Dragging casino surveillance into the 21st century

How Bordertown Casino's surveillance director turned out-of-date into cutting-edge

As the Surveillance Director for the Eastern Shawnees' "Bordertown Casino", I inherited a system with inadequate equipment and a department that had no training program in place. The agents had no idea what basic strategy was; report writing was done by hand and was very dismal.

The CCTV system relied on 19 Toshiba DVRs that were not designed to be used in a gaming environment. Hard drive failures were a weekly occurrence and the DVRs would dump time randomly. We could not maintain seven days of continuous recording as dictated by the NIGC.

Another problem we faced was that we had two different operating systems being used. Some DVRs used Windows XP and some used Windows 2000, and they would not communicate with each other. We had to burn our video at the individual DVR; they were not networked together.

All in all it was a very inefficient design and we were not in compliance with this system. Most of our time and energy was spent in trying to keep the DVRs operating and playing "musical chairs" with our camera cables whenever a DVR went down. My agents and supervisors were getting very frustrated with the way things were.

In March of 2007 we received an NIGC advisory bulletin outlining their recommendations for a surveillance system. The CIF rates, retention time, frames per second and an authenticating "watermark" were all discussed. Our system at that time did not meet any of the recommendations. For our DVRs to comply with these new recommendations for recording and retention, we would have had to remove 12 of the 16 cameras on each DVR unit. This would have required me to purchase an additional 57 DVRs as well as the support equipment. Not only did I not have the budget for this, but I also didn't have the room. Finally, the existing DVRs did not utilize a "watermark", so we still would not have met that part of the recommendations.

Since my surveillance vendor at that time had no other suggestions for me, I informed him that I would look for equipment and support elsewhere. He got upset and stopped supporting us altogether. Over the next year I researched several systems, met with many vendors and salesmen and learned more about CCTV than I ever thought possible. In this article I will address the things I did right and the things I did that were not so right. I hope my experiences can help someone during their search for a system upgrade or replacement.

The first thing I did was to go to my general manager and explain our needs and how we could not meet the new NIGC recommendations should they ever become regulation. He supported me from the beginning and I kept him updated of my progress and research. My first suggestion is don't ever leave your GM in the dark; you need that person on your side.

The next thing I did was to go to accounting and pull all the invoices for our current vendor. What I found shocked me. We pulled the last 27 months of invoices and I found that we had paid the vendor over $720,000 in that time. This was mostly service calls with no significant equipment purchase. My next suggestion for someone who is looking for a replacement solution is to find out what you are paying your current vendor and use that as a benchmark. Even if you're not in the market for a new system, it still is a good idea to know how much your system is costing you.

When I began emailing surveillance companies, consultants and vendors, I had no idea how popular I was going to be. Within days I was receiving phone calls wanting to set up meetings, wanting me to order equipment over the phone right then, wanting to bring demo units in so we could test them. It was a bit overwhelming and confusing. I ended up sitting through sales meetings, phone conferences, four demo units in my office, four trips out of town to visit installed systems and numerous sales calls. In all I looked at 13 different vendors and systems.

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