I have two distinct lives. One in the trenches of low-budget film and television, the other in professional gambling. Because of the feast-or-famine nature of show business I need a reliable income... gambling. So here you will read about both worlds. Enjoy!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Interview with T Dane author of Behind The Black Dome

T Dane is the author of Behind The Black Dome: An Advantage Player’s Guide to Casino Surveillance. The book is new, and can be purchased at www.behindtheblackdome.com. T Dane has been working in the casino industry for a dozen years. For ten of those years he has been in casino surveillance.  He has worked as a surveillance operator, lead, and supervisor in joints big and small, and everything in between. Because he has also been an advantage player himself, he has special insight into the concerns of card counters, and other advantage gamblers.

RWM: In your book you mention that FRS (Facial Recognition Software) is not ready for prime time, but you also mention LPR (License plate recognition) with automatic alerts when someone enters the parking lot. Is this right? How does the alert work, who gets it, and how many places in Vegas would you say have this software? Do you know how common this is across the US?

T DANE: Yes, if you’re license plate is inputted in the system, and you come back to the property, an LPR audible alert with a snapshot of your license plate will pop up in the operator’s workstation. This gives surveillance a heads up that a vehicle of interest has just entered their property. Surveillance can then gather information to see why the vehicle’s plate was flagged. With this info in hand, all surveillance has to do is wait for the subject to enter their doors. LPR is accurate. If the license plate is one number or a letter off, the software recognizes this and will give an alert stating as such. Getting a false alert is common. But sometimes a false alert doesn’t mean the software misread the plate. There have been times where a license plate from a vehicle was inputted in the system only to find out later that the vehicle used by the subject was a rental. LPR is classified as a luxury tool for surveillance. If the casino seems like they can afford it, they will most likely have it. The use of this software is not exclusive to identify APs. This is best used to identify theft and robbery suspects.

RWM: You back someone off and get his license plate - can you then get his info from DMV?

T DANE: Acquiring license plate information is strictly used for in-house purposes. But if the subject has done something illegal, this information will be passed on to law enforcement. I am not sure if license plate owner information is considered public information but if it is, then I would say it’s possible. But I don’t know any surveillance rooms that would do this. I can’t even imagine the conversation between surveillance and DMV.

RWM: When you back someone off, do you (via camera) follow them out and input their license plate into your system so you will be alerted if they ever come back?

T DANE: An AP shouldn't be too concerned about LPR alerts. Usually after a back off, Surveillance is no longer interested in following the player out to his car. In the beginning, I would say that the casinos were using it for any and all subjects but this has changed over the years. LPR is mostly used as a reactive tool meaning if a subject leaves property, the casino has the capability to identify vehicle information after an incident.

RWM: Say I am using a player’s card, and I have been backed off from a chain property in another state. Now I come to Vegas, and I put my card into a slot machine or video poker. Is someone automatically alerted? How does that work?

T DANE: If an AP using a player’s card is backed off, the PC (players card)  information will be included in the flier. A proactive room will then input this information in a slot trigger system. The next time the PC is used in slots, the player will be visible to surveillance by a pop-up alert from a slot software. This program was exclusively designed for the slots department. It notifies them of the location of slot jackpots, machine errors and every time the ‘help’ light is lit. We found a way to use their software to our benefit without having to disrupt slot operations. Triggers for PC’s are not exclusive to slots. Triggers can also be added for poker and table games.

RWM: If I get backed off at say Harrahs St Louis or MGM Foxwoods, and they put my card in the system there as backed off - will it automatically pop at a Harrahs property or MGM property in Vegas, or would surv have to enter it manually from the flier?

T DANE: A ‘flagged’ account and a ‘triggered’ account are two different things. A PC account that is flagged for advantage play will show comments as soon as the account is pulled up. These comments are visible to any of their properties in any state. However, to add a trigger to their account, it has to be manually inputted. For example, if John Doe was backed off from Casino X and his PC was flagged, this flag in his PC account will show up in their sister property Casino  Y. Casino Y can then add Doe’s PC # in a slot trigger system. These slot triggers are exclusive to each property. Triggers that show up for Casino Y will not show up for Casino X. The good news is not everyone knows how or take this extra step.

RWM: You mentioned choke points, and tunnel vision.  Can you tell me more about that?

