The Surveillance Room Team
In order to build an effective team, first we need to define the team itself and its objectives.
The Surveillance Room team includes everyone, from the Director or Manager right down to the newest, greenest trainee. In fact, it also includes the senior management to whom the Director reports, and to a limited extent also includes others outside the room, such as the head of Security, Internal Audits, and a very few other areas with whom we work very closely.
Contrary to popular belief with casino staff, and sometimes within surveillance rooms, the “enemy” is not the other departments and personnel of the casino outside the Surveillance Room. The opponents are the untrained or uncaring state of other staff, the crooked individual, the cheat, thieves (both internal and external), and people who would take advantage of weak areas in the front lines of the casino and its administrative, service and product delivery departments.
The actual objective of the Surveillance team is to protect the assets and liabilities of the organization. It does this by observing and reporting the presence of any of the opponents as listed. It reports cheating, theft, and weak points where staff are not doing their jobs properly through untrained or uncaring activity. It reports areas where outsiders or inside crooks can take advantage of the casino. These reports often show up areas where other staff is incorrectly or incompletely trained or are not performing their functions in a manner that will automatically protect the corporation’s assets and liabilities.
The most basic actions within a Surveillance Room require the active participation of all team members.
The Team Members
The Surveillance team, depending on its size, is made up of a number of people with differing functions and contriutions and levels of experience and knowledge. As with any team, many of the members can do most or all of the work of the other members, but each may have his or her own specialized area of responsibility, knowledge or expertise.
The Director: The Director or Manager of the Surveillance Department is the only member whose job cannot be fully performed by other members of the team. He may be¾but does not have to be¾the most knowledgeable surveillance investigator on the team. His job, after all, includes the training of new members, and he is consulted and reported to by all other team members. He should be able to forward investigations by suggesting better or more complete methods of investigation, directions of interest and methods of documentation.
His actual function within the team is the formation of the team, as a team, by providing direction, emphasis, and general leadership. He selects and hires new people and directs their training. He plans for the future, including equipment upgrade and maintenance, budgeting, expansion of staff and their training needs. He handles all of the administrative functions where Surveillance interacts with other departments, such as Personnel, Benefits, Accounting, Purchasing, Payroll and Maintenance. He forms and maintains communication lines with the executive, delivery and service departments so that the reports of his team members get the attention they warrant.
He directs the personnel within the department, including scheduling, training, projects (including special investigations), orders and discipline. He provides the overall pattern of the team and all of its activities, and organizes the department and its available assets, both physical and personnel, for best effectiveness. He is above all a skilled administrator and handler of personnel. He is the team coach.
The Director’s duties extend to another vital area: ensuring that the managers of other departments pay heed to and act appropriately on the reports that Surveillance issues, as well as provide information needed by Surveillance in order to do its job. He does this through the communication lines he establishes with other department heads, and when necessary by reporting through his own command lines to the top of the organization, when other departments refuse to act. No information is withheld from senior management.
The Director is also the liaison point for outside law enforcement agencies. Though he may not personally handle–or even need to approve–every individual liaison, he does enforce the policy set by senior management regarding the providing of information to outside agencies.
In short, the Director is the team coach and manager. He may also have duties as an investigator.
Supervisors: In most departments, the Supervisors are senior investigators who also take a few of the administrative functions off the Director’s plate, such as scheduling and assignment of specific investigations. Organization of departments varies somewhat, but in most large departments there is a supervisor of some kind for each casino shift. Sometimes there are other, special, teams as well, such as an internal theft investigation team, compliance team or other team that operates across all shifts or between properties. These variations are a matter of size of the corporation, the casino and the department.
If the Director is the coach and team manager, the Supervisor is his lieutenant, the quarterback, the team captain for his own section.
The Supervisor must be a skilled investigator with some knowledge of every area under his eye. But even more importantly, he must know the specialized talents and areas of expertise of each of his team members, so that these can be best utilized while still providing training and experience for members with less expertise in certain areas. He should also know team members from other shifts or groups, so that input can be gathered from other sources when needed, and so that he can tap the expertise of others for the training of his own group.
Thus, on an investigation or audit of the casino’s handling of Pit markers, the supervisor might take a former Pit manager and team him up with another who has expertise in the area of Cage management but who has never worked in a Pit. Thus, both areas would complement each other, and both members would gain experience in a new area, thus strengthening the team.
