Around the clock, teams watch surveillance footage from more than 1,000 cameras covering nearly every inch of the 2 million-square-foot Maryland Live casino, which includes restaurants, a music venue and a 5,000-space parking garage.
Two hundred security officers keep watch over gamblers and escort big winners to their cars. Off-duty police boost security, especially on the busiest days when more than 40,000 people pass through the casino's doors. And local police officers patrol the area around the casino, keeping in radio contact with casino security.
"Safety and security is culturally part of everything we do" said Robert Norton, the casino's general manager. "It's part of how we attack every day."
Maryland Live, the largest of the state's four casinos, has seen the most crime — reporting to gambling regulators that police have responded to the facility more than 110 times this year — about half the number of incidents reported at all of them. Last month, Maryland Live agreed to pay $20,000 and take measures to prevent underage people from entering under a consent agreement with the state's Lottery and Gaming Control Commission.
But the level of crime at the casino and surrounding area has been far lower than even opponents had expected. For a place that has drawn in a day as many people as Oriole Park at Camden Yards can hold, "it's a remarkably low incidence of crime," said Lt. John McAndrew, a supervisor in community relations for the Anne Arundel County Police Department.
Concerns about crime fueled the anti-slots movement that tried to stop casinos at the ballot box, but Maryland voters approved expanded gambling in a referendum. Local activists continued to warn that a casino near Arundel Mills mall would bring crime to a residential area but failed to persuade the County Council to stop the project.
The casino opened last year and added poker and other table games this summer.
Wayne Dixon, president of the Harmans Civic Association that also represents the Hanover area where the casino is located, had initially opposed the casino and said many of his group's members did, too. But while some members still worry about crime, predictions of criminal mayhem haven't materialized.
"The crime is not to the degree and volume that people were concerned it would be," said Dixon, who regularly invites mall, casino and police officials to association meetings.
Residents in northwestern Anne Arundel County had feared that the casino would draw not only gamblers but prostitutes, drug dealers and thieves.
To avert crime, the casino's operators have created a security apparatus that rivals the police forces of many small Maryland counties. And they have deployed an array of security measures common in Las Vegas and Atlantic City but new to Maryland's casino industry.
Casino officials, state regulators and local police say the effort is working. Ten million people have visited Maryland Live to gamble, dine and attend concerts, yet records reflect few serious crimes and violent incidents have been rare.
From January through August, Maryland Live reported 51 thefts and robberies, the most common problem. There were 32 physical altercations and 14 drug-related incidents, according to data provided by state gambling regulators.
The data reported to state regulators includes incidents handled by internal security, some of which do not result in a police response. County police data show similar low-crime figures for the casino.
Theft is the most common crime there, and the most common type is unique to casinos: Gamblers leave slot machines to go to the restroom or buy a drink and someone uses their unused "credits" — money they have in the machine but haven't used yet — said Karen Shinham, the casino's director of security.
Shinham, who oversees a staff of 200 security officers, plus off-duty police and the network of cameras, said even credit-stealing patrons do not often get away with it.
"We've been very fortunate to be able to track down the person very quickly and we can get the money back to them," Shinham said.
Shinham and county police say they collaborate frequently, and note that they were able to solve one crime this summer through teamwork.
On a Sunday in July, a Dundalk woman reported having been followed to a casino elevator by a "nice-looking kid" who tried to grab her purse and pulled out a pocket knife. She was unharmed, saw him drive off and wrote down his license number. A Columbia woman reported being robbed in the garage minutes before.
Police and casino security reviewed surveillance footage, and Paul Johann Morin of Bowie was arrested the next day. Court records show he pleaded guilty to armed robbery and attempted robbery and was sentenced to eight years in prison.
The casinos are required to report to regulators the number of underage patrons found on the casino floor, intoxicated patrons ejected and children left unattended in vehicles. At Maryland Live, two dozen intoxicated patrons were thrown out this year and one unattended child was reported.
Through August, the casino reported that 18 underage people were able to get onto the casino floor. In September, Maryland Live signed a consent agreement with the state commission, agreed to pay $20,000 and took measures to prevent it from happening again.
Casino officials say keeping crime to a minimum makes economic sense: Patrons won't come and spend money at a crime-ridden casino.
"One of the top things, if not the top thing, is create an environment of safety," said Norton, the casino's general manager. "You can't have fun and relax if you don't feel secure."
State regulators approve casino security plans and oversee operations. Regulators also have an around-the-clock presence in the casinos and review crime reports.
"It's an expectation of ours that these places be safe and secure," said Stephen L. Martino, director of the Maryland State Lottery and Gaming Control Agency.
Asked to recall a major or violent crime at Maryland Live or the state's other casinos — Hollywood Casino Perryville, Ocean Downs Casino and Rocky Gap Casino — Martino struggled to identify even one incident. He acknowledged that that's a surprise.
"Any time you mix a large group of people with access to alcohol, there's always some people who don't do the right things," he said.
David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said casinos walk a fine line in educating customers how to prevent crimes of opportunity, such as pick-pocketing, without making them overly concerned. He said the key is to remind gamblers to be aware of their surroundings and keep hold of purses, wallets and phones.
"You have lots of people coming, often bringing money with them, which can attract opportunists," he said. "I'm sure if you went to an amusement park or any place where you have people gathering, you'd have similar crimes."
For crimes against the casino — such as cheating or theft by staff — Schwartz said surveillance is key. Schwartz said casinos must work with all levels of law enforcement, from patrol officers to the Secret Service, which looks out for counterfeit money and organized crime.
When the $500 million casino was proposed in 2009, many residents and even some local politicians were caught off guard by the proposal to put it at Arundel Mills; most thought Laurel Park racetrack 10 miles to the south was the more likely spot for Anne Arundel's casino.
Norton said anti-casino activists launched a typical propaganda campaign raising crime concerns. "It's easy to play on people's fears," he said.
But he added: "That almost never materializes."
County Councilman Daryl Jones, a Severn Democrat who represents the Arundel Mills area, recalls hearing from constituents who feared for safety. Jones said his own concerns were largely put to rest when officials with the Cordish Cos., which developed and owns the casino, offered details of their security plans.
"I think they've done an excellent job with the security at the casino and with the mall overall," he said.
McAndrew said Anne Arundel County officers meet multiple times a week with security at the mall and the casino, and police have access to surveillance centers at both venues. At any given time, the county has just three police officers patrolling the greater Arundel Mills area, but mall and casino security officers can radio directly to on-duty officers for help if needed.
"The security forces are our eyes and ears," McAndrew said, who noted that security teams at the casino and mall often include off-duty county officers working side jobs.
Anne Arundel County Police Chief Kevin Davis said the department wants to bolster policing at the Arundel Mills complex by using $2.7 million in local impact fees from casino revenue to create a dedicated team of officers who staff the Arundel Mills beats.
A core group of officers regularly patrol the mall and casino, but some shifts are filled with officers working overtime who are not regulars. Davis said when officers have a regular beat — especially on a patrol such as Arundel Mills — they become "personally more dedicated."
He said he also hopes his officers become so expert at policing Arundel Mills that one day they become a model to train other departments that handle large public destinations and casinos.
"It gives us an opportunity to up our game," Davis said.
twitter.com/pwoodreporterCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun