Casino Video Surveillance GuideBy: John Honovich, Published on Nov 30, 2010
Casinos break most of the 'rules' in video surveillance. With their large camera counts, high risks, frequent threats and numerous regulations, casinos operate by a different set of rules than their commercial and industrial counterparts.
Here are some of the most interesting aspects we examine in this report:
- Why casinos have firm demands for maximum frame rates
- What type of on-site tests for frame rate conformance are used
- Why security and IT have minimal relationships in casinos
- Why using the corporate LAN is almost never allowed
- How the pricing structure differs in casinos vs commercial
- Why UTP is the most common cabling choice in casinos
- Why significant barriers exist for using IP in casinos
- Why SD IP cameras offer little value for casinos
- Why SANs are uncommon in casino applications
- Why casinos strongly prefer large manufacturers
- Why only a limited number of recorder vendors qualify
- Why analog integration impacts a product's suitability
- Why Milestone has struggled in the casino market
- What Cisco did right and what issues they face
We start with a review of basic issues in using cameras in casinos to provide a foundation.
Not including retail, average percentages for a casino area:
- Slot coverage ~ 50%
- Money Areas ~ 25%
- Table Games ~ 15%
- Back of House and Common areas ~ 7%
- Food and Beverage (including POS) ~ 3%
Breaking down camera types, approximately 30-40% of casino cameras are PTZs while 60-70% are fixed - about a 2:1 ratio of fixed to PTZ cameras. This is a fairly high ratio of PTZ cameras, reflecting the need and value of real time monitoring.
In terms of new camera/ HD adoption, most desired areas are the money and table game areas followed by general floor such as large walking areas and exits/entrances.
Camera Count Ranges
Camera counts range from the small sites of 300 channels or less to larger sites of anything over 800 channels. Although the amount of physical installation work is directly proportional to the camera count of a casino the amount of logical work can vary greatly. The level and number of integration features that must be configured into the chosen VMS platform as well as preparedness of the site for the digital conversion are the two largest contributors to the logical work level. Regardless of the camera size of the job the resource it takes to support a site post commissioning is often the same due to the dramatic change from analog to digital with regards to the on-site technicians. Even with training it is a daunting task to become responsible for what amounts to a data center with little or no experience. Typically it takes the first year post installation for a technician to garner the confidence and familiarity with the routine needed to support and maintain their new digital VMS platform.
Frame Rate Requirements
Video is used exhaustively in the casino environment with so many static and active assets to monitor as well as staff and patrons 30 FPS is required for all areas that have money and high liability. Examples of these “Front of House” asset areas are Table Games, Cage, Progressive Slot Machines and high traffic routes through the gaming floor. “Back of House” areas typically requiring 30 FPS are Count Rooms, Card and Dice destruction, high value storage, interview and medical rooms, equipment rooms and delivery areas. Some sites will reduce the amount of recording using motion based triggered recording if regulations allow as many “Back of House” areas have scheduled use times and are not active 24/7. Audio recording is general required in Count Rooms, both hard and soft as well as medical and interview rooms for liability purposes.
Proving Image Rate
When asked, manufacturers must show the ability to advance the video frame by frame so a visual inspection of 30 images per second can be demonstrated. Simple techniques such as OSD (On Screen Display) image counters may work in a pre-purchase demonstration. However, when it comes down to compliance, casinos will often make the vendor/integrator click through each frame on several randomly selected video feeds to prove veracity of 30 IPS. Summarily it is routine if less than 30 IPS recording is being done on any channels in the system to use the sub 30IPS video in comparison to 30IPS video as a means of contrasting number of frames.
Problems of Meeting Frame Rate Requirements
This is determined by national or jurisdictional gaming regulations and there is absolutely no flexibility just as there is not with retention. Gaming regulatory bodies such as compliance boards differ on the level of involvement they impress on a given project but they are all keenly aware of what is required and make sure the products they are using meet that requirement. This is a stressful time in the installation because officials from compliance, regulatory or State Police have to certify the video and a cross section of camera shots before acceptance. This acceptance happens before final completion of the project and as with any projects of this size obstacles happen with a lot of work being done right up until the end. Understanding what the acceptance obstacles are and ensuring they are met prior to other requirements are keys to ensuring this hurdle is crossed and deliverable timelines are met. Camera retention and in some cases frame rate are juggled right up until opening and sometimes after opening dependent in large part to knowledge of these regulatory compliance policies. The NIGC as well as others provide compliance matrix checklists [link no longer available] to ensure all critical areas are evaluated prior to acceptance of an installation and can be found here.
