A Winning Team
CASINOS ARE CHALLENGING environments for security officers. They are expected to maintain order and enforce rules, but they must be able to do so in a way that does not offend the clientele, many of whom expect to be treated as VIPs because of their celebrity or their financial status. To ensure that officers can fulfill these challenges and conflicting responsibilities, security managers must know what skill sets to seek in job candidates and, once applicants are hired, how to further refine those skills through appropriate training programs.
Basic requirements for security officers typically include a high school diploma or equivalent (called a GED), a clean criminal record, and the ability to write well enough to compose incident reports. But there’s more to it than that. Most casinos seek candidates that have “a good customer service attitude,” says Darrell
Clifton, CPP, director of security at Circus Circus Reno in Reno, Nevada. Clifton’s ideal candidates “deal with people in a positive way,” he says. They also must be able to think on their feet to make quick decisions. “It’s hard to teach someone to be positive and be able to make those common-sense decisions,” he explains. They need to have the ability innately.
Security officer candidates at Circus Circus must write a short essay as part of the application process. Clifton uses the essays to evaluate how well the potential officers can write, including their grammar and their ability to construct the information they are conveying in a logical, meaningful manner.
Physical fitness is also important. Successful applicants must be able to lift a minimum amount of weight. They must be able to sit, stand, and walk for long periods, if their post requires it. Clifton says it is also important that officers can kneel for extended periods, then be able to rise again. He says this was determined from situations where officers had to administer CPR or remain beside sick customers who were lying on the ground. Bad knees prevented some officers from staying down and from getting up again.
Traditionally, U.S. security officers are given a combination of classroom training before being posted to a position, followed by on-the-job, site-specific requirements.
An example of a training regimen that can be used by casinos for basic security officer training is ASIS International’s Private Security Officer Training Guidelines, which suggest that basic training should be at least 48 hours in total. According to the guidelines, this should include, at a minimum of eight hours of general job training, 16 hours of training about the site and security’s duties there, and 24 hours of training on the job.
The trainees should be required to pass an examination on the material they have covered, which would, for example, include the importance of honesty and professionalism as well as customer service and public relations. In terms of more specific practices, it might cover legal issues such as use of force, as well as how to respond to bomb threats, how to administer CPR, and how to handle blood-borne pathogens. Other topics would include report writing, evidence gathering, and testimony.
Training should, whenever possible, be specific to the environment—in this case, the gaming environment and its challenges. For example, checking customer identification is a key role of gaming security officers to ensure regulatory compliance, as well as to prevent underage patrons from gambling or obtaining alcohol. The failure to check identification or to let a false ID slip by could potentially result in huge fines for the property.
Circus Circus Reno has developed a unique four-week training period for new officers, says Clifton. The first week of the program takes place in the classroom, where officers receive instruction on many of the topics mentioned above and more. Afterwards, the new officers spend three weeks in the field with a training officer. “They work on customer service and learn the building’s geography,” says Clifton. They also take a two-day defensive tactics class and a one-day CPR and first-aid course, plus they receive training on the use of pepper spray. Officers are also trained in the management of aggressive behavior and alcohol awareness.
Because Circus Circus Reno has a children’s area called “Midway of Fun,” featuring a carnival, skill cranes, arcade games, and a virtual roller coaster, officers are given specific training in how to spot adults who are exhibiting predatory behavior towards children. They are also trained in how to handle unruly youths, lost children, and other situations that might arise in these settings.
In addition to observing and responding on the gaming floor, most security patrols also cover other parts of the hotel to ensure that any hotel property, such as house-keeping and maintenance rooms, as well as all of the guest rooms, are secure. The officers are also responsible for dispersing large gatherings in hallways and common areas as well as responding to noise complaints.
At Circus Circus Reno, part of the training time on site is spent learning how to patrol the large hotel connected to the casino. Officers are taught to look for propped-open doors and listen for suspicious noises coming from inside guest rooms that could indicate domestic disputes, violence, or other concerns. During training, officers also learn to be aware of suspicious odors emanating from rooms.
