Casi­nos are not al­ways watch­ing after all

Mass shoot­ing re­veals gaps in Las Ve­gas’ vaunted se­cu­rity.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Matt Pearce, Jaweed Kaleem, Melissa Ete­had and Richard Win­ton

LAS VE­GAS — The casino ho­tels on the Las Ve­gas Strip, with all their glitzy de­lights, aren’t just palaces of dis­trac­tion. They’re minia­ture sur­veil­lance states.

A typ­i­cal fa­cil­ity might be armed with thou­sands of cam­eras, which watch gam­blers as they en­ter, while they play and when they leave. The footage is stored as po­ten­tial ev­i­dence and mon­i­tored by in­ter­nal se­cu­rity forces who are pre­pared to dis­patch a re­sponse within mo­ments in case of prob­lems.

“In Ve­gas, ev­ery­body’s gotta watch ev­ery­body else,” Robert De Niro said in the 1995 drama “Casino.” Deal­ers watch the play­ers, pit bosses watch the peo­ple watch­ing the deal­ers, and the “eye in the sky” — the cam­era — watches over all.

The thought of beat­ing that eye in the sky has in­spired a gen­er­a­tion of glam heist movies, start­ing with “Ocean’s 11.”

But now, ques­tions are mount­ing over a very dif­fer­ent type of crime than the grift­ing and grab­bing scams Ve­gas has al­ways been ob­sessed with — the mass shoot­ing mounted on Oct. 1 from the 32nd floor of the Man­dalay Bay Re­sort and Casino.

It turns out, one place the casino’s cam­eras don’t have eyes is the net­work of hall­ways inside the Man­dalay Bay ho­tel. That’s where gun­man Stephen Pad­dock, 64, of Mesquite, Nev., shot a Man­dalay Bay se­cu­rity guard, Jesus Cam­pos, at 9:59 p.m., about six min­utes be­fore Pad­dock started fir­ing at a crowd of thou­sands of concertgoers gath­ered be­low, an at­tack that killed 58 peo­ple and in­jured nearly 500 oth­ers.

As pre­cious min­utes ticked by, and Pad­dock turned his at­ten­tion to aim­ing a bar­rage of rapid-pace gun­fire at the crowd, it was not un­til 10:17 p.m. that po­lice were able to pin­point Pad­dock’s lo­ca­tion and ar­rive on the floor where he mounted the at­tack. But they were too late. The dam­age had been done. For rea­sons that re­main un­known, Pad­dock had al­ready stopped his at­tack.

Where was ho­tel se­cu­rity?

Both the po­lice and ho­tel man­age­ment have de­clined to an­swer ques­tions about whether the ho­tel in­formed po­lice that the se­cu­rity guard had been shot. And rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the vic­tims are al­ready ask­ing ques­tions.

“Get your iPhone, put it on the timer,” said Chad Pinker­ton, a Hous­ton-based lawyer rep­re­sent­ing a 21year-old shoot­ing vic­tim in the first of what are ex­pected to be many law­suits. “Run six min­utes. See how long it is. I’ve done it. It’s a long time.”

For much of the 20th cen­tury, casino se­cu­rity was vis­i­ble and per­sonal. Guards walked on cat­walks over­look­ing the play­ing ta­bles and the gam­blers, keep­ing their eyes on the tremen­dous amount of cash and chips flow­ing through the busi­ness on a daily ba­sis — a rich tar­get, lit­er­ally.

“Back in the day, se­cu­rity was armed,” said Ge­orge Joseph, pres­i­dent of World Casino Con­sult­ing and a for­mer direc­tor of sur­veil­lance at Bally’s. “Now they have less per­son­nel who are car­ry­ing firearms, sim­ply be­cause of the li­a­bil­ity is­sues. In the day, we would chase some­body down .... Now, you’re wor­ried if he starts run­ning and knocks over a cus­tomer, a lit­tle old lady play­ing a slot ma­chine, you’re li­able.”

To­day, casino heists are rare, but not un­heard of. In 2010, a thief at the Bel­la­gio swiped $1.5 mil­lion in casino chips, in­clud­ing $25,000 chips known as “cran­ber­ries,” and sped off on a mo­tor­cy­cle.

In March, a group of well­dressed men in masks mounted a smash-and-grab rob­bery at the Bel­la­gio’s high-end jew­elry store, lead­ing to a mas­sive armed re­sponse by Ve­gas po­lice. Guests rushed out­side amid fears of an ac­tive shooter.

Casi­nos have spent decades per­fect­ing their se­cu­rity against such events.

Casi­nos like Man­dalay Bay “spend mil­lions and mil­lions of dol­lars on se­cu­rity,” said a sur­veil­lance ex­pert who helped in­stall an early ver­sion of Man­dalay Bay’s se­cu­rity sys­tems after it opened in the 1990s. The sys­tem he in­stalled had close to 1,200 cam­eras, and he guesses Man­dalay Bay has about 3,000 cam­eras now.