T DANE: Tunnel vision is a ‘tell’ for a player. To identify tunnel vision, ‘choke point’ cameras are used. Choke points are cameras strategically placed in casino entrances/exits and other high traffic areas. They are used to identify a person in case surveillance needs a photo of a subject after an incident. Choke point cameras are also used in real time to see who’s coming in the property. A good example was an AP who used to come and play under the radar. I always had a choke point camera up, and started to notice her coming in our property pretty much at the same time each day. I didn’t think much of it, but one day I decided to follow her from the entrance. She went directly to a double deck game. I started to take an interest in her play, but she always played short sessions and I never had enough to take action. The same scenario went on for at least a week in which I would watch her come into the property, and head directly to a double deck game (this is tunnel vision). I finally had enough play to make a positive determination. She was eventually backed off and hasn’t come back. Coincidentally, months later I ended up playing a local H17 double deck game, and she was on the same table. She acknowledged one of my plays after doubling a soft 19 vs. 6. She gave me a nod, smiled and said “nice move.” I felt bad afterwards since I knew I was the reason she never came back to our place.

RWM: When you go out to play are you completely paranoid knowing exactly what is going on “Behind the Black Dome” or are you like, “I know they are way too busy to be looking at me right now.”

T DANE: No, I try not to think about them.

RWM: You say in the book that once you are backed off surv already has my picture so there is no reason not to cash out. Isn’t easier to get a lower angle straight shot of someone’s face at the cage? Especially if they are wearing a hat?

T DANE: Yes, if you were backed off, chances are surveillance already took your photo before you were approached. It is much easier to snap a photo of a player on a table using more cameras from different angles, trying to get the best shot instead of taking it from the cage using limited PTZ cameras with bars in front of your face. And once a backed off player cashes out, they tend to hide their face by looking down which makes it even harder for surveillance especially if they are wearing a hat.

RWM: You say that surv is called anytime they change the cards. In a big store when they change shifts they change the cards on all the games; how can you watch them all? Do you really watch all the way through a card change on every table?

T DANE: If my Director asks if we watch card changes, the answer will be “Yes” but we know this is not possible. There are different procedures for different properties. But overall, these calls from the pit are mostly viewed as courtesy calls to notify surveillance of their action.

RWM: You say that table games managers have access to the cameras from the pit; how common is that? Who is allowed to view those cameras?

T DANE: I don’t think it’s that common. In Nevada, other departments can have access to cameras for their department as long as the Director of Surveillance included that information in the surveillance plan he submitted to GCB. Only managers are allowed to view the cameras. If surveillance finds out they are being abused, they can and will take it away.

RWM: You mention that some Vegas joints are still analog, and might have to change 1000 VHS tapes every 8 hours. How long does that take? How many joints in Vegas would you say are still analog?

T DANE: I remember working for a medium sized property and we had to switch 400 VCR’s which took us 2 hours for a tape change. I’ve heard of tape change that can take up to 4 hours. This is between switching tapes, rewinding, stacking and prepping the next batch of tapes for the next shift. I would say that there are still plenty of casinos that uses VCR’s. All newer properties are digital but most older joints are now switching, giving them a half digital and half analog system.  I can imagine that tape change now is not as rigorous as it was back then.

RWM: In the old days you would get fliers by FAX, and the pictures were awful. How does it work now? I would assume email where the pictures are color and much better, but who gets the email, and what happens then? Do they get printed and sent to the pit or how do they get from one shift to another?  What is that procedure?

T DANE: Communication now is mostly done via email and the pictures are much clearer. Fliers sent are department specifics. This means that if a flier has something to do with counterfeit checks or notes, it will be forwarded to the cage. If the flier sent is for a theft suspect, it will be forwarded to security. And if the flier sent is for an AP, it will be forwarded to table games. Fliers can be printed and this information can be passed on during the department’s pre-shift.  

RWM: In a large strip casino, how many fliers do you get per day, and how many of them are about APs?

T DANE: It's common to receive 3-5 fliers PER day. Usually they are from properties of the same company. There can be days or weeks without a flier for an AP. It really varies, but if I was to put a number, I would guess 1 in every 5 fliers are for advantage play.

RWM: You mention that bet topping won’t work in the newer joints because of the better cameras and side angle, but wouldn’t this still work in the old VHS places? (Bet topping is a method of trying to disguise your bets by putting say a green chip on top of 4 blacks, or a red chip on top of 3 greens. With the older cameras this made it very hard to determine how much a player was betting.)

