#88 Cover Story – Inside The World Of Casino Security: How HD Video is Helping To Overcome The Unique Security Challenges In Gaming

shutterstock_111602273-copyBy Douglas Florence Sr., CPP, Craig Bruno, Marisel Melendez, MS and Ronald Flores, CSP.

According to the American Gaming Association, The Las Vegas Strip generated US$6.207 Billion in 2012 (before wages and expenses).  Similarly, the Wall Street Journal recently reported that Macau’s Gaming revenue rose by 19 per cent to US45.2 Billion in 2013. One can only imagine the kinds of unique security challenges a security and surveillance department might experience in the face of dealing with such extraordinary revenues. Interestingly, according to some security gaming experts, one of the greatest challenges a casino faces is not preventing the theft of money, but rather, ensuring that patrons and regulators trust the integrity of the games within the venues. As one might well imagine, if there is any doubt as to the conduct of a venue, that venue can very quickly loose patrons, revenue and even its right to operate.
To that end, small and large casinos alike are constantly searching for innovations, technological or otherwise, that will assist them to more effectively protect the integrity of their games whilst also protecting the venue’s revenue streams and the safety and security of patrons and premises.
One such technology making big waves in the gaming industry is IP (Internet protocol) networked video surveillance. And while this technology offers venues a range of important benefits such as scalability and the ability to grow with the needs of the business, its also brings with it a number of challenges. For example, a security department moving from an analogue to a digital system needs to invest in training for its operators whilst re-thinking how it complies with regulatory standards in order to keep pace with the level of innovation high definition (HD) cameras and software can provide. Furthermore, a security and surveillance department must be able to maintain business continuity while migrating from its older analogue technology to the newer digital system given that the cost of installing such a system would be insignificant compared to the cost of closing a venue during the installation and commissioning process. Perhaps the most pressing challenge; however, especially from the point of the Security Surveillance Director, is the ability to raise the revenue required to undertake such a project.
According to Stephen Van Zwieten, creating a business case for making the switch from analogue surveillance to IP Networked Video Surveillance need not be a major challenge. As former Security Director of the Penrith Panther’s chain of 14 venues in Australia, where he spent almost twenty years dealing with the security challenges unique to gaming environments, Stephen understands a thing or two about gaming security.
“IP Network Video provides a range of security benefits” explains Steve. “However, selling the need to upgrade a surveillance system to senior management requires more than just outlining the benefits for the security and surveillance department. A successful business case should be built around the needs of all departments. In order to achieve this, a security manager must first understand the needs and desires of the other departments. This requires developing relationships with the other department heads to ascertain what will what will make their jobs easier.”
Steve explains, “If a security manager understands that the gaming manager wants to know how many people stay in the venue after a show and go the game floor, then he or she might be able to find a way to use video analytics software to determine those figures. Armed with that information, the marketing department might be able to target special offers to the attendees of shows where more patrons tend to leave the venue straight after the show. This not only increases revenue but also helps to create return on investment for the digital surveillance system while helping to position security and surveillance staff as trusted advisors to the other departments. Similarly, the catering manager might want to be able to track the flow of patrons between bars and restaurants to help analyze which promotions work and which ones don’t, or the VIP manager might want to be forewarned when a VIP drives into the venue’s car park, thus improving customer satisfaction and so on.
If a security manager can include the ability to meet such requirements in his or her business case for the upgrade to a digital system, the discussion moves out of the realm of capital expenditure and becomes one of revenue generation. Suddenly, you are no longer simply asking to replace old for new technology, but rather, demonstrating how your department can increase return on investment,” explains Steve. “Furthermore, that security manager may even have the other department heads making a case for him as they too want the system because it will benefit their departments.”
Obviously, before a business case can be prepared, the security department will need to undertake a full audit of the venue to determine the needs of the new system. At this point, in order to do achieve the best possible result, it is advisable to seek the support of the information technology (I.T.) department.
