The Smart Approach to Protecting Casinos

For the past two years, the casino market has been flat. With the exception of a few states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland, which recently opened for casino gaming, the market is soft. Some, like John Katnic, vice president and chief operating officer, Synectic Systems, Carpinteria, Calif., see that regulatory drives the sale. Some manufacturers feel that integrators and dealers with traditional viewpoints hurt themselves. And in result, they hurt their casino clients, too.

Before an integrator bets his business on a casino project, they need to know just what is involved in casino and hospitality work. Casinos want smart systems but they also require integrators to be smart about casino systems.

A CCTV integrator is used to hanging cameras and pulling cable. Now, the industry requires integration of analog and digital equipment. In most casinos, 95 percent of cameras still are analog. Even in new builds, most cameras are analog. But point of sale (POS) and restaurant software is all digital. In addition to providing marketing data to every business unit, unifying data among departments using the right analytic tools will allow security to see things that eyes won't catch.

Compounding the difficulty of making a sale is getting into the right office. Integrators are comfortable talking to security or surveillance officers. However, the sale for integrated systems has to come from the top down-from the general manager or vice president who sees the business benefits of a smart system.

"Integrators have to learn how to manipulate, manage and affect data gathering," said Katnic. "They have to see themselves as data integrators, not just hardware integrators."

Perimeter security in transit

For Darrin Hoke, director of Surveillance, L'Auberge du Lac Casino, Lake Charles, La., it's a matter of making the enterprise smarter. "That's what needs to happen," he confirmed. He hopes for the day when the surveillance system can be used to generate business intelligence on the casino floor, for the hotel and restaurant operations. "It is not just about catching bad guys or breaches," Hoke explained. "It is helping operations with business analytics and security."
He sees the opportunity to integrate and analyze data and apply it to how well slot signage draws traffic. "There are a lot of dealers and even manufacturers who cannot do that yet," Hoke continued. While he has made good strides, he is not where he wants to be.

Floating casinos work under all of the restrictions of a land-based casino with some added challenges. For starters, the ship has to deal with naval codes in addition to the rest of the security challenges.

"There is a big difference with egress," said Chuck Miller, founder and chief executive officer of 4Tec Integration, Omaha, Neb. "On land, you have multiple exits. You can knock out a window. A steel boat is like a tuna can-you don't just walk away." In fact, there are different audible and visible notifications depending on whether the fire is in the engine room or on the third deck. As a waterborne craft, a floating casino has to meet Coast Guard inspection compliance regulations as well.

And while most agree that exterior perimeter security was still a separate network from interior smart systems, ships and boats are an exception to this rule. One example in which exterior and interior systems are linked together is merging corporate data with surveillance data. Yet, still present are a number of regulatory hurdles to such linkages in many jurisdictions.

More common is the hotel casino situation. This simply adds layers of complexity to an already complex installation.

"I am not looking to replace staff. I am looking to enhance the business and add intelligence to all of our operations. Yes, I want to be able to utilize the camera system to follow-up or investigate issues that may present themselves. But it is all about integrating together as much of the information as we can get from various systems in our database platform and running analytics," Hoke concluded. "That is what will make this a powerful tool for our business."

Examining the challenges

Those working in the business, like Tom Dallmann, president of Dallmann Systems, Jeffersonville, Ind., expect their manufacturers to build the required smarts into the software they provide with their systems. He has seen interest in casinos linking surveillance and POS. But there are challenges.

"It takes a concerted effort to work with the customer's IT people," said Dallmann. "They are the ones in charge of the cash register data."

"Casinos are their own special animal," agreed Miller. He pointed to the gaming security requirements, state regulations, the financial issues and how quickly casinos expect jobs to be completed as part of the challenge. "They want to be in the end zone before they get started," he said. "Keep in mind that casinos do not shut down at 5 p.m. They are 24/7 operations and keep a grueling pace."

"Security directors have to see themselves as more than regulatory box boys. They have to broaden the scope of their jobs and realize they have to generate revenue just like any other department," said Katnic. He confirmed that it is the job of dealers and integrators to help surveillance directors see themselves as more than visual cops.

