Printer Friendly

Trump Taj Mahal: high stakes security.


WHAT IS 51 STORIES TALL AND has 17 entrances, 2,000 doors, 20,000 locks, 1,100 surveillance cameras, eight K-9 patrol teams, 120,000 square feet of gaming space, 1,250 guest rooms, 3,008 slot machines, 160 gaming tables . . . getting tired yet? . . . employee pep rallies, white tigers, 24 crystal chandeliers, four and a half times the steel in the Eiffel Tower, superstars such as Michael Jackson and Elton John, and 70 minarets? That's right--the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort in Atlantic City, NJ. The list of features alone is exhausting, not to mention the task of protecting and maintaining the world's largest casino.

The Trump Taj Mahal is the challenge of a security director's career. And for the 350 security and 31 surveillance department staff members, the days off have been few and far between since they took possession of the casino resort one month before its opening on April 2, 1990.

Michael J. Burke, director of security, came from a law enforcement background to Atlantic City's Resorts International. He moved with his colleague Lynwood B. Smith, first to Trump's Castle Hotel and Casino and then on to the Trump Taj Mahal. Smith is now corporate vice president of security at the Trump Taj Mahal.

A job some consider a nightmare of responsibility and coordination--for example, controlling an opening day crowd of 100,000 and protecting Donald Trump and Michael Jackson while New Jersey's Casino Control Commission regulators inspect the casino--Burke takes in stride.

"I love the challenge," he smiles calmly. "I wouldn't want to do anything else. The diversity is great. This is the biggest challenge of my career without a doubt."

Challenge is an understatement. The Trump Taj Mahal's atmosphere is one of barely controlled chaos boiling just below the surface. Maybe the feeling bubbles up from the gaming floor, where patrons hope every roll of the dice or pull of the lever will bring unexpected wealth. But amid the excitement flows a smoothly operating security department.

Burke oversees a wide array of security responsibilities. They include 300 uniformed security officers, 500 surveillance cameras on the gaming floor and 600 more outside the casino, K-9 teams that patrol the perimeter and parking garage, key control for the guest rooms, fire prevention, cash handling, and special events.

"This is a miniature city," Burke explains. "All these operations have to work in concert, because in this business the chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Sometimes we meet with individual departments to make sure they don't rely on security to replace good internal control. They need internal control procedures not only in the casino but also in the hotel, food and beverage services, housekeeping, the front desk, and everywhere else. That goes from the loading dock all the way inside."

Despite procedures and careful planning, unexpected complications arise in every job, particulary in security. And like everything else connected with Donald Trump, the Trump Taj Mahal's complications are big. Special events have taken Burke by surprise more than once. He credits two able assistant directors of security--Pam Romano and Walter Tirrell--and the rest of the staff with preserving his sanity.

The latest surprise was a weekend-long gambling event the casino held to coincide with Elton John's appearance in the Trump Taj Mahal's event center. The casino invited some of its best players to gamble, see Elton John, and attend a party in the newly completed grand ballroom. Invitees were divided into two groups, each of which gambled one night and partied at a Roman-style feast the other.

Burke explains the concept the week before the event: "The marketing department has a number of animals, including white tigers, elephants, and camels, for the event. Well, they're bringing the animals to the party. So this Saturday afternoon we have to get a 400-pound white tiger from the street to the ballroom and back without incident." He pauses a moment in mid-thought and calls to Romano, "Has anyone checked to see if that elephant fits through the ballroom doors?"

Silence. Then, "Oh. Well, it's a baby elephant. It'll fit," she calls back.

Burke relaxes. "There are dozens of surprises with this job. It's an adventure, to say the least," he says.

Mark McAllister's commands echo off the concrete garage walls as handlers Eileen Podlaski and Dave Hartley put their partners Thor and Blitzen through their paces. All three humans are security officers, K-9 division, for the Trump Taj Mahal.

"Forward . . . right . . . about . . . sit your dog . . . down your dog!" The dogs respond to voice and hand commands. A few minutes later, Thor and Blitzen are temporarily locked in a truck as McAllister's dog Blackie protects his handler from Hartley.

