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Before the Games Begin

​THE TEMPERATURE IS REACHING TRIPLE DIGITS, and the crowd is restless, pushing closer and closer to the barricades that keep them from getting into the new casino and starting to have fun. The speaker at the podium, oblivious to the changing mood of the crowd, waxes on about what it took to get to this day and the great boon that this new casino will be for the local economy. What was planned to be a short ceremony has now passed the one-hour mark. Suddenly, someone in the crowd starts yelling at the VIPs on the stage, “Open the doors, and let us see the casino! We didn’t come here to listen to politicians!” Others pick up the cry.

As I look out over the crowd, I see a crisis developing before my eyes. Fortunately, we had prepared for any contingency, including the possibility that we would need to quickly cut the opening ceremony off. I give the signal, and members of the security team wade into the crowd—not to tackle and drag off the irate audience, but to soothe them and ask them to be patient for a few more minutes.

Senior leadership is quickly advised that the ceremony must end so that the doors can be immediately opened. Within moments, the signal is given to open the doors, remove the barricades, and let everyone enter the casino. Security maintains order during the flow inside to make sure that no one is injured or knocked down. Catastrophe is averted, the property successfully opened, and the casino’s first day does not become newsworthy for all the wrong reasons.

DURING MY CAREER, I have been involved in the opening of various gaming properties across the United States, including Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun Casino; Florida’s Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino; and the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. These experiences included working on the sites during the pre-opening and post-opening phases.

Taking a security management position on a new casino project is a commitment I liken to raising a child. Seeing a property through until its opening day requires long hours, hard work, and dedication. The job will be the major focus of the security director’s life for 12 to 18 months or even longer. But pride in completion is akin to seeing your child head off to college knowing that your efforts have paid off.

Construction Phase

During the construction phase, security’s main focus is to protect the people involved in the site development and to safeguard the property’s assets. Often, when the security director for a project comes on board, the construction site is already functioning. A temporary outside security provider may have been hired to provide patrols, perimeter control, and possibly other facets of site security.

Getting started. The security director’s first task will be to review the property plans and blueprints to ascertain the scope of security’s role in two phases: the ongoing construction phase and the opening. There may be no one to assist, because the security director may be the only one on the security staff for three to six months, not counting any contractors.

It is important to work from the most accurate and up-to-date plans. To make sure that those are always the ones in hand, the security director should go to regular meetings with the construction team, contractors, integrators, and vendors.

Regular physical walk-throughs of the site should be conducted with plans in hand to compare the documents to the actual site in its current state. Changes do happen as a project progresses, and the facts on the ground may not be reflected in the plans. It is important for the security director to learn about and view these changes so that any risks they create can be mitigated.

Using these plans, the security director can begin the process of identifying where security posts and patrol routes should be, both at the construction site and at the finished site. With regard to the latter, that would include deciding what kind of patrols might work best for the casino exterior, parking lots, and perimeter—for example, golf-cart patrols, bike patrols, car patrols, foot patrols, or a combination.

The new security director should meet with the contract security services provider to learn what is already in place and to decide what might need to be adjusted or augmented. With regard to contract officers in place when the new security director takes over, it is important that these officers have CPR, AED, and first-aid training, as accidents are common on construction sites.

Programs. Important security programs that must be inaugurated immediately are perimeter security with controlled entry points and badging.

Perimeter security. Construction sites may or may not be fenced, but perimeter security must be established in either case to prevent problems. For example, I’ve seen parts of unsecured sites become local hangouts, and I’ve had competitors sneak in to spy on the project. I’ve also had a worker and his spouse drive onto a site during off hours and become engaged in a violent domestic dispute. Appropriate lighting, regular patrols, and CCTV are among the tools that can help prevent or detect such intrusions.

If technology, such as a CCTV system, will be used in the construction phase, the security director should, if at all possible, select systems or components that can become part of the permanent facility security after the opening.