“Too often the security and I.T departments can have an adversarial relationship”, explains Steve. “In reality, the security surveillance department and the I.T department should view each other as clients, providing services to and consulting with each other in a mutually beneficial relationship.”
The other party which should be included in any design discussion, especially if the security department already has a specific product in mind, is the manufacturer’s system engineers. This way, the venue’s surveillance team can make the most informed decisions.
During the Tachi Palace Hotel and Casino’s recent transition from analog video management to an IP network video surveillance solution, Surveillance Director Craig Bruno, during the due-diligence phase of the project, involved not only his technical team but also the local Gaming Commission in order to achieve the best possible outcome.
Craig Bruno explains, “Making the transition from an old analog surveillance system to a new digital IP camera solution is one of the most difficult and daunting decisions a surveillance department can make.  Over the past few years, the surveillance industry has advanced rapidly. Technology innovations present themselves at a rate that is almost unmanageable.  Surveillance equipment and computer technology have finally merged to a point where we have high definition IP cameras streaming back to servers with incredible processing power and massive, inexpensive data storage that was thought impossible just a few years ago.  In fact, the new surveillance rooms being designed and built today are so advanced they would make just about any IT employee envious.”
Beyond being merely impressive, Craig Bruno explains his team has found that their new digital surveillance systems have dramatically increased surveillance operator’s productivity and efficiency, while reducing the overall workload.  In fact, he believes that in the near future, use of the word “INCONCLUSIVE” when describing the results of a video review will be non-existent.
Craig goes on to explain, “We have found numerous benefits as a result of installing a new digital IP camera solution. However, a few standouts are quite simply revolutionary to the surveillance industry.  For example, high definition mega pixel cameras provide our surveillance operators unprecedented video review capabilities.  These cameras can be digitally zoomed in during a review, while maintaining video clarity.  The advancements in data processing and end-user software has extensively been transformed from time consuming video reviews into an effortless, almost instantaneous art form.
“In the past, one of the surveillance department’s biggest challenges was the ability to add additional cameras while being able to afford the outrageously high cost of video storage.  Today, using digital systems, video can be stored for weeks as opposed to days, for a fraction of the cost.  Also, the overall size of new surveillance data rooms has decreased significantly due to superior hard drive technology while using smaller, more efficient equipment.  A surveillance room that once required rack after rack of equipment is now a fraction of the size.  New surveillance systems are also extremely energy efficient. This might seem like a small detail but when building a business case for investing in this type of upgrade and seeking to outline the return on investment, this change alone can save tens of thousands of dollars a year in energy costs,” explains Craig
While surveillance directors like Craig Bruno are leading the charge towards a digital future, there are still many security and surveillance professionals who believe that analogue systems are the only safe choice.  However, as Marisel Melendez, the Surveillance Director for Casino Del Sol in Puerto Rico, points out, digital migration need not be an all or nothing process. Marisel and his team started with the installation of a temporary system in the surveillance room to test its capabilities and user friendliness.  Marisel explains, “We wanted to see how easy the installation of a digital solution would be while establishing which challenges our existing infrastructure of cable and cameras could handle. By running a trial system, not only were we able to identify any potential issues, we were also able to provide venue management with actual evidence of the improvements this type of technology could provide, which helped build our business case. Seeing improved images and understanding how that translates into fewer losses can be very compelling when establishing a need.”
Puerto Rico is a highly regulated jurisdiction. In addition to working within the requirements of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company’s Gaming Division, Marisel and his team also needed to ensure that anything they did complied with the strict requirements of federal (US) laws relating to anti-money laundering policies and protection of financial information. Meeting all these requirements while making the transition to a digital system, without compromising the venue’s operations or losing operating hours, involved a number of interesting challenges, not the least of which included:

