, 2000 12:00 PM
The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino is not your father's Las Vegas. Situated several blocks and a generation off Las Vegas Boulevard, its gleaming towers sit within sight of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas campus.
The trendy hotel and casino attracts guests and gamblers who are hipper and more agile than typical Vegas visitors. The crowds move to the sounds of Marilyn Manson and the Rolling Stones, not Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr.
It's a new Las Vegas generation that is drawn to this desert paradise, famous for its music memorabilia. At the Hard Rock, it's not unusual to see a Hollywood starlet at a gaming table right next to the latest Internet entrepreneur.
The job of protecting the property requires a subtly different approach to security that combines both technology and a commitment to building good relationships with both guests and employees, according to Frank Luizzo. Luizzo has served as security director since the Hard Rock opened almost six years ago.
"While many people come here to gamble, many are here to see and be seen," he says. "This hotel has a reputation for attracting a lot of Hollywood stars because they like the place and they feel secure."
Security can't be the job of security officers alone. Luizzo maintains a good relationship with cocktail waitresses, bartenders and housekeeping staff so that when they spot trouble, they will call in security
"I work on security from the standpoint that I'm part of the public relations of the property," he remarks. "Security is perhaps the main part of public relations in a hotel environment. The security staff makes people feel comfortable and safe and also provides information. Security is here to direct guests to the restaurants and displays. If a guest approaches a security officer to ask for directions to the Jimi Hendrix display or the Elvis display, the officer has to be able to direct the guest to that part of the hotel."
The Hard Rock, with its 670 rooms, is small in comparison to behemoths such as the MGM Grand with its 3,000 rooms. For that reason, Luizzo, a veteran of the Nevada gaming industry, combines the functions of surveillance, security and risk management all in his one position.
"I do a little bit of everything," he says. "I manage the security department and the surveillance department, I take care of the risk management, and I provide security for all the products that come into the hotel through the loading dock and the warehouses."
The potential for problems at the Hard Rock is different than that faced by resorts catering to an older, more traditional crowd. Other hotels might have to contend with a guest in their 70s slipping and breaking a limb or falling victims to a "Don Juan" scam artist. The younger generation is more likely to get into a fight. Luizzo noted that the Hard Rock must also contend with the same problems other hotels face: room break-ins, frauds and various scams that occur in places where large numbers of people gather.
Luizzo brings to the job a wealth of experience in security, investigations and in particular, casino security. The New York City native came to Nevada to find work as a security officer at several Vegas hotels such as the Riviera and the Dunes during the '70s. He later became a state trooper, before joining the Nevada State Gaming Control Board as an agent.
As an investigator for the Gaming Control Board, Luizzo kept tabs on casinos to ensure they were following regulations for gambling. He also arbitrated disputes between customers and casinos. He ran undercover cheating operations and infiltrated cheating groups.
Following his retirement from law enforcement, he became an investigator for a route operation that places casino machines in locations such as grocery stores, convenience stores and bars. With 6,000 slot machines statewide, it was the world's largest operation of the kind. Luizzo eventually rose to general manager.
The Hard Rock is a busy, constantly changing scene for security professionals. Luizzo's force of 50 security officers may grow to as many as 175 for a special event, as it did last New Year's Eve for the hotel's Millennium celebration.
Each special event requires a somewhat different approach to security depending on the kind of crowd anticipated. If someone like Barbra Streisand plays "The Joint" - the Hard Rock's 2,000 seat concert hall - they can expect a peaceful, laid-back audience. A different level of event management is required for a performance by Marilyn Manson or Motley Crew, who may draw a younger, rowdier group.
"When we had the Rolling Stones; that was a very involved security operation," recalls Luizzo. "We had to not only the protect the Rolling Stones themselves - getting them back and forth - but we also had to protect the crowd and the celebrities that came to see it. It transforms hotel security into event security. So we supplement our staff on those occasions."
Providing security for a property with a casino presents special concerns that would never be considered at an ordinary hotel. Preventing fraud becomes a major focus of the security staff, and video surveillance takes on heightened importance.
"Fraud is one of biggest problems in the country," says Luizzo. "It touches everything and everybody. Cheating in gambling is not hard to do. Every game ever invented is susceptible to cheating. In table games people can mark cards. They can manipulate the cards in such a way as to put creases in them or put chemicals on them so that they can see the card."
Employees may conspire with guests, for example, to cheat by overpaying a winner, he notes.
