The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, led to a rethinking of what security meant in Las Vegas, which fell off an economic cliff when people were suddenly afraid to travel.
The attacks led to a 14-month slump in Las Vegas gaming revenue and visitor count and made enhancing security a priority for the resorts.
“There was always a general concern for large public gathering spaces. This kind of thing changed the equation,” said Alan Feldman, a longtime casino executive and currently a fellow at UNLV.
Feldman, who was chief spokesman for MGM Resorts at the time of the attacks, said the gaming industry “already had a very longstanding relationship with federal authorities” in dealing with security issues and crimes such as money laundering.
After the terrorist attacks, “that definitely increased and got more sophisticated both at the property level, and in terms of Metro’s capabilities.”
Las Vegas was already a pioneer in the use of facial recognition and video surveillance in 2001, but the national concern for safety that arose after the attacks led to improved tools, Feldman said.
“Security is one of those areas of casino companies that has been in a fairly constant state of change dating back into the ‘40s. It has always evolved,” he said. “Now 9/11 pushed it forward maybe a little bit faster, in part because I think it pushed technology providers outside of Las Vegas faster, and therefore made technologies available.”
The new technology allowed casinos to create sophisticated surveillance environments around their properties, said UNLV Professor David Schwartz, a gaming industry historian who once worked in hotel security in Atlantic City.
“My rule of thumb is whenever you get within about three blocks of a casino, assume that somebody could be watching you because the external cameras can zoom,” he said. “The cameras can pick up something as detailed as the serial numbers on bills.”
On the business side, Schwartz said that after Sept. 11, casino properties needed to overcome the public’s reluctance to travel. The response, he said, was greater diversification of amenities on the Strip as resorts strove to create must-see attractions.
“You see that really being amplified in that five years or so after 9/11, and you also see nightlife and nightclubs really start to break out in that period,” Schwartz said.
David Schwartz, professor and gaming historian, UNLV; Alan Feldman, longtime gaming executive, UNLV distinguished fellow
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