Video Recording Duration Norms
Video retention is nearly always in multiples of 7 starting with the bare minimum of 7 days to 14, to 21 and peaking at 30. Regulatory bodies have tailored rules regarding retention based on camera coverage models such as location in the casino as well as assets being surveilled. Individual state agencies as well as the National Indian Gaming Commission have published minimum specifications [link no longer available] regarding retention to guide casinos with this regard based on revenue tiers (A, B and C).
Casino IT and Surveillance Department Relationships
IT and Surveillance departments working together is rare. The nature of Surveillance is to be an independent auditor of all things happening in a casino. Their regulatory bodies are set apart from the general casino, their employees typically are not allow to fraternize or eat with other employees and their data kept separate from other casino data. There is an inherent security in having separate systems and up until recently in the casino surveillance world there has not been any need or reason to communicate with IT. There exists a strong caution against IT because of the perception that the IT staffs knowledge and ability coupled with any access to a digital system is a potential compromise to the security of a property. While the above assumption is true it is not necessarily a fact. Integrated digital links going from Surveillance to IT should always be protected via a hardware firewall and configured in such a way as to only allow one way access. Surveillance departments that grant secure, remote access via the IT WAN links can be better maintained and a direct benefit to both the end user and the vendor. While this practice is not common place yet the few sites that leverage this ability are quite pleased with the results and come to depend on the expedience and thoroughness this support line affords regarding issue resolution. With the move to IP cameras and integration of systems for the purposes of data mining and exploit such as POS and Player Tracking there is a tenuous bridge being forged between the departments. Surveillance is slowly beginning to accept personnel from the IT department as technicians and the results are dramatic. While the IT recruits know nothing of the analog world, teaming with the existent Surveillance technicians they can begin the cross training needed to support the modern digital Surveillance environment.
Using the Corporate LAN
Running surveillance cameras on the general corporate LAN is extremely rare. An outlying building or a few remote cameras that come back on corporate fiber would be common exceptions. Regulations and compliance MICS in most Indian casinos do not allow for this type of data co-mingling in addition to the common data architecture is not conducive to mingling. In nearly all casinos the video signals come back to a central room for encoding and recording and are done so via UTP, Coax or Fiber. Edge encoding or recording are not common place in the casino environment yet although there are exceptions. Video is relentless data that can easily cripple a network if it is not properly configured and dependent on the junction locations chosen to aggregate video feeds Layer 3 switches may have be used which IT may not have out in remote locations. The primary reason still comes back down to security and compartmentalizing assets which provides an enhanced layer of security for each department. In a casino Player Tracking and or Slots, if not housed in the same system, typically have their own network and resources for the very same reasons Surveillance does.
Live Monitoring vs. Investigations Importance
Live video and the ability to move a PTZ well in live video mode is paramount to Surveillance personnel investigations. But this is only if the “Incident” is live or in the early stages such as determined by Surveillance personnel either discovering the incident as it is happening or receiving a report of an incident happening on the gaming floor by floor personnel. What is of equal importance is what I call 0-120 rule. How quickly and smoothly can a VMS solution go from Live to 2 minutes in the past based on operator request. Many review requests initiated either by Surveillance or Floor personnel do not make it to the stage of exporting or dubbing of video because the first step is to ascertain the veracity of the claim. The efficiency gains delivered by being able to rapidly access the last 2 minutes of video are crucial because this is where 70% of the action is in investigations according to industry experts. The time it takes to verify if something did or didn’t just happen translates directly into man hours and the effectiveness of Surveillance in protecting the casino’s assets. If reviews cannot be done quickly floor personnel loose precious time needed when the POI (Person of Interest) is still on the floor and in house. Also the longer and more cumbersome these investigations take in a given VMS solution the longer “Live” action is not being watched translating into Surveillance doing less actual monitoring and more reacting. Many Directors make this topic of the highest importance when reviewing any VMS solution.
Rarely are there more than 5 people in a room and the typical is 3 watching all the casino cameras and assets. ‘Super-sized’ casinos such as those in Macau have many more operators on shift but they have quite a few more table games installed in their gaming spaces which are the most watched items in a casino. In almost all cases, casinos have a far greater amount of staff dedicated to watching video than a typical commercial or industrial application and rely heavily on Floor personnel to alert them to any irregularities that may arise on property.