"The player bids $100 and wins and the dealer overpays him $500," explained Luizzo "That's where the surveillance comes in. Everybody's job out there has something to do with securing the games."
The Hard Rock uses 370 cameras - most of them Philips - spread throughout the property in hallways, bars and parking lots. Many are concentrated in the casino so that security is maintained through surveillance coupled with information provided by the accounting department, which tracks how much money the games win or lose.
"The casino expects to hold a certain amount of money," he says. "If it loses more than expected, then we have to go back and analyze it through these departments. We record everything that's going on. So we go back and take a look at it so we can determine if the play was clean or something was going on. We might not be able to stop it immediately, but we can certainly go back and investigate. If we detect fraud, we can bring in the authorities."
Along with their own skills and knowledge, Luizzo's staff uses a biometrics facial recognition system to match videotaped images of players against an extensive database of known cheaters. The database is updated monthly.
"There are people who cheat at '21', slot cheats, card counters along with people who have been arrested for check or credit card fraud," he said.
If security sees someone who looks suspicious but is not in the database, a photo can be transmitted to other casinos on the system to determine if they are familiar with him or her.
Luizzo keeps his staff moving throughout the hallways, parking lots and remote areas of the properties. Each security officer carries a device to mark his rounds through the hotel. Manufactured by Morse Watchman, the device is a reader that allows officers to swipe bar codes located at various points throughout the property. The codes - which blend in unobtrusively with designs on the walls - were put in place when the hotel was constructed.
Officers can also use the device's keypad to record information such as a door left open, an unattended child, or damage to property. At the end of a shift, the information is downloaded from the reader to a PC in the security office, providing a record complete with times, places and incidents that took place on the officer's shift.
"This device documents where the officers are in the hotel and outside on the property at any given time of day or night," says Luizzo.
In addition to handling the physical security of the property, risk management consumes perhaps the biggest chunk of Luizzo's days. For example, a guest may claim he has fallen down or been injured in some way.
"Something happened and the guest didn't like the service or does not want to pay the bill or has done damage to a room," he says. "We have a pretty young crowd here. Risk management takes up a good deal of time, along with internal investigations and working with attorneys and the gaming control board's compliance issues."
The sheer variety of the work is the spice of life for this professional.
"That's the beauty of working with a smaller property. I do a great many things that in other hotels would be handled by different directors," he remarks. "It has given me the ability to do multiple tasks and that keeps things interesting."
Luizzo is dedicated to security. He is a member of the Security Chiefs Association - made up of security directors from Las Vegas hotels. This group meets once a month to discuss issues and problems faced by members of the group. He also maintains close relationships with police officials at every level from Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department to the state gaming board and the FBI.
"It's essential that when you have a particular problem you can pick up the phone and call the right person with an agency who can help you," he remarks.
The fun never ends in this sun-splashed resort. Guests arrive ready to start their vacation, while others bid farewell to the last moments of their time here. In the bars and casino, the music keeps its rhythmic beat. Watching over it all, Frank Luizzo and his security team make sure the biggest problems are no problems.
With the completion of a $100 million expansion in 1999, the Hard Rock Hotel soared to a new level. The number of guest rooms doubled from 340 to 670, more playground area was added for the casino, along with more eateries, an athletic club, an ultra-modern nightclub, and a live concert venue.
Realizing the importance of revenue protection for both the company and the guests, the Hard Rock installed an unobtrusive and efficient CCTV surveillance system.
Part of the expansion project included updating equipment to maintain a state-of-the-art security department. Frank Luizzo, director of security, says, "When we first opened, we were using a different surveillance system than we are now. We outgrew the old video switching system with the expansion." Luizzo worked with Dan Riley, president of Global Surveillance Associates, a Nevada-based security/ surveillance company, to completely renovate the Hard Rock's existing CCTV system.
Global Surveillance is a dealer/installer for CCTV products in Las Vegas, counting many of the top worldwide gaming properties among its customers.
"At that time, Philips was really coming on strong," continues Luizzo, "We looked to them as the leader in flat screen TV technology. Dan worked out a complete hotel package deal with Philips: CCTV security system and consumer televisions for the hotel guest rooms. We made the change to the Philips Allegiant switcher/controller system, added more black and white and color cameras, some Philips Autodomes, both black and white and color, Philips VHS video recorders, and 13- and 20-inch Philips monitors."
"Our system consists of 370 cameras that are split up, half in the casino and the other half on the property and perimeter," says Luizzo. "The property cameras survey areas such as restaurants, elevators, valet parking, garage and parking areas." Although the CCTV systemcontains both monochrome and color cameras, Luizzo prefers the monochrome cameras. The definition, sensitivity and resolution are much better, especially at night.
