tourists on Las Vegas Strip

What Homeland Security Can Learn from Casinos

Eadington lecture explores how local governments around the country can balance security and hospitality in their venues.

UNLV Center for Gaming Research's latest Eadington Fellow will present “Protecting Critical Infrastructure: Lessons From the Gaming Industry” at 3:30 p.m. Jan. 15. at Lied Library in the Amargosa Room.

Brian Nussbaum is an assistant professor of homeland security and cybersecurity in the College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity (CEHC) at the University at Albany, affiliate scholar at the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School, and a fellow of the Cybersecurity Initiative at New America. He has worked as an intelligence analyst for New York State’s homeland security office.

Here, Nussbaum offers a preview of his talk, which is free and open to the public. 


At first glance, the problems of homeland security and cybersecurity may seem an odd fit for the Center for Gaming Research and the Special Collections and Archives at UNLV’s Lied Library, but in some important ways it actually fits quite well.

As a researcher, I focus on state and local government efforts. One of the perpetual challenges that face these governments is coordinating their efforts with the owners of critical infrastructure — from utilities and transportation systems to large malls and the hotels and arenas. Law enforcement, emergency managers, and others badly want to support the physical security and cybersecurity efforts of these infrastructure operators, but because they are often privately owned, coordination can be complicated. In fact, simply gaining an understanding many of the security needs of these infrastructure operators is hard.

My project grew out of the idea that many physical security approaches that are considered as state-of-the-art today have come out of fields like nuclear security or the protection of precious metals and gemstones. In these fields, small items that don’t need to be routinely accessed are secured behind many layers of physical barriers and alarms.

But such approaches are much less well suited to many modern security problems – like securing malls, hospitals, and schools or universities. In these situations, the goal isn’t to protect small and immensely valuable physical items at the cost of convenience and access, but rather to protect the people and the operations of the facility while still retaining a welcoming and accessible environment. It’s a much harder problem than merely layering ever more steel, concrete, locks, and fences in concentric circles.

It’s here that casinos and the gaming industry have important insights to offer — to both infrastructure owners and operators in other industries, as well as to the law enforcement and security officials who wish to support them.

Certainly, some components of casinos employe those more traditional physical security measures. But casinos are unusual because they combine some of the needs of a bank (with its vaults, cages, and lockboxes) with some of the needs of a resort hotel (the openness, appeal, and even luxury of the traditional hospitality industry). Casinos must have open doors and free flows of people to maintain profitability and keep their operations flowing smoothly.

The gaming industry has been making tradeoffs to balance security, safety, accessibility, and convenience for decades. It has insights and lessons for those thinking about securing facilities in other industries. By examining the amazing documentation in UNLV’s Special Collections & Archives, I’ve been able to learn how casino companies have understood the security challenges they face, how they’ve organized and staffed themselves to deal with those problems, and how they balance the requirements of compliance and controls, security and safety, and hospitality and access.

The resources here are really unparalleled, which is part of what makes the Eadington Fellowship so exciting. I’ve examined organizational contingency plans, security manuals, audits of internal controls, human resource and hiring documents, and internal and external assessments of both physical and information technology security, as well as company or facility policy documents that cross decades. No other collection of materials would have been able to offer this kind of scope and depth. When combined with my interviews with officials in casino security and law enforcement, I hope this material will enable some interesting new perspectives on infrastructure protection.

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