Justifying Surveillance Purchases
Compliance and quality of image are two of the key factors. Many jurisdictions have enacted legal mandates “Sunsetting” the use of analog recording and passing minimal acceptance or licensing criteria on manufacturers to nudge the casino’s into the digital age. The availability loss of VCR’s has obviously been a large factor as well but the quality of the image as delivered up stream to compliance or LEO’s (Local Enforcement Officials) involved in cases is also a source of pride amongst properties. The better the incident video asset the more options are afforded to the investigatory and compliance officials in determining the best course of action forward on a given case. All casinos track these incidents although not all systems allow for reports based on this information to be generated. The few cases that either got away due to inconclusive video or were caught because of the digital system often become the deciding factors in upgrading or justifying a purchase. HD cameras are getting quite a bit of traction via this very point as the overwhelming uses for these are on the gaming floor over table games. Every casino wants the ability to accurately quantify and identify the cards and chips in play on the floor. Identifying chips and pips of cards from 20 feet in the air with noisy carpet and possible lighting issues is done much better with IP HD cameras than digitally encoded analogue feeds no matter how good the analogue camera may be. With these images Directors are making the case that they could do a more efficient job of protecting the assets of the casino. They would be more aware of what is really going on relying less on judgment calls based on video nuances. Couple this with the 0-120 rule and operators can rapidly and with a higher degree of accuracy determine exactly what has or is happening on a table making the split second decision they have to make consistently that much better.
ROI Analysis for Surveillance Systems
Formal ROI analysis for justifying surveillance systems purchases are not common place, but informal criteria measurements are revolving around the concepts of accuracy and use. Use can be measured by post incident analysis and applying that analysis appropriately. Based on an industry poll conducted by the World Game Protection Conference, the industry believes they are about 20% effective at catching crime, other sources believe the actual number is closer to 35% based in no small part to the digital technology at the industries disposal. Depending on the total number of incident catches a casino makes annually you could simply multiply most places out by 80% and one would be pretty accurate unless the property is not catching anything at all. Surveillance could then be viewed as an insurance policy to protect the bigger asset, the casino and its patrons. For example a typical complete surveillance install on a new construction casino is roughly 1-2% of the building cost and a general estimate the system costs represents about 3-4% of the current assets to protect. While there are recurring costs large volume cost happens typically at a 5 year cycle making surveillance a cost effective policy.
Further there is an efficiency component to digital which should be considered. This efficiency gives surveillance the ability to resolve issues faster which allows in turn for personnel to investigate more incidents and more proactivity on the live camera feeds. There have been many published studies on how much money a casino can save every hour they deter criminals from their sites as well as the garnered reputation a property receives as being a hard target and with 1500 casino’s active in the US there are always other places for criminals to go. Legal liability concerns are important, not only for criminal prosecutions but also when dealing with personal injury cases. In injury cases, surveillance video is a primary determining factor in whether a property settles immediately and avoids the PR and monetary expense of a trial. The visual evidence can quickly determine it is not worth contesting the incident or if there exists other determining factors that can resolve the issue quickly the other way. The video of the pre and post conditions of the incident are also of valued importance in determining the condition of the person prior to the incident.
Lastly fine avoidance is a major factor in surveillance justification. Fines can accrue from the gaming regulation authority due to faulty equipment, lack of coverage or inadequate coverage and retention issues. Casinos can also be shut down if they lose a significant amount of video or require armed guards to be placed on the floor to protect assets while technical issues are resolved. The separation between surveillance and compliance exists to ensure issues such as these are treated very seriously and oversight unbiased in its evaluation of surveillance conditions and operations.
Casino Surveillance Costs
We estimate about $850 to $1400 end user cost per channel/camera for the video management component in casino surveillance. This includes encoders, recorders, storage, switches, monitors and PTZ controllers. This does not include camera costs (which will vary depending on the choice of fixed vs PTZ camera). The majority of the video management cost lies in the storage and encoding of the video streams. Factors such as retention and frame rate dictate all of the storage costs and can affect the encoding cost as several manufacturers discount licensing based on limited frame rate options. These video management costs are roughly double the costs of the commercial market. Additionally, most VMS solutions have barrier to entry such as core infrastructure and these can be mitigated by larger channel costs or definable product tiers further adding to the variance in the cost.