Hartley approaches. "It's ok," McAllister tells Blackie. The dog sits, ears back and tail wagging as Hartley pets him and calls him a good dog. Hartley walks away. He returns and reaches for McAllister, who this time says nothing. Blackie becomes a dog possessed--growling, barking, and straining at the end of his lead. An ok from McAllister and Blackie sits down, ears back, wagging his tail at Hartley.

Security operations start at the Trump Taj Mahal's perimeter. K-9 patrols of the garage and property boundaries first began at Trump's Castle three years ago as the brainchild of Lynwood Smith. He contracted with Sergeant Dennis McSweeney, a nationally renowned animal trainer who conducts K-9 training for the Atlantic City police department.

According to McAllister, K-9 division security officer at the Trump Taj Mahal, training is rigorous, and the officers are harder to train than the dogs. K-9 partners complete 400 to 480 hours of training. Testing is videotaped and used for retraining before the teams are certified. A canine isn't a K-9 until McSweeney says it is.

Trump's Castle had typical garage property crimes before the K-9 patrols began. In the first four months of the program, the garage incident rate plummeted 80 percent. Patrons at both casinos welcome the patrols. They worry less about leaving their cars in the garage and about wearing jewelry and carrying money. Burke credits the patrols for the Trump Taj Mahal's low incident rate, roughly one for every 90,000 cars parked.

The K-9 patrols are impressive. Each officer and dog are a team in every sense of the word. The dogs live with their handlers, and the teams come to work each day together. The German shepherds are gentle and well behaved, but protect their handlers above all else.

Officers never let the dogs off their leads, McAllister explains--but the bad guys don't know that. One unexpected advantage of the patrols is that while thieves run from a security officer, they freeze when they see a dog, leading to a higher arrest rate.

The program is well worth its cost. As Burke says, "It's amazing. We spend millions on high-tech equipment for cameras and locking systems, but no matter how sophisticated you get, sometimes the basics are most effective."

THE NEW JERSEY CASINO CONTROL Commission sets casino regulations. It specifies everything from lock configurations to how many feet apart security officers should be stationed. Each casino entrance must be guarded, for example, and the casino has its own locksmith to service the 20,000 locks on the gaming floor alone.

Casino security must submit a total operations plan to state gaming regulators. The plan outlines minimum staff, officer posts, and procedures for financial transactions, crowd control, fire, bomb threats, and severe storms.

Guest room key control is an operation all to itself. The hotel uses a high-tech system called Marlok that computer-codes room keys to expire at a guest's checkout day and time. Guests who keep their keys don't pose a security threat.

Hotel room door locks also have a signature capability. When anyone enters a room, a computer readout indicates which key was used and when. The key leads Burke back to a person. The system prevents problems in guest rooms because employees know a record is made when they use a key to enter for room service or maintenance.

The hotel's elevators, lobbies, and guest room hallways are also monitored by cameras at all times. All cameras are recorded, and the tapes are kept for 72 hours. Any suspicious footage is saved in a tape library for future reference.

Burke explains, "We're aware of the tremendous liabilities involving guests and guest rooms, and we take that very seriously. With the combination of surveillance cameras and locks we feel we've certainly made every reasonable effort to make sure guests are safe."

Security also monitors the building's sophisticated fire alarm system. The Trump Taj Mahal is a 51-story building at the end of a dead-end street in a town of 37,000. Since the local fire department is not large enough to protect such a building, it requires high-rise casinos to have their own built-in fire departments. Tony Ingenito, former deputy chief of the Atlantic City fire department, is the complex's fire marshall.

The Trump Taj Mahal has thousands of smoke detectors throughout the building and thousands of gallons of water sandwiched between each of the 51 floors to feed the sprinkler system. Ingenito and his staff monitor the computerized system and keep the building free of fire code violations, such as blocked stairwells, incorrectly stored flammable materials, and storage material piled too close to sprinkler heads.

A sudden flurry of activity erupts at the casino's security desk. A line of officers spaced four feet apart stretches from an entrance toward the slot machines. Is Donald Trump going to stroll through? Another celebrity, perhaps? No, just the money cart and its entourage. The cart, slightly smaller than a Toyota, is guided by a petite woman in a security uniform who appears to be pushing it with ease even though it's piled high with coins. Two other uniformed officers accompany her, along with two men in suits, one carrying a walkie-talkie. A bouncer, wearing a blue jumpsuit, black gloves, and an intimidating look, brings up the rear. Gamblers pause for a moment to stare and then return to their games, not wanting to keep Lady Luck waiting too long.

