World Game Protection Conference 2012

The world saw it happen on March 6, 2010, in Berlin, when a group of masked and armed men raided the European Poker Tour, making off with $1.1 million in tournament prize money.

Then again on Dec. 14, 2010, a man wearing a ski mask and swinging a gun challenged the Las Vegas Strip by robbing the Bellagio out of $1.2 million dollars in chips.

Even as recently as Feb. 14, a casino in Lyon, France lost $39,000 to a band of robbers who crashed the cage.

Though caught in each case, they’re among the biggest and baddest of casino robberies, requiring the attention and analysis of the biggest and best minds in casino security and surveillance. Those come together just once a year at the only event dedicated to such conversations: the World Game Protection Conference (WGPC).

Held from Feb. 27-29 at M Resort Spa Casino in Las Vegas, the 7th annual conference and expo mixed flashes of entertainment with the expert education and open discussion needed to outthink the thieves.

Founded in 2006 by casino surveillance and game protection consultant Willy Allison, the WGPC has brought the often “taboo subjects” of cheating, theft and fraud from the back rooms to the spotlight.

“This is a great way for people to share secrets or intelligence that’s not normally available,” Allison said. “What we talk about is very sensitive, and there are some restrictions in terms of sharing that information, but here, we can do it informally, and we can learn from each other.”

The form of that education has shifted over the years, with the inaugural WGPC consisting of sessions spread over two days. Now, the three-day event features a four-hour closed-door Surveillance Directors Meeting, a diverse speaker list, 24 breakout sessions, an expanding expo, various networking events, and the “Oscars” of the casino surveillance world, the Golden Dome Awards.

“We look at every year like an artist looks at an album,” Allison said. “We try to always do something different, because we don’t want to fall into ‘same old, same old.’”

Participation has grown alongside the program, with attendance up 36 percent this year to more than 370 attendees. On the expo side, 25 companies involved with CCTV and surveillance equipment, reporting software, business intelligence, and system integration mingled directly with their target market. Together, that brought a crowd of 550 people to the niche event.

Given the funding challenges many game protection departments have seen in recent years, Allison says the show’s return to pre-recessionary numbers likely signals renewed optimism and opportunity. “Over the last few years, I think the industry has seen that good surveillance and game protection can save a lot of money,” he added. By investing in this caliber of education, attendees agree their properties are making the only choice to best protect their most valuable assets.

“We all know the cheats in the industry network very well, and we were not,” said Melissa Marcella, the regional director of surveillance for Delaware North Companies. “So without this, without bringing everyone together, we would all just be independent silos.”

The Gatekeepers Gather
Opening the conference with one of several event firsts, the Surveillance Directors Meeting allowed attendees to share information and intelligence on the most significant scams to hit the industry in the past year. Led by Darrin Hoke, the director of surveillance at L’Auberge du Lac Casino in Louisiana, the conversation revealed elements of the trickster trade that some didn’t even know existed.The WGPC expo floor.
The WGPC expo floor.

Take player club conspiracies. How many attendees work with their marketing departments to find mathematical vulnerabilities in promotional games? Less than 5 percent. Or collusion scams and social engineering. How often do properties let high rollers call the shots during play? The answer proved often enough, leading to techniques that can compromise the game.

“You need to be able to ask questions,” casino consultant and presenter Bill Zender told the audience in regard to their responsibility within a property.

“We’re supposed to be the gatekeepers of these games,” Allison added.

They delved into dice sliding, the cutter scam, the bill validator scam, the roulette color up scam, marked cards and card sorting. All of that led to a final discussion on “what is the role of surveillance,” a largely blurred concept even in a room of experts. In the upcoming months, that question will turn into a white paper and ultimately an answer to be presented at next year’s conference.

While larger trade shows offer some game protection content, the WGPC’s smaller setting allows for a magnified look at security and surveillance specific issues. As the surveillance director of Oklahoma’s Tonkawa Gaming Commission put it, the WGPC offers “the best bang for your buck,” a comment made early in the first day—before most of the fun even began.

A keynote address from Mike Howard, Microsoft Global Security’s chief security officer, began day two by challenging game protection leaders to shift their image from one of “guns, guards and gates” to another of “business enablers.”

With 700 sites in more than 100 countries, Microsoft has grown exponentially since Howard’s hiring in 2002. In that time, he found his team often distracted by “widgets that looked cool” but weren’t interoperable. Encouraging attendees to focus on strategic and sustained investments, Howard added they can, in turn, provide business value by saving their company money and manpower.

Then, through a series of live demonstrations, Howard took the crowd on a remote and worldwide video tour of Microsoft’s Global Security Operations Centers. By leveraging this technology, his department now showcases these facilities to potential clients, turning a cost center into a virtual profit generator.

