Under Watchful Eye
by Steven Marlin
Under Watchful Eye
Digital video systems are offering capabilities beyond typical security and surveillance
The need for stronger security is spurring gaming companies to invest in technology that combines point of sale transactions, predictive modeling, and casino surveillance video systems. The availability of content analysis software specific to the gaming sector is expanding the use of live and recorded using digital video recording (DVR) technology, which is being installed by leading-edge casinos.
Barona Valley Ranch Resort & Casino was one of the first U.S. casinos to implement a digital surveillance system providing real-time monitoring 24 hours a day. The analog system it replaced required regularly changing and archiving videotapes, and searching for relevant images was laborious.
“While analog systems are easy to use, the simplicity, reliability and functionality of the digital system are even better,” said Raymond Welch, Barona’s director of surveillance.
Since its commissioning in September 2006, the Dallmeier digital surveillance system has run at Barona without any errors. “It’s a great system,” Welch said. “When we were using VCRs, a review would take 20 minutes, now it’s instantaneous. It also improves storage efficiency.”
Casinos being built from scratch, such as Atlantis Cove Resort, have the opportunity to leapfrog competitors by installing state-of-the-art technology. Located in Nassau, Bahamas, Atlantis Cove tapped North American Video to serve as systems integrator, utilizing the capabilities of the MDI Unified Technology Platform as its security command and control solution.
Earlier this year, North American Video was awarded integrated video security and surveillance systems design and installation contracts from MGM Grand in Detroit, Isle of Capri’s Pompano Park in Pompano, Fla. and Harrah’s Chester Downs in Chester, Pa., along with phase two of the massive system recently installed at the new Wynn Casino in Macau. The security and surveillance systems for the casino projects are being designed by M. Malia and Associates.
The various systems will incorporate a variety of IT, digital and analog technologies and vendor partner products that will be integrated and installed by North American Video teams. Partner products will include video surveillance solutions from American Dynamics, system management hardware and software solutions from Honeywell, video surveillance and control services from Nice Systems, and network and digital video recorders from Sanyo.
Among Sanyo’s newer digital video recorders are its DSR 5709P and DSR 5716P recorders with built in multiplexers, which offer high picture quality of 520 TV line horizontal resolution, JPEG2000 compression and simultaneous recording and playback at 100 IPS. Sanyo also unveiled its DSR 2004 four-channel digital recorders late last year.
Still, the move from analog to digital surveillance remains a challenge at many casinos, where cost remains a significant hurdle.
“The biggest challenge is the investment; it’s expensive to get into and convert over from analog,” said Derk Boss, vice president of surveillance at American Casino & Entertainment Properties, which operates the Stratosphere and other casinos. He’s hoping to secure the necessary funding (over $1 million) for the Stratosphere to go digital by 2008.
The need to store large volumes of data adds an element of cost to the equation. “Storage requirements are quite significant in a regulated environment like gaming, where certain frame rates and resolutions are mandated,” Boss said. On the gaming floor, a frame rate of 30 frames/sec is required, compared to the 12-15 frames/sec needed in typical surveillance applications, he said.
Price-performance is also a factor. “Technology has only now gotten to clarity, resolution, and real-time recording needed for highly-regulated casinos,” said Doug Florence, gaming sector director at Nice Systems.
In the case of IP video, many casinos have a very substantial analog camera infrastructure that remains completely viable. “Our solution is to advocate for a hybrid solution, retaining the cameras and the matrix switcher, for example, while adding encoders and a storage solution to take advantage of the conveniences digital recording has to offer,” said Leon Chlimper, vice president at Bosch Security Systems.
With digital and IP-based video surveillance technology, access to recorded video is nearly instantaneous, enabling security personnel to respond quickly to specific incidents. IP technology also makes possible the use of video content analysis, which provides an automated analysis of the video at the camera level. As manufacturers build more intelligence into cameras, only the video containing useful segments is transmitted back to operators. When the software detects an event that meets certain criteria, such as an abandoned object, only the video containing that event needs to be viewed by surveillance.