“They’re all record­ing 24/7. Any­body who walks through that door is an as­set. They’re going to take care of their as­sets,” said the ex­pert, who de­clined to be iden­ti­fied be­cause of con­cerns of fu­ture lit­i­ga­tion.

But hall­ways can be dif­fi­cult for se­cu­rity cam­eras to cap­ture — they might be too long or too dark to show what’s ac­tu­ally hap­pen­ing — so ho­tels in­stead put cam­eras on bot­tle­necks like el­e­va­tor banks. “Typ­i­cally they want to see who’s com­ing onto the floor and off the floor, and they can tell now who goes into rooms with the key­cards,” the ex­pert said.

The big­gest threat to the casi­nos’ op­er­a­tions to­day, the one se­cu­rity per­son­nel are trained to be watch­ful for, ap­pears to be per­son­al­in­jury law­suits.

In 10 years at Bally’s, “we saved more money on li­a­bil­ity claims than we ever did on ta­ble game cheat­ing,” said Joseph, not­ing that casino footage be­came an im­por­tant way to fight per­son­al­in­jury law­suits.

One of the pub­lic’s few win­dows into Pad­dock’s his­tory in casi­nos comes from a slip-and-fall law­suit that Pad­dock filed against the Cos­mopoli­tan Ho­tel in 2012. And yes, there was video of Pad­dock’s fall.

Pad­dock lost the law­suit in arbitration largely be­cause the footage showed other cus­tomers pass­ing the area with­out any prob­lems. The house, and its sur­veil­lance sys­tem, won.

Yet while Pad­dock’s ex­ten­sive time in Las Ve­gas as an avid gam­bler — which would make him prob­a­bly one of the most visu­ally surveilled peo­ple on Earth — has given in­ves­ti­ga­tors a mas­sive amount of ev­i­dence to sort through, lit­tle of it has ap­par­ently been fruit­ful in help­ing es­tab­lish a mo­tive.

Clark County Sher­iff Joe Lom­bardo said in­ves­ti­ga­tors had com­piled 200 “in­stances” of Pad­dock mov­ing around Las Ve­gas be­fore the at­tack, but he was al­ways alone.

Some crit­ics have also won­dered why ho­tel se­cu­rity did not no­tice Pad­dock bringing in at least 10 suit­cases filled with guns.

“It will be very im­por­tant to look at the train­ing for the se­cu­rity guards in the ho­tel who were there in the five days be­fore,” said Mo Aziz, an­other at­tor­ney rep­re­sent­ing a Cal­i­for­nia vic­tim, Paige Gasper.

Be­fore Pad­dock’s shoot­ing ram­page be­gan at 10:05 p.m., Cam­pos ra­dioed and called se­cu­rity on a ho­tel phone about a gun­man in the build­ing, Clark County As­sis­tant Sher­iff Tom Roberts said this week. Of­fi­cers were al­ready in the build­ing on a dif­fer­ent call.

Yet as Pad­dock rained bul­lets down on the crowd for 10 min­utes, po­lice au­dio dis­patches re­vealed wide­spread con­fu­sion among of­fi­cers at the scene, who had not re­ceived Cam­pos’ alert and were ur­gently try­ing to fig­ure out where the gun­fire was com­ing from.

The of­fi­cers who did zero in on Man­dalay Bay did not im­me­di­ately know where Pad­dock was, and had be­gun their search on the floor be­low him. “I’m inside the Man­dalay Bay on the 31st floor,” one of­fi­cer ra­dioed about 10:14 p.m. “I can hear the au­to­matic fire com­ing from one floor ahead. One floor above us.”

Ac­cord­ing to po­lice, the first of­fi­cers ar­rived on the 32nd floor at 10:17 p.m. — two min­utes after Pad­dock had stopped fir­ing. Cam­pos was there wait­ing for them. “They weren’t aware of him be­ing shot un­til they met him in the hall­way after ex­it­ing the el­e­va­tor,” Lom­bardo said Mon­day.

Roberts also re­vealed this week that the ho­tel had dis­patched its own armed se­cu­rity team, which ar­rived on the 32nd floor about the same time as po­lice.

The lack of cam­eras in the hall­way has made it dif­fi­cult to nail down a pre­cise time­line of events, and in­ves­ti­ga­tors promised an up­dated time­line on Fri­day.

Ex­perts on se­cu­rity say the nor­mal pro­to­col for casi­nos is to call po­lice im­me­di­ately for help when an armed threat presents it­self.

Bild / Po­laris

A HALL­WAY in Man­dalay Bay Re­sort and Casino. The ho­tel does not have se­cu­rity cam­eras in its hall­ways.

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