"The Catwalk"
by William F. Bonar

"The Catwalk"

The Casino Surveillance/Security Industry has a number of very talented and highly educated individuals. Due to the nature of our business which operates in a highly regulated environment dealing with the integrity of the company and it's people in Surveillance we tend to take more of a "back seat" or "discreet presence" rather than the "lime light"

In this article I will talk of my own experiences and ask some questions that I am hoping will stimulate some topics of discussion in subsequent articles.

For the 20 plus years that I have been a part of this industry I have been analyzing and engaging other industry professionals in the Casino Protection World to continually reinforce two things, a) Our place and status in the industry, b) Making a meaningfully contribution that is fairly and reasonablely recognized.

Surveillance has many nicknames that I have to say I refer to with a sense of endearment that only comes with decades of service, We are the "All Seeing Eye", "Eye in the Sky" or my personal favourite from the Muppets "Pigs in Space" and of course there are other fond references to the Surveillance Professionals that faithfully fight crime at every turn of the card, I think we are affectionately referred to as "those @#$%#@&* upstairs"! "They said you did …."!(Why the names? Why the blame?)

The real catwalk;
Back in '84 when I first started in the business I was naïve to the way Casinos operated. I was introduced to my Surveillance counterparts and of course our secretive Director who everyone thought worked for the Secret Service….. and maybe still does, he still wears that microphone in his ear!

The Surveillance room was small with two consoles, complete with ashtrays and bullet proof AD keyboards. The room was dark (the cigarette smoke didn’t help) and manned, yes I said manned, I make no apology for not being politically correct as the department was entirely staffed by men, mostly ex military (our director was ex Marine, don’t forget the Secret Service rumours). At the time it was considered that ex military/law enforcement members made good surveillance staff!

Question – "Are ex military/law enforcement better suited to this industry and Why?"

In those heady early days I was considered a "greenhorn" or is that a "Red Chip" operator? As compared to Green or Black Chip.
Not long into the job I once made the mistake of turning the lights on in the Monitor Room; the screams were reminiscent of a colony of vampires being exposed to deadly sunlight. They were horrible enough to still be remembered today.

Question – "Why is it always dark in a Surveillance Monitor Room?"

The best part of the job then was the Catwalk, man I loved that time. I would grab my radio and binoculars and off into the darkness I would go. The monitor room was good, don’t get me wrong but the old domes were like monster bubbles with large Black & White tube cameras that panned at 6 degrees per second (12 if you knocked every second tooth out) and working out roulette payouts was murder trying to decipher shades of grey! If only I knew then what I know now, the old B&W Camera has given way to colour and tiny domes that can spin 360, do "loop de loop" and follow people as if they had an instinct of their own, Analogue has succumbed to digital wizardry Yet, there always seems to be "shades of grey" in our world!

Question – "Why do we still operate with "Shades of Grey"?"

On the catwalk I am always searching for a good game to watch while trying not to "brain" myself on low beams and pipes, at the same time watching out for prostrate (alert/sleeping) surveillance personnel in my path. Night goggles would have been a valuable asset!!!

Finally I find myself a good roulette game. In glorious colour I settle into my chair with binoculars at the ready. I call in the game so that the guys can "put it up for me" on a monitor, (back in "those days" we didn't have full table coverage)

Question - "Has full gaming table coverage been positive or negative for the surveillance departments. Has it killed or improved productivity/pro-activity?"

Settled into my game watching attentively through my binoculars, no telephones to disturb me, darkness to shield and black one-way glass protects my identity from the prying eyes of "the customer", my radio within easy reach so I can call in the "Obs" (observation to those of you not in the know) Perhaps this time I will detect that band of Roulette past posters that "terrorize" casinos worldwide. I still love the thrill of the stakeout, the chase, and the gratification of the catch.

Question: (why am I still waiting and watching for the same people I watched and waited for 20 years ago – don’t these guys ever retire?) – Now that’s a question for another time!

Ok, I think you have the picture, I am watching my game, checking the payouts, buy-ins, watching for past posts, ensuring the chipper is not palming – I think I am doing a pretty good job. Suddenly out of nowhere the Director arrives, standing over me like a lion with its prey. I'm thinking; where did he come from? How did he find me? Maybe, he was directed via his hidden ear receiver! Then the realization hits me, damn, I'm watching roulette. I cringe a little because I know what is coming next; "Son, what’s the count on that table!" he barks at me. I'm paralyzed with fear and doubt, I know I should have kept half an eye on the Blackjack next to me, but then I recall what some of the "old timers" told me. "True 2" I reply, with disguised confidence. With that answer the director nods knowingly and fades into the darkness. How does he always know the count (on every table!) that ear piece is truly remarkable I surmise.

A little shaken by the encounter with our Director I clumsily turn back to my game chastising myself for nearly getting caught out and amazed that I guessed the "true count".

Question –"Why is it always 'true 2'?"

Turning, I knock my radio that is perched on the edge of the catwalk, I try to grab at it but only make things worse, the radio falls to the glass roof with a loud thud. I shrink into the catwalk further as the noise causes the patrons gathered around the roulette table to gaze searching upward in my direction, for a moment I feel their eyes on me fearful that I have given away my position and that suddenly one-way glass no longer works. The Pit Boss, a young brunette previously a "bunny" from the Playboy Club in London is startled by the noise. She was correcting an error on her computer screen, the noise making her jump causing the correction fluid to go everywhere!

I reflect back on my early times in surveillance with fondness, not because it was new and exciting, twenty two years on, the hairs on the back of my neck still rise when a scam is detected or thief caught or my team is working well, I love it! I think it is/was due to the uncomplicated nature in which we operate.

We didn't have the fancy spreadsheets, voice activated card counting programs, roulette wheel bias computers, shuffle machines, smart shoes, self activating cameras, virtual matrix's, digital recording, 52” plasma monitors. Surveillance operators could work out bets without calculators and knew what a 'true 2' meant; need I go on?

I know I am at risk here of sounding like an "old warhorse", a bit like my old boss; who coincidently I found out later wasn’t Secret Service and the discrete ear piece was a hearing aid – he was "deaf as a lamp post"!

Let’s recap and ask ourselves these questions:

Has technology dulled our 'edge'?
(Are we lazy? Have our brains gone to sleep?
Has full gaming table coverage helped or hindered surveillance?
Why Surveillance is still a male dominated environment and is this good or bad?
Why the names? Why the blame?
Why do ex military/law enforcement make good surveillance staff, or do they?
Why was/is it always dark in a Surveillance Monitor Room?

Date Posted: 20-Aug-2006

William F Bonar, Regional Director - Surveillance, Venetian Macau Ltd. Sands Macau S.A.R. P.R China. Mr. Bonar's Casino experience has seen him involved in opening some of the biggest table gaming operations in recent years, instrumental in developing and driving new technologies specifically in the surveillance field of Digital CCTV and Gaming table interfaces to CCTV.

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