Monday, March 08, 2010

This is likely to be one of my least popular opinions

Like most others who follow poker news faithfully, I was interested in the weekend's developments about the robbery at the European Poker Tournament in Berlin. I've been reading everything on the subject that comes my way through my usual Twitter and RSS feeds.

But this morning my friend Shamus put up a post that included an aspect of the story that I hadn't seen mentioned much elsewhere: the security provided at the hotel (not a casino) where the event was held. He quotes from a Wall Street Journal story about the incident:

The WSJ article quotes Kirsty Thompson, an EPT spokesperson, saying how the
tour “works closely with all its venues to ensure that appropriate security is
in place” and that they “will continue to do so going forward, and step up
efforts even further after this incident.”

That's one of the most laughable, palpable lies I've heard from a PR person in quite a while. In fact, the two sentences plainly contradict each other. After all, if they are already providing "appropriate security," then why do they need to "step up" their efforts in the future?

You can watch the videos of the robbery in progress and see, for example, one security guy throwing books at one of the perpetrators. If your security guards are charged with the safekeeping of more than a million dollars in cash, and they have no better weapons than books, you have utterly failed to provide "appropriate security." The pen may be mightier than the sword--but I wouldn't take that too literally. If you make your security team face armed robbers by throwing books at them, your so-called "security" is a joke.

A short time later in the video, this same security guard has one of the robbers in a headlock, but has to let him go when his masked buddy comes at them swinging what appears to be a microphone stand. Again, if the robbers can grab a microphone stand and thereby be more effectively armed fighters than your security team, you have nothing more than a sham for "security."

Look, this world is a violent, ugly, dog-eat-dog place. Only people who have failed to thoroughly internalize that fact are shocked by incidents such as this. I was naive once, too, until I was the victim of a completely unexpected, unpredictable daytime assault in, of all places, a movie theater. It changed the way I see the world. It forever stripped away my false sense of safety.

I love Hitchcock movies. One of his most frequently recurring themes is how chaos, violence, and murder can erupt in the most unexpected time and places: a casbah, a streetcar, a carousel, an amusement park, across the courtyard of an apartment complex, a motel room shower, a schoolyard. I share this view now, and understand that there is nowhere that is as safe as it appears.

Still, some violent acts are more predictable than others. Banks get hit by robbers because, as Willie Sutton so famously put it, "That's where the money is." An internationally publicized poker tournament which hundreds of people will be attending and paying for with thousands of dollars each in cash makes for what any sensible person can foresee will be a tempting target for crooks. Cash in million-dollar quantities predictably causes people to be willing to resort to extreme, daring, risky, even life-threatening means to take it. This is hardly news.

If you are going to have that kind of cash around, it is negligent not to take serious measures to protect it. A vault would be nice. Failing that, well-trained people armed with guns is the obvious choice. I remember sitting at home in Minnesota in 2005 and watching the online updates from the final table of the World Series of Poker Main Event, taking place at Binion's for the last time. When the cash was brought out in the traditional cardboard boxes to be dumped onto a table, it was surrounded by men wielding shotguns. I recall one of the posts quoting the announcer, who told the onlookers something to this effect: "If you are not one of the people with shotguns, you should probably step away from the table." I don't remember anybody trying to steal that money.

Of course, once in a while criminals are so brazen and/or stupid that they attempt to attack even well-guarded sites. But this obviously happens less than it would if there were not armed forces present. No deterrent is perfect, but both common sense and loads of empirical evidence show that the presence of lethal force is a highly effective deterrent to crime.

Throughout human history it has been the law that if you engage in or credibly threaten a potentially lethal attack on an innocent person, he is entitled to defend himself by any means necessary. You effectively forfeit your right to live. When those men entered the hotel wearing masks and carrying guns and machetes (I find the initial reports of hand grenades to be pretty unbelievable; that would be an incredibly stupid choice of weapon for their purposes), implicitly and/or explicitly threatening to kill anybody who got in their way, they should have been met with overwhelming counterforce. They should have been shot where they stood by security forces who were sufficiently skilled with their arms to take out the criminals with the least possible risk to innocent bystanders. Had that happened, then I would agree with the EPT spokesperson that they had provided "appropriate security." Nothing less meets that description.

