Trump Taj Mahal: High Stakes Security

Article excerpt

TRUMP TAJ MAHAL: HIGH STAKES SECURITY

WHAT IS 51 STORIES TALL AND has 17 entrances, 2,000 doors, 20,000 locks, 1,100 surveillance cameras, eight K-9 patrol teams, 120,000 square feet of gaming space, 1,250 guest rooms, 3,008 slot machines, 160 gaming tables . . . getting tired yet? . . . employee pep rallies, white tigers, 24 crystal chandeliers, four and a half times the steel in the Eiffel Tower, superstars such as Michael Jackson and Elton John, and 70 minarets? That's right--the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort in Atlantic City, NJ. The list of features alone is exhausting, not to mention the task of protecting and maintaining the world's largest casino.

The Trump Taj Mahal is the challenge of a security director's career. And for the 350 security and 31 surveillance department staff members, the days off have been few and far between since they took possession of the casino resort one month before its opening on April 2, 1990.

Michael J. Burke, director of security, came from a law enforcement background to Atlantic City's Resorts International. He moved with his colleague Lynwood B. Smith, first to Trump's Castle Hotel and Casino and then on to the Trump Taj Mahal. Smith is now corporate vice president of security at the Trump Taj Mahal.

A job some consider a nightmare of responsibility and coordination--for example, controlling an opening day crowd of 100,000 and protecting Donald Trump and Michael Jackson while New Jersey's Casino Control Commission regulators inspect the casino--Burke takes in stride.

"I love the challenge," he smiles calmly. "I wouldn't want to do anything else. The diversity is great. This is the biggest challenge of my career without a doubt."

Challenge is an understatement. The Trump Taj Mahal's atmosphere is one of barely controlled chaos boiling just below the surface. Maybe the feeling bubbles up from the gaming floor, where patrons hope every roll of the dice or pull of the lever will bring unexpected wealth. But amid the excitement flows a smoothly operating security department.

Burke oversees a wide array of security responsibilities. They include 300 uniformed security officers, 500 surveillance cameras on the gaming floor and 600 more outside the casino, K-9 teams that patrol the perimeter and parking garage, key control for the guest rooms, fire prevention, cash handling, and special events.

"This is a miniature city," Burke explains. "All these operations have to work in concert, because in this business the chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Sometimes we meet with individual departments to make sure they don't rely on security to replace good internal control. They need internal control procedures not only in the casino but also in the hotel, food and beverage services, housekeeping, the front desk, and everywhere else. That goes from the loading dock all the way inside."

Despite procedures and careful planning, unexpected complications arise in every job, particulary in security. And like everything else connected with Donald Trump, the Trump Taj Mahal's complications are big. Special events have taken Burke by surprise more than once. He credits two able assistant directors of security--Pam Romano and Walter Tirrell--and the rest of the staff with preserving his sanity.

The latest surprise was a weekend-long gambling event the casino held to coincide with Elton John's appearance in the Trump Taj Mahal's event center. The casino invited some of its best players to gamble, see Elton John, and attend a party in the newly completed grand ballroom. Invitees were divided into two groups, each of which gambled one night and partied at a Roman-style feast the other.

Burke explains the concept the week before the event: "The marketing department has a number of animals, including white tigers, elephants, and camels, for the event. Well, they're bringing the animals to the party. …