Aria Resort & Casino, Las Vegas
“What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” or so the saying goes. But does it? Behaviours along the famous Strip in Las Vegas are not unlike any major High Street where you have browsers, serial shoppers, or gamblers; and then you add to the mix those seasoned shoplifters or fraudsters who want or have to steal or those who feel compelled to take on the casino and play it at its own game, as they see it. These individuals represent 15 per cent of the population on the honest versus dishonest continuum, with a further 15 per cent who never steal while the remaining 70 per cent would fancy their chances if the odds were better, or there was no chance of them getting caught. For this 15 per cent of hardened chancers, it could be argued, that they are the real gamblers who want to beat the system, whatever the odds.
But to achieve this they will have to get past Ted Whiting, the director of surveillance at Aria Resort & Casino, one of Las Vegas’s biggest casino-led entertainment venues. He is the man with all of the cards. But with more than 150,000 square feet of gaming space in a 500,000-square-foot triple AAA resort that includes 10 properties, 145 table games, 1,940 slot machines, and a 24-table poker room, Whiting knows the odds and recognises that he cannot do it alone.
In an exclusive interview with LP Magazine EU, Whiting shows his hand and talks candidly about his technology, Google Glass, why walking quickly and scuffed footwear are always a give-away, and not to mention why he can’t watch the Oceans Eleven franchise of films.
A Veteran of the Gaming Industry
Having been employed in the gaming industry since 1989, Ted Whiting has seen every trick going and is ever-watchful of new scams, which is why you will never see a pair of Google Glass worn at any table on his watch. It may be a new technology, but card watching and recording is one of the oldest tricks in the book.
“In the history of cheating, the behaviour is always the same. It is the technology and speed that is updated, which is why we don’t allow Google Glass, smartphones, or any of the new generation of wearable computers at our tables,” said Whiting, whose own forensic eye and data-driven the-devil-is-in-the-detail approach enables him to read people the way that criminals and chancers may read cards.
“I have held every job in the casino, including dealer, cage cashier, and poker room brush,” said Whiting, who previously worked in the Mirage Resort & Casino surveillance room from 1995 until 2009 before being promoted to director of surveillance in 2001.
His résumé reads like an instruction manual of how to identify the bad guys. Whiting helped create and implement the MGM Resorts International Advantage Player Identification training programme and casino loss prevention training for table games and casino surveillance. In addition, he is the administrator for iTrak, the corporate surveillance report and suspect database, and the chairman of the MGM Resorts security and surveillance technology steering committee, where he has been among the first to introduce new technologies to the Nevada casino industry.
In Ted Whiting’s world, compliance is king—play by the rules whether you are a gamer or an employee—and you are very welcome at the Aria. Introduce your own rules or not follow those of the house, then you can play or work somewhere else—you are not welcome on Ted Whiting’s watch.
Whiting is a numbers man and his primary skill is data analysis. Combine this with his forte for psychology and people behaviour in its various strange forms, and you witness something quite formidable.
“I love data and crunching through spreadsheets, but the reality is that we do not bust many people because we are on top of our game and our employees are following the right procedures.
“People who are up to something always touch a part of their body. It is part of their body language that we look for when we are investigating certain tell-tale behaviour. Similarly, people who walk too fast or very purposefully are on our radar because most people simply meander around,” he said.
If the Shoe Fits
Whiting will walk the floor of the gaming area and talk to people, but he gathers most of his intelligence from his office in the bowels of the building where he is studying numbers, behaviour, and video footage to stitch together evidence that is not explicit to the naked or untrained eye. Indeed, it is not what is said, but what is not said.
To this extent, Whiting is a devotee of former FBI guru Joe Navarro whose non-verbal communication approach is the bread-and-butter of investigators across the US in much the same way that Wicklander-Zulawski has helped change the landscape of suspect interview techniques. Confrontation is no longer necessary in these cases as the suspect usually signs their own arrest warrant by their involuntary or unconscious actions.
Navarro specialises in the physiological versus psychological and where our body language betrays our true intent. In essence, although language is considered the basic form of human communication by most people, we communicate with much more than words. Indeed, according to Navarro and his latter disciples, non-verbal behaviour represents the majority of our communication and reveals more reliable and honest information than words. Research shows that those who can effectively observe and interpret non-verbal communication will have greater success in life than individuals who lack this skill.