It is vital for the Supervisor to ensure that team members do not stick solely with their own comfortable areas of knowledge. A Surveillance Investigator who only knows one area will tend to be blind to outpoints in other areas. Someone with experience only in the Pit might be blind to a cashier pocketing money or a slots cheat. It could be happening right in front of him, and with no knowledge with which to interpret what he is seeing, it goes right on by. As a person gains knowledge in more areas, he sees more and learns where to ask questions.
The Supervisor must never fear that sharing his knowledge and building the knowledge of each member of his team will put him out of a job. The more effective his team becomes by increasing knowledge and experience, the more valuable that Supervisor is to his own team, his boss and the casino as a whole.
Investigators: Also called, in many casinos, operators or agents. The investigators are the brains behind the cameras. They are the eyes that actually see.
The investigators are the front-line soldiers and reconnaissance team; the pitcher, catcher, basemen and outfielders; the center, guard, and receivers of the Surveillance team. They vary from seasoned, expert team players to greenest rookies, and their job, as a team, is to spot outpoints and report them. By doing so, they protect the assets and liabilities of the casino and its patrons.
The background experience of Surveillance Investigators varies widely. Many casinos recruit former military or police. Others recruit from the Pit or other Operations areas of the casino. I have seen trainees, valuable team players, who had never walked into a casino prior to applying for Surveillance jobs, but who, because of their hunger for knowledge and ability to work on a team, were extremely valuable.
The most valuable ability for an individual casino Surveillance Investigator is the ability to spot where something is not right. With this ability and a continuing training program to give him the knowledge of gaming law, casino policies, correct procedures and internal controls, and most importantly, the ability to work with and consult other team members, you have a star player.
Other team members: In larger departments, there may be additional members of the team, such as technicians, administrative assistants or other specialists. It is important that all team members understand that these roles are just as vital to the continued operation of the team.
A filing clerk in a large department maintains the sanity of the team’s memory¾its data files. Technicians keep the physical eyes working and recording devices operational, provide special services for special investigations and expand the department’s overall capabilities. These contributions keep the team operational. Though perhaps not as visible on a day-to-day basis, these support activities make the whole effort possible.
Working as a Team
Teamwork within the department depends on the individual members’ understanding of team activity.
Team activity is not turning over responsibility to a group. It is the willingness to take responsibility for the whole activity of the team, as a team, by the effectiveness of one’s own actions within the team framework.
It means one doesn’t unnecessarily duplicate actions. It means one does what one knows best, to the best of one’s ability, and then learns how to do more and does it. It means one leans on one’s teammates when necessary, offers the helping hand when one can, and expects others to contribute as well.
Team members share the credit for successful and unsuccessful investigations. They help each other, not for the credit or accolade, but for the effectiveness of the team, to accomplish the common objective. They share knowledge and help each other to become more effective, without sniping and backstabbing, and without insisting that their own way is necessarily the only way.
Training the Team
Green investigators, fresh off the street or from Operations departments such as Pit, Security or Cage, are taken in hand by senior investigators and shown the ropes. They learn basics: camera operation and numbering, tape changing, operating the computers and programs, office procedures. The Supervisors ensure they learn the basics, and push them into the next logical steps: logs, reports, game rules, departmental procedures.
As they grow in knowledge, they are continually pushed to learn more: gaming law, internal controls, crime detection, evidence protection, communication with other casino areas.
Such a program, with all employees from the greenest recruit to the most seasoned Supervisors participating, ensures that all are walking to the same drumbeat. It takes advantage of the most expert while bringing others, on a proper gradient, up to an acceptable level of knowledge and beyond.
Sometimes the help one offers is simply to reduce the distraction level while an investigation is in progress, by handling immediate traffic and routine operations. Sometimes one can lend knowledge from former experience. One can search out written policy, dig up the appropriate laws or regulations, or even take over investigations of secondary importance. This is teamwork. As experience grows, pitching in on tape reviews, report writing and close watches in real-time becomes practical help.
I well remember a person whose knowledge of Pit operations was so miniscule that he could not even confront someone else in the room running down a shoe on a suspected advantage player. A request would come in from the Pit for an evaluation of play, and this person would immediately find an excuse to leave the room: a cigarette break, lunch, had to call his girlfriend, bathroom break. This left the operator handling the request with not only the play evaluation, but all the rest of the casino traffic as well. Not a team player, and he didn’t last long. (See “Camouflaged Holes.”) His leaving the room was the only team contribution he could make, and to tell the truth, it did help.