T DANE: Yes but surveillance should never conduct a skills check using a camera with a direct shot down of the table. They should always use a side angle PTZ.

RWM: You say that any refusal is an automatic call to surv! Really? Every single one even on a $5 carnival game? How many of these calls do you get per day, and what do you do with the info? Are all the casinos you have worked in like this?

T DANE: I could’ve been more specific, but you are correct, red action in carny games are not considered. In blackjack, refusals with green action with a spread will trigger that phone call to surveillance. However, this will depend on the type of action the casino can handle. If a small casino sees a red chip refusal spreading $10 to $100, this can trigger a phone call for them, but will go unnoticed in a casino that is used to handling black action and above.

RWM: How would things be different if the player spreading $10-$100 was using a card?

T DANE: Anybody using a card is not a big red flag for table games and surveillance. They can stay under the radar longer than a refusal. It doesn’t mean they are invincible. It just means that the order of priority will place a refusal with the spread on top of the list rather than the player with the same spread using a card.

RWM: How often do you read people’s texts?  Or see who they are calling? Is this only people you are very suspicious of?

T DANE: Not often, surveillance will not zoom in on any cellphone unless they are suspicious of the player. It’s pretty hard to see what a player is doing on his cellphone but it can be done if they stay still. If they keep moving around, it’s impossible to see it since surveillance will have to use different cameras trying to get different angles. I’ve seen a flier with a text message saying “heat coming down hard, do not come.”

RWM: When I read your book, and Cellini, and DeCarlo I said, obviously this guy is way sharper than the average surv guy. How many guys are out there like you? 1 per casino, 1 in 10 casinos? 1 in 20?

T DANE: If I was to take a guess and pick a number based on my experience, I would have to say 1 in 4 operators have more ownership for their job than others. There will always be that one knowledgeable operator per shift.

RWM: At one point you talk about bias wheels, and clocking, and say that like dice control they are considered intolerable.  Most casinos believe in dice control and consider it intolerable?

T DANE: Casinos are paranoid, and game protection will always be a step behind. What’s ironic is that casinos, especially surveillance learns mostly from advantage players. Casinos will not go out of their way to prove whether or not dice control works. In any AP approach they have the AP community to come up with new ways, run the numbers and prove that it does work. With this info, casino staff are trained to recognize the pattern of an AP, and procedures will be placed to counter them. If a player is suspected of dice control, all they have to do is tell the player to make sure the dice hit the back wall. Setting the dice is not a problem. They just have to hit that back wall. If they don’t comply, this is considered intolerable.

RWM: You mention that some joints have incentives for a “good bust,” like catching a sophisticated play or well known team etc.  Wouldn’t this cause guys to claim a big winning player is a shuffle tracker or something? I mean who is going to check if he is right? And he then gets the paid day off or whatever.

T DANE: An operator should never claim a bust to be any more than what it is. An operator’s credibility in a surveillance room is a big factor. People will know each person’s skill level. Shuffle tracking is hard to prove. It’s hard enough to track the shuffle on the table, imagine doing it from a camera. Any AP or cheating approach that is out of the ordinary, the whole department gets involved. Some incentives are real, and some are offered for fun. My director once offered $3.15 to whoever can catch a composite betting team. I found one later on and was glad to take his money. One of the things I’m concerned about is conducting breakdowns for a high win. If I conducted a breakdown for a high win, and found nothing out of the ordinary I am still paranoid that I may have missed something. This breakdown could come back to tarnish my credibility as an operator or worse, lose my job for missing it. A good rule of thumb is, “Prove they are not doing anything instead of trying to prove something out of nothing.”

RWM: You mention that every surv room should have Exhibit CAA. I know that JG went to great lengths to not sell it to people who work in casinos. How many surv rooms do you think actually have a copy?

T DANE: Yes, I did mention that Exhibit CAA and Casino Game Protection (by Steve Forte) should be in all surveillance rooms, but we know this is not going to happen. I don’t exactly know how many rooms have the books, but for casinos to really understand what AP is these books should top the list.


Anonymous said...

Very good interview with some really good info! Thanks Richard. Still waiting on the book review. :-)


Anonymous said...

Nice interview. What book do you think is more useful, Celleni's for $50 or T. Dane's for $90?

Richard W. Munchkin said...

The books are very similar. I don't know if Cellini's is still in print.

Anonymous said...

I can't seem to find this book in print any longer. Did a Las Vegas Casino take TDane out somewhere and put him under?