Crime and Perception | Vegas Seven

In today’s Green Felt Journal, I take on a subject that some in the industry don’t like discussing–whether high-profile crimes mean the Strip is less safe than it should be:

When tragedy strikes, police and tourism officials are usually quick to stress that these are random events in an otherwise safe city. They point to the fact that crime rates on the Strip have been falling lately down in 2012 and early 2013 as proof that a Vegas vacation is fundamentally safe. Is this just public relations spin, or do they have a point?

via Crime and Perception | Vegas Seven.

Some feel that the best move is to ignore crime on the Strip, and to downplay incidents that get public attention as random, unconnected acts. I disagree; I think that by being honest with visitors about crime, and by educating them about how to better protect themselves, the city will get a much better handle on its crime problem by getting out in front of it than by pretending it doesn’t exist.

Talking Strip Safety on Two Way Hard Three, and more commentary

Yesterday morning, after I read about the second homicide on the Strip in less than two weeks, I decided to write a short piece for Two Way Hard Three about why it was important for the County and Metro to get in front of the issue:

But most people have the perception–or at least the hope–that they’ll get lucky, or at least have a swingin’ time ending up broke. So, despite millions of visitors proving that regression to the mean is a money-making concept each year, people continue to gamble in Vegas–and buy lottery tickets, pick ponies, and visit casinos around the world.

When deciding what to do for fun, vacationers have no problem choosing perception over reality.

That’s worked to Vegas’ advantage, but what happens when perceptions shift from fun to fearful?

via Safety on the Strip | Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog | from

Early this morning, after a fight at O’Shea’s casino, a third visitor to the Strip is dead. By late this afternoon, Metro had announced it was shifting resources in response to concerns that the Strip has become unsafe.

I think this is a start, but I think that, given the Strip corridor’s high profile and critical importance to the state as a whole (gaming revenues from the Strip account for more than 50% of the state’s total), it might be time to strategically rethink law and order on the Strip.

In the piece I briefly discuss how a “broken windows” approach might be the right idea. It worked in New York City in the 1990s (read this City Journal article to get the specifics) and I’ve been advocating its use Downtown for a while now (I remember talking about “nuisance abatement” on a Vegas Gang quite some time ago).

On the surface the recent murder spree on the Strip seems to be three cases of (allegedly) alcohol-fueled violence ending in death, but the bigger question remains: why do people suddenly feel like anything goes on the Strip? I think the general feeling of encroaching lawlessness that others have noted over the past few months has something to do with it.

I had an interesting Twitter exchange this morning with Resorts CEO Dennis C. Gomes, who’s been focused in Atlantic City but who spent much of his career in Nevada, about the pedestrian safety issue, which he agrees “has become a major issue.”

When I asked him what he thought, as a casino operator, the Strip operators should do, he replied that, “It is more a matter of Strip properties taking the initiative which will happen if their revenue becomes threatened.”

Clearly something’s been happening behind the scenes, and it’s good that Metro is trying to get the Strip under control. Ultimately, I think that the casinos and the county will have to work together–strategically, not just in response to flare-ups of violence–to make the Strip corridor feel safer and, more importantly, actually be safer.

Extreme Makeover: Sports Betting Edition

Cops in Royal Oak, Michigan, have gotten their digs renovated–thanks to bookies. From the Chicago Tribune:

The second floor of the citys police station has a new look thanks to money seized a decade ago from a sports gambling operation.

The department put up almost $34,000 for the $52,000 renovation completed Wednesday, most of it from money seized in 1999 when officers broke up a high-stakes football betting operation.

"It was a Super Bowl party on steroids," interim Chief Christopher Jahnke told The Daily Tribune. "We took a lot of money from the scene."

Vice forfeiture laws allow the department to keep and use money seized in gambling and prostitution cases.

"We were looking for the proper way to spend it," Jahnke said, and the upstairs area hadnt been updated since the building opened 46 years ago.

"We used to get complaint after complaint that this was a dirty, dingy place," he said.

Now it has upgrades, including new carpeting and tiling, updated lunchroom counters and secondhand but good-quality furniture, including 15 desks, two conference tables, 30 chairs and lockable file cabinets.