It is very important that all team members be permitted and expected to contribute to the best of their ability and even just a bit more. One of the most destructive things to a new member, especially, is to feel that he has not been permitted to help, or to be made to feel that his contribution was not important. Make sure that they have some part of the investigations or supporting activity to do, and ensure they know this contribution helps. Tax their knowledge and abilities, give advice or refer to written materials where necessary, and make sure they are learning as you go. Acknowledge the positive contributions, correct the errors, and help the person to grow in knowledge and ability.
Unfortunately, there is also a darker side we have to consider. This is the team member who does not contribute. He or she feels that reporting to work is sufficient, wants to spend his time telling stories, doesn’t learn new activities or pick up new knowledge for the expansion of his and the team’s abilities. Sometimes a new recruit has many years of experience in the casino industry, and feels that he already knows it all, and is thus unwilling to learn.
Such a person can sometimes be brought out of his shell by consulting him within his own particular area of expertise. Especially, one can find out how the people think who work in those areas he is very familiar with. Once the person has begun contributing to the team efforts, he can often be gotten to reach further, contribute more.
One other very destructive person can exist in a team: the person who claims credit for the work of others, does not acknowledge the efforts of others, belittles the accomplishments of the team or its individual members for his own aggrandizement. This person plays politics within the team, and can often be found as the actual source of conflicts between other team members. This person tends also to hide his own weak areas or conceal knowledge or suppress reports of wrong activities so that he can later be lauded as the discoverer. Occasionally such a person will go so far as to file false reports or get others to do so. He blows up reports of minor errors within the room, complains incessantly about minor difficulties and otherwise spends his time fomenting discontent and discord.
Such a person is unmistakable after a short time within a team framework. Usually the first indicator of such a person in an area is that the production of one or more sections of the team begins to fall. Later, other team members begin to seem unhappy with their work, with working conditions, with outside execs or the team leaders. Complaints about minor matters begins to multiply, but they seldom come from the actual source, as the person is usually quite happy to let others spread his discord rather than be pinpointed as the source. Conflicts arise between personnel, seemingly from nowhere.
Such a person is actively, purposefully destructive of the team and its programs and personnel. He refuses to allow new people to contribute or grow; he ensures at every opportunity they know how inexperienced and worthless they are to him, yet also removes any opportunity for growth, belittles training programs and expansion opportunities. He denies credit for work done and attempts to take all the credit for any successful work for himself, whether or not he had anything to do with it.
His best contribution to the team is when he leaves.
The Surveillance room itself is by necessity a closed environment. Surveillance agents are kept isolated from the rest of the casino both for their own protection and to prevent too much familiarity with the casino staff. This creates a situation of a very few people closeted together in often small spaces, eight hours daily, often never seeing other people except via closed circuit TV.
This closed environment requires, for team action, a definite tolerance on the part of the surveillance staff for each other. One must be able to respect the differences of viewpoint of others, both personal and professional, and not let these differences get in the way of the job to be done. Certainly there will be minor conflicts between personnel, but these can be resolved and adjusted, and the people continue working together. However, it is very important for the Director and his Supervisors to foster an atmosphere of tolerance, while still ensuring that this is not abused by some staff.
The Surveillance team is a combination of experience with fresh eyes and viewpoints. Older team members must pay attention to the new members’ fresh viewpoints, while tempering their enthusiasm with real-world experience.
One of the most important aspects of working in a Surveillance team is the evaluation of importance, both in information and training programs and of the observations of activities in the casino. This evaluation can only be done, in fact, by someone with experience in the casino environment itself.
It is all very well to observe and report the tiniest infractions by every person in the casino. However, by doing so, one loses the perspective of importance. Is it more important that the break-in dealer is not putting the cards away properly in the discard rack, or that a slots floorman signed out two fill bags, but only one appears to have made it to the destination machine?
By spending one’s time on what will be labeled nitpicking reports, one can often miss outright theft and serious misconduct, cheating or serious liability issues. It is this evaluation of importance that is provided by the experienced personnel, who know what will be accepted by executives and what will simply be labeled as time-wasting reports.
It is the teamwork issue again: the new recruits should be acknowledged for their observations, yet still instructed that there are more important matters to deal with than tiny procedural infractions. There are, after all, seniors and supervisors in these other areas, who must be allowed the opportunity to correct and train their own juniors before being kicked by Surveillance.
Time enough later for that, when matters become more serious, and the outright theft opportunities, abuses of privilege, and serious misconduct have been handled.