Big Brother is watching at the casinos |

Big Brother is watching at the casinos

If you are in a casino, you are probably being watched.

Big Brother’s eye reaches into every hallway, doorway, and back corner. He draws the line at restrooms and hotel rooms, but other than that eyes are watching 24-hours a day.

“This place is a little city unto itself. Everything that happens in a city pretty much happens here,” said Bob Kortan, Harrah’s Lake Tahoe security and surveillance manager. “Our job is to provide a safe environment for our guests.”

Kortan has the help of 47 security officers and 23 surveillance people to accomplish his objective.

“In a place where you have money, large amounts of it, you’re going to get people who want to take advantage of that. The security officers are trained to watch for that type of behavior. They watch for the person who is watching the guests, the person who watches the woman that is playing five slot machines and has put her purse on the floor,” Kortan said. “But that’s not all we do. We do everything from helping people find a lost car to escorting elderly people to their destinations. We help people solve their problems.”

In a convoluted room hidden above the casino floor, the history of surveillance at Harrah’s is laid out under a maze of catwalks.

“This is how we used to do it,” Kortan said looking down at two-way mirrors beneath the metal walkway. “We used to have to walk through here with binoculars and flashlights.”

A sophisticated bank of television monitors and recording equipment have replaced the catwalk. From here surveillance officers have the power to focus in on any point. The cameras make even the writing on a tiny slip of paper legible. Walls of VCRs record each move the cameras see, and tapes are kept from three to 30 days depending on the area monitored. The surveillance personnel not only watch the patrons, they watch the employees, and for this reason there is no fraternization with the staff.

“We strive to have the surveillance officers remain anonymous,” Kortan said. “They park in a separate area, and enter through a separate entrance.”

They also don’t wear name tags. Part of their job is to circulate on the casino floor watching for anything out of the routine.

“Every department has procedures. When someone does something out of procedure it is an indicator,” he said. “The surveillance officers not only need to know their jobs but everyone else’s job as well.”

When asked what were some of the craziest moments caught on videotape, the officers were forbidden to answer.

“You don’t want to know,” Kortan assured, then added, “It is probably some more personal moments between men and women. It’s always embarrassing for the security officer who has to go up and contact them.”

The eyes in the surveillance room also help create some happy endings.

“We had an elderly man, 82 years old, who was lost. He thought he was in Redwood City, Calif., and he wanted to know which door he needed to go out to get home. We determined he suffered from Alzheimer’s, but we couldn’t find who he came with,” Kortan said. “None of the government agencies could help him. Most of them close at 5 p.m. and this was in the evening.”

The man ended up spending the night in a hotel room, with a security guard posted in the hallway to prevent him from wandering. The next morning surveillance officers found a tape of the man entering the casino with his sister. The woman’s picture was distributed to all the security officers and the two were reunited the following day.

When they’re not catching crooks, or rejoining family members, Kortan said at least 50 percent of the security force’s time is spent monitoring children. Nevada law prohibits anyone under the age of 21 on the casino floor. Minors can be escorted through the casino by an adult, but they can not stay on the floor or be around gaming activity. The law doesn’t stop them from trying, and the proof is buckets full of fake identification cards Kortan’s officers have collected. Casinos can face significant fines from the gaming commission for failing to enforce the law. Unfortunately, Kortan said, not all parents are aware of the law, and some don’t choose to be responsible.

“Officers spend a lot of time trying to locate parents who have left children. We won’t allow any child that we feel is not old enough to monitor themselves to wait anywhere on the property unattended. I’ve spent some time scolding parents,” Kortan said. “I’ll carry a child around the casino in my arms, looking for parents hoping they notice and come forward to claim their child.”

Big Brother is watching and he never sleeps.

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