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Six Ways Las Vegas Security Tech Has Entered Daily Life

Categories: Science

Las Vegas' gaming industry invests in the best surveillance and behavioral monitoring technology in the world.  But casinos aren't the only ones interested in high-tech snooping.  Here's who's looking at you.  Check out Popular Mechanics' full feature on Las Vegas surveillance.

By Michael Kaplan
Illustrations by Andres Rivera
Published in the January 2010 issue of Popular Mechanics

License-Plate Reader

Many casinos know who you are before you even walk through the door.  At the self- and valet-parking areas of the Mirage, for example, cameras scan the license plates of vehicles as they enter.  Pictures of every plate are then run through optical character-recognition software.  If your plate matches a database of undesirables, the security personnel may hand back your keys and suggest you take your business elsewhere.

Beyond Vegas
License-plate scanners are now commonly deployed in police patrol cars to check traffic for suspect vehicles.

Eye In the Sky

Thousands of cameras built into the ceiling can cover more than 80 percent of a casino.  Computer-vision systems automatically scan for suspicious activity on the floor (people congregating in odd areas, unattended bags) as well as at the tables (dealer errors, cheating players).

Beyond Vegas
Similar systems are also used by airports to watch for potentially dangerous activity, as well as by retailers such as Best Buy, which uses the technology to monitor traffic patterns in stores and to harvest data on customer shopping behavior.

Smart Tables

Several systems kick in once you get to the table: Cards printed with invisible bar codes discourage deceitful players from swapping in fakes; non-obvious relationship awareness (NORA) software determines if you share enough background data with the dealer to be suspected of collusion; and analytic programs determine your skill as a player.

Beyond Vegas
Developed for casinos, NORA technology is now used by Homeland Security to look for ties between suspected terrorists.  Banks and insurance companies also use NORA to sniff out relationships between customers.

RFID Chips

Money talks in Vegas, but your chips speak in code.  Some casinos, such as Wynn Las Vegas, have high-frequency radio transceivers hidden in the chips.  The technology can be used to confirm that the chips are legit and can also be used for real-time accounting, so that management knows where the money is at all times.

Beyond Vegas
Tiny, cheap RFIDs are so pervasive that millions of people carry at least one of these trackable transceivers on themselves at all times, in the form of a corporate ID, contactless credit card or toll-collection pass.

Networked Slots

Server-based computerized slot machines allow casino management to change games and set odds remotely, then push games out to each machine from a centralized location.  When used with a loyalty card, the game can track betting patterns and deliver a customized game to the player.

Beyond Vegas
Slot machines all operate using a complex algorithm known as a random-number generator.  And the same type of program that determines jackpots is also useful for high-tech cryptography, which protects government secrets via encryption.

Cashier's Window

The cashier's window is the last line of defense against those who try to take advantage of the house.  Automated document scanners can determine if an ID is valid before a cashier dispenses a credit card advance for chips.  If things don't match up, an automatic call goes to security before the perp or cashier even realizes there's an issue.

Beyond Vegas
Real-time document verification scanners are used to instantly check the authenticity of IDs at border crossings, banks and nightclub doors.


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