Joe Navarro’s best-selling book, What Every Body Is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People, divides humans’ non-verbal behaviours into two categories on the basis of human-consciousness—those controlled by the conscious and subconscious—and most of Navarro’s illustrations are based on the limbic part of the brain. Navarro started this book by explaining why humans have certain behaviour to express their emotions and how the limbic brain controls our bodies to express emotions non-verbally.
Putting the text book to the test, Whiting cites the example of the non-verbal communication of clothing, which he sees as a roadmap of where the suspect is going in terms of his or her criminal intent.
Media trainers the world over will tell their clients who want to look good on TV to “let the message come out of your mouth, not through what you are wearing.” A loud shirt or tie speaks far louder than even the most baritone voice. A national example of this is the daily television weather. Most people watching would not be able to tell you immediately afterwards what conditions will be like the following day because they have been side-tracked by what the weather presenter is wearing or his or her body language in front of the climate map. In fact, a scientific test proved that verbal communication—the message you are trying to put across—only accounted for 7 per cent of what people take in. A massive 70 per cent is body language, but you cannot train your body to align with what is coming out of your mouth, which will always be the fraudsters’ nemesis.
Walking in Whiting’s Shoes
In this respect, no one would literally want to be in the shoes of any fraudster that tries their luck at the Aria. This is because shoes—worn ones to be more specific—are also a dead giveaway, according to Whiting.
“You can always tell by someone’s footwear what they are up to. You can look smart with a nice stolen jacket, but you can’t steal a good pair of shoes. So we always look out for scuffed or wrecked footwear.”
“We are dealing with human beings and spotting when they are comfortable or uncomfortable. Our job is to observe when they are not comfortable, and that means looking at the data in conjunction with the video footage.”
Looking down is not all Whiting and his team concentrates upon. In fact taking a broader strategic helicopter view of operations has made a major contribution to crime fighting.
Since 2006, he has worked on creating the casino surveillance system at the multi-billion dollar resort and casino project known as City Center, and he became the director of surveillance for City Center’s Aria Resort & Casino in 2009. These innovations include 360-degree cameras, infrared cameras in bars, data mining and alarming, and license plate recognition systems.
In the lawless world of the criminal, there are no regulations other than the imagination of the law-breaker themself. Conversely, casinos are among the most regulated environments in the world, so unlike the image portrayed in films like Oceans Eleven, it would appear that the odds are stacked against the gaming industry when it comes to protecting itself from often very clever criminal minds.
The regulations, including strict data-protection controls, are there for a reason—to maintain the integrity of gaming operations, which is why large, busy casinos must maintain continuous surveillance of multiple tables, machines, sports pools, cages, vaults, count rooms, records, and even the security room itself.
Casino operators have tried to solve the problem of being everywhere at once by installing more and more cameras, which means large banks of monitors, large storage space for recorded video, and a team of security professionals to monitor systems.
Whiting, on the other hand, was looking for something less cumbersome and a little more flexible. One of his strategic investments has been with the award-winning, patented, 360-degree IP camera technology from Oncam Grandeye, which is able to monitor a larger area with fewer cameras, sometimes replacing as many as a dozen traditional cameras. Integrated views through Oncam’s customisable layouts have the ability to reduce the number of monitors and security personnel required.
Whiting’s knowledge and influence has resulted in Oncam getting to better understand the behaviour of a casino adversary and how it differs from that of a legitimate guest. The end result is that only the threatening or fraudulent behaviour is challenged, leaving others guests free to simply enjoy their visits.
The technology can monitor for card counters who exhibit specific behaviour patterns and once alerted to those variances and nuances, the cameras can probe further to track, interrogate, and verify which means delving into previous behaviour in early shots to confirm or challenge the hypotheses. Whiting often refers to the Oncam technology as his “chase cameras,” but for him it is the ability to chase someone in the past. The 360-degree cameras literally record the history of a room or scene and aids forensic investigation. If confirmed, Whiting’s team has the technological justification in terms of enough information to challenge a wrong-doer. Getting this wrong is not an option as it can be brand damaging if a legitimate customer is called into question based upon video footage.