Unlike commercial and industrial security, product markups in the casino market for integrators are smaller ranging between 5-15%. As in any business some integrators charge smaller margins and make it up in volume while others charge a little more for what they hope is perceived as a higher quality offering and solution set.
Very few VMS providers sell directly into the casino market opting to utilize the integrator channel as has been traditionally done over time. Following this model manufacturers are hopefully able to secure more market share while not dramatically increasing sales and service departments leveraging the downstream integrators for such services. There is a growing trend of transparent pricing to large volume customers by manufacturers being driven by their desire for factory direct locked in pricing. While it is beneficial to the end user purchaser in many ways it is unclear what effect it will have on the downstream integrators which rely on the margin of these goods to provide the services they do for not only the end user but also the vendor themselves.
This shift will introduce complex support models into an already clouded environment that many end users find confusing as to who to call when issues occur. Integrators based on the number of disparate systems they must support and the slim margins they run on may become more discerning on which products they will install and support or look to pass the support directly to the manufacturers themselves.
Importance of Legal Regulations
National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) and the Nevada Gaming Commission (NGC), among others, have published regulations that in some form are used throughout the industry. Either as a basis for adopting their own regulations or as an augmentation of their existing MICS such as is done in Indian Gaming with the NIGC standards. States that allow gaming have their own standards as well as derived by their respective gaming commissions but many rely on the NGC regulations as a baseline due to its stature in the gaming world. Regulations are constantly being reviewed to address not only loopholes or oversights of an earlier publication but predominately as technology changes and new opportunities are afforded to surveillance are addressed and appropriate use determined. Review the NIGC Advisory documents [link no longer available] including committee meetings and proposed revision and additions to the current MICS.
There will always be late adopters even in Las Vegas which is considered the height of casino surveillance. A lot of it comes down to cost, need and waiting until the final moment of need before making the jump. Even though some casinos are on their second digital systems the cost of going to digital from analog can be daunting and given surveillance is considered a “Cost Center” for a property even though it saves the casino money these costs are hard to quantify into actual dollars.
Analog vs. IP
There are 3 categories: Analog, Hybrid and IP. Analog has no digital encoding whatsoever, Hybrid would have analog cameras being digitally encoded through external encoders and IP has no analog cameras being completely digital from the camera. The majority of the 1001 casinos in the US are Hybrid with analog being second and IP comprising the remaining.
New Installs - Analog vs. IP
Just as with the current installation base the majority of new installs at this point is still Hybrid followed by IP and Analog being non-existent in this area. Conservative estimates expect the casino market to stay this way for the next several years until the challenges of PTZ control and the current Hybrid base of installations gets to the point of replacement.
Recorder redundancy has become very important over the last few years. Today, nearly all manufacturers offer enterprise class recorders featuring redundancy of some magnitude. The level of redundancy varies from power supplies and data RAID sets to entire recorder failover or hybrid SAN fabrics. Typical redundancy options for data RAID sets are a RAID5 configuration allowing for 1 HDD failure without data loss and RAID6 which allows up to 2 HDD’s to fail without data loss. Both RAID5 and RAID6 data sets can be further enhanced with the addition of a global spare drive which allows the rebuild to happen immediately without technician intervention.
Other data redundancy strategies such as triple parity RAID-Z and SAN fabrics are not common deployment architectures at this point although there have been a handful of these installations. Creating separate RAID1 mirrors for the operating system of internal data based recorders is another level of redundancy currently being offered as it provides a separation away from the data RAID set which benefits performance and troubleshooting. SAS designed recorders are expected to become normal within the next 12 months as this technology comes down further in price and end users become informed of the benefits of this technology over SATA.
Cabling Choices in Surveillance
UTP is the most common, followed by coax and then fiber. Fiber is specifically used for backbone and long distance analog transmission for analog matrix bays such as tie lines. If a casino is still analog it is more than likely running Coax but if the property has gone digital or been built in the last 5 years it will more than likely utilize UTP.
However, having UTP installed does not ensure that the casino is IP ready. The topologies used for analog and IP are very different and unless the end user specified a future proof IP design at the time of install they will have to replace much of their infrastructure in order to completely move to IP.