While ROI has not traditionally been a security practitioner’s concern, security has become accountable to business metrics. With the advent of IP technology, many features of today’s systems can be used for functions outside of security—the unattended delivery truck or counting people as they enter the casino, capabilities that improve operations and add to the value of the system.
Video analytics can provide proactive video switching such that events of interest are automatically displayed to the operator. Analytics algorithms detect a wide variety of behaviors of people, objects and vehicles. Detection examples include loitering, object speed, direction, object counting, abandoned object, removed object and shoplifting and restricted zones. These tools can dramatically improve the effectiveness of security monitoring staff and reduce the risk of undetected events that may compromise the security of the facility.
Cameras now provide digital characteristics similar to mega-pixel cameras used for photography. “The camera is an IP (Internet Protocol) device that is slowly being adopted by gaming operations,” Florence said. “Many camera manufacturers that have remained in the analog world are developing high definition or HD cameras in answer to retrofitting existing wiring infrastructure to provide similar capabilities. This technology is used throughout the world by IT and traditional security departments, however, adaptation in casinos will be slow either because of lack of knowledge or lack of infrastructure support.”
IP video technology with video content analysis can be used by casinos for functions that provide benefits outside the traditional realm of security over gaming operations. A scheduled truck delivery of pallets of supplies can be verified by the surveillance system at the loading dock by using a counting feature in video content analysis software. Or, a costly theft of hotel linens can be discovered, further adding to the return on investment of the surveillance system.
The greatest benefit of digital video is realized when it’s combined with a casino’s other security systems. Honeywell is unveiling an integrated access control and video management platform. The platform provides a single programming environment and operating system for not only access control and video, but also for video analytics, data management, and third party systems.
“There is increasing demand for seamless integration of the various systems used in security and surveillance,” said Andrew Jackson, systems sales manager at Honeywell.
Instant data and analysis
The ability to seamlessly integrate with other systems makes digital recording technology useful for applications beyond security, such as data mining. Honeywell’s Integrated Data Manager software accepts data from a wide variety of sources such as cash registers and slot systems, and combines the data with video content. Data mining results and custom reports may be graphically represented allowing transactions outside of normal trends to be easily identified. The software “is not only very powerful in reducing theft and fraud; it is also an invaluable marketing tool,” Jackson said.
The need for greater security and surveillance has sparked a push by gaming companies to find new, resourceful ways to use the technology available.
Barona, for example, has built a software program that searches databases using a variety of different categories so the casino may quickly locate excluded guests, identify trouble areas, and reduce safety risks. Called “Aachepach” (which means “to put out” in Kumeyaay, the Barona Band of Mission Indians’ native language), the software has allowed Barona to reduce costs and take precautions to ensure the safety and security of guests.
Prior to the software, locating information needed to identify an excluded guest was time consuming and tedious. Hard copy bound books with hundreds of photographs filled the walls. When a possible excluded guest was spotted on the property, a security staff member would attempt to confirm the individual’s exclusion status by flipping through hundreds of photographs.
“After researching computer software that was on the market, we realized that while there were several products which were viable, none were dedicated to our industry and needs,” said Bill Vicaldo, Barona’s executive director of security.
Having initially developed the program to track all guests who are not welcome on its property, Barona expanded the capabilities to record all incidents and daily activities, thus eliminating hard copy documents, which in turn has reduced cost in materials and manpower hours. With only a few clicks of a mouse, Barona can locate an individual’s photograph, physical information and incident history in a matter of seconds. Prior to Aachepach, this information may have taken hours to locate.
“Since Aachepach was designed and developed internally, we have the ability to continuously improve our product for our specific industry needs,” Vicaldo said.
In months to come, security and surveillance issues will become a focus of regulators as more casinos adopt digital technology. “Regulators will be challenged to evaluate these systems and have a responsibility to determine their limits and to contribute to how these systems should be utilized,” Florence said.
Gaming systems, he said, “can and must be associated to the recorded video that surveillance is managing in order to meet legal challenges such as resolution of claims by regulators, employee relations matters, unemployment hearings, and for cheating and scams caught by these systems that previously went undetected.”
|Notable surveillance technology vendors:|
Bosch Security Systems
Dallmeier Electronic USA
North American Video
Sanyo Fisher Company