Cash handling procedures are numerous and complicated. By regulation, security officers must escort all cash across the casino floor. Dealers drop the money they accumulate from selling chips into a box at each table. The boxes have two locks on top--one belongs to the casino control commission and one to the casino. A third lock holds the boxes to the tables.

Twice a day, officers guide large metal cages out onto the floor. The 12 people assigned to each cart stop at each gaming pit. They remove the boxes from the tables, put them in the cages, and put empty boxes out for the next shift. They then take all the cages back into the count room, where the money is counted in the presence of a gaming commission inspector.

At the end of each gaming day--4:00 am during the week and 6:00 am on weekends--a slot drop takes place. Four large, electronic trains, each accompanied by two officers, come out onto the closed casino floor to empty the 3,008 slot machines. Under each slot machine is a wooden base with two locks--one belongs to the commission and one to the casino. A commission inspector and a casino representative open the base and retrieve the bucket inside that collects profits from each machine. Buckets are numbered so each day's profits can be tracked for each machine. The buckets are loaded onto the trains and replaced with empty ones, and the money is carted away to the counting room.

In addition to the resposnibilities that befall all casino security departments, the Trump organization keeps a certain number of medical security officers certified in CPR by the American Heart Association on duty at all times. Surprisingly, medical emergencies are not unusual on the gaming floor.

Burke speaks highly of several medical officers, especially one woman he worked with at Trump's Castle. "In a couple of cases, we had customers whose trip to the casino was about to become a trip to eternity. At least two or three people I know of are walking around today because of her."

Casinos are not required to provide such a service, but the Trump organization does. When asked about liability, Burke says the casino feels it should make every reasonable effort to help patrons in such circumstances.

In several cases, patrons have gone into cardiac arrest, lost their vital signs, and been revived by officers. One incident at the Castle particularly stands out in Burke's mind.

"This lady's husband had a heart attack at Trump's Castle," he says, pulling a small piece of yellow tablet paper out of a desk drawer. "Dear Mr. Burke," he reads. "On February 14 my husband and I were at the Castle. While we were there my husband went into cardiac arrest. Your medical staff saved his life by starting his heart and getting him to the Atlantic City Medical Center. At that time we were not married but did get married on May 2. On September 3 my husband died at the Altoona Hospital. I feel I should thank you, the medical staff, and security people of the Castle. Your staff gave us four months of happiness, and words cannot express my appreciation for your help and kindness. Again, thank you and please thank the medical staff."

"So," Burke states, "what people think of us for this service you can't buy with advertising or anything else. I will keep this letter forever. This makes it all worthwhile."

It's late Saturday afternoon on the Trump Taj Mahal's gaming floor. Just inside the bank of glass doors leading to the boardwalk, a crowd has gathered to see "Sinbad's" belly dancing act. Sinbad is, in fact, bad. A young man with a fake Indian accent dressed in a genie costume and turban is flanked by a band of similarly dressed young men playing drums and cymbals. The show is a good-natured farce and the crowd goes along with it.

Soon two women from the crowd are onstage next to Sinbad. One is a good-natured and eager sport, the other, volunteered by her husband, keeps trying to exit stage left, only to have Sinbad pull her back to center.

Across the room, a blackjack dealer pulls cards one by one out of a rack on her left, plays a hand, and pays out the winners. She clears her hands for the camera before reaching into her apron for a tissue. Then she collects the cards in the order they were dealth and drops them into another rack on her right.

Meanwhile, dice are rolling at other tables and coins are dropping into the slot machines...and Jim Matteo, director of surveillance for the Trump Taj Mahal, stands 12 feet above the dealer, unseen on the surveillance catwalk and watching everything.

"Listen," he says, "if you're going to catch somebody cheating, this is the place--right here on this catwalk. It's all there in living color and very easy to watch."

From the catwalk, surveillance agents get a panoramic view of the gaming tables. Two cameras cover each table at the same time, so any suspect activity can be double-checked against the surveillance tape before action is taken.

"We just find a comfortable place up here. We have binoculars for far away, too," Matteo explians. "Did anyone tell you about these chandeliers?" He points down to the right. "They cost $250,000 each, and there are 16 of them in here. See all the crystal pieces hanging? They came in boxes from Germany. The manufacturers sent people here. I stood here and watched them one day. They took every one of those hanging pieces out of the box and shined them. Every one was hung individually."