Officers are trained to look for guests who are lost and need directions. The training helps officers spot guests who are trying to find their rooms after checking in or looking for the ice or snack machines. Officers are also taught to be on the lookout for suspicious individuals who may not have the right to be on any of the hotel floors.
Judgment calls. Another training issue at Circus Circus Reno, and one that is an inevitable part of the job of any gaming security officer’s experience, is handling intoxicated persons. Casino customers are “in a party atmosphere,” states Clifton. They feel less personal responsibility for their behavior, and they feel that there are fewer public expectations that they will exercise restraint—and that’s before any alcohol kicks in and makes them even less likely to engage in impulse control. “They’re not thinking clearly, or they may become hostile, but they are still our guests. So we try to prevent problems first,” he says.
During alcohol awareness training, officers learn to be on the lookout for patrons who are over-imbibing. Also, the officers are taught to look for people who are becoming too loud or angry, regardless of whether alcohol is the catalyst for the behavior.
Officers receive training that provides them with ways of de-escalating angry and aggressive behavior. If the patron becomes violent, the officers use the skills they have learned in their training.
The greatest challenge for these officers, Cilfton says, is to know how to match the level of their response to the behavior they are faced with. That means moving up and down the spectrum of responses—which range from friendly discussion to hands-on intervention—depending on the circumstances and the patron’s behavior.
Exceeding expectations. During the new officers’ training period at Circus Circus Reno, “They go out into the property and practice greeting guests,” Clifton states. “We tell them to exceed the customers’ expectations.”
If a guest asks where the restrooms are, the officer can walk him or her there instead of merely pointing in the general direction, for example. They can engage patrons in conversation about where they come from and the things they are planning to do on their vacation, or an officer can give someone looking for a good meal some honest recommendations about area restaurants without trying to plug the property’s own eateries.
If the officers are in the kid’s arcade, they can pass out stickers to youngsters or offer a stuffed animal to a child who has become lost. “When we take officers out, we let them be creative and come up with their own style.” This customer service training is part of Circus Circus Reno’s attempt to “separate us from the rest by creating memorable moments,” he says.
Gaming laws. A vital part of the training given to security officers in the gaming environment has to be instruction pertaining to minimum internal control standards required by that state’s gaming laws.
For example, in Nevada, there are standards covering the proper control of games, such as keno, bingo, card games, slots, race and sports betting, pari-mutuel betting, and interactive gaming, as well as standards covering operational areas, including a standard on the proper procedures for the casino cage that details the rules for all aspects of its operation. For example, the cage standard covers the issuance of credit. If an officer is dispatched to the cage because an irate customer wants a line of credit but has been denied because of a lack of proper identification, the officer knows that, according to the standard, a patron’s driver’s license is the preferred method for verifying the patron’s identity, but a passport, nonresident alien identification card, other government-issued identification credential, or another picture identification credential that is normally acceptable as a means of identification when cashing checks, may also be used.
High profiles. Because celebrities and the wealthy are frequent guests of some gaming properties, new officers should receive training on the proper ways of dealing with these individuals.
Derk J. Boss, CPP, was formerly the vice president of surveillance at the Las Vegas Strip’s Stratosphere Resort and Casino, as well as corporate vice president of surveillance and compliance with American Casino & Entertainment Properties. He is now director of surveillance at Casino Aztar in Evansville, Indiana. “It really is critical that gaming security personnel are given exact instructions on how to handle and protect super-rich individuals or celebrities,” he states. “Each one will react differently to the attention they receive in the casino. Some prefer to have everyone kept away, while others want to mix with the crowd. Some enjoy having people watch them but from behind ropes. Normally, such people have someone assigned as a liaison who will work with us as to what they prefer. When this happens, we can provide specific instructions to our officers. It usually doesn’t go well when we don’t have such a connection,” Boss notes.