Current UTP Structure
The current standard UTP installation includes a Siamese cable of 2 pair of Category 5 cable and 18AWG 2 wire conductor. While this still may work for IP cameras running 10/100 the industry should shift to pulling a 4 pair CAT5 and separate power cable in the event that POE either is not or cannot be used. The issue with some UTP jobs is that the integrator does not terminate the cable from the camera into a splice point like a 110 block. This means that for a PTZ (one pair video and one pair control) the cable has been broken apart, sometimes over long distance, and terminated in end of the line devices. The resultant wire maps are not clear or known as to length so a survey to see what could be used would have to be done incurring further costs. Alternatively, the more common choice is to home run all new UTP cables back to the nearest IDF or other junction closet for backhaul aggregation to the core network switch which could hopefully afford the delivery of PoE to the cameras. Cable distances on gaming floors vary greatly due to allowed path of the cable making the use of edge hardened switches of tremendous value but mixing hardware vendors is a frightening proposition to many untrained people and can impact installation costs as the degree of difficulty increases.
Nearly all casinos use a matrix switch due to the pre-existence of the analog matrix and the PTZ functionality of “Live” analog over that of digital. While the “digital lag” of PTZ movement is being abated the matrix switch is the workhorse and has been the center of casino surveillance for a very long time and in the foreseeable future will stay that way.
There are several factors that elevate the status of the analog switch such as replacement cost, failure rate, technical familiarity of staff, maturity of replacement technology but feel of PTZ control is nearly always at the top of the list. PTZs are primarily used to place and zoom on a particular location such as a table game position or to follow an incident or person of interest (POI) while on the gaming property. While for basic PTZ movement such as spotting a position on the floor the PTZ IP cameras in most cases does and would suffice it is the latter case of advanced PTZ movement which operators complain the most about. Trying to follow a fast paced incident as it is unfolding through a property with an IP PTZ is very difficult and frustrating to personnel who rely on the split second control and display of an analog matrix to protect and serve their properties. Image quality is not disputed as the IP HD PTZs clearly are better in this regard but PTZ control accuracy and fluidity can match analog PTZs, adoption will be slow.
Hybrid Benefits / Approach
The Hybrid model is one in which the analog and the digital are integrated to function as one in the surveillance environment. While this can be as simple as encoding all of a sites analog cameras and giving the operators QWERTY keyboards and mice to reside next to their analog control keyboards it can go as far as a complete masking of the analog nature of the system controlling everything through the digital VMS solution. The benefits of the hybrid model are very similar to the aforementioned matrix switch importance with a few added benefits. These additional benefits typically are the ability to enhance other integrations with matrix control, graphical representations of cameras for ease of selection and training of new operators as well as cost savings in using gear the property already owns. Although many properties have integrated alarms into the analog matrix configuration the ability to not only display this information on a digital client in a very graphical way and highlight the camera on a map or perform compound actions such as automatic video incident creation escalates the efficiency of department personnel. The analog integration is the bedrock on which other integrations can enhance their value propositions such as analytics, and POS integrations. By reinforcing how efficiently and seamlessly an operator can be presented with alarm information and by not diminishing their ability to quickly respond to and investigate the alarms directly impacts the efficiency and pleasure with a VMS system choice.
Another common use of the hybrid environment is the ability to failover NVR/DVRs and encoders through the cross point architecture of the analog matrix. While not every VMS solution uses this as a failover point as some have already made the jump to digital failover through the network switch and more will as the use of IP cameras becomes more prevalent and reliance on the analog matrix dissipates. Key to this integration is the ability to control the matrix during an alarm condition such as equipment failure and route the analog video to other hot standby equipment for recording while notifying personnel of the equipment failure and rerouting of video. VMS providers accomplish these tasks in different ways but the end result is the same and as the primary data is the analog data the only common cross point is the matrix switch.
Coupling the speed and efficiency of live analog with the instant review, space savings over VCRs, failover, incident creation and integration capabilities of a digital system offers the best balance of cost and pragmatic efficiency possible at this point. Casinos are typically very reactionary with regards to their video due to the sheer volume of video assets they have juxtaposed against the number of staff they have watching them. Operators receive requests from floor personnel constantly to watch or review incidents and the greater ease with which these tasks can be performed the more value and satisfaction derived from the system choice.