Matteo came to surveillance when he retired from the New Jersey state police. He was asked by close friend and fellow NJ state trooper Walter Decker to start his casino career as chief of investigations in surveillance at the Claridge Casino Hotel. Now both are at the Trump Taj Mahal. Decker is assistant director of surveillance.

Matteo describes the Trump Taj Mahal as overwhelming: "It's nothing like anyone who came here believed it was going to be. Not that they had a different original plan, but I don't think anyone realized the magnitude of the undertaking, the number of people that were going to come here, and the amount of money that was going to change hands. It's just unbelievable."

For comparison, the Trump Plaza Casino at the other end of the boardwalk in Atlantic City has 185 surveillance cameras, which take trainees two or three weeks to master. The Trump Taj Mahal system has 511 cameras and requires dedication to learn. The security department took possession of the building only one month before the opening. If they had it to do over, both Matteo and Burke would take possession earlier.

The surveillance department is charged with protecting the integrity of the casino floor and the money cages--anyplace where money or chips are handled. Surveillance agents are constantly trained and retrained on the games. To identify cheating, agents must know the rules of a game, how to deal it, and its payoffs.

Matteo explains, "We catch a lot of instances where dealers underpay, not only overpay. The pits are notified and patrons reimbursed. Surveillance takes care of both sides of the table."

Agents must know every game, but Matteo finds its bsest to let workers gravitate to the ones they are most comfortable with. "For example," he explains, "I have people who really know craps. They know the payouts, the odds, everything. We let them take care of the craps table rather than try to put someone on there who is an expert in blackjack."

The flat, wide-open Trump Traj Mahal gaming floor was made for surveillance. The New Jersey Casino Control Commission outlines surveillance requirements in no uncertain terms. Every gaming table must have a catwalk over it so surveillance agents can observe the operation. Some exceptions are made for casinos installed in existing buildings, but none are made for new buildings.

Dealers are also highly regulated. They go to school first for certification to deal a specific game, then wait up to three months for a gaming license. After they acquire both, the gaming, commission endorses the license, thereby allowing them to work in a casino.

Procedures are surveillance's biggest asset. Every department on the gaming floor follows its own procedures, which are designed to help surveillance monitor the gambling operation. Tips on unusual activity and breaches of procedure often come up from cashier and slot supervisors and pit bosses on the floor.

Matteo points out, "You'll notice dealers always clearing their hands under the camera. Any time they touch either money or chips, they have to show the camera that their hands are clear before they go back to any part of their body or clothing. Before they get a handkerchief out of a pocket, they must show the camera they don't have anything in their hands. That's just one example. There are volumes of procedures like that."

Dealers must stack chips at certain heights. If dealers are handed $100 in chips, they stack it in $5 denominations. Surveillance agents know at a glance that $100 worth of chips is on the table.

When dealers pay out, the don't count chips, but rather size up next to the existing stack. A dealer may hold ten chips, but he or she sizes up next to a patron's stack of three and cuts out three more next to them. Surveillance knows the payout is correct without knowing the number of chips involved.

As for handling money, dealers have two boxes under their table, one on each side. The casino's money for chips is dropped into a number-coded, locked box on the right, which is emptied twice a day. A plastic token box on the left is for tips. Dealers tap their tips twice on the table for the cameras before dropping them into the box.

When picking up or paying out money after a game, dealers cane never block the camera's view of the table with their arms or bodies. They work the left half of the table with their left hands and go the rest of the way around with their right. Although the procedures and regulations are cumbersome, much research and thought went into them before any casinos opened in Atlantic City. Matteo thinks they've served their purpose--setting up honest casinos free of organized crime.

The surveillance staff of 31 works well together and enjoys the challenge of catching those up to no good. The monitor room sounds more like a football game at times, with agents cheering as they close in on an evildoer. Agents watching five monitors can record up to 60 cameras at a time, a definite advantage on busy days.

Matteo explains, "Let's say I'm watching two monitors and I get a phone call. The pit boss tells me he has high action on table six. I watch it for him for a while and it loosk like a normal game. Nothing's out of the ordinary. I punch that camera to another VCR and go back and take a look once in a while. If he calls back 20 minutes later and says a patron in seat number four claims we didn't pay him properly, I can pull that tape out, even though I didn't watch it. I go back and tell him he's right or he made a mistake."

