The server-based gaming experience

Players who enter Eastside Cannery Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada step into an exciting video environment, with approximately 2,200 displays used for gaming, promotions and advertising entertainment options. Behind the scenes, operators monitor more than 550 video surveillance cameras 24 hours a day, and hotel staff and guests make calls using an advanced VoIP system.

In a development that would have been unthinkable a few short years ago, all of these systems connect to a common, highly stable IP network. The technology making it possible is the Cisco Connected Gaming Solution, which includes the Cisco Video Surveillance Stream Manager platform.

An Edge to Attract Customers

Cannery Casino Resorts (CCR) operates three casinos in the Las Vegas area and one in Pennsylvania. The Eastside Cannery Resort and Casino, which opened in August 2008, is leading the industry's transformation to server-based gaming. Targeted at local residents as opposed to tourists, the casino has 65,000 square feet of gaming space with approximately 2,000 slot machines, 21 table games, a 450-seat bingo hall, poker room, and a race and sports book.

When planning the new property, the CCR IT department knew it needed an underlying network infrastructure that supported Nevada gaming industry requirements for security, operated reliably at all times and minimized management requirements. For help with planning and implementation, the IT department engaged Data Systems Worldwide (DSW) and Cisco Advanced Services. "A casino processing millions in daily wagering is well advised to invest in a reliable network infrastructure," says Ryan Peterson, Chief Technology Officer, Data Systems Worldwide.

The first step was identifying requirements for the property's network foundation:

- Meeting Nevada gaming industry requirements for video surveillance: These include monitoring gaming tables with 24-hour surveillance, providing adequate resolution and frame rate, ensuring redundancy and retaining video for the required number of days.
- Protecting guest information: Customer and gaming information cannot be accessible to hackers who might try to connect their own snooping equipment anywhere on the property.
- Automating incident detection and response: In the future, Eastside Casino wants to integrate its video surveillance systems with other physical security systems, with the goal of accelerating incident detection, assessment and response. An example is using the network to detect if a slot machine door is open and then automatically aim a camera to the appropriate area so that an operator can determine whether a response is required.
- Delivering a personalized guest experience and increasing revenue: The casino wanted to create the "wow" factor that attracts guests by using the property's approximately 2,200 networked video displays to promote restaurants and shows and announce jackpots.
- Offering server-based games: Eastside Cannery envisions its guests walking up to any video console in the gaming area and then choosing the game from an interactive menu. This requires a highly available, secure network with high bandwidth and the quality of service (QoS) to give priority to video traffic.

Eastside Cannery and DSW found the answer in the Cisco Connected Gaming Solution, which includes the network foundation, advanced security technologies and the Cisco Video Surveillance Solution.

The Foundation Network

"In gaming environments, it's critical to have a solid network that supports 24x7 operations," says Mike Day, chief information officer and vice president of IT for Cannery Casinos Resorts. "The Cisco Catalyst switches help to ensure that slot machines and video surveillance can continue operating even in the event of a switch or line failure."

DSW built the network on a foundation of 22 Cisco Catalyst 6509 switches and 500 Cisco Catalyst 2900 switches. Unique Cisco technologies such as Virtual Switching System (VSS) technology and active-active switching provide the fault tolerance needed to meet gaming industry requirements. A module for Cisco Catalyst 6500 switches, VSS connects two chassis to make them seem like one system. "This gives slot machines and video surveillance cameras divergent physical paths, so that loss of one chassis reduces bandwidth but does not interrupt connectivity," Peterson says. "The result is virtually 100-percent uptime on the circuit."

These technologies were essential because they prevent any packet loss. And loss of even one or two packets between gaming servers and slot systems - which is common with Spanning Tree Protocol - could cause an outage. "If one switch in a pair should ever go down, the other one will take over automatically, without any change to the guest experience," Day says.

Flexible, Manageable Video Surveillance

The Cisco Video Surveillance Solution that operates over the network is also based on open standards. Operators use the supplier's Video Surveillance Stream Manager to view, store and manage video from more than 550 mostly analog video surveillance cameras throughout the property. The casino uses archived video for after-the-fact investigations, viewing it over the network from any authorized console. "The property I came from had old video surveillance technology, based on VCRs," says Mark Roberts, director of surveillance for Eastside Cannery Casino. "It took hours to edit video, and you had to be a master. Cisco Video Surveillance Stream Manager makes it much faster to review video from any camera."

