Casinos are in the process of transitioning their analog security and gaming surveillance systems into digital despite the economic downturn. A large percentage of gaming facilities, from Las Vegas to Atlantic City, N.J., will upgrade their systems in the coming year. Consumer demand is driving the change; technology from music players to home video is going digital, and while 85 percent of casinos in Las Vegas still use analog systems, digital technology soon will be all that’s available.

The poor state of the economy along with a comfortable analog tradition, however, has put casino security and surveillance managers in a difficult position. While the technological transition is inevitable, the funding isn’t. Several years ago, surveillance managers had some success in convincing gaming management that surveillance technology could save the industry money, but much has happened since then. While the economy is gradually coming out of its downfall, the new digital technology places more than just financial demands on casinos. Digital systems also require more stringent regu lations and more training of staff to use, all of which has made it easy for casinos to put off the new installations and upgrades, said Jeff Voyles, gaming professor at Hotel College at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and industry consultant. Technology is going to force the waiting game to end soon.

Low-voltage electrical contractors and integrators would serve the industry best by being prepared for the massive transition ahead; by understanding the technology, the regulations around it and its installation; and by being willing to provide follow-up assistance to the users.

“Digital systems are very complex. We’re in a very tight spot here and need support from the installers,” Voyles said.

The day of pulling copper to connect cameras with the surveillance room are over, and today, the companies installing the systems are more likely to have a Microsoft engineer onboard to help with the installation and programming.

“Those guys are going to be in demand,” Voyles said. “They need to know the product, and they need to understand the mentality of the casinos. They need to know the gaming regulations.”

Most casinos in Las Vegas, Atlantic City and Reno, Nev., will be installing Internet protocol-based cameras, which reduce the cost of running copper wire and, instead, amount to fiber and 10 gigabit Ethernet networks, said Douglas Florence, director of gaming sector at NICE Systems, Las Vegas.

The networks allow casinos to use automation in tracking individuals or behavior, freeing up surveillance staff and even wall space that traditionally held banks of monitors, Florence said. While there could be 100 to 1,000 cameras in a casino, today only three consoles might be in use in a surveillance room, with system network analytics that track movement or suspicious behavior or even watch for specific individuals by, for example, reading license plate numbers as they arrive in the parking area.

There still is a short list of electrical contractors that go beyond running cable for these surveillance and security systems, despite the fact that electrical contractors have a large presence in low-voltage installation in most other industries. For the casino market, systems integrators—typically hired directly by casinos—take on the bulk of the installations. In most cases, electrical contractors have bowed out of the security installation and made fire alarms their niche.

Throughout the rest of the country, that may be another story. While a handful of integrators takes on the bulk of surveillance systems in Las Vegas casinos, other new and existing Native American-owned casinos around the nation don’t have that kind of relationship with integrators. And if they do, integrators often are willing to sub the low-voltage cabling to electrical contractors.

Whether in Nevada, New Jersey or on a reservation, however, regulatory boards, such as the Gaming Control Board, have stringent requirements on installation of security cameras, Voyles said. For that reason, security systems have transitioned faster than gaming systems where cameras cannot be shut down at any time when gaming is underway. That means installers must know the regulations and have a plan to get the system installed without shutting it down or compromising video coverage of gaming tables or slots.

The regulations related to storage of surveillance data, as well as the security of that data and proof it hasn’t been manipulated, put more pressure on casinos. Contractors who understand these regulations will be able to leverage that knowledge to secure relationships with gaming facilities.

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