Dragging casino surveillance into the 21st century

How Bordertown Casino's surveillance director turned out-of-date into cutting-edge

My first big mistake was that I naively thought that all the vendors would be upfront and honest about the strengths and weaknesses of their systems. It didn't take long to figure out that vendors are not going to clue you in to the weaknesses of their systems. I eventually took to educating myself and I suggest to anyone going through this that you educate yourself on each of the products or solutions being offered. Learn everything you can about DVRs, HDVRs, blade systems, switches and power supplies.

My next mistake was thinking that all vendors and salesman were experts in this field. I met with people who were experts in CCTV, experts in surveillance equipment and with people who had no idea what they were talking about.

In one case I received a phone call from a gentleman who wished to demo a DVR for me. He was located 8 hours away by car. We had a conversation about what I needed. We discussed CIF rates, frames per second, video compression and more. He assured me he had what I needed.

He arrived the next day and hauled two very large boxes up the elevator into my office. As he began unpacking I asked him about retention. He said they could do the 14 days, just like I needed. Good. I then asked about the frame rate, and he assured me it would be 30 frames per second. Better. When I asked him about recording at 4CIF, he got a blank look on his face and asked me what that was. Uh-Oh. I went on to explain how the "CIF" rating defined the horizontal and vertical pixel resolution. He called his boss and asked him. The sales guy in my office ended up having to explain it to his own boss. After he got off the phone, he said that the DVR "probably didn't have that ability." I shook his hand and thanked him for coming down.

Some of the people I met were genuinely nice and I felt really wanted to help; others were overzealous and came off a little creepy. In one case of an out-of-town sales meeting, my first shift supervisor and I was offered the services of a "female companion" during our stay. We laughed at that and thanked him for the offer but told him we would need to call home and ask our wives permission and we didn't think that was a call we wanted to make.

That wasn't the only odd thing to happen to us on that trip. Our new travel planner booked our hotel room. She put us up in the city's only hotel that caters to the gay and lesbian community, and it had two gay nightclubs and a gay massage parlor. Now I have nothing against the gay and lesbian community, it's just not our lifestyle and we felt a little out of place. To this day our casino travel planner claims it was an accident but she laughs each time she says it.

My next suggestion is if you have to travel out of town overnight, stay in a chain hotel or motel. It may be a little more expensive but it's a more conservative crowd. Overall my search for a new surveillance solution was a positive experience. I learned more about CCTV than I thought I wanted to know and have ended up with some good business relationships and long-term friendships.

After sitting through the sales calls and meetings for several weeks I sat down with my surveillance shift supervisors and began to discuss the pros and cons of each product or solution. I decided to narrow down the list to the top five possible solutions for my presentation to the Tribal Business Committee. The list was made up of the five top solutions based on price, scalability, ease of use, maintenance, and customer support.

The five on the list weren't necessarily the cheapest solutions I came across. That would be my next suggestion, take all factors into consideration. Don't choose based solely on price. You usually get what you pay for. Also understand that the first and usually the second quote you get from a vendor is not the final price. They are all interested in making a sale, so price is very negotiable.

The final list of five was Instek, Synectics, NICE Systems, Datacom, and Pelco Endura. I felt that each one met with most of my requirements in one-way or another. Some were strong in customer support but required too much power or space; some were very scalable but the user interface was a little complex. I sat down and charted each of their strengths and weaknesses.

In the end the Datacom solution was clearly our best choice. It is an IBM server based solution and comes with IBM's outstanding customer support. It will easily grow with our needs and is extremely user friendly. It was also very budget friendly.