– January 28, 2015

In Vegas, eye in the sky guards money, not guests

(AP) — Hotel maid Brandi Patrick was chased down the hallway at the Flamingo casino last year by a nearly naked man. She said she had to lock herself in a cleaning closet and, as the man rattled the handle, fumble around in her pockets to find her cellphone so she could call security.

She said she's haunted by the thought of what might have happened if she hadn't had her phone. "Something could happen and no one would know it 'till the end of the shift," she said.

Las Vegas casinos — some of the most closely-watched spaces in the world — don't have video cameras in guest room hallways, an absence that hotel workers like Patrick, patrons and prosecutors say can act as a green light for crime.

Casino bosses say there is no need for extra security: America's playground boasts more cameras per square foot than any airport or sports arena in the country, with thousands of high-tech lenses watching the gambling floors, lobbies and elevators.

All four major Strip casino operators, however, declined further comment.

Closed circuit "eye in the sky" cameras hidden behind plastic ceiling domes are omnipresent in pop culture portrayals of Sin City. They play a pivotal role during the heist in 2001's "Ocean's Eleven" and in the reconstruction of a crazy night in the 2009 buddy comedy "The Hangover."

Yet, The Associated Press found that 23 of the 27 major Strip casinos have no surveillance in hotel hallways or elevator landings. All but four of the 27 hotels are owned by MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment Corp., Las Vegas Sands Corp. or Wynn Resorts Ltd.

The AP arrived at the tally by interviewing casino officials and visiting the hotels that wouldn't comment. Only Caesars Palace, Planet Hollywood, the MGM Grand and Tropicana Las Vegas monitor the halls above the gambling floor.

"People have a false sense of safety when they go to a casino," security consultant Fred Del Marva said. "You think, 'I'm going to Bellagio, they have 2,000 surveillance cameras, so I'm going to be safe.' And you're wrong. The level of security at the hotel level is zero."

Tourist Allyson Rainey said she wishes she'd known no one was monitoring the hallways of Harrah's hotel-casino before her computer was stolen from her room last year. A police detective caught the thief after spotting him clutching her distinctive laptop bag in hotel lobby footage.

But Rainey said more cameras at the Caesars-owned hotel could have prevented the crime.

"The detective told us that the guy had a keycard made, and he was going from hotel to hotel," she said. "He had been doing this for the last eight years, so he obviously knew they didn't have cameras there."

Gary Selesner, president of Harrah's and Caesars Palace, said cameras cannot stand in for vigilance when it comes to preventing "door-push" crimes, where a burglar finds a room to target by pushing on doors until one swings open.

"As a hotel operator, I think what you really need is cameras in the foyer and in the elevator. That said, we are putting cameras in as we complete renovations because of door-push concerns," he said. The company has installed cameras in at least one tower of Caesars Palace.

Hotel room burglaries account for the great majority of casino crimes, and they've been on the rise in recent years, while burglaries have declined in the rest of the city, according to an analysis of police statistics.

Las Vegas Chief Deputy District Attorney James Sweetin said the absence of cameras not only encourages petty offenses such as burglary but makes more serious crimes harder to prosecute.

He wondered whether stepped up surveillance might have prevented the alleged rape of a 13-year-old boy in a hotel room at MGM's Circus Circus last New Year's Eve, or the assault of an unconscious woman at the Cosmopolitan. He said the woman's assailant avoided cameras by taking the stairs.

Housekeepers have their own scare stories. Patrick said she never reported her brush with the man in the hallway to police or her managers. Hotel officials said they would have conducted an investigation had the incident been reported.

Other hotel maids can recall similar situations, though they too say they don't report them.

In 2011, a 65-year-old maid was punched in the face, pushed into an empty guest room and raped at Bally's casino. Again, the assailant used the stairs. A man has been charged in the case, which is ongoing.

The main obstacle to increased hallway security is cost, experts say.

A midsized hotel might pay $2 million to install the system and $100,000 a year to monitor it, according to Art Steele, who directed security at the Stratosphere Las Vegas from 1996 to 2009. The casino, located between the Strip and downtown, is one of the few to install cameras in its hallways. Steele said they helped every day.

The other concern is lawsuits. If casinos set up hall cameras but ignored the footage, guests might sue for negligence, according to Les Gold, who litigates liability issues for Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp in New York City.

"When they put these cameras in, it deters crime," he said. "But to have a camera that is not monitored is a huge mistake."

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Written on 01/27/2015, 1:12 pm by MICHAEL FELBERBAUM, AP Tobacco Writer
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Written on 01/27/2015, 1:07 pm by ERIK SCHELZIG, Associated Press
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Written on 01/27/2015, 12:48 pm by Business Journal Staff
Don Warkentin has announced that he will retire from his position as president of West Hills College Lemoore in the fall.  Warkentin has served as president of the college since 2004 and has worked at the college since 1986.  Previously, he served as a teacher, coach, athletic director and administrator at Lemoore High School for 13 years.  "I enjoyed the experience and all that West Hills College has given me and my family these last 29 years," he said. "I saw the college grow to a full-fledged campus, an experience I will never forget." During his time as president at WHCL, the college grew from 1,000 students to the more than 4,500 enrolled today. Under his leadership the college also became a fully accredited institution, one of 112 in the California Community College System.  The West Hills Community College District's Board of Trustees approved Warkentin's retirement request during a recent board meeting and will take several months to conduct a national search for a new president. "You don't replace a Don Warketin," said Frank Gornick, chancellor for the college's board of trustees. "He played a significant role in the growth and development of our college in Lemoore and served our institution and the community with great distinction. He will be missed as a friend and a colleague." Warkentin is very active in the Lemoore community and was named Citizen of the Year by the Lemoore Chamber of Commerce in 2014. He is also currently a member of the Kings County Economic Corporation.  Warkentin said he expects to remain active in the community after his retirement. 
Written on 01/27/2015, 12:40 pm by Business Journal staff
The Central Valley economy waned a bit at the end of 2014, though there are indicators of improving growth for the first half of this year, according to a new report from Fresno State. The San Joaquin Business Conditions Index, a product of the Craig School of Business research associate Ernie Goss, fell to 55 after hitting a record high of 59.9 in November. An index of greater than 50 indicates an expanding economy over the next three to six months. Employment was a bright spot in the index, which is produced through surveys of people making company purchasing decisions at firms in Fresno, Madera, Kings and Tulare counties. After slipping below growth neutral for October, the regional hiring gauge climbed to 51.3 in November and  54.5 in December. About 15 percent of businesses surveyed expect layoffs in the first half of 2015. Surveyed businesses also expect a 2.4 percent wage gain for 2015. The import and export order indicators were one area of particular concern. The export index hit 38.6 in December, while import orders fell to 46.3. A softening global economy and strong dollar are expected to restrain exports in the coming months.  

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