Mike Howard, chief security officer for Microsoft Global Security, delivers the conference keynote address.
Mike Howard, chief security officer for Microsoft Global Security, delivers the conference keynote address.
After a trip through Microsoft’s past restructuring and current success, Howard looked to the future, otherwise known as the cloud. When asked about the capability to store surveillance video and data on the cloud, Howard said he “believes in it and believes that it’s secure.”

When Allison took the stage later in the day for his “Ideas Worth Sharing” presentation, he asked the group if they’re “bringing a knife to a gunfight.” A 25-year student of surveillance, Allison confronted what he calls the recent “dumbing down” of the industry, by asking attendees to recruit smarter, train better and report more.

But to Allison, there remains reason to celebrate, and that’s technology. Calling the availability of HD resolutions one of the top three advancements in game protection, he predicted “HD is going to change our world.” From video analytics and 360-degree cameras, to computer screen video, he added improvements in the tools themselves can be enhanced by new ways of thinking.

“How come on ESPN I can see what the poker players cards are from the shots on the table? Why can’t I get those shots?” Allison asked. “Well, you can.”

Up next, three casino CEOs joined the conversation: Anthony Sanfilippo of Pinnacle Entertainment, Jeff Hartmann of Mohegan Sun and Wendell Long of Sol Casinos. Together addressing the role of surveillance at their properties, they shared why these departments can have a “hard time getting a seat at the table.”

“I think historically people took the approach, if I don’t hear anything from surveillance, then things must be OK,” Sanfilippo explained. “But I’m concerned what we don’t know is what’s hurting us.”

Encouraging attendees to increase their visibility, participation, and ultimately, their leadership, the powerhouse panel echoed the message in Howard’s earlier keynote—that game protection is expanding from a back-of-house activity to a front-and-center component of successful businesses.

Tackling another “conspiracy of silence” was mathematics and computer science professor Dr. Eliot Jacobson, who outlined the “Perils and Pitfalls of Proprietary Games.” He said since most eyes have been on the lookout for blackjack card counters recently, they have overlooked a more threatening trend.

“There has been an explosion of proprietary table games, and we don’t know how to protect them,” he explained.

By walking the audience through a series of well-known and even published player strategies, Jacobson pinpointed how many newer side bets and table set-ups can—and are—being beaten daily. His request of the audience: “Do your due diligence and start asking questions about these games.”

When security consultant Al Zajic began his seminar, “Can Casino Robberies Be Prevented?,” he urged attendees to care as much about the cage as they do their cameras. He asked if game protection leaders are involved with their property’s cage design. Is that cage too close to an exit? Is it barred improperly? Is it more aesthetically pleasing than functional? After more than 30 years in the field, he says he’s often shocked how the simplest of errors can lead to the largest of crimes.

“What are we doing to protect our customers and employees?” he finally asked.

Day three began with a new experiment at the WGPC, a series of 24 break-out sessions known as Learning Labs. Covering everything from internal theft and cheating insurance, to the latest in chip security features and automated fraud detection, these discussions gave the reigns to the guests. By allowing participants to crisscross topics most relevant to them, Allison says the Learning Labs fostered a transparency and engagement slightly lacking at past conferences.

“We’ve now fallen on a format that I think really works,” he concluded. “I’m very, very happy.”

The crowd favorite, the Golden Dome Awards, wraps up another successful show.
The crowd favorite, the Golden Dome Awards, wraps up another successful show.
Sleight of Hand and Twist of Tone
Bringing some light to a conference filled with many dark topics, the WGPC also added entertainment to the program via talent, magic and a deck of cards.

A welcome reception at M Resort’s Ravello Lounge, for instance, featured the event’s annual Blackjack Challenge. Here, a series of the industry’s swiftest card counters scanned the deck to name the missing card in the fastest time. It took the winner just more than 10 seconds.

Breaking up conference sessions, Australia’s top magician, James Galea, later combined speed and sleight of hand to change a $100 bill into a $10,000 rupee note, one six of hearts into many and a volunteer into a participant with a missing watch. Performing for “the greatest real card sharks in the world,” Galea brought humor to a crowd capable of spotting his tricks on any casino floor.

The event favorite though, the 2012 Golden Dome Awards, honored the best casino scams caught on video. Known for celebrating the top catches in table games scams, slots scams and general theft, this year’s series also awarded a new category, funny business.

But at the WGPC, even the entertainment is educational. Some attendees said they’ve made the conference a mandatory training component for their properties. Others added the topics presented can value anyone from entry level managers to top executives. But when asked what the industry would lack without the WGPC, most agreed: The cheaters would be stronger than they are. Leaving few to wonder if it’s worth the investment.

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