SD IP cameras offer little to no benefit to working casinos. To justify the purchase and installation cost of IP cameras personnel leverage the image quality of IP HD cameras. Enhanced image quality of HD directly translates into an increased efficiency and veracity in the decisions surveillance are asked to make in protection of their properties and patron’s interest. This is why the primary uses of these devices at this point are over the high liability areas such as table games. Rather than watching the same shot several times over, using de-interlacing techniques or squinting to determine the pips and how many chips are or were on the table with an HD camera this information is retrieved accurately during the first review and is nearly always conclusive.
The reluctance to use HD cameras was one built on several factors:
- Usability of the product sets as presented to the gaming market. Many first and current offerings tout HD image sizes but in less than 30IPS configurations and given the casinos regulatory need for 30IPS on the assets these cameras would watch precludes them from use.
- Late adoption of HD recording by VMS manufactures primarily in casino vertical. Genetec, OnSSI, and Milestone, who all have large libraries, are not mainstays in this vertical and all VMS manufacturers in this space are still playing catch up to their vast IP libraries.
- Inability of large national casino based integrators to understand the offerings or present them well to consumers which left exposure to the few times a year end users may see them at trade shows.
- Cost of installation from new cabling, recorders, quite possibly review clients as the rendering resource needed of HD cameras outweighs a typical D1 encoded video channel. Dependent on how old the current digital system is one may be limited to only a few of the HD shots at a time rather than a 4x4 or even a 2x2.
An increasing number of casinos are going to HD for the reasons listed above although the wholesale adoption of IP over analog is still rare. Most RFPs hitting the street for solicitation will contain a section that addresses the need for HD cameras either as part of the purchase or the ability to do so at a later date without major disruption to the purchase today.
A majority of the casinos use internal storage inside of the DVR/NVR and limit the channel count of the unit to accommodate the storage limitation. This directly equates to more units moved for the storage manufacturer as still there is more perceived profit in tin than software. With megapixel cameras and the need for some VMS software only manufacturers to partner with storage companies more SAN like deployments have taken place. DAS (Direct Attached Storage) is commonly employed to achieve higher channel counts or longer term recording as jurisdictions require. A fundamental flaw with DAS architecture is the difficulty of onsite technicians to troubleshoot and the reliance on copper SCSI inter-connect cables which can become the bane of a technician’s existence. Although optical fiber cables and HBA’s have existed for quite a while the added expense of this more reliable and elegant architecture is a very tough sell to end users that have not directly experienced or understand the frailty of the copper cables.
When more storage is needed by a surveillance department another NVR/DVR as well as encoders are purchased as it is nearly always to add cameras not increase retention of current cameras. These are block sales of gear to build onto an existent system not a backend storage growth of the current video assets.
SAN architecture typically offers very little upside to the casino vertical because storage needs and demands do not grow or expand on a use model as they do in Information Technology. There is only one area of a system that grows once first retention is met and this is the area in which video incidents are kept. If this storage is centralized and based on the same units as the recorders it can take upwards of nearly 3 years to fill a 10TB volume of video clips. Using RAID6 and with triple parity RAID-Z on the horizon the advantages that SAN architecture claims are just not as salient as the burden of support and cost. The audience in gaming is overwhelmingly analog and asking these technicians to support and maintain a digital system which is very akin to a data center and then tacking on the burden of understanding a SAN architecture, no matter how support free the manufacturer claims it to be, is a daunting task and reaps very little if any reward based on the usage model proposed.
Video Analytic Use
This is an area of great interest to many in this industry as the promise it holds for efficiency in becoming the 4th or 5th person is the surveillance room is quite potent. Unfortunately applications leveraging this promise have not delivered in a way that most users find tangible in impacting their bottom line ROI. People counting is consistently tested and has been minimally deployed in casinos. The results vary due to the factors involved in the installation and the understanding of the limitations of the systems have negatively impacted the deployments. Most analytic companies want as close to an overhead shot as possible which is quite difficult in many casinos and as narrow a shot as possible and many of the walkways into and out of casinos are large expanses. Larger expanses require scene or camera stitching to perform their tasks which compound items and can negatively impact the net result of the system. This basic analytic is typically used to replace or augment turnstiles or personnel holding counters which can directly relate to a labor savings if accuracy levels can be achieved and maintained.
As with HD cameras unless the analytic manufacturers take to the streets themselves, the large national integration firms in the casino vertical many times lack the sophistication to properly design or install analytics. Compounding this is the lack of volume in these sales which means a large intellectual or training investment by the integrators for little return when they have many products they currently service and install. Nearly all VMS and camera manufactures offer basic to advanced motion based alarms with multiple zones and some even trip wire functionality cutting into basic functions of an analytic offering.
