Surveillance systems within casinos are designed, in part, to deter cheating, theft and other crimes from taking place on the gaming floor and throughout the entire casino resort. But to accomplish this goal, security product and system designers, engineers and producers have had to “borrow” technological advancements in surveillance from other industries and adapt them for casino use.
“As surveillance technology evolves in other industries such as broadcasting, computing and retail, we take advantage of those improvements and apply them to the casino space,” said Robert Prady, CPP, PSP, CHS, field sales engineer for Axis Communications and member of the ASIS Gaming and Wagering Council. “Surveillance technology has grown by leaps and bounds over the past decade. IT people now come to security sessions, which shows you how far the marriage between security and technology has come over the past 10 years. For years, convergence was the buzzword you always heard. Well, now we are converged at least when it comes to IT; computer technology is firmly entrenched in our industry.”
Prady’s observations were part of a session he gave at last year’s Global Gaming Expo that explored emerging trends in casino surveillance. During that discussion, he described two emerging technology trends that are having and will have an important impact on casino surveillance products, systems and strategies—the Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data analytics.
As defined by Wikipedia, IoT is the network of physical objects, devices, vehicles, buildings and other items which are embedded with electronics, software, sensors and network connectivity, which enables these objects to collect and exchange data. From a surveillance perspective, IoT entails the placement of Internet and network connectivity into cameras and recording/storage systems. “In the past, a surveillance camera was simply a camera,” Prady said. “It linked to the VCR or DVD and performed a simple recording function. Now these cameras are being linked to each other and to other devices and systems throughout the casino. This connectivity makes the cameras and recording systems more intelligent, and that opens up a lot more possibilities for us.”
Indeed, thanks to IoT, Prady envisions a future where, potentially, some surveillance personnel and investigators can work from home and still provide quality protection. This technology also clears the way for creation of centralized surveillance offices that can handle the surveillance needs of multiple casinos wherever they are located in the U.S. “You can also have one casino perform surveillance on a number of other casinos,” Prady said. “You can centralize your surveillance operations in one location and can monitor several other locations.”
As surveillance product developers and users contemplate an IoT future, they also have to grapple with another potentially disruptive technology: Big Data, which is a broad term for data sets so large or complex that traditional data processing applications are inadequate, according to Wikipedia. Challenges with Big Data include analysis, capture, data curation, search, sharing, storage, transfer, visualization, querying and information privacy.
Prady describes the current combination of surveillance and Big Data as an “information firehose,” in which a lot of data can be collected and disseminated, but very little of it is instantly usable. However as Big Data evolves and its linkto IoT becomes stronger, he sees it playing a transformative role in how security and surveillance systems are viewed throughout the entire casino resort enterprise.
“You hear the term ‘necessary evil’ a lot when it comes to surveillance systems,” Prady said. “As Big Data and IoT technology expands, I believe surveillance systems will start to be viewed as an asset instead of just a cost center. Surveillance will become an information collecting asset that can mine data and share the results with marketing, management and other departments within the gaming resort. Everyone will benefit as security and customer service improves and loss goes down.”
Of course, this Big Data and IoT transformation of security departments could not take place without the ongoing technological improvements to the central components of all surveillance systems—the cameras. Simply stated, surveillance cameras are now “intelligent,” thanks in large part to the integration of computer technology into the devices. “Today’s IP camera is essentially a computer that is set in the ceiling,” Prady said. “Not only can it process information and transmit it throughout the network, it can also accept programs and run advanced analytics. It used to be that all the analytics of surveillance information has to take place in the server; now, with the right program, it can take place on the edge in the camera itself.”
The modern surveillance camera can indeed perform a lot of functions that would have been considered miraculous just a few years ago. These include:
Wide dynamic range technology—Many surveillance cameras now contain wide dynamic range capabilities that greatly improve picture images. These cameras can take over- or under-exposed images, compress them, map them at the frame or pixel level and create a new picture that is sharper and easier to view.
Auto-tracking PTZ—By incorporating auto-tracking pan, tilt and zoom (PTZ) in camera, surveillance staffs now have the ability to follow a single patron throughout the property. The technology is also being adapted to better monitor game play, with programs that let the camera actually track and count table game play by recognizing the pips on cards.
Freedom of placement—It used to be that internal surveillance cameras could only be placed in ceilings or on walls. But thanks to divided camera technology pioneered by the ATM industry, smaller sensors linked to nearby camera units allow for the placement of very small cameras in a variety of places, such as the alligator rail on a table game or security bar within a casino cage. “This allows us to take the cameras out of the ceiling and place them just about anywhere,” Prady said.
Heat mapping—A program that can be installed in newer surveillance cameras creates a heat map of the entire casino that can be used to determine usage and traffic patterns. This information can be shared with other casino departments to determine which areas of the casino are most popular during a certain time period, which can help with employee staffing and marketing campaigns. “Heat mapping is really helpful to casino management and marketing departments,” Prady said. “It provides a myriad of information that can be used to improve operations.”
License plate recognition—Some outdoor surveillance cameras can now read and record the license plates of arriving and departing cars. From a property protection standpoint, this ensures the right car is returned to the right person if the valet is used and the condition of the car when it arrived in case there is a complaint about damage. License plate reading technology can also be used as a marketing tool—when the license plate of an important customer is read, a notice can go through to the casino host and property front desk alerting them of their arrival.
People Counting—Surveillance cameras can now be programmed with an app that allows them to count the number of people entering the facility, as well as track when they came in and the general direction of traffic. This information can be put into a database to determine visitation against time of day and other information that can help marketing departments.
Facial recognition—Technology is now available that allows surveillance cameras to better recognize and identify visitor faces. This is obviously helpful from a protection standpoint—if the camera recognizes someone that is on a “black list,” security personal can be notified and the person tracked. The system can also be programmed to notice someone on a “white list,” important customers that warrant contact from a casino host.
Wearable surveillance—Police departments across the country are equipping officers with wearable surveillance cameras to help combat claims of brutality and other improper conduct. Chances are these devices will migrate toward casino security personnel for similar reasons. Indeed, there is already technology in place that allows casino personnel to use the camera function on a smart phone to record interactions with casino guests to the property’s security system.
“Wearable cameras are just one of many surveillance technologies that are evolving and will likely play a greater role in casino operations going forward,” Prady said.