So-called integrated appropriate technologies help to reduce security costs, minimise disruption of operations due to false alarms, and maintain the integrity of gaming operations.
“I have 50 cameras, and I can see everything. It is technology-driven surveillance. It’s a game changer in terms of people and vehicle number plate reading. I see a guy at the table who has left $130. I simply follow him backwards through the footage and see that he is staying at our hotel. So the technology really works.”
This technology, tried on the gaming floors of Vegas, is also now used widely in retail and health and safety where malicious slips and trips are more easily sifted from the legitimate claims
Whiting recognises that technology is an enabler for both the criminals and law enforcement and his business believes in the power of early adoption to stay one step ahead. “The Internet is a boon, as is social media, because people always put stuff up on Facebook.”
As well as being technologically savvy, Whiting has a strong belief in real life networking. His opinion is sought regularly on the media and lecture circuit where he has spoken as an industry expert at UNLV, University of Denver, Cornell University Alumni conference, and Johns Hopkins Educator Conference as well as participating on panels and as a speaker at casino industry conventions, such as Global Gaming Expo (G2E) and The World Game Protection Conference. He has been featured on several TV programmes on different networks, including National Geographic Channel, Destination America, CNBC, The Today Show, and local news. He is no stranger to the broadsheets’ higher-brow print media as well, including Popular Mechanics and various security and surveillance industry magazines.
“I consult widely and I have people I talk to all over the world.” Part of the rationale of this very public profile is deterrence—the don’t-even-think-about-it approach and while encouraging people to come to Vegas, only do so if you plan to play by the rules.
Fact versus Fiction
It is easy to see why people would confuse Whiting for the Andy Garcia character in Oceans Eleven, the first of the franchise where the Ocean’s gang set up a heist of three casinos simultaneously. Garcia plays the ever-exasperated owner of the three gaming palaces, but apart from the fact that it is set in Las Vegas, that is where the similarity ends. The glamorous image of George Clooney and Brad Pitt taking on the security of the casino and ultimately triumphing is the stuff of fiction—it simply would not happen on Whiting’s watch. He sees no sense of the romance in the movie, plus the portrayal of the security team is less than flattering. Whiting shares a more direct critique, “I can’t watch that movie.”
The facts remain that Whiting and his team will never rest on their laurels, even though Vegas is the home of Caesar’s Palace upon whose head Laurels were the crowning glory of an emperor who conquered much of the known world. There will always be people willing to gamble and there will always be scammers and chancers who want to take the ultimate risk, whether it is by trick of the light or sleight of the hand.
The origins of the phrase, “It happened in Vegas” are simple. It happened. It only happened there. And it happened far enough away not to have any negative effect on “the here and now.” In Whiting’s world, it simply won’t be allowed to happen. That is not to say that people won’t try, but few would take the gamble when they know their body language is likely to betray them at the first hurdle, and they see the odds stacked against them.
Ted Whiting has been employed in the gaming industry since 1989. Early in his career he held various casino positions, including dealer, cage cashier, and poker room brush. From 1995 until 2009, Whiting worked in The Mirage Resort & Casino surveillance room and was promoted to director of surveillance in 2001.
Since 2006, he has worked on creating the casino surveillance system at the multi-billion dollar resort and casino project known as City Center. Whiting officially became the director of surveillance for City Center’s Aria Resort & Casino in 2009.
Whiting created and implemented the MGM Resorts International Advantage Player Identification training programme and casino loss prevention training for table games and casino surveillance. In addition, he is the chairman of the MGM Resorts security and surveillance technology steering committee and administrator for iTrak, the corporate surveillance report and suspect database. As chair for the technology steering committee, Whiting has brought in new CCTV technologies, such as 360-degree cameras, data mining and alarming, and license-plate recognition systems.
During his career, Whiting has written different computer programmes that are in use in several surveillance rooms on the Las Vegas Strip. One of his programmes is called baccarat player analysis that is used to evaluate high-action Baccarat play. His next foray into surveillance software was his surveillance database, a report-writing programme that includes a card counting and basic strategy tutorial.
Whiting has been a speaker at UNLV, University of Denver, Cornell University Alumni conference, and Johns Hopkins Educator Conference, as well as participating on panels and as a speaker at casino industry conventions, such as G2E and The World Game Protection Conference.