Holding All the Cards

Oct. 27, 2008
Casinos provide testing and proving ground for high-tech security
Untitled Document

The state of Nevada issued its first gaming license in 1931. Since then, the U.S. casino population has grown to account for nearly half of the casinos worldwide by some estimates. Security is big and serious business among U.S. casinos, and homeland security, digital video, RFID and data management are all helping to shape its present and future course.

Helping on the Home Front
The casino industry has since 9/11 made significant contributions to the advancement of security applications. For instance, the Las Vegas Security Chiefs Association has partnered with federal, state and local governments by offering their members’ facilities as a testing ground for many security technologies.
In one test, casinos used image recognition to read license plates on vehicles entering their parking garages and valet parking areas. This type of system can also recognize the plates of moving vehicles on freeway systems, a capability that could lead to significant improvement in criminal hunts and Amber Alert searches.
Not long ago, this kind of technology seemed unattainable. But many of the far-reaching ideas of yesterday have been made real by convergence and related technology advances.

Integration with Proven ROI
More than 10 years ago, ST&D published an article on a retrofit at the Rio All-Suite Casino and Hotel. The big news was their integration of the latest in matrix technology and Pelco PTZ—the first Spectra series—into their surveillance room remodel.
Now, improved CPU processing power and matrix and keyboard interfaces allow us to more simply manage live and archived video from hundreds or thousands of cameras. We’ve clearly seen an evolution to IT platforms in the casino industry, and it has resulted in more advanced recording features and more opportunities for integration.

The digital video recorder and intelligence software have initiated significant advances in security’s integration with business applications and processes. Just a few examples:

• Integration between video and point-of-sale systems
- Decreases employee theft and credit card and check fraud
- Allows exception reporting for financial transactions
• Integration between video and motion detection
- Reduces liability suits
- Detects suspicious behaviors and unusual activity in restricted areas
• Integration with FBI and DHS watch lists
- IDs criminal suspects through real-time data comparison

With capabilities such as these, DVRs can typically offer an ROI of between 90 and 180 days. They assist in theft recovery, reduce investigation time and alarm proactively for potential threats. They also help measure and document compliance to the minimum internal control standards of the Nevada Gaming Control Board.
On a related note, most intelligent video features lose their effectiveness when the video they’re analyzing is of a low quality. So, the question of what compression codec to use is significant. Most casino surveillance directors desire 4 CIF, or broadcast-quality video. This has been achieved with MPEG2 and MPEG4, both quite capable of meeting and exceeding security directors’ expectations. On the horizon, H.264 is being hailed as the next big thing that will provide even greater resolution and compression capabilities.

Watch All Players and All Games

The investigative process in the casino environment requires security directors to perform complex searches for a variety of specific events. Thus, casinos need integrated security systems that use video and loyalty or ID cards to
• track table games (wins/losses)
- by pit and game
- by day, week, month and year
• track all marker and credit activity
• retrieve data on all players and employees using the card system
• monitor all fills and credits of gaming cheques
• detect card counting and advantage play using object and image recognition combined with algorithms
• search archived video by specific camera using image and/or facial recognition
• track slot machine games
• set parameters for suspicious play and monitoring of unusual codes
• retrieve archived data for present and past activity by player or employee
• track jackpots and financial transactions associated to the video
Many manufacturers have already begun incorporating these necessary features into their security products.

Every Chip Has a Story to Tell
During last year’s Global Gaming Expo (G2E), the world’s largest gaming show, I had the privilege of moderating a presentation on RFID in gaming that provided great insight into the progress being made in this application whose roots are firmly embedded in access control. The president of ChipCo International, John Kendall, spoke about the potential of RFID-enabled gaming chip systems, which allow casinos to automatically track the wagers, wins and losses of individual gamers. Las Vegas’ Hard Rock and Wynn casinos are already using RFID systems in their table games.

Any investment in new technology must lead to better results on the table games—more hands per hour, better and more accurate player tracking information, employee performance data, elimination of counterfeit chips, etc. When everything is being watched electronically with RFID systems, some reduction in pit boss personnel is possible.

ChipCo works with SenSysNet and QualTech Networks, both based in Canada, to offer RFID chips in a 13.56 MHz system. Kendall has been working since 1988 to integrate RFID sensors into gaming tables, doorways, cashier stations, employee badges and player loyalty cards for casino management software (CMS) programs.

He said that the world of gaming has been asking for this technology for at least the last eight years. The early systems using 125 KHz technology were very slow and have limited applications today. While 13.56 MHz is the proper frequency for gaming applications, it was unavailable to gaming until January 2004 because of delays configuring the required security (encryption algorithms) and processing speed as well as allowed power generation.
The FCC, which regulates radio signals in the U.S., needed to conduct several months of tests to make certain that higher power (from 1 watt to 8 watts) was safe to be around for long periods of time. The FCC now allows up to 8 watts of power for this 13.56 MHz frequency. This increased wattage was necessary to send a signal all the way across a doorway to eliminate employee theft of chips, and it makes gaming applications for RFID possible.

Learning the IT Lingo

The kind of digital and technology convergence we’ve discussed so far has offered many benefits to casinos and gaming facilities. However, when it comes to securing the data that these solutions provide, there has been much conflict between IT and security departments. Some security executives want nothing to do with their IT counterparts and vice versa. There have also been many misunderstandings regarding what the IT professional can contribute to the future success of integrated security applications.

Recently I came across a book that explains the methodology and terminology of IT security in a non-technical way. The book, Know IT Security: Secure IT Systems Casino Style, by James P. Litchko, is a worthwhile read for any security manager in the gaming industry.

Keep Yourself Informed

Because the technology available to us continues to evolve, it’s important for all casino security directors to continually educate themselves on new threats and opportunities.

ASIS International’s Gaming and Wagering Protection Council, formed about 10 years ago, has excelled in providing training for the industry where no training existed before. The current council members include directors and vice presidents of security and surveillance for several major gaming properties, as well as leaders in vertical markets that round out the gaming industry. Tribal Gaming and AustralAsian subcommittees provide specific direction to their expanding representative markets.

The council is most visible during the Global Gaming Expo where, in conjunction with the American Gaming Association, it provides the security and surveillance educational series during the whole conference. But the council has also regularly provided educational speakers at ISC West. In fact, at this year’s ISC West, the council will present a panel discussion called Digital Video Recording Standards for Gaming Venues (7W03) on Wed., April 5 at 1:00. If you’ll be at the show, this will be a smart way to keep yourself up to date on some of the latest issues in our industry.

Douglas L. Florence, CPP, is director of the gaming sector for NiceVision. He is a surveillance and security executive with more than 30 years of comprehensive security experience involving management, investigations, systems integration and consulting. He was also formerly a director of surveillance for The Mirage and for the Rio All-Suite Casino and Hotel.