The House Always Wins?

When my friend first suggested we watch Ocean’s 11, I was curious as to why he would want to watch a movie about a cruise ship. Several snide remarks later, though, I realized I had found my favorite movie. The combination of suspense and strategy, along with a killer twist at the end, was enough to make me hit rewind (this was so long ago that we watched it on VHS) and watch it all over again.

Without the finesse of Danny Ocean’s gang, a man actually did rob the Bellagio, running in, waving a gun around and grabbing $1.5 million in chips before casually jogging out the door two minutes later to escape on a motorcycle:

Police still haven’t caught him, and they also suspect he carried out another chip-hauling operation at the Suncoast Casino a few days prior.

As Ocean’s 11 demonstrated, casinos have a heck of a lot of security: In addition to physical security measures, they usually employ extensive video surveillance, facial recognition software and other analytics that can help them track big-time cheaters and those intent on stealing from the house. A former casino security consultant estimated that a casino like the Bellagio would have something like 2,000 cameras connected to 50 monitors.

Bellagio said it would step up its security, but I’m not sure it’s worth it. Those “eye in the sky” cameras can be easily defeated by the lowest of low-tech heists – put the loot in a bag and run – and little can be done to stop a man with a gun in a crowded room. Security guards with guns could shoot at the Bellagio thief, but he could have easily started a shootout, injuring or killing innocent gamblers.

“He had a gun. You just don't want that guy to fire that gun,” said David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and a former casino security guard. "Which is a worse headline: '$1.5 Million Stolen from Casino'? or 'Patrons Killed in Casino Firefight’?”

Bellagio may have one final recourse in RFIDs. Many casinos make a practice of embedding the devices in their larger-value chips, giving each chip a unique identity akin to a serial number. If the Bellagio uses RFIDs in its chips – it is intentionally leaving these details murky – then it could identify the chips if the thief or someone on his behalf tries to cash them, the same way the Secret Service could catch a bank robber attempting to spend bills whose serial numbers have been flagged as stolen.

I bet the Las Vegas casinos are hoping this man doesn’t take too many cues from the Ocean’s movies – otherwise they’ll have to expect yet another sequel.

Posted by Laura Williams on Dec 22, 2010

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