The Future is Now

March 20, 2012
Once married to the analog technologies of the past, the casino industry is slowly moving to HD surveillance. Here’s how they can facilitate an effective transition:

Faced with a range of security challenges including false claims, Title 31 regulations for transaction accountability and money laundering, drugs, slot machine and table game scams, employee theft and collusion, casinos around the country are continually upgrading security and surveillance initiatives to ensure customer and employee safety and to protect corporate assets.

A video surveillance upgrade can have a positive impact on improving the safety and security of patrons and business operations, because casino executives can leverage the video evidence to make more informed decisions. While data alone cannot say who was involved in a financial transaction, gaming outcome or risk management claim, good quality video does make a difference.

With three successful technology upgrade initiatives under my belt, I am well aware of the challenges of introducing new technologies to a 24/7 casino operation. Here’s a look at the drivers behind the technology evolution in the casino marketplace; reasons for the most recent transition to high-definition (HD) surveillance; major factors that casino operators need to consider before embarking on a technology transition; and how to build a foundation for a successful technology upgrade project.

The Drivers for Technology Evolution
In gaming, most technology refresh initiatives are prompted by a significant technology advancement — such as shrinking price differences between color and black-and-white cameras in the early 1990s or a compelling event such as a substantial loss or claim that draws attention to the need for better surveillance. The consumer market also influences surveillance trends — with casinos adopting a number of consumer-driven technologies for security operations over the years. For example, in the early 1980s, Las Vegas casinos first started installing VCR recording. In the early 1990s, casinos began recording video digital surveillance footage to data tape. Later, casinos adopted hard-drive storage on digital video recorders (DVRs) with multi-camera inputs.

While consumers have long abandoned VCRs and are using HD megapixel camera technology on their televisions, recording devices, and mobile telephones, the VCR is strangely still in use in many Las Vegas casinos. There are many factors at play that are driving the current transition to HD surveillance. Most surveillance system upgrades to HD are driven by a specific incident in which the casino’s previous system was unable to provide conclusive evidence on an important matter. At casinos, HD surveillance takes recorded video to a new level of undisputed identification of the people, activity and outcomes on the game floor.

HD video from IP devices can be recorded in real-time and because the clarity of HD camera images removes all doubt, casino operators are left with conclusive evidence. With its superior image clarity, even an untrained person can see undisputed images of a game or accurately identify an individual to make informed decisions. The clarity of a single picture from a recorded video clip on roulette speaks for itself, making the transition to HD surveillance the right choice.
Increased image clarity is key for casinos to monitor bet amounts and hand movements on games such as roulette.

Technology Upgrades: Issues to Consider
Deploying the most advanced and innovative technologies is a great way to meet security needs in a cost-effective way, but the challenges of adopting emerging software and hardware must be considered before embarking on an upgrade.

Typical issues for consideration include:
• Regulatory standards that have been written for analog devices by non-technical staff who may have a VCR replacement bias;
• Existing wire infrastructure and building design;
• Budgetary submission and approval process; and
• Business continuity and training.

The Impact of Gaming Regulatory Standards
Security industry regulations can be a major obstacle for casino operators implementing new technologies. Industry regulations seem to favor the analog domain in order to meet higher frame rate regulations; however, operators aware of recent HD surveillance advancements do not have to sacrifice HD image clarity to obtain these higher frame rates. Unfortunately, the acceptance of higher frame rates over HD image clarity still reigns.

Before embarking on a technology refresh project, casino operators need to thoroughly assess how state gaming commission regulatory standards will impact planned technology changes. Unfortunately, many casino technology managers assigned to make regulatory decisions have been unable to participate in tradeshows or educational conferences due to budgetary constraints. As a result, many are not aware of the latest solutions and rely on the same old familiar technologies when conducting site visits — basing crucial decisions on aging standards.

Even at annual inspections, where camera-by-camera regulators review images that lack the clarity required to determine a game outcome, inspections are still passed and approved. This is not the fault of the regulator or the casino operator, but is instead a product of the industry’s lack of knowledge.

Building a Foundation for Success
The first step of any successful implementation is to build a concise executive summary. It should include:
• The current level of technology in use and why it should be replaced;
• The proposed solution and a justification for its selection;
• Cost of purchasing and implementing the new solutions;
• Expected return on investment (ROI);
• Endorsements from business units that will be positively impacted by the new surveillance solution; and
• A Gantt chart that clearly outlines the transition plan and how it will cause little or no business interruption.

If the evaluation of competitive technologies has been completed and the best solution is selected, generally three bids are obtained from qualified integrators and the capital expenditure request (CER) is submitted with the executive summary so that the approval process can begin.

The Right Technology for a Smooth Transition
The potential to disrupt business exists with any technology refresh initiative, but is particularly challenging in a casino setting that offers 24/7 gaming — operations simply cannot be interrupted while equipment is installed. With the stakes so high, casinos are looking for reliable surveillance solutions that facilitate a gradual transition to HD image quality as budgets permit, using H.264 encoders to leverage existing analog cameras to minimize the operational impact and improve system performance.

Once a HD surveillance solution is selected, network requirements must be determined. Casino operators must consider whether the existing cabling can be used and assess the distance requirements of the IP devices for cameras, encoders and network switches.

The evaluation of encoder technology is another significant step to bridge the transition from analog to the IP environment. With encoders ranging from $100 to $1000 MSRP per channel of video and IP licensing either being ongoing or a one-time cost, the investment decision should be based on what the best technology is for the dollar. Other factors to consider include ease of use, view management capability, ONVIF (Open Network Video Interface Forum) compliance and system scalability.

The Future of Casino Security: HD Surveillance
The transition to HD surveillance solutions is gaining momentum in casinos around the world, as aging DVR solutions have begun to fail. Casino operators want to do the right thing for their properties and need regulators to embrace modern video concepts to provide the best evidence and support the public trust. HD video products are in use every day by consumers and have become the new standard, so when they see the poor resolution of the analog systems that still prevail in our casinos today, we have to ask why. HD surveillance must be the future for surveillance in our casinos.

Douglas Florence, CPP, is the Business Development Director of Global Gaming at Avigilon. With 36 years experience with a variety of casinos and vendors, Florence is widely regarded as a surveillance, security, and gaming operations expert.