Security officers also have to be trained in how to deal with celebrity security personnel. Don Aviv, CPP, PSP, PCI, the chief operating officer of Interfor Inc., a global investigative and security consulting firm, who serves on the ASIS Security Services Council, says that celebrity and high-wealth guests typically travel with their own security, who are sometimes armed. “These close protection officers represent the entire range of training and professionalism in the industry, for better or worse. There are countless stories of security agents starting fights or interfering with in-house security,” according to Aviv.
In addition, celebrities and high-wealth guests often attract troublesome paparazzi and the criminal element, which could impact regular guests and a casino’s reputation. Aviv recommends training on how to handle paparazzi and aggressive fans, as well as training officers on protocols to optimize celebrity movement within the casino complex so as to not impact regular guests, including moving them between floors on dedicated elevators and providing secure access to hotel restaurants.
But there are lines even for celebrities. Clifton says despite the appearance of high-profile guests at the casino, his officers are trained to treat all patrons the same. “We teach them to treat everyone like a VIP,” he states, and if VIPs get out of line, they will be dealt with just like other patrons.
Outside security. Perimeter security for parking lots, loading docks and other entrances and exits requires both posted and patrolling officers. These positions require additional training. Officers must have knowledge of deliveries and private property traffic laws, for example.
At Circus Circus Reno, there are both bike patrols and armed officers outside the casino. The bike officers undergo training specific to their job, which includes patrolling the casino’s parking garages in the urban area of downtown Reno.
The armed officers who are posted outside near the entrances “are there to look out for customers,” says Clifton, and commonly make sure the patrons make it safely to their cabs and vehicles. They are told to monitor the surrounding city streets for anything unusual. These officers also receive ongoing firearms training and qualification.
Ongoing training. After officers pass through their training period and take up their duties, they should partake of regular refresher and in-service training. One of the best forms is participation in roleplaying scenarios that involve security and property managers, supervisors, and veteran security officers. “Scenario-based physical training is critical for maintaining an effective security force in the gaming industry,” says Aviv.
Clifton says that at his property, there are regularly held scenario and tabletop exercises. For example, officers may participate in a tabletop exercise concerning an armed robbery of the main casino cage or the discovery of a bomb on the property. “We’ve learned a lot from these exercises and have changed procedures based on what we’d learned,” says Clifton. These training scenarios have been effective to officers responding more quickly and efficiently during real incidents, he adds.
Boss recommends that casinos incorporate the Security Training and Education Program (STEP) as part of their ongoing training. “It is made up of three levels or steps. Each step requires the officer to qualify in certain security areas or disciplines, and then to sit for an examination. The successful completion of the qualifications and passing the exam results in a promotion to that level,” Boss says. For example, someone classified as a trainee passes the exam and automatically becomes a “level-one officer.” Normally, the promotion comes with a wage increase.
“The real value of this program is it is based on self-motivation,” Boss says. And as the officer moves up the steps, the gaming-security training and curriculum “becomes progressively more sophisticated... thus developing a core group of well-trained individuals,” Boss states. “It places them on a career track, as well as providing a means to increase their wages.”
Not all officers are automatically placed in the STEP program. “We don’t send everyone to training. They go to training if they want to succeed…. If the officer hasn’t taken the time to train, he isn’t a person we’re looking to promote,” Boss explains.
Boss says that the STEP program has been so successful at previous locations where he worked that he has initiated the program at Casino Aztar. “We just promoted the first class of level-one security officers. Already we are seeing skill sets and professionalism improve,” he says.
Circus Circus Reno also uses STEP to advance its security officers, says Clifton, who shares Boss’s view that it is a good program.
The casino also encourages officers to create training programs for each other. To promote these programs, those who attend the officer-designed training receive points towards their next level in the STEP process.
While security is never a sure bet, casinos with strong training programs for their officers can increase the odds that guests, personnel, and assets will be well protected. A comprehensive program includes training in basic security skills as well as training that instills a sense of how to strike the appropriate balance between security and customer service.
Joseph Ricci, president, Ricci Communications, serves on the ASIS Security Services Council and has provided marketing and media relations services for the security industry for more than 20 years. Ann Longmore-Etheridge is associate editor of Security Management and editor of ASIS Dynamics.