LPR is another analytic proposed or employed in gaming with mixed returns as the ROI on these systems is difficult to quantify unless the scope of use and expectations is narrowly defined at the outset. Large analytic companies such as Object Video don’t even play in this space most likely due to saturation and inability to distinguish themselves from the other players. In the casino vertical when analytics are used in conjunction with other systems there value becomes much more evident and their return solidified. Coupling the ability to detect loitering with a POS alarm of a No Sale or Promo indicating that no one is in front of the register at the time of this transaction can detect unwanted employee behavior without the resource of watching employees all the time. Another example is combining LPR with a Digital Valet system to leverage the surveillance department’s ability to determine damage or improper use claims immediately and effectively and potentially tie people to vehicles for further identification.
Until an application is derived which can solidly leverage the promise of analytics to more than just a narrow audience their wholesale adoption will be further delayed. Many VMS providers are attempting to leverage analytics as a portion of a larger feature set as in the examples given above. This narrows the analytic scope and potentially increases their value by integrating them with existing systems. Whether the cost model of analytics as it stands now will become a hindrance to this narrow scope remains to be seen but analytic companies have shown to be quite nimble in their reaction to the changing landscape.
Manufacturers/Products Used in Casinos
Commonly Used Manufacturers
In our experience the most commonly used manufacturers in US casinos include: Honeywell, Pelco, Bosch, IndigoVision, Synectics, NICE, DVTel, Genetec, AD, Dallmeier and Cisco.
All of the vertical’s primary players have either name recognition and analog feature sets or both which have had them in the industry or more importantly in the customer’s site for years previous. Honeywell, Pelco, Bosch and AD leverage their analog gear to gain entrance and advantage by either integrating into the existing analog matrix or replacing it with one of their own for next to nothing. The remaining manufacturers must either integrate into the existing analog matrix switch as seamlessly as possible, which is not always easy, or get the end user to understand why they don’t need the matrix anymore which some have done but is still a very tough sale.
Preference for Large Companies
The securities of buying from the likes of a large company weigh greatly on the people not only making the recommendation, Surveillance, but also the finance people writing the check. Something to consider in the casino vertical is the perspective of the people making the decision or recommendation for their property. With the exception of the major gaming centers of Nevada and Atlantic City casinos are singular in their communities and many times a great employment opportunity in these communities. It is perceived as a considerable risk by many to choose a smaller company regardless of the seemingly or real technological advantage to that of a Pelco or Honeywell. The larger companies have an aura of not going anywhere and regardless of the struggles of the product or technology. They were here yesterday, are here today and more importantly should be tomorrow to ensure the directors decision was a good one securing their employment. While there are several analogies one can draw to show the fallacy of this line of thinking going with large companies is playing the odds and seen as safer bet to many and this is a vertical that knows how to play the odds!
Vendor Selection Criteria
Size and scope of manufacturer product offering is a large factor and each one obviously plays to their strength. Large manufacturers have touted their ability to absorb a large mistake or oversight on a job whereas smaller ones have pointed to their cutting edge features and direct customization as validating reasons. Regardless of the manufacturers size a common theme in the casino vertical is the use of fear to leverage the complete or turnkey solution offered by many of the major manufacturers. While there are a few manufacturers that allow integrators or end users to truly integrate their solution with other best of breed products this represents a major minority in the casino vertical. The truth is very few VMS manufacturers design and or build their NVR and Review Client units. Opting either for white box builders to provide them with cost performing options out of COTS components or to forego the storage portion by letting companies such as Intransa and Pivot 3 provide this portion. The industry speaks of openness in design and implementation but the reality is most manufacturers are only open to the parts of their solution they either cannot or do not want to source. Sufficient knowledge by either the integrator or end user on how to source or contact build storage and workstation units would allow these items to be purchased from direct sources or as a bundled IT purchase. Doing this will raise the finger pointing argument when it comes to support issues but this is easily mitigated with a VMS manufacturers fee for compatibility testing and perhaps a little larger fee for warranty support which should be far less than the premium paid for the COTS units from the VMS manufacturers.