What's more, that outcome would have been a positive benefit to the wider society. Nobody would mourn the loss of thugs like them. The world is far better off without such people in it.

Now, maybe there are laws in place that limit the use of firearms for defense in a hotel in Berlin. I don't know. But if there are, then the obvious answer is that you don't choose that site to host a poker tournament. Genuinely appropriate security should be as non-negotiable a part of picking a site as, say, the availablity of poker tables and dealers and chips. It clearly wasn't in this instance, and only the tournament organizers can be blamed for that.

Whatever else the EPT may have done right, it utterly failed in providing "appropriate security," no matter what lies to the contrary its PR hacks may spew for public consumption.


Anonymous said...

But they were REALLY heavy, hardcover books!!

Anonymous said...

Well - this was in Europe.....aren't most if not all police unarmed to begin with. I'm not sure of the gun laws in Germany, but I'd bet that the security guards would not even be allowed to have weapons.

I'll have to do some web searching but I bet armed robbery is very rare..

There are some who call me... Tim said...

I hope they were the later Harry Potter books (or at least Stephen Kings), not those tame years 1-3...

With the title including "least popular opinion" and the pic of the guns, I thought you would be writing about letting players carry loaded guns at the table. I think that would have been unpopular. But requesting that an organization deter armed robbery with sufficient security? Kudos!

Wolynski said...

Have to disagree on this one. Guns are not as prevalent in Europe as they are here - English policemen don't wear them on a daily basis and a good thing, too. Violence breeds violence.

Guns are not the solution. No one got hurt and the tournament resumed. Can you imagine poker players caught in a gun fire? Hellmuth shot in the head? Wait a minute, maybe I'm for guns after all.

tofu the other other white meat. said...

This would never happen in big " T" little exas.

Anonymous said...

I don't think any Vegas casinos have armed security anymore. The cost of insuring armed private security has apparently become insane. Chatting with a fellow over the poker table at Wynn one day, he said he ran a private security company, and it cost him something like $30K/yr *PER EMPLOYEE* to insure armed guards. Unarmed guards cost him a few grand a year.

Sahara was about the last major property I know of the guards still carried guns. They got rid of them a while back.

So I really don't think if this robbery had been attempted in Vegas that things would have gone radically differently. It's simply cheaper to let the bad guys take the money and go, than to risk injury to customers or staff.

Will Vanders said...

The security there was great. And poker is all a game of luck.

Anonymous said...

Ya gotta give credit to the security guard with the guy in the headlock though. I mean hell, if you were a rent-a-cop without a gun, how hard would you try?

astrobel said...

Violent attacks of this nature are rare in Europe. When something like this happens you just hand the money / goods away and let the police take care of the chase / investigations.
At the end of the day nobody gets hurt and it's only money and goods ( which often are insured anyway ). Look at the bigger picture, money and goods are easily replaceable, human life / well-being is priceless.
If you grow up in a society in which weapons are something you only see in American movies you are much less likely to pick up one yourself.

Anonymous said...

I'm german, and I can tell you that no civilian, regardless if he is part of a private security team, is allowed to carry deadly firearms. There are small exceptions, but in general, security teams are conditioned in hand-to-hand combat, hence the one guy in the video wrestling down one of the attackers. Now I don't know if it would have been legally possible to hire actual police forces (they are of course allowed to carry guns for protection), but I guess incidents like this are so unprecedented in germany (and generally in most european countrys where gun use is prohibited) that no one predicted this to happen.

Anonymous said...

I have to relate an incident that occured at a simular venue that I attended in Kowloon, China. Local police were hired as security and they all carried Remington 870 shotguns (not something you would want to see discharged in a crowded room). During the event some sort of disturbance occured and even the waiters and other hotel help drew hand guns !! NO Robbery occured.

Rob C said...

I have at least 5 friends who work for security at Bellagio, and if something like this happens there, they are instructed TO DO NOTHING. They are told not to try to stop them, especially if the robbers are armed. All the money is insured anyways.

Lucypher said...

I'm with you, Grump. The only good robber is a dead one. I've no sympathy for violent criminals and dead ones no longer commit crimes. The idea that it is somehow wrong to shoot and/or kill a violent criminal seems likely to embolden more potential robbers.