Royal Oak cops renovate station with seized cash —

I don’t know exactly what about this story is funny, but I like the irony of the proceeds of an illegal gambling operation funding the police department’s renovations.

Lost & found & arrested

When I worked casino security, I used to enjoy seeing all sorts of strange items turn up in the lost and found. But I never got anyone arrested, like these folks did. From foxnews:

A man has been charged in Kitsap County for possession of a controlled substance after he made the mistake of attempting to retrieve a bag containing methamphetamine from the Suquamish Casino’s lost-and-found.

The casino’s security officer alerted the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office when the bag was found to contain three knives, a bag of white crystals identified as meth, some jewelry, a small digital scale and some blood pressure medication.

The 33-year-old Seattle man’s identification was also in the bag, which was turned in by a customer.

As a deputy was speaking with the security officer this week, the man came up and told him he was looking for his missing black bag. The man confirmed the bag was his and a deputy placed him under arrest.

The man was also charged with possession of prescription drugs without a prescription and possession of a dangerous weapon.

Man Busted for Retrieving Meth From Casino’s Lost-and-Found

It’s an interesting mix: drugs, knives, jewelry, and an ID. I bet they had a ball writing up that report.

This is probably going to make it into one of those “America’s Dumbest Criminals” shows.

New slot scam, and a whacky estimate of casino theft

There’s always an arms race of sorts going on between slot cheats and casino security. The cheats figure out a way to rip off the machine, the security folks learn how to detect and prevent it, so the cheats come up with a new scam. Ad infinitum. Now, surprise surprise, comes news that ticket-in/ticket-out machines–which don’t have coins to steal–are nevertheless susceptible to cheating from the inside. Here’s the whole story from the LV Sun:

High-tech thieves have discovered a new way to rip off slot machines – stealing more than $1 million from the Orleans before management shut down their computer-assisted heist.

Gaming regulators say the crime – one of the largest in years – shows a vulnerability in casino security that could lead to new surveillance standards.

The theft began in September 2006 and allegedly involved three slot workers who, over several months, manipulated software that prints slot machine payout tickets. They allegedly worked with two accomplices who posed as customers and cashed the tickets.
The Gaming Control Board’s enforcement chief says the Orleans incident was a new one to him, although it had a familiar ring to security experts.

In this case, Orleans workers printed winning tickets on test machines in a back room, using software allowing the machines to mimic machines on the slot floor that had been turned off, investigators told the Sun. The tickets were for relatively small amounts – a few hundred dollars each – to escape the notice of casino bosses.

Later in the article, a security expert estimated that casinos lose about 6 percent of their revenue to inside theft each year. Since according to my calculations big Strip casinos make about $700,000 a day on average (some days are bigger than others), that’s a total of $42,000 a day going out the back door.

That figure is frankly unbelievable. I can’t imagine that, in a business where it’s common to nickel-and-dime employees over salary (any dual-rates out there?), it would be the industry standard to sit back and tolerate losses of $15.3 MILLION a year. I want to see some proof of that 6 percent figure before I take it seriously.

Think about it. How many employees have access to cash on the casino floor? A few hundred? To get up to these numbers, 42 of them would have to be taking $1000 a day home with them, every day, without anyone noticing. I could accept a cashier here or there stuffing a $20 into their pockets while no one was looking, or a dealer paying a friend’s push once or twice a night with no one noticing. I wouldn’t be too surprised at a total of $500 to $1000 a day, at most, disappearing.

But if casinos regularly fail to account for 6 percent of their revenue, that is some serious tax evasion. Think of it–that’s $15.3 million for every casino on the Strip not being taxed. In the old days they called that skimming, and this is why casinos have something called Minimum Internal Control Standards. The state would never tolerate that. By sheer dollar amount, this is far more than was skimmed from casinos during the glory days back in the 1950s and 1960s. Heading into a fiscal crunch, it is frankly unbelievable that the state would countenance that kind of sloppy control.

The more I think about it, I’m officially calling “bullshit” on that six percent figure, until I see some kind of proof. It just doesn’t make sense that casinos would spend millions of dollars on player tracking to avoid giving out too many buffet passes while happily letting $42,000 disappear each day.