The casino preserves all tapes as evidence for sevey days and keeps suspicious tapes longer. Surveillance agents testify to their observations in court, if necessary.

Surveillance's biggest worries are employee and patron theft. Agents watch both sides of the table--especially employees. When asked how people cheat despite the procedures and cameras, Matteo laughs. "Oh, people are ingenious," he says. "For every procedure you come up with, they find a way to circumvent it."

Cashier booth impressment helps keep Matteo one step ahead of the geniuses. Each booth is impressed at the end of each shift; that is, all money from selling chips is accounted for and the booth is refilled. So how do dishonest employees get around that? They cheat patrons. If someone hands them a $20 bill and they only give them back $10 in coins, they tally that $10 up as profit. Sometime during the day they hide it or pass it off to someone.

Or after a booth is impressed, cashiers open it, steal coins from the containers in the back, and then bury those containers back where they came from. In anyone checks, all the cans are there, but three of them in the back are short. The cashier then sells those coins on the floor and keeps the money. Dealers sometimes work with someone posing as a patron. They pay out to much for wins or pay even when the accomplice doesn't win.

Surveillance agents watch a suspect employee to see whether the employee is merely violating procedures. If so, they bring the violation to the casino manager's attention. Employees receive anything from oral or written reprimands to suspension. If agents suspect theft, they simply observe the employee until they obtain proof.

Patrons try to cheat, too, of course. Matteo names past posting as the biggest problem in roulette. When the ball drops, patrons try to sneak their money onto the winning number. The more refined cheats work in teams. One plays and the other causes a diversion just as the ball drops, such as asking the dealer for change or dropping a drink. Other cheats try to take their bets back at the last second, especially in blackjack.

People even manage to cheat the slot machines. They look for low-value foreign coins that pass as dollars or half-dollars in the machines. When they find one, they go to the bank and come back with a couple of hundred dollars' worth. The scam works because slot machines don't pay out the money that goes in. One hopper at the bottom dispenses coins and another one on top catches the ones coming in.

Other slot cheats are called stringers. They drill a hole in the edge of a coin, solder or glue piano wire in it, and tie the other end of the wire to their finger. They drop the coin in a machine far enough to register, the machine lets them play it, and then they pull it back up and play it again.

New machines have a sequence of lights in the coin slot to prevent such scams. If anything runs backwards through the sequence, the machine jams. Other machines have a series of curves in the coin slot. When cheats pull the wire up, the curves cut it. Despite casino precautions, slot cheats are tough to catch. Investigators must work the slot machine areas in plain clothes at times.

Despite the cost of surveillance equipment and personnel, the function pays for itself. Matteo explains, "I think when casinos first opened, owners looked at surveillance and security with a jaundiced eye, if you will. It's an expensive item. It's a tough department in that it's not revenue-producing. It's the first cut and the least thought about sometimes."

But not at the Trump Taj Maha. Matteo's monitor room is unique in that no expense was spared to outfit it with the latest equipment. "Now this is the biggest monitor room I know of in New Jersey," Matteo states, "and I could use one twice this size." If he could make an instant change, he would double the number of monitors to 10 and double the surveillance staff--a wish easily understood after roaming the 120,000 squuare feet of gaming floor.

"I find it very rewarding to save the casino the amount of money I feel my department saves. Owners from Nevada have come to Atlantic City and seen the amount of money surveillance catches people stealing. All of a sudden the operation is worthwhile. I think in the past seven or eight years the casino industry has come to realize that it needs surveillance--that it has to have it."

Saving lives and money on the gaming floor are what count for Burke and Matteo, making their jobs rewarding--despite the 20,000 locks, 3,008 slot machines, 1,100 surveillance cameras...and the white tigers and baby elephant.

Kimberly A. Haines is staff editor of Security Management.
COPYRIGHT 1990 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:casino
Author:Haines, Kimberly A.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Sep 1, 1990
Previous Article:A star-studded approach.
Next Article:Do you trust your employees?

Related Articles
Taj Mahal in the red again.
When investors rely on financial projections: ruling gives new protection from lawsuits.
You're hired: Trump awards hotel work to BBGM.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters