Straight from the casino floor: Dirk Boss—vice president of surveillance for American Casinos—said he and his counterparts at other casinos are eyeing plans for the analog-to-digital transition in cameras and recording equipment for security surveillance.

At the Stratosphere alone, one of the four American Casinos’ businesses in Las Vegas, approximately 2,000 cameras are in use, so it’s a big deal in terms of costs.

“We have plans to go digital,” Boss said.

Digital cameras have been installed at Arizona Charlie’s Decatur Ave. restaurant, and others are coming soon. Some crimes took place in the parking lot of Arizona Charlie’s, so American Casinos deployed digital cameras to be able to store data more efficiently. The results have been successful, Boss said.

“The storage side is where the cost is,” he said. Furthermore, the state of Nevada requires that recordings be saved for seven days. Storing that data digitally will cost less in the long run, he said.

Beyond surveillance, casinos still are experimenting with analytics and biometrics to use with surveillance systems.

“The dynamics are changing,” said Alan Zajic, principal of AWZ Consulting, Wadsworth, Nev. Casino security managers as well as electrical contractors need to have computer knowledge, he said.

The industry still is testing facial recognition systems that could identify a cheat or criminal simply by the appearance of their face. A room with 500 people milling around the tables and machines does not make a good environment for this technology, Zajic said. Like airports that are using facial recognition software, casinos are finding that the system works best when people are funneled through an area single file.

Staging for the future

Newer casinos are preparing for future security transitions by installing a grid of duct work that makes it easier to access and replace outdated wiring.

“Technology has changed so fast that what we’ve learned is we need ease of replacing it,” Zajic said. “Thirty years ago, it was all coaxial cable, then Category 5 and 6, and now it’s Internet protocol (IP) addressable systems,” he said.

Casinos are transitioning surveillance systems from analog to digital, and as they do it, they are trying to make their systems smarter, easier to service and more flexible. The problem is few casinos are eager to spend the revenue necessary to make it happen, and the result is a wide variety of responses: Some casinos are looking for the least expensive solutions. Some are putting off any decisions, and others are still building a state-of-the-art security system that’s the envy of the Strip.

And just how far they invest in digital is another question. While some already have invested in digital video recorders (DVRs), others are on their way with IP-based network cameras and recording.

For most casino security managers, the challenge is to convince the owners to work the improved security system into their budget.

Most casinos are still firmly entrenched in analog surveillance, but with a nearly complete absence of new video cassette recorders (VCRs) in the market, gaming facilities all face the same problem—update to digital before they lose the security system they have.

“It’s a consumer-driven market,” said Douglas Florence, director of gaming sector for NICE Systems, Rutherford, N.J., of the move to digital recording media. Consumers are no longer buying VCRs, so they have simply disappeared from the shelves. Some casinos, anticipating this shortage, stockpiled VCRs, hundreds at a time, but that kind of investment would not be possible today. And finding spare parts for nonworking VCRs is just as difficult.

Think return on investment

The high price tag of installing a new security system may make it a hard sell for casino executives. However, casinos often dismiss or neglect to see the return on investment that comes from saving money that was previously lost to cheats or to liability issues in the facility.

“As a casino owner, if I can stop shrinkage of linens, for example, to the point where I am able to pick up someone who is stealing from me, say $200 a day, then that’s $200 a day for the casino,” said Leon Chlimper, vice president, systems at Bosch Security Systems, Fairport, N.Y. “The question to ask property owners is, ‘How much money are you gaining from your surveillance systems?’”

Electrical contractors can support the security executive by being ready with new technological offerings, so they can fit it in their latest budget, Florence said.

“That’s something electrical contractors already know how to do. They create budgets for builders all the time. With security, they have to help the owners see the return on investment.”

The return on investment comes in the form of improved efficiency and storage capabilities. Digital cameras also allow casinos to more easily meet requirements dictated by states regarding storage time—generally seven days—and clarity of the recordings for positive identification. The improved security that comes from cameras as a deterrent product alone can be a money saver for the casino, too.

As the size of casinos and their hotels grow, so do surveillance needs. Increasingly, casino security managers must integrate two separate systems, one for the gaming floor and another for back areas such as restaurants, parking lots and dock doors. Although they often have two independent systems in place, security managers need the systems to be monitored and controlled in one central location.

“They have two very different sets of challenges, but they want to have it on one system,” Chlimper said. “For systems such as that, data analysis and smart recording makes all the difference. Rather than shooting and recording footage at all times throughout the facility, they can record only when something relevant is occurring and can draw their attention to activities of interest such as a vehicle spending an unusual amount of time in one location or a person or vehicle traveling in the wrong direction.”

“We’re pushing intelligence out to the devices,” Chlimper said. As such, Bosch relies on middleware companies that specialize in content analysis to provide a flexible system to its customers.

“Middleware companies serve an important function, and we are open to working with them,” Chlimper said. “We believe imaging devices will become more
intelligent. We will be able to do analysis faster, and wireless technology will become more prevalent.”

“IP,” he said, “is the common thread.”

Megapixel cameras aid in smart surveillance. At gaming tables, for example, these high-resolution cameras can be used to monitor card games and recognize strategies on the part of players, calculate the skill level of the player and alert floor managers as to what kind of complimentary or VIP treatment he or she should receive. The cameras also can pick up irregularities in the game, such as a transfer of a chip to someone when they did not win the game or vice versa. In either case, floor workers can quickly approach the table with an understanding of what has happened before play is finished.

The cost of megapixel cameras, Florence said, continues to approach that of standard pan-tilt-zoom cameras, making them an increasingly viable choice.

Surveillance presents opportunities for electrical contractors who can learn the technology and present real return on investment strategies for casino and gaming owners and end-users. Electrical contractors can help casinos make the move to digital, and that’s a win for everyone.   

SWEDBERG is a freelance writer based in western Washington. She can be reached at claire_swedberg@msn.com.