"They have to be data cops-integrating data from everyone's departments to do the job," Katnic continued. "That is the way their job will develop."

While acknowledging that one department will pay for the surveillance system, he said every department can benefit from it.

Security requirements specific to the industry require networks separate for the gaming components than for the back-of-house operations and the IP video surveillance networks. A good example is a casino with 1,000 slot machines. Each of these machines will require a cable for the machine itself, for the card swipe on the machine and for the digital signage announcing jackpots and the likes. That means there are 3,000 cable pulls on the floor for that area alone.

Developments continue on the strip

A large-scale integration of people counting, POS system data, slot machines and time clocks is underway at the Stratosphere in Las Vegas. It is expected to be complete early in 2011.

"The theme is convergence," according to Katnic. "Integration is building momentum. As everything begins to move to digital the systems in use will begin to speak the same language," he said.

When Technical Security Integration Inc. (TSI), Oxnard, Calif., put in the system for the Stratosphere, they managed to save the casino almost a roomful of space. "They have two separate departments that monitor cameras but one matrix," said TSI Chief Executive Officer Craig "Swanny" Swankosky. Surveillance sees cameras both inside and outside but floor security sees only the gaming floor.

"We were going to divide the matrix into two rooms. But we were able to put it in with all of the digital equipment in one room," Swankosky continued. This was not part of the original plan but something TSI realized would be a big boost to the Stratosphere, given the cost of a square foot of floor space. "We eliminated 40 racks," Swankosky noted.

While TSI is one of the few integrators that guarantee no change orders as long as the overall scope of the job does not change, this was a case where they had a good relationship with the casino and saw a chance to help the client. The Stratosphere had researched IP-based systems for four years before awarding TSI.

"The big thing is communication with the customer," Swankosky said. "We tell them what we are doing, what is coming next. There are no surprises."

While they follow plans religiously, they leave room for interpretation and flexibility.

"The big thing as an integrator on any job is your relationship with the customer," Swankosky added. "If you build a relationship, when a hiccup comes they are more apt to be supportive. It pays to be nice."

Data linkage is critical

"Datavalence" is emerging as a product category in itself. It requires linking visual data-from the cameras-to transactional or alarm data. But it is not a smooth evolution. Some 99 percent of data is benign. The challenge is to recognize and act on the tiny fraction that is not.

Dallmann sees a need for convergence between the casino's IT and surveillance departments. "Surveillance and IT have to work hand in hand," he said. "IT governs the origin of the POS information."

Part of the problem is the regulatory road bumps. In many jurisdictions it is the law that the surveillance network has to be kept separate from POS or other corporate data. Many vendors are trying to present the big picture and gain approval at least for unidirectional merging of the corporate data with the surveillance data.

Hoke said he has been lucky that Louisiana's regulators are receptive to the upgrades he wants to make.

"The key is education," he said. "In some areas regulatory agencies are nervous but not here. Once we explained the plan, they were on board."

4Tec's ProgWare uses digital programming to take place the hardware.

"We zone out all of the buildings on our system," said Miller. "Internally, there is no software loaded. We program each site to do the job required."

This allows customized addition of filters, microphones and the likes to meet a customer's needs. 4TEC partners with Crestron Electronics for controls and custom programming interfaces between systems.

Not easy, but doable

It should be an easy sale. At one large casino, the surveillance chief realized that someone had come up with a scam to overstate the amount of play at some tables. Scammers were heavily 'comped' on liquor and dinners. Eventually, security realized that any single player whose buy-in was less than three percent per hour was a potential problem. A back check discovered that applying this data formula to comp deals and linking it to video would have caught 95 percent of the cases to the tune of $480,000 a year.

Marketing software and systems to catch that kind of abuse-and short payback-should be an easy sell for integrators. However, integrators have to realize they are dealing with a new product category. They must take multiple third-party system data and normalize it to a common language.

"Your clients have to see the big picture. You have to get them out of their silo and the area that is immediately under their control," Katnic said.

"Tomorrow, the successful integrator will be a data integrator," he predicted. "Selling it requires education. It is not a turnkey product. Each site has to be customized. Most important, the sale probably has to come from the top down."