Badges. The badge system should be robust, but that does not have to mean high-tech at this early stage. One easy system is to issue each type of site personnel different colored badges. That way, someone with a badge color not approved for a certain area can be easily spotted.

An additional low-cost solution is to use colored dots that can be applied to the badges to indicate special access to certain areas or for limited times. Stickers can be easily added at the security check points. When certain phases of the construction are completed, security must make sure that badges are collected.

Inspections. Materials are often stolen from construction sites. Among the major targets of thieves today is copper, which is used for pipes, wires, cables, and other parts of plumbing, air conditioning, power generation, and sprinkler systems. Indeed, the prevalence of this crime is so great that the U.S. Department of Energy places the loss at more than $1 billion per year. There is often added damage caused by the thieves, who rip cables, wires, pipes, and other fixtures out of the building. If materials theft has been a problem in the area, vehicle inspections may be called for.

Confidentiality. As the project progresses and signature features of the casino are completed, perimeter security can take on another aspect—protecting the big reveal. Often, the casino owners don’t want media on the site without having gone through proper channels.

It isn’t just members of the media who may try to access the casino before opening day. Frequently, people who worked on the site want to bring family and friends to see their handiwork. Generally, a day is set for this by the management, but if that day is inconvenient for the workers, they will often try to skirt security. All it takes is one family member to take a photo with a cell phone and to post it to a social media site, and the company’s ability to build suspense and have an exciting unveiling will be ruined.

Employee buy-in. There may be some initial resistance to the security measures that the new director puts in place. This is only natural, because the people on site may have been working there, unrestricted in their comings and goings for months.

One way to make them aware of the need for the programs, and to encourage their participation in them, is the creation of a tip-reporting program. A low-cost and easy way to enact an “If You See Something, Say Something” program is simply to make up fliers that can be tacked up liberally around the site. The phone number on the flier should be that of the cell phone that is usually handed off to whoever is the lead security person on site during any given shift.

Team Building

The construction plans will also help the security director to estimate what size staff will be needed for the new permanent security department and to create what I refer to as a “fantasy schedule” for security personnel for peak times and after hours. The security director should begin hiring for the new security department as soon as possible.

Perhaps the first and most important hire to make is of a security manager who can be put in charge of security at the construction site, freeing the security director up to hire the remaining staff and to work on other aspects of the emerging security program.

Qualifications. The security director should be looking for team members who interact well with others; are polite, respectful, and nonaggressive; have an aptitude for learning; and can deal with the unexpected. They also need good spoken and written communication skills.

A candidate’s previous experience at casino openings is, of course, an invaluable plus. In my experience, some individuals become overwhelmed by the tension and barely controlled chaos leading up to the opening of a property. I have had security staffers freeze up like deer in the headlights—unable to make any decisions. I’ve seen them cry, explode, and walk off the job.

Each company has its own preferences for the educational level or previous experience of security officers. Some mandate that officers must have at least a GED; others want a bachelor’s degree. Some are willing to hire officers without the educational qualifications if they possess previous military and law enforcement experience. All must pass preemployment criminal records checks.

Even as the first officers are being hired for the construction phase, the security director will be ascertaining not only final staffing levels but also how the company’s senior leadership envisions the security department. This will affect whether officers wear police-like uniforms or dress in a more business-looking style with blazers, for example. Other senior leadership decisions will include whether officers should be armed or carry handcuffs, pepper spray, and nightsticks.

All of the options should be presented by the security director to decision-makers, along with results of benchmarking of other area and industry norms. The current general trend is a movement away from traditional police and guard-type roles and responsibilities towards security as a customer service. In my opinion, approximately 90 percent of the activities of today’s hotel or resort casino security staff are focused on enhancing the customer experience, and about 10 percent of their efforts go to historical security functions. This paradigm shift does not mean that the present security staffer is less trained, however. In fact, today’s security staff are frequently cross-trained in other departmental areas and have unprecedented access to a variety of security training programs.