Win the lottery, go to jail

Usually, winning a million dollars is an unambiguously good thing. But for ex-con, a winning scratcher might be a ticket back to jail. From the Boston Globe:

His odds of winning $1 million on a scratch ticket were 1 in 1,247,400.

His odds of being busted if he won? A pretty safe bet.

Timothy Elliott – the lucky buyer of a $1 million scratch ticket in the $800 Million Spectacular game – is a two-time bank robber whose lottery ticket purchase last week violated the terms of his probation. Last year, when he pleaded guilty to unarmed robbery, the 55-year-old Hyannis man was ordered “to not gamble, purchase lottery tickets, or visit establishments where gaming is conducted, including restaurants where Keno may be played,” according to his probation from Barnstable Superior Court.

So two days after a trip to the winner’s circle in the lottery’s Braintree headquarters, where he claimed the first $50,000 of his payout – about $35,000 after taxes – Elliott earned himself another court date. A hearing has been scheduled for Dec. 7 in Barnstable Superior Court to determine the penalties for violating his probation – and, perhaps, what happens to the winnings.

“This has not happened before, as far as we know,” said Dan Rosenfeld, the lottery’s communications director. “It’s new territory.”

Bank robber may see lottery win scratched – The Boston Globe

Since this a violation of his probation, Elliott could go back to jail, just for the crime of winning. That’s pretty harsh, but if not playing the lottery was a specific condition of his probation, it might be fair.

So blackjack skill players, stop complaining: you’re not the only folks being hassled for winning–at least not anymore.

Incentivized criminals

Most casinos strongly encourage players to use their loyalty cards when gambling. From the casino’s perspective, it allows them to track play and award comps more judiciously. Players just like getting free stuff. But sometimes they go too far. From the LVRJ:

It turns out there is some money that casinos don’t want.

A Los Angeles couple was wrapping up a whirlwind weekend in Las Vegas last month when Caesars Palace security officers discovered the tourists had played thousands of dollars in counterfeit bills and cashed out to receive genuine cash, according to an Aug. 1 indictment.

Chen Chiang Liu and Min Li Liu were charged with passing counterfeit $100 bills through slot machines at Caesars. They subsequently exchanged the comforts of their resort room for a jail cell.

The Lius possessed more than 400 counterfeit $100 bills when they visited Caesars Palace between July 26 and July 31, according to the indictment.

The couple unwittingly helped security officers with their investigation. While stuffing counterfeit bills into slot machines, the pair played rewards cards, which, experts said, are tied into a database that includes personal information about each registrant, including each player’s home address.

“In this case, what I think got these people caught was their greed,” said Douglas L. Florence Sr., a surveillance and gaming operations expert. “They wanted to get their points, and they wanted to get money. They narrowed down the list of suspects.”

Caesars officials declined to comment on the investigation. But according to a federal complaint filed July 30, security officers identified 13 slot machines that accepted a total of 60 phony $100 bills. After discovering each machine was played with the same player’s card, officers reviewed surveillance cameras and identified the couple.

Florence said any counterfeiter who passes the bills in a casino while using a player’s card registered in his or her own name is either stupid with greed or “flat out wants to be caught.”

The player’s card launches investigators over one of their first hurdles and makes the next step that much easier. “It’s now a matter of surveillance proving they put (counterfeit) money in,” Florence said.

The Lius were stopped when they tried to leave Caesars on July 30, the complaint said. The U.S. Secret Service, which is tasked with handling of investigations regarding counterfeit money, was called in to help with the investigation.

Agents searched the Lius’ Cadillac Escalade and found three red bags stuffed with about $30,000 in counterfeit $100 bills, the complaint said. Chen Chiang Liu told the Secret Service that the money was a debt an acquaintance paid back to him, according to the complaint. – News – Phony money alleged

You’ve got to admire the temerity of someone who uses a player’s card to document their criminal conspiracy. This might be one of the dumbest casino heist schemes ever hatched, and that’s saying a lot.

Of course, you could also throw in a wisecrack about having your shrimp cocktail and eating it too, but it’s too easy.

NBA ref gambling scandal

This might put the kabosh on plans to bring an NBA franchise to Las Vegas…or not. An NBA ref has reportedly used his position to influence the outcome of games he had action on. From UPI:

An NBA referee is reportedly under investigation by U.S. authorities for allegedly fixing games over the past two seasons, the New York Post said Friday.

