Betting on IP: The Second Generation of Casino Digital Systems

While many state gaming regulators have already required the migration from analog to digital video recording, some states still allow the use of complete analog recording solutions. Even though converting an existing site from analog recording (mainly utilizing VCRs and video tape), to digital recording (HVRs, DVRs and NVRs) can be costly, many casinos find digital systems offer significant benefits like being able to quickly and easily search and review video or tie third party systems (point of sale, access control, slot management, etc.) to the surveillance network.

Some casinos are even starting to bet on all-IP systems, especially when IT departments have a say in the surveillance specifications. Most however, are still harboring fears about more costly and complex network-based IP systems and continue to play it safe by adding IP slowly. This means the integrator who can provide a hybrid digital recording solution that merges analog and IP is likely to grab the attention of most casino operators, especially when and if they can migrate slowly and on their own terms.

 

Mix of analog and IP makes sense

Tim Lyvers, chief executive officer at Advanced Digital Solutions Inc. (ADS), Catawba, N.C., is a key integrator for the casino industry and started his career as a casino surveillance technician. He is sold on a mixed digital video offering and frequently sells IP and high-definition video in the cash areas at existing digital sites. “It is worth the investment in the money areas, over table games and at the entrances,” said Lyvers. “You can get a lot more data and clarity from your video.” While he admits there is little value-add for a high-definition camera recording at back of house hallways, he explained casinos are intrigued by the ability to check for slight-of-hand tricks or identify cash denominations passed across a table.

The casino market has been active for ADS in the last 12 months. They secured contracts to install video surveillance systems from Synectic Systems Inc.—a digital CCTV hardware and software manufacturer—in five Penn National Gaming casinos, including new properties in the just-licensed states of Ohio and Kansas. Lyvers said that Synectics’ Synergy video management software is very user-friendly. “That’s a big factor with the traction they’re continuing to gain in the industry—the mapping and reporting in Synergy is easy for surveillance operators to learn and use,” he said.

One of the recent sites to deploy the ADS installed, Synectics-driven system, is the Hollywood Casino at Kansas Speedway, outside Kansas City, which does business as Kansas Entertainment LLC—a joint venture of Penn National Gaming and International Speedway Corporation. Lyvers and his team installed a mix of analog and IP cameras all recorded on Synectics’ Synergy Video Management System. This is a strategy he frequently employs not only at the Penn National projects, but also at other sites he serves. “There is an analog and IP camera mix at the Kansas Speedway property but for table games they opted for high-definition IP cameras because of the superior image quality,” commented Lyvers.

At another current ADS/Synectics project, the Kansas Star Casino in Wichita, ADS has installed an all-IP camera recording system using Pelco cameras, Synectics’ recording and video management system and an ADS design. “Kansas Star went all IP because their IT director was involved in the decision process early on,” Lyvers explained. “Because of the picture quality and detail IP cameras offer, Kansas Star requested analog components not be included in the design.”

Lyvers sees picture quality as the key driver to casinos starting to use IP cameras and he finds state gaming regulators are pushing it once they see the value. The real move will come when the states begin to mandate it within gaming regulations.

 

Analyzing costs of analog versus IP

“We are entering the second generation of digital recording systems in casinos,” said John Katnic, vice president and chief operating officer at Synectic Systems Inc., Carpinteria, Calif. “We see significant evolution in the gaming market to IP because of the advances that have been made with high definition and megapixel cameras,” he continued. “An all IP solution can be cost effective because it eliminates the need for analog video encoders and simplifies cabling. Plus, when designed correctly, it is very reliable and offers casinos the flexibility to easily add a variety of third-party IP cameras as they expand.”

The cost-benefit from IP video depends on the situation and the specification. Clearly, most casino operators would prefer to keep their legacy analog systems for as long as they can to maximize their original investment in that equipment. Factors like ease of expansion, cost of rewire, availability on existing matrix switches and image quality come into play when considering a move to an all-IP networked solution.

“On a new build, it is as cost-effective to go all-IP as it is to go analog because the money ordinarily spent on the matrix and cable goes into the network. The price of recording is the same. Digital cameras do cost more but there is savings on the encoder and of course infrastructure efficiencies of having network-deployed devices,” commented Katnic.

 

Fines for not following the rules

With the steep fines that can be handed out by gaming regulators for the loss of video, there remains concern about up-time and single points of failure within any digital system. “If you drop your network in an all-IP solution, you drop everything. It is your spinal cord,” Lyvers stated. The jackpot for a casino is to find an integrator who can not only provide a seamless hybrid system but also have the technical resources to help them migrate to a resilient networked IP system as the casino goes forward.

“To efficiently protect the casino’s assets, the customer, integrator and manufacturer have to work together,” Katnic said. “What is required is a holistic system that normalizes video into one universal media format and brings together data from disparate systems from the enterprise into a central command-and-control interface.” That is not always easy. In many jurisdictions, there is a ‘church-and-state’ separation between surveillance and the local area network overseen by IT that can add complexity to the integration process.

With casinos starting to demand high-definition IP cameras over high-value sources like cashier cages and high-stakes table games, integrators will need to evolve to a higher level of network expertise sooner than later. Lyver’s recognizes this and has added technicians with IT knowledge to his team. He also relies upon solution partners like Synectics, who have network engineers and designers to provide the support required to offer a complete, integrated systems solutions.

Perhaps more than integrators or regulators, it is manufacturers who will dictate the move to IP. Lyvers does not expect a decisive move to IP in the gaming industry until manufacturers cut back on the production of analog cameras and the price of IP cameras drop. “Then, there will be a bigger rush to IP,” he explained.

“In casinos, they want ‘one throat to choke’ and a turnkey system,” Katnic added. The integrator who teams with a good manufacturer should never roll snake eyes.

 

 

Curt Harler is a Cleveland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to the magazine. He can be reached at curt@curtharler.com.

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