Sunday, January 09, 2011

Bellagio Insecurity

On my Final Table poker radio show, we have talked a couple of times about poker players being robbed at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. I don't mean having a big bluff pulled off against them or having someone hit a one-outer on the river to take down a massive pot. I'm talking about real crimes, in which the players had their money taken through no fault of their own nor a turn of the cards. In at least two of the cases, the thieves got away clean, and the victims got little to no help from Bellagio security.

Considering the stakes played there (and in other casinos) by even mid-level poker players, it's not unusual for a lot of people to be carrying several thousand dollars, and when you get a gun stuck in your face, you're usually going to hand it over -- although there was the story of 2004 WSOP Champion Greg Raymer, who was accosted later that year in the hallway outside his room by two men who tried to rob him. Greg managed to fight them off and get safely inside -- with the $150,000 he was carrying. That was at the Bellagio, too.

Then there was the story a few weeks ago of a man who pulled up to the north valet entrance at Bellagio on a motorcycle, talked the valet into leaving it there instead of parking it because he wouldn't be gone long, then walked through the casino with his helmet on to the craps pit, where he pulled a gun and got away with over $1.5 million in chips. He ran back to the valet area, got on his bike, and was gone.

Now, from last Tuesday, there's the story of another poker player who was robbed at the Bellagio -- and no one pulled a gun. The crime was committed right in the poker room, under those surveillance cameras, and I'm not talking about a big, successful bluff. This was a crime.

On his blog, RJ Bell writes that while playing a $5-10 no-limit hold'em game, he got up to go to the bathroom, leaving his cash ($300) and chips ($130) on the table. When he got back, it was all gone. He asked what happened to his stack and the player next to him said, "Someone walked by and grabbed it all and kept walking."

And no one stopped him.

When Bell complained, the dealer just shrugged, the floor supervisor was no help, the shift manager didn't do much more, and when security finally came, all they did was give him some forms to fill out, but no promise to return his money. Bell was lucky that, considering the game he was playing, he didn't have a lot more on the table, as most players do. I have a friend who had $4,000 swiped from his spot in the Bellagio $10-20 game a few years ago in exactly the same way -- some guy just walked up, leaned over the table, and took it, never to be seen or heard from again.

This is lunacy.

While incidents like this happen elsewhere -- including at the casinos in St. Louis -- I'm singling out the Bellagio because it's one of the nicest high-end resorts in the country, and its poker room has a reputation for some of the best games in Las Vegas (although the Venetian has given them a run for their money for a few years). That makes it a busy, crowded place, but for Bellagio personnel to take a "nothing we can do about it" attitude is bad policy, and bad business.

Simply put, the Bellagio is not living up to its responsibility to customers when it comes to their safety and the security of their money.

There are important lessons here for anyone who plays poker or carries large sums of money while gambling. I've seen way too many people flashing huge wads of $100 bills that they casually carry in their back pockets. They pull out the cash at the table, at the cage, or even in the gift shop, without paying attention to who's around and who's watching. You'd never do that at the ballpark or the 7-11, so what makes you think the casino is a more secure environment?

The other key rule is that if you're in a game where cash plays on the table (whether it's poker, blackjack, roulette, or Carribbean Stud), don't leave it there when you get up to go to the bathroom, or dinner, or anywhere more than two steps away from your seat. Casinos are not responsible for your cash! The surveillance cameras can see the size of your stack and the denomination of your chips, but they can't count how many bills you have sitting there. So, always pick up your cash when you walk away, even for a minute, and put it back in play when you return to the table.

When it comes to your chips, however, the casino should guarantee their safety. It is clearly impractical to have players pick up their chips and carry them every time they have to take a leak.

As for those surveillance cameras, remember that they're only good after the fact, and they're really there to protect the casino's money and property, not you and yours. Casinos have cameras all over the place, and it's impossible for security personnel to monitor each of them in real time. So it's unlikely that anyone is keeping their eyes trained on you and your money. They can use the footage afterward to determine what happened, but by then, as in RJ Bell's case, the thief could have easily disappeared into the crowd.

Even if there were humans watching the video feeds at all times, the cameras aren't everywhere. For privacy reasons, they're not in the hotel rooms, and they're not in the public bathrooms, either. That's why there's no footage of Scott Montgomery (one of the 2008 November Nine) being robbed in a Bellagio men's room three months ago.

None of this should dissuade anyone from going to a casino, but it should raise a red flag that makes you more cautious about those portraits of Ben Franklin you're carrying and who is around you when you take them out.

Bottom line: it's your money, so be vigilant.

Especially at the Bellagio.