The newspaper’s report said the National Basketball Association was aware of the investigation but had been requested by the FBI not to comment.

The investigation allegedly involved members of New York’s organized crime community to whom the unidentified referee owed money because of a gambling problem. The Post said the referee allegedly made calls to affect the outcome of games he was betting on. The number of affected games was said to be “in the double digits.”

The FBI’s yearlong investigation was concluding and arrests were expected soon, the report said.
United Press International – NewsTrack – Sports – Report: NBA ref probed for gambling

That’s about the biggest crime you can pull in sports today–fixing games damages the credibility of the league itself.

That being said, it doesn’t look like this case has anything to do with legal sports betting. If the ref was in debt to New York’s “organized crime community” (what a euphemism!), he was probably betting with an illegal bookie to start with.

Still, it’s a bad way for the words “NBA” and “gambling” to be seen in the same sentence. I’m not sure this will hurt Mayor Goodman’s efforts to bring a team here, but it certainly won’t help.

Casinos liable for criminal customers?

According to an Australian judge, casinos should be sure where the customers’ money comes from. From NineMSN:

Crown Casino should either ensure money from big spenders is legitimate or be forced to compensate victims of crime for ill-gotten gains gambled by criminals, a Victorian judge says.

County Court Judge Frank Dyett made the remarks as he sentenced Heather MacNeil-Brown, 63, to six years’ jail – with a minimum non-parole period of four years – for embezzling almost $1 million from the Australian branch of global consulting and accountancy firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

Judge Dyett said MacNeil-Brown initially spent the proceeds of crime at small pokies venues in Melbourne but from 2002, most of the money was lost at Crown Casino.

He said MacNeil-Brown was a frequent guest at the casino’s Mahogany Room for high rollers.

“Cases of this sort, which are increasing in number, call for consideration of legislation which would put the onus on Crown Casino and other gaming venues to make reasonable inquiries to ensure that large sums of money continually being lost by regular customers, as in this instance, are emanating from legitimate sources,” Judge Dyett said.

“In default of such inquiries, a civil liability should be imposed by legislation upon these venues to reimburse the victims of crimes of this nature.”

Casino must monitor big spenders: judge

How do you do that? Make gamblers provide W4s? Or just flat out ask them if they’ve stolen the money? I’m guessing this won’t get very far.

Luxor explosion not terrorism, cops say

I’m sure when most people heard that a bomb went off in the Luxor’s parking garage at 4 this morning, they at least considered the possibility that it might have been a terrorist scheme gone awry. But apparently it was “just” a “homicide with an unusual weapon.” From Breitbart:

A device left in a casino parking garage exploded early Monday, killing a hotel employee who picked it up, authorities said.

The man was removing the device from atop a car when it exploded shortly after 4 a.m. on the second floor of a parking behind the Luxor hotel-casino, said Officer Bill Cassell, a police spokesman. He declined to describe the device, but said initial reports that it was a backpack were wrong.

Police said the blast was not a terrorist act but an apparent murder of a Luxor employee. No threat had been made against the Luxor, Cassell said.

“We believe the victim of this event was the intended target,” Cassell said. He said another hotel employee narrowly escaped injury when the device exploded.

Gordon Absher, a spokesman for MGM Mirage Inc., which owns the Luxor, said he could not confirm that the victim was an employee.

Aerial video showed no apparent damage to the parking structure, where entrances were blocked while police, firefighters and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents investigated.

There was little damage around the vehicle and the hotel was not evacuated, police and a hotel official said.

Cassell said the case was being investigated as “a homicide with an unusual weapon.”

The Luxor, a pyramid-shaped hotel at the south end of the Las Vegas Strip, has more than 4,000 rooms and 6,000 employees.

Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents were involved in the investigation, said ATF Special Agent Nina Delgadillo, regional spokeswoman for the agency in San Francisco.

1 Dead in Casino Parking Lot Explosion

My condolences go out to the family of the victim. This just goes to show that you can’t be too careful with strange packages. Sometimes I think that the emergency management types over-react when they find “mysterious packages,” but I’d rather see that than someone lose their life.