As an example, in most casinos when searching for video on casino and security incidents, operators have to review 8-10 videotapes to look for evidence. With a networked solution, operators can quickly rewind or fast forward video over the network to more quickly find the relevant images. And if needed, operators can quickly create a DVD for law enforcement agencies, adding a watermark to verify the recording was not altered.

Integration with Other Security Systems

The open standards-based approach gives Eastside Cannery the freedom to connect analog or digital video surveillance cameras from any vendor. "Open standards are also enabling Eastside Cannery to integrate its video surveillance system with other advanced physical safety and security technologies, for enhanced security," says Rico Sacks, with Cisco Advanced Services. The casino has already begun a pilot using the Cisco Video Surveillance System in conjunction with its point-of-sale (POS) system, enabling food and beverage managers to monitor cash transactions, keep employees honest and identify training opportunities.

In the future, the casino plans to use video analytics software in its cameras to alert operators to suspicious events that they might otherwise miss because of information overload. Other video analytics applications will enhance the guest experience. For example, people-counting software can send an alert when queues at table games exceed a certain length, enabling the casino to assign more dealers. This type of customer service intelligence can help keep players in the casino longer and in turn, increase profits.

Information Security

The security solution also helps Eastside Cannery comply with gaming industry regulations to prevent unauthorized people from connecting hubs and switches on the casino floor or anywhere else on the property, using a technology called 802.1x Supplicant.

For additional protection, Eastside Cannery uses Cisco security technologies to divide a single physical switch into more than 60 separate virtual networks for gaming devices and other systems. Other technologies, such as the Cisco Firewall Services Module for the Catalyst 6500 switch, help to prevent attacks on the slot floor infrastructure, keep hackers from impersonating authorized users, and prevent eavesdropping on traffic between gaming devices and servers. In addition, Cisco Secure Access Control Server enforces the gaming industry's requirement for users to reset their passwords every 45 days.

Transforming the Player Experience

The return on investment from the casino's IP network extends beyond security. With the gaming industry's first fully networked gaming floor, Eastside Cannery is differentiating itself by creating a more enjoyable player experience:

- Server-based gaming: "Our objective in building an IP-based gaming floor is to offer our customers more - more interaction, games, prizes, and giveaways than they get elsewhere," says Daryl Lytle, corporate network administrator, Cannery Casinos Resorts. For example, Cannery's new Splash Down / Count Down and Ricochet Rewards program, used with Aristocrat games, enables players to engage in group collaboration for bonus pools, and also enables players to collaborate to share bonus games and points. In the future, the casino will be able to push a brand-new game to slot machines without having to change the entire bank of games, which will save thousands of hours, according to Lytle.

- New marketing venue at no extra cost: The marketing department uses idle gaming monitors to announce when someone has won the jackpot, increasing excitement on the floor. And when a restaurant has open tables, Eastside Cannery can instantly advertise the discount on any video monitor in the property. "Today's slot machine is more than a game," Peterson says. "It's a marketing venue. We have a captive audience in customers who are playing a game, and can market to them on the same screen."
- Personalized customer experience: Tying together the gaming floor, player tracking system, and hotels has created a central repository of information that is helping Eastside Cannery create a customized player experience, including offering points redeemable for meals. "When a past guest walks through our doors, we like to know what games they play, their room preferences and where they enjoy dining," Day says. "This helps us offer amenities and bonuses to make their stay more pleasant."

The benefits extend to hotel guests, as well. Guests staying in suites can use their touch screen color IP phones for flight check in and more. Maids touch buttons on the phones when the room is ready for the next guest, enabling faster turnover.

Leading the Way to the Future of Gaming

What might the future hold? Perhaps you will be able to visit a restaurant and order on screen, pay by placing your credit card on the table, and even indicate which ingredients to exclude because of allergies. Eliminating the middleman between customer and chef simplifies operations. Maybe you'll make a restaurant reservation from the gaming machine so that you can play longer instead of waiting in line. Eastside Cannery might also encourage you to view your in-room energy and water usage in real-time from an IP phone, and gain points by reducing consumption.

"With its open standards-based approach, the Cisco network is the platform for video surveillance, server-based gaming, applications that enhance the guest experience, and other applications we haven't even thought of," Day says. "We're prepared for the future."

Steve Collen is Director of Business Development for Cisco's Physical Security Business Unit.