The Hard Rock has already upgraded its system to a Philips switch (the Allegiant Microprocessor-based video switcher/control system), but Luizzo is ready to move into the next generation, says Riley. The Allegiant switch combines switching and computer technology to provide enhanced performance, real-time monitoring and unique system features.
Future plans at the Hard Rock include integrating the Philips switch with points-of-sale in the casino and restaurants, and replacing the traditional analog VCR recording systems with a newer digital recording system, the Allegiant Star from Philips. This next generation of recording devices gives high quality video compressed into a digital format.
Properties in Las Vegas, such as the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, are continuously searching for the latest developments in the industry. The security/surveillance department's pressures intensify as gaming jurisdictions proliferate around the world, and its role becomes increasingly vital to achieving the casino's bottom line.
In Nevada, the State Gaming Control Board requires casinos with live gaming to maintain surveillance coverage 24 hours a day, seven days a week. CCTV is the most effective method of detection and has the advantage of recording and documenting any attempt at illegal activities. All casinos are also mandated by the Gaming Control Board to tape playing action on the casino floor. The law also requires that a tape be archived for seven days. If a tape is needed for evidence, copies are taped so that the casino has a copy and the original can be packaged as evidence and released to the state police. "Casinos currently use a one-to-one ratio for best coverage: one dedicated camera to one dedicated VCR for taping all activity on any given table game or money-handling area," explains Dan Riley, president of Global Surveillance Associates, a Nevada-based security/surveillance company. "With the number of table games on a casino floor, that means a whole lot of cameras with multiple racks full of VHS recorders in the surveillance room. In most casinos, surveillance departments are small in size, and require CCTV equipment to be compacted into limited space."
The Gaming Board has a list of minimum requirements casinos must adhere to. Most casinos go beyond what is required.
Surveillance operations are moving away from VHS tape storage toward the more sophisticated, digital recording that gives you the ability to store video digitally on disc in a compacted format. This saves space in the control rooms, which are already packed with monitors, controllers, consoles, and all the equipment necessary to maintain security at gaming facilities. With digital technology, users can view and review video while recording continues undisturbed. And it's completely automated with customizable software. Time-lapse technology uses digital compression technology to provide superior resolution, compression, capture rates and network video transmission.
The digital recorder stores pictures many times faster than traditional VHS recording. The real test will be when courts need to review an incident on tape; in the past only VHS tapes have been reliable and have been admissible in court to review criminal activity. With an analog system, if you need to go back to the tape to see something, you need to scan the video to find the day and time, which can take up to 30 minutes to do. But with a digital image, it is already available on a desktop computer, so you can locate the required data from your hard drive instantly, or if retrieved from long-term tape storage, it may only take 10 minutes.
Unlike a VCR tape, digital video cannot be manipulated without being detected. Even though the video image is first transmitted from the video camera to a desktop computer's hard drive where activity can be monitored and recorded simultaneously, the digital file cannot be corrupted without detection. Video authentication is established by using complicated algorithms - a program that defines the conditions that must be present, or a pattern that has to be matched for verification. The algorithm is used to create a fingerprint. Video pixels cannot be tampered with or changed from the original recording without being detected by the accompanying altered algorithms.
Flat screen technology is also making its debut in the security market. Video walls with the new flatter screen monitors allows installers to get rid of cumbersome racks that take up precious space and design the control centers to look more like a desk. Along with the introduction of flat screens, the gradual phase-out of smaller monitors continues as casinos turn to larger, 17 to 20-inch screens that can display more than one camera input at a time and can be viewed from farther away.
Today's technology for systems integration is better than ever. Computers are much more sophisticated; data communication and processes are further improved. The infrastructure of integrated systems has moved from hardware and hardwire to the ease of microprocessor-based control.
In the future, biometrics will become a high roller in security surveillance with face recognition, iris scanning, and hand readers. Cameras could ultimately focus in on a particular player, transmit video to the intelligent storage system, search for stored data that matches and recognizes the individuals characteristics, and even track playing action from table to table.
In an age of high technology where cheating has become more sophisticated, the security industry continues to advance, by inventing new products, changing existing products to meet the demands of the gaming world, and using biometrics to ward off modern-day parasites and combat tomorrows security issues. Casinos will continue to spend millions of dollars on the latest technology equipment to help surveillance professionals better accomplish their job.