Guns and Gaming in 2018: From Angry Employees to Desperate Gamblers, Violence Hit Industry Hard, Again

High crime rates were the new normal all through 2018 in Las Vegas, a city still reeling from the October 1, 2017 Mandalay Bay massacre. In fact, crime has been rising steadily in America’s gambling capital for several years now.

Venetian executives and shooting victims Mia Banks, who was killed at point-blank range, and Hector Rodriguez, who survived serious injuries, were targets of long-time employee Anthony Wrobel (seen here on surveillance video): but one of many examples of how firearms affected the casino industry in 2018. (Image: LVS/LVMPD/Casino.org)

In 2018, it was business as usual for Metro officers. With 2017 having been the deadliest year on record in Clark County, there was little let up this year.

Metro Police had investigated 171 homicides in 2017, beating the previous year’s record — and that’s excluding the 58 deaths from the mass shooting on October 1. Of those, 147 people — or about 71 percent — died of gunshot wounds.

Although comparable stats for 2018 won't be summarized until January, armed robberies appear to have spiked on the Las Vegas Strip over this past year. Strip resorts — with their open-door policies and casino cages stuffed with cash — have always been easy targets for robbers.

But unlike the glamorized sophistication of the Ocean’s Eleven Bellagio movie hit, it was mostly a procession of stick-ups by desperate men risking it all for a bag of Benjamins — and generally getting quickly caught and charged.

Some of this year's firearms crimes, however, weren't about robbing a cage, and resulted in loss of lives.

Two Venetian Executives Targeted by Angry Dealer

One of the most shocking casino industry gun crimes in 2018 was of the employee-on-employee variety, when Venetian dealer-with-a-grudge Anthony Wrobel went postal at a staff picnic.

Prosecutors assert that on April 15, 2018, Wrobel opened fire on two executives at a company picnic in a popular Las Vegas park, killing one — VP of Casino Operations Mia Banks — and seriously injuring another, Executive Director of Table Games for Sands Corp. Hector Rodriguez, before going on the run. He was apprehended by police four days later at a freeway rest stop in a small Texas town, where he had fallen asleep.

Wrobel — who is said to have had a beef with the Venetian brass over shared tip policies — has been charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder with a deadly weapon, battery with a deadly weapon, and unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.

Appearing in court in late August, he learned that prosecutors will not seek the death penalty, but life in prison with no possibility of parole is still on the table if he is convicted.

The accused killer won't learn his ultimate fate for at least a year: an October 2019 trial date was set at the summer hearing.

Murders to Pay for Gambling Debts

Lois Riess — aka the “gambling granny” — was also on the lam in 2018, after allegedly shooting and killing her own husband and later, a stranger she befriended in Florida. Prosecutors say the second alleged Riess murder was carried out with the sole purpose of assuming the victim's identity, to whom she apparently bore a close enough resemblance to pass for.

She also cashed more than $10,000 in stolen and forged checks from her late husband's business — reportedly using the money to cover her own gambling losses —  after the alleged murder.

Known to authorities in her hometown of Blooming Prairie, Minnesota as “Losing Streak Lois” for her gambling habits, Riess finally got lucky when she hit the jackpot — using her own name — at the Coushatta Casino Resort in Kinder, Louisiana, for $1,500.

But the 56-year-old was already on the run for double murder by that point, and her luck finally ran out right before she almost made the Mexican border. Riess was arrested in late April by the FBI on South Padre Island, Texas. She was indicted on first-degree murder with a firearm charges by a grand jury, and now faces a mandatory life in prison sentence if convicted. She remains in jail without bond. 

Casinos Take Stock for 2019

Along with better facial recognition technology being implemented in Las Vegas casinos in 2018, a bevy of new measures were either put in place or are being considered. The challenge for the industry is maintaining a carefree, unintrusive image with the harsh reality that times have changed and danger lurks in plenty of unobvious visitors.

As Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo told the Las Vegas Hospitality Association in October, “[Mandalay Bay shooter] Stephen Paddock didn’t look like a terrorist. No one knows what a terrorist looks like.”

While many casinos are reluctant to reveal the entirety of their security procedures, Las Vegas Security Chiefs Association President Dave Logue opined that luggage screening is almost inevitable in the foreseeable future. The days of “What Happens Here, Stays Here” seem to be giving way to more of a “We Keep You Safe Here” paradigm.

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