Training. Once hired, officers should receive training in CPR, the use of AEDs, and first aid, as well as report writing, nonviolent crisis intervention, verbal judo, celebrity and VIP protection, law enforcement codes, special powers, and the rules of detainment. They must also receive a thorough grounding on the site, the company culture, and providing customer service.

Training and cross-training should become an ongoing process for the officers in the time leading up to the opening and beyond, keeping them always up to date on the casino industry and the types of security and crisis management issues they are likely to encounter.


Meetings should be held with local emergency service providers, including law enforcement, the fire department, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s local office, regional fusion centers, the FBI field office, and any other applicable local agencies. Business district representatives or other important neighbors should also be contacted.
Initial meetings should include a review of the site’s emergency response plans, standard operating procedures, and business continuity plans—all of which the security director should have formulated before doing this outreach. Periodic meetings should be held with all these agencies, first responders, and neighbors to discuss any issues that might arise.

Communicating with outside agencies and neighbors becomes more important as the plans for opening day are developed. Meetings and walk-throughs should be held, and the day’s timeline and staging details shared, along with estimates of the size of the expected crowd and the routes by which they will enter and exit. Sharing this information allows local law enforcement to prepare by assigning the appropriate number of officers to direct traffic, for example. It also allows for EMS and other first responders to station units. If a SWAT team might be on standby, the security director should see if they want to stage practice responses.

Media. During the construction phase, access to the site is coordinated through the marketing and security teams. Media are usually only allowed if escorted; they are typically identified by badges when tours are conducted. Media also get color-coded credentials on opening day, are escorted around the site, and have a designated area for coverage of the event.

The Big Day

The public relations department and other business units of the casino will create the plans for opening day, but the security director’s input is critical to a successful event. Ongoing communication and information sharing must occur so that security’s role on the big day is an effective one. Here are just a few of the points to be considered.

Weather. If opening ceremonies are going to occur outside, the event organizers must prepare for the weather—such as the effects of heat on attendees if they are going to be standing outside for any period of time. Security should ensure that water and shade are available, that EMS responders are on hand staffing a first-aid station, and that ambulance routes have been mapped out.

If the season is winter, snow may make the site treacherous, and it’s important that proper equipment and materials, such as deicing salt, be on hand. If severe storms are a possibility, security needs to be prepared for a sudden decision to move the opening inside or under shelter.

VIPs. If there will be celebrities or VIPs at the opening, a security detail should be assigned to these individuals—even if they do not request it or even if they bring their own.

Staffing/parking. If it is expected that the number of cars will exceed the casino’s parking-facility capacity, security needs to post officers at the locations designated for handling overflow parking and along the routes that people will take either in shuttle buses or on foot to get from those distant lots to the casino. Expanded security staffing may be necessary not only in overflow parking lots but also in critical areas, such as the fire command and security dispatch centers.

Operational mode. As soon as the opening ceremony is through, the doors will be thrown open, and the casino will be open for regular business. It is important at this point to remove any equipment used in the opening ceremony—including the stage, PA system, and lights—to prevent possible damage and to remove any blocks from entrance and egress to the casino.

Contingency plans. If something begins to go wrong on opening day, as in the lead in to this article, security must be ready with a plan to speed up or curtail the opening ceremony.

The opening of any casino property will require the total devotion of the security director. When the doors finally open, of course, it is not the end of a project, but the first steps of what everyone hopes will be a long-lived going concern. But as with any child, if it is protected during its formative years, that will help to set it on the right path for the rest of its life.

Anthony V. DiSalvatore, CPP, PSP, PCI, has more than 25 years of security and law enforcement experience, and has been involved in the openings of numerous casinos, hotels, and entertainment complexes. DiSalvatore is a member of ASIS International’s councils on Crime and Loss Prevention, Crisis Management and Business Continuity, and Gaming and Wagering Protection. He is also a Certified Fraud Examiner, a Certified Lodging Security Director, and Gaming Subsector lead on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Commercial Facilities Coordinating Council.