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Banking, Casino Executives Get First Look at New $20s

16 July 2003

by Richard N. Velotta

LAS VEGAS -- It only took a few seconds for a machine that is standard at most Las Vegas casinos to spit out a few phony $20 bills hidden among a stack of 100 authentic twenties. And casino workers are often even better at finding them -- though not quite as quickly as the machine.

Bob Yeager, director of finance at The Rio hotel-casino, demonstrated the effectiveness of the "suspect document" finder in conjunction with the kick-off of a series of seminars introducing new-look $20 bills that will be distributed in the fall.

About 100 representatives of the banking and casino industries in Las Vegas got a first glimpse Tuesday of the Series 2004 notes that will begin being circulated in October. Representatives of the U.S. Treasury, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the Federal Reserve Bank and the U.S. Secret Service teamed up to show off "the new color of money" that they say will foil counterfeiters and make U.S. currency more secure.

Although casinos say they have little trouble with counterfeiters -- on average, only two phony bills a week turn up at The Rio, a casino that takes in about $2 million a day -- the nation's currency producers are opening their educational road show in Las Vegas because of the large volume of cash that flows through the city.

The average daily "drop" at a Las Vegas Strip casino -- the amount of cash that flows through slot machines and table games in a 24-hour period -- is about $3 million. On an average day, $1,900 is pumped into the average Strip slot machine -- and there are 58,400 of them on the Strip, according to the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

The typical Strip casino employs between 75 and 100 people in cash-handling positions, such as cage cashiers and the soft-count team that gathers the money from the table game drop boxes and slot machine bill validators.

And many of them, Yeager said, have so much experience handling cash that they can tell by its feel whether it's legitimate U.S. currency or funny money.

"The ones who are really good at it can tell in an instant if it's real or not," Yeager said.

The Secret Service believes between 0.01 and 0.02 percent of the U.S. bills in circulation worldwide are phony -- about one bill in every 10,000.

With advances in digital technology that make it easier to produce counterfeit bills that are difficult to detect, federal officials are introducing new currency designs every seven to 10 years that incorporate new security features that are difficult for counterfeiters to duplicate.

When the new $20 bill is circulated later this year, it will have three key security features first introduced in the late 1990s that are easy for consumers and merchants to check:

•••

A new watermark. A faint image similar to the large portrait is part of the paper and is visible from both sides when the bill is held up to the light.

•••

A security thread. Also visible from both sides when held up to the light, the thread is a vertical strip of plastic embedded in the paper. "USA TWENTY" and a small flag can be seen along the thread.

•••

Color-shifting ink. The "20" on the lower right corner on the face of the note looks copper-colored when viewed from straight on, but tilt the bill at an angle and the numeral takes on a green hue.

The $20 bill was the first to be redesigned because it is the most commonly counterfeited denomination. A redesign of the $50 bill will be unveiled next year and the $100 bill change is coming the year after that. Federal officials are considering whether to update $5 and $10 bills. There are no plans to change the design of $1 and $2 bills.

The new $20 bill will be the same size as the existing currency, but it will have some subtle differences, including some new colors -- peach and blue fading into the light green. In addition, the portrait of President Andrew Jackson on the face of the note has been enhanced and enlarged. More of his shoulders and jacket can be seen on the new bill and his head and hair are placed higher on the bill's border.

The redesigned currency also has icons of symbols of freedom -- a blue eagle and a metallic green eagle and a shield to the right of the portrait.

Thomas Ferguson, director of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, said educational efforts would begin in Las Vegas, but he added that consumer education also was going to take a different approach as well.

In addition to the issuance of press releases and print ads, Ferguson said the new $20 bill would be the subject of television spots and public service announcements. He said he hopes for TV ad placements in time slots during which people were thinking about money -- during the airing of the "Wheel of Fortune" game show.

Representatives of the federal agencies also were taken on tours of The Rio's surveillance room so that they could see via "eye-in-the-sky" cameras how money enters the casino, how it is collected and how it is counted. Every step of the process is monitored by casino personnel and taped.

Casino officials say one of the reasons counterfeiters avoid trying to circulate large sums of money in Las Vegas is that casino patrons are under constant scrutiny and taping people with surveillance equipment increases the likelihood of a suspect being caught. In addition, local casinos have a fast-operating communications network established so that if one casino becomes aware of attempts to pass phony currency, others are immediately notified.

"We track the flow of the money in the casino," explained Tom Flynn, director of surveillance at The Rio. "If something happens here, it's pretty easy for us to back up the tape, get a nice picture of the suspect and turn it over to the Secret Service."

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