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Las Vegas Safety Tips

Watch Your Cash

Judith, a computer support technician from Simi Valley, Calif., was on her best roll ever in Las Vegas. She had parlayed her $500 bankroll into $7,000, mostly at craps, and was trying for more at a hot table in a downtown casino.

"I had my purse on the rack underneath the chip rack," said Judith, who asked us not to use her last name. "And I was keeping my knee against it."

As is often the case at a craps table where the numbers are hitting and players are cheering, people were pressing against Judith trying to get in on the action. While her attention was riveted on the dancing dotted cubes, the purse disappeared. Judith noticed it after she "colored up" -- changed smaller-denomination chips for larger ones -- and reached down for her bag.

"My heart just dropped. You just don't believe it," she said. "If it hadn't been for the money that I won, it would have been worse. That cushioned it a little."

Unfortunately, Judith's experience is hardly unique. Travelers anywhere have to be careful to protect their cash and belongings, but a casino can be particularly treacherous territory.

Money is changing hands at a feverish pace. Cash is lying around in buckets of coins or as piles of chips. Then, of course, there is the mesmerizing spell that gambling can cast, creating a distraction that becomes a crook's accomplice.


Jim Blair, executive director of security at the Mirage in Las Vegas, and Danny Wright, director of security at Caesars Atlantic City, have seen it all too often.

"The interesting thing is that people feel safe here in Las Vegas," Blair said. "And that feeling is justified. People are relatively safe here. They're walking around with $10,000, $15,000 in their pockets believing there's safety in numbers. But it doesn't take much to become that one case."

Even with the ubiquitous cameras that watch casino floors and patrolling security personnel, casino patrons are vulnerable to packs of well-rehearsed thieves. Perhaps the most common casino ruse is the "distract and grab." One thief tosses a couple of coins or chips on the floor and asks the victim whether they are his. While the target bends over, the thief's partner grabs a bucket of coins or lifts a fistful of chips.

"Sometimes, they'll actually hit you in the ankles with the coins, and your first reaction is to look down," Wright said.

Both security experts have suggestions for thwarting crooks.

Keeping a thick rubber band around a wallet makes it tougher for a pickpocket to slip it out. A wallet also is safer in a front pocket than in the back.

  • Slot-machine players should keep their accumulated cash as credits in the machine until they are ready to cash out. If a player does have a pile of loose coins, the money is safer in the machine's tray than in a bucket where a thief easily can snatch it and run.
  • Patrons with purses should keep them on their laps rather than on the floor or wedged between slot machines, where a thief on the other side can reach them.
  • If chips begin to pile up, exchange them for a higher denomination and put them away securely.

Judith, whose purse was recovered in the rest room of another casino but minus the cash, now knows what she'll do if she ever scores big again: change the cash into traveler's checks or put it in the hotel's safe at the front desk.

"I've just never won that much again to do it," she said.

Some casinos have special hooks that slide under the padded armrest at a blackjack table. Patrons can wrap the strap of a purse around the hook and have their bags in front of them. Not all casinos offer the contraption, but it pays to ask. Folks who regularly visit casinos might consider investing in a travel blazer that has zippered inside pockets. They're made for men and women and found in travel-wear catalogs.

"While Las Vegas and Reno casinos are among the country's safer tourist destinations - Vegas has cut its tourist-related crime total to less than half of what it was four years ago - the simple fact is, well, theft happens.

"…The latest threat to Las Vegas tourists is a Big Apple export - three-card monte games.

"…Three card-monte is a shell game using playing cards. Find the ace and win. Unlike the gambling games inside casino walls, it's a scam.

"…So, if you're Vegas bound, -don't bet money outside of a casino.

"…As true as it may be that theft happens, it's equally true that there are easy steps you can take to avoid going from visitor to victim. Here are a few tips:

"-Minimize the amount of cash you hold at any time.

"…If you're among the fortunate few who win substantial payouts, ask the casino to give you a cashier's check instead of hard currency.

"…-Don't carry a purse when you go gambling. Fanny packs are safer, but only when you leave yours strapped around your waist at all times. The best idea is to keep everything in your pockets.

…You're doing well at the video poker game and filling your bucket with bucks. Suddenly, somebody next to you drops her coins. Change flies to the floor at your feet.

"…Don't glance down even for a second. Chances are that the `fallen' coins were tossed there to distract you while an accomplice makes off with your change bucket.

"…It's not restricted to the slot banks; never take your eyes off your chips at the gaming tables.

"- It's best, when sitting at the slots, to keep that bucket between your legs. Do not place it between slot machines; another trick is to reach through from the bank of machines behind yours and grab it.

"…- Vegas is a mecca for pickpockets. -Don't accommodate them. Keep your wallet in your front pocket, wrapped in a thick rubber band that prevents it from sliding out unnoticed…"

  1. When your luggage is in your possession, treat it as if it were GOLD. Never leave these items unattended.

  2. Carry travelers checks, instead of large amounts of cash. Only carry what you will need for the day (or evening). Leave all your valuables, such as credit cards, jewelry or airline tickets, in the room safe. Write down your traveler check and credit card numbers and place this information in your room safe.

  3. Be alert. If you are in a crowded area, carry your purse (wallet) close to you and keep a firm grip on it. Do not leave purses (handbags or cameras) on the back of chairs, under tables or restroom hooks.
  4. Keep track of your hotel key. You may want to return your key to the front desk while you are out. Close you hotel room securely, even if you are going for ice. Ask a security officer to escort you to your room if you have lost your key.

  5. Use automatic teller machines in well-lighted areas of the hotel you are staying in. Walk in pairs or groups whenever possible.

  6. Make sure your family or friends have contact numbers for you while you are in the Las Vegas area. Keep in touch with them and tell them where you are going.

  7. Look for the VIVA patrol if you need directions or other assistance. The VIVA Patrol (Visitor Information, Visitor Assistance) is part of the LVMPD*s volunteer program. VIVA members wear bright yellow shirts with the VIVA logo as well as caps and can be found walking in pairs along the Strip, Fremont Street and McCarran International Airport.
  8. Stay alert and trust your instincts. If you see suspicious people loitering near your hotel room or auto mobile do not approach or confront them . Report any suspicious activity to the hotel, a police officer, a security officer, or hotel staff member immediately.
  9. In crowded areas or in situations where crowds are expected (such as show lines, buffet area, bus stop, baggage carousel etc.) be aware of your valuables. Keep your purse or luggage close to your body. In situations as these, it may be wise to carry any monies in your front pocket or use a secured "fanny pack."
  10. If you are vacationing with young children, the same rules apply. Instruct them to never talk to strangers or open doors without first knowing who it is. Make sure they know the name of the hotel, the phone and room number. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department does use a 9-1-1 system so be sure your children are familiar with it in case they become lost or separated.
  11. Three Card Monte, a game played with cards on the street or sidewalks (shell game) is a losers game. YOU WILL NOT WIN.  The persons are in essence stealing your money. There are "shills" (persons who appear to be playing and winning at the game are actually involved in the scam) who will entice you to play because they win so easily. Remember, they are in on the scam. If you play, you will become a victim and because it is illegal you may get arrested.



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