Parsons Electric in Minneapolis began as a modest motor-rewind shop in 1927; through the years, it has grown to become one of the top 25 largest electrical contractors in the country, employing approximately 700 and operating three divisions: electrical, technologies and technical service. Parsons Electric focuses on 15 different vertical markets, each with its own nuances.

The casino business plays an important role in the company’s success. [In 2006], “We did about $165 million in volume [in casino work],” said Dave Karsky, Parsons Electric’s vice president for casino operations.

“Our work on casinos started in 1992 with Mystic Lake,” Karsky said. Mystic Lake is the Minneapolis area’s only casino-hotel. It offers gaming, five restaurants, top-name entertainment, a golf course, indoor pool and other amenities. “We’ve completed 40 casinos or additions since then.”

“I’ve been tracking casinos and going after that business since 1991, when we did that first one. In 2001, we set up a much stronger marketing effort in that area, and now there are four of our people in the casino end of the business. Our experience with the gaming industry makes us a valuable partner in the potential client’s decision-making process. We can ask the right questions and, with our knowledge from previous projects, can help make team decisions that bring the work in on time and within budget,” Karsky said.

Parsons’ work on casinos varies from new construction to retrofit. Many projects, such as Mystic Lake, are expansions. At Spirit Mountain in Grand Ronde, Ore., Parsons Electric did four add-on projects. “That’s kind of typical,” Karsky said. “We do additions and modifications later on as separate projects. At Mystic Lake, we did the original casino, and then we came back to do a ballroom addition, high-stakes room and the entryway.”

At Spirit Mountain, the company tackled an entertainment space add-on, complete with stage and the main casino, when casino owners decided to double the number of slot machines.

Casino project tips

How does casino work differ from other projects? Karsky said that casinos tend to be fast-track, with meeting or beating the schedule a high priority. In addition, there may be a wide range of different types of occupancies on the same property.

In addition, backup power for these buildings is integral, and it must be reliable.

“These buildings have to be backed up 100 percent on generator power and UPS systems for all money-handling areas, security functions and data systems. Many times, they include multifunction buildings designed as places of assembly. They might even include high-rise hotels and even daycare facilities.” Of course, each of these types of occupancies mandates different installation specification parameters.

The telephone, other data communications and slot management cabling systems are just as crucial to casino operations. Security/surveillance systems require working with the owners’ staff to provide all the provisions, power and cabling. Lighting systems, too, are designed for function as well as marketing and security. Many use state-of-the-art light emitting diodes (LEDs) plus many custom fixtures to accent the architectural design.

Parsons also is at work on the Black Bear casino, 20 minutes south of Duluth in Carlton, Minn. The property is a complex with a 250-room hotel, an 80,000-square-foot casino with 2,000 slot machines, a 38,000-square-foot convention and entertainment center and a 450,000-square-foot parking garage. It is being done in phases to keep the business in operation around the clock.

Sometimes the company relies on partnerships to get the job done. When Parsons met with the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa for the Black Bear Casino, the company found that of the tribe’s big concerns was trying to get local participation from tradesmen.

The company put together comprehensive bid packages and awarded those to APi Electric, Duluth, and Benson Electric Co., Superior, Wis. 

“We usually do get involved with another contractor at each site, and we do that to [ensure] that we have a good route for service after we turn the project over. We try to have a partner that performs some portion of the job, be it the site lighting or the fire alarm system or some integral part of the casino works, so that they’re familiar with the project. These are 24-hour facilities, and that has to be kept in mind all the time—the potential amount of revenue lost per hour is extremely significant. Any outage affects the business because patrons will leave,” Karsky said.

Changes in casino technology

Deploying security may be a bit different in the casino environment. For example, the company doesn’t typically get involved in the design of security at casinos, as opposed to other types of building projects.

“But we do get involved with those who are designing them, and we work with them to make sure they have the provisions and power necessary, including a significant number of card readers, locked doors, cameras on poles on buildings,” he said.

At the casino, security includes protection of people and surveillance, the latter of which involves asset and theft protection. Cameras are the hot technology, and casinos go to great lengths to ensure coverage. There are fixed cameras at the teller lines at every station plus pan-tilt-zoom units, and the same is true at the gaming tables as well as other areas of the casino.

“As the cabling starts to be multiuse, these cameras will increasingly tie into the network and the teledata systems,” Karsky said. “We have been contracted a few times to pull cable and provide it for the security surveillance. With the changing of the systems to Category 6 or other structured cabling and away from coaxial, we’re probably going to get involved in a lot more design/build in the future. Going forward, it’s all going digital.”

Casino security and surveillance systems deployment cannot afford weak areas. All money-handling areas are treated with two levels of backup power for lighting and multiple levels of security. Beyond the teledata infrastructure, casinos have slot tracking, which involves independent cabling systems.

Gaming customers have their own set of requirements and rely on electrical contractors to help them make sure their operations are safe and sound around the clock.

STEVENS is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer who covers various fields including construction, retailing and marketing. He can be reached at 612.871.3698.