Casino work involves the deployment of state-of-the-art systems and solutions. When a gambling cheat enters a casino, he or she should face a daunting array of security. If the cheat can avoid looking suspicious to the multitude of security personnel walking the floors and get to the gaming table, he or she must not only fool the dealer but perhaps others watching from an upstairs room. In addition, if the cheat has a record and the casino is equipped with sophisticated face recognition software, he or she may be automatically identified and apprehended by security before reaching the table.

But catching cheats is only one small part of the web of security spread throughout most casinos. Long before the casino opens its doors, electrical contractors who specialize in security have installed an elaborate system to keep the money in the right hands and employees and visitors safe and sound.

There are few contractor tasks more challenging than the multilayered security systems at casinos. In addition to the enormous scope of the work, the industry is so sensitive that even the contractors who install the cameras, panic alarms and taping devices are under surveillance and must undergo checks themselves before performing their duties.

How does a contractor work with a system that is so multi-layered—where the FBI and/or Gaming Commission may at any time be using surveillance equipment to monitor casino personnel watching the floor?

McPhee Electric, based in Farmington, Conn., has found a way. The company, which specializes in serving the end-user at the casino, has worked on electrical jobs such as these priced at $100 million or more. Each job is varied, as President Michael McPhee pointed out, and almost always involves a heady list of players. McPhee believes the company’s success is based in part on the ability to deliver on the special demands associated with the work. Recent security projects by the contractor include Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn., Foxwoods Resort and Casino in Mashantucket, Conn., and the Fishkill Correctional Facility in Fishkill, N.Y.

Michael McPhee said contractors need to not only work with the usual standards and regulations, but also follow the codes set by the state gaming commission. Once the standards are determined and the job is underway, many different issues may arise. Some are typical of any large commercial installation while others present unique challenges.

McPhee Electric is flexible enough to be able to adapt to changes along the way, even as they install the cables. Usually the electric installation needs to go in fast and the casino owners do not want to wait to open the gaming tables if at all possible. “Understandably, they want to get it up and online very quickly. Usually we have a very short time frame to work within,” McPhee said.

Niagara Falls

McPhees most recent project was the Seneca Niagara Falls Casino, a new gaming establishment in Niagara Falls, N.Y. The $100 million project included a main casino and a smaller, nonsmoking casino.

The security system plays a vital role in day-to-day operations. Game operators as well as security personnel, surveillance technicians and auditors are trained in its nuances. In fact, all the new hires get quick training in the art of catching cheaters and the closed-circuit television (CCTV) surveillance system is a critical tool.

Camera systems are the heart of a casino system and usually involve more than one central control or monitoring room. These rooms consist of multiple monitors that pick up images from the cameras and are scrutinized by a number of highly trained security personnel who keep a close eye on the action. Cameras can pan, tilt and zoom so personnel can see exactly what is happening on the machines and gaming tables. They can also see employees and read their name badges. The clarity is astounding, and it has to be.

Recording is done by digital video recorders as opposed to videocassette recorders, and is the latest and fastest way for casinos to review incidents when necessary, as well as save appropriate information efficiently.

McPhee stressed that collaboration between all parties is the only way to successfully complete a job of this magnitude. Typically, a casino electrical job includes casino owners, architects, general contractors and sometimes several layers of electrical contractors. With the specifications always in flux, there needs to be constant communication and a sense of urgency when a new parameter emerges.

While the Seneca Niagara Falls job was unique in some ways, it went without any major problems, said James Lynes, electrical project manager at McPhee. The most memorable part of the job for Lynes was the speed with which it needed to be completed. But all worked well and the casino owners intend to build a hotel to accompany the casino—McPhee may be along for that part of the project as well.

Miles of cable

McPhee Electric was involved with two separate sections of the project. From September to December 2002, they wired the 100,000-square-foot casino that was a renovation of an existing convention center. After that, they added 16,000 square feet of the nonsmoking casino that was completed in May 2003. In all, they laid 100,000 feet of cable.

The surveillance system features fixed cameras and operable units. They are located over gaming tables, slot machines and point-of-sale areas where money is being exchanged. Fixed cameras focus on the dealers, while the players may be more likely to have zoom cameras aimed at them.

At the redemption booths, McPhee technicians installed cameras, door alarms and panic buttons. McPhee’s electricians also installed the wiring under the floor to travel to a surveillance center. There are four intermediate rooms in the north, south, east and west sections of the building. All are connected with Category 5E cabling. Those rooms (or “closets”) then connect to the main security surveillance room where dozens of monitors are viewed 24/7 by security personnel.

McPhee Electric worked with construction manager C.R. Klewin Building Co. of Niagara Falls, N.Y., and M. Malia and Associates of Northfield, N.J., who were the security designers. Additional manpower and supervision was provided by subcontractor Ferguson Electric of Niagara Falls, N.Y.

Lynes said the greatest challenges came from working around the constant design changes that took place during the fast-paced construction schedule. Offices and dining facilities were added during the construction process, so McPhee Electric also had to quickly switch gears to accommodate the new specifications.

While the project was scheduled to take 12 weeks, McPhee Electric completed the work in the six to eight weeks left after design changes and delays. The main casino took about 100 days and the nonsmoking casino another 45 days. Much of the work involved using trellises that extended to the ceiling that in some parts reached 90 feet. While none of the cameras were installed 90 feet high, the coverage of the cameras is still complete throughout the casino.

Lynes said at peak, there were 120 electricians working on the main casino with 30 to 40 tradesmen working overhead at one time. In addition, there were about 18 men working on the nonsmoking casino.

With all the right tools and with expertise that comes from years experience, McPhee Electric has placed itself at the forefront of providing gaming security—and come out a winner.

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