Abstract: From Catwalks to Video Cameras: Casinos and the Business of Surveillance, 1950-1980

Cristina Turdean


Cheating and suspicion have been fundamental aspects of the gambling culture even from the early days of casinos in Nevada. With cash repeatedly changing hands between players and the house and without records being kept in real time due to the unpredictability of the games of chance, casinos have always struggled to protect themselves against dishonest customers and staff. In this paper I argue that casino surveillance emerged from the economically rational search of businesses for ways to protect and maximize their profits. Surveillance became a successful managerial solution—entailing new organizational structures, work practices, and the adoption of video technology—to customer cheating and employee theft, error, or collusion. Correctional and brutal in approach, the early surveillance methods focused on limiting the losses by solely protecting the game through the covert action of security staff and the physical alteration of the workplace (catwalks suspended in the ceiling above the table games). Gradually, casinos bureaucratized surveillance by creating a system of procedures and internal audit, which standardized the activity of the gaming staff and simplified the detection of cheating by the "eye in the sky."