Saturday, May 14, 2005

In Las Vegas, 'smile', you're always on camera

From the moment a visitor to Las Vegas gets out of the plane he or she is tracked by video cameras everywhere except inside their hotel room. It is the city where bright lights and big brother never sleep.

The city's airport has three times as many cameras as any other US airport, chiefly to keep a watch over the numerous slot machines that crowd the facility right up to the arrival and departure gates.

Even inside a taxi, when the visitor sits in the back seat a white light comes on beneath the rear view mirror to indicate that every movement is being videotaped.

"It's brand new, we've had it for two weeks. It's supposed to make us safer, but lots of customers complain about it. Drivers don't like it, don't like to be under watch all the time," said cab driver Yodi Soliman.

Las Vegas has successfully used the "What happens here, stays here" slogan to boost tourism. But public agencies and private security firms that handle all the filming do not miss a beat.

"In the cabs, the video stays in a recorder in the car, not beamed back to the cab company. The video is only downloaded by the cab company if, in fact, there's a problem. We could see these images if there is a crime," said Las Vegas Sheriff Bill Young, who stressed that cab companies wanted the video cameras installed.

Security personnel at all major casinos wear a tiny camera on a buttonhole or a shoulderpad. The images are broadcast to a control centre and, if necessary, to police, said a hotel security agent.

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