  • Replacing obsolete equipment recording less than 20 frames per second (fps).
  • Esuring the new system met certain storage requirements in order to comply with guidelines set out by local regulators while also staying within budget.
  • Building a surveillance system that was not only capable of recording existing analog cameras in an IP environment, but which would also be capable of integrating additional High Definition (HD) cameras with resolutions of anywhere from one to twenty-nine megapixels, depending on the property-wide need for risk-management, guest safety, game protection and the public trust.
  • Designing a system that would be scalable in order to facilitate the gradual replacement of the aged analog cameras so as to accommodate planned expenditure.
  • Developing a system which is user friendly for surveillance, security and casino staff, many of whom are not proficient in computer use.
  • Facilitating production of recorded video evidence that complies with legal and regulatory standards while also offering a range of different formats that would facilitate best quality with regard to recording quality, video management and digital storage space and the provision of evidence.
  • Complying with the Puerto Rico Tourism Company’s Gaming Division requirements for image quality and storage capability.

Only after Marisel and his team were satisfied they had overcome all these challenges could the migration to the digital system actually begin. The Casino Del Sol in Puerto Rico surveillance team is extremely satisfied with the network video surveillance solution and the significantly reduced time spent for investigations and claims resolution as a result of the installation.

In any digital security migration, it is imperative that security and surveillance mangers remember that the technology alone is not enough.  Ronald Flores CSP, a Gaming Commissioner for Pechanga Gaming Commission and a Surveillance Executive, explains that, “Training is also an important factor for any surveillance department that seeks to establish the integrity of a venue and its operations.”
“Often a surveillance team might bring in new agents who are trained specifically to monitor particular table games because these games are believed to be the most vulnerable. However, all members of the security surveillance team need the broadest possible training, in order for them to be truly effective,”.
Flores states, “Surveillance experts like Darrin Hoke and Douglas Florence speak about the need for security and surveillance operatives to understand the I.T. side of the industry. Consider a situation in which a rookie, or even an experienced agent, gets a call from purchasing, retail, or warehouse staff requesting assistance. In such a situation, he or she has no clue what to look for or what program to use, or even how to access the appropriate data which might be something as simple as restaurant deliveries. This type of scenario demonstrates a significant vulnerability that is equally as dangerous as that of table games.”
I.T. has become an integral part of the security function in recent years.  However, there is sufficient data to suggest that I.T department members can often represent the greatest risk with regard to fraud and theft within a Casino or gaming venue.  This raises the very legitimate question – who watches the I.T department? How might the information being sent between the I.T. department and systems such as slot machines, rewards clubs, marketing people, and other providers of the casino perks be regulated?  To meet this challenge, surveillance departments need to understand Dataveillance and how it works if they are to adequately monitor potential fraud or losses.  Flores believes that surveillance agents require training in ethical hacking and need security level certifications in order to move into the future. Surveillance agents must understand programs, how and why they are made and how those programs can be cheated along with RFID and cards.
Ronald Flores recounts an incident at a conference he recently attended where he overheard one table game director stating to another “Training! We need training” while the second disagreed replying “No! Training is not necessary because of the level of technology!” Neither is correct, states Ronald. He believes the solution is a marriage of both.  Technology is a wonderful thing and can help casino surveillance staff detect things they perhaps might not have previously seen and can also make the searches for specific events or incidents faster and less cumbersome. However, without the skills to know what they are looking for, such features are irrelevant. RFID technology or smart-shufflers may not always keep markings such as daubs, nicks and sands off of the cards.  Furthermore, one must ask, is it possible to achieve a false shuffle by simply kicking out the plug of the shuffling machine or steping on the cord thus ripping it out of the machine itself? The casino business is based on decisions which affect the venue’s ability to generate income. The fear of not generating revenue should be the proper stimulus for the property to have good technology and innovative surveillance solutions today.
The use of HD video in security will continue to be driven by global needs as the gaming industry follows the trend set by the consumer market, who have been using HD in their homes and businesses for over a decade.  Imagine modern mobile telephone that doesn’t have a camera with megapixel power? Who would buy such a device in this day and age? Surely it is incumbent upon casino operations to meet this level of video clarity, combined with good  “dataveillance” and proper training.  Many Gaming Attorneys, Regulators and Casino Executives are making more informed decisions today because of the innovations of surveillance solutions that manufacturers have achieved, while improving the public trust and providing the best evidence.
*Douglas Florence Sr., CPP, is the VP for Affiliate Members for the IMGL, Ronald Flores, CSP is the ASIS International Council Chair for the Gaming and Wagering Protection Council that is providing educational sessions for security, surveillance and investigations at the G2E. Craig Bruno is a member of te ASIS Gaming and Wagering Protection Council and Marisel Meléndez Aponte, MS serves the Puerto Rico Hospitality & Tourism Association and is a member of ASIS.

Contributors to the Article

Douglas Florence Sr., CPP                                Marisel Meléndez Aponte, MS
Business Development Director                      Director of Surveillance & Compliance Officer
Global Gaming                                                    International Hospitality Group, Casino Del Sol
Avigilon                                                                Office: 787-253-2374
Mobile: 702-683-6016                                      Mobile: 787-348-4434
douglas.florence@avigilon.com                      mmelendez@ihg-pr.com

Ronald Flores, CSP                                            Craig Bruno
Gaming Commissioner                                     Surveillance Director
Pechanga Gaming Commission                      Santa Rosa Rancheria Gaming Commission
Mobile: 951-595-0156                                      Tachi Palace Hotel & Casino        
RFlores@pechanga-pgc.com                          Mobile: 559-904-6644
                                                                              cbruno@santarosagc.net

Stephen Van Zwieten
Managing Director
Exact Security
Founding Chairman of the Australian Security and Gaming Council
1300 339 228