The ability to service products is another large selection criteria. In these areas size once again does have its perceived advantages. Several of the manufacturers in this vertical have support staffs of less than 12 people in this country and have their primary support and development facilities outside of the US market. While this doesn’t translate directly into support failure it generally translates into support delays as distance and time intervals are overcome. Nearly all the casino sites are closed or dark systems mandating manufacturer support personnel rely on second hand information from a technician that quite possibly caused the issue for diagnosis and resolution. Large manufacturers such as Pelco, HW, Bosch and AD have the perception of more people on the street which suggests better support not to mention they have a legacy of analog support with which to leverage as Pelco has done for years. While this perception does not directly equate to superior support it is the perception and a major criteria point for larger casino operators. Integrators vary on how well they support the products they install and with the varied amount of gear they must install and support it can be very difficult and sometimes a no win proposition for them to attempt rather than just handing it off to the manufacturer. Smaller manufacturers want to rely on the integrator so they don’t incur the overhead of additional support technicians as they see it as the role of the integrator to handle Tier 1 support. It is a moving target that is often times confusing for the end user who desires immediate resolution and a solid contact when issues arise.
In response to the burdens placed on integrators alliances have been formed in the casino vertical between select manufacturers and integrators. The upshot of these ties is that support and sales resource between the two companies can be used more effectively and the knowledge investment placed can grow rather than suffer dilution from other products. Most national integrators will employ a small stable of product alliances with only a few having exclusive alliances with a particular manufacturer. Honeywell was one of the first to employ this strategy with an east coast based integrator as their vendor of choice. While Honeywell occasionally performed other jobs with different integrators and the east coast based integrator sold some product from other manufacturers this alliance benefited both quite well and forged the way for other manufacturers to follow suit. The downside to this situation is the loss of the unbiased opinion of the integrator and their ability to actually integrate products rather than solely offer the turnkey solution and developed integrations of their alliance partner. As the IP revolution makes it way to casinos and the design and implementation shifts from what it has been for many years to more IT centric capabilities there is a fear of further marginalization of the integrator as they rely more on their manufacturer for support and design opening the door further for IT companies to add value.
Milestone VMS in Casinos
The Milestone model of software only, which allows for integration at a system level, is generally is too much for most integrators to absorb:
- Saturation of outlets in which to buy the product directly translating into unwanted competition and lack of differentiation.
- Drain on skillset to fulfill the product model as it is not as turnkey or complete as the other players in the field. The integrators are still the primary route to the end user and if the integrators do not understand it the end users will never hear about it or get demonstrations on it.
- Milestones lack of casino installations: This is a barrier all manufacturers must climb and the larger, older ones did so with their analog gear from previous years giving them credence in the market.
- Front end user interface not as usable as other manufacturers. While the feature set itself is equal to or better than any of the other players in the space the usability as compared to less feature rich GUI’s is lacking.
- Not a “Complete Solution” as viewed by the integrators. Integrators make the beggars share of the profit and take the thief’s share of the responsibility for these installs. Integrators do not have the time or resource to design and build NVR/DVR components or test and evaluate IP cameras and encoders. Exclusivity and the ability to shield themselves from liability as well as manufactures already stringent demands locking them up with discounts and the possibility of not being supported in future deals are major parts of this industry.
Cisco in the Casino Market
When Cisco acquired Sypixx and Broadware they looked poised to do something and when the announcement came they had secured the Harrah’s chain as manufacturer of choice for all properties, the industry braced itself. The Sypixx offering (now called Stream Manager) was not that impressive and the GUI was underwhelming but it had a simplicity that appealed to many just as VST had prior. Sypixx were strategic about how they approached the market and partnered with a very effective integrator in the Las Vegas area and this coupled with their knowledge from previous ventures of the casino vertical helped them immensely. The real jewel I believe was the Layer 2+ protocol Sypixx developed to perform effective multicasting on Layer 2 switches enhancing them beyond just basic IGMP snooping instead of pricier Layer 3 capable switches.
Cisco has several casino installations and offer a complete solution as the other major manufacturers in the industry but do so from a different take coming from the digital side not the analog one. Chances are Cisco is already in the IT department or running the slot or player tracking equipment and departments. By looking for and providing solutions to casinos other than just surveillance they are bolstering their credibility in the eyes of the property decision makers as they did with Harrahs. The feature set of their core surveillance product is not generally considered top tier as their GUI is underwhelming and they lack the integration sets of many of the top manufacturers. They have suffered the departure of many of the Sypixx acquired talent but they are Cisco and where that name recognition counts they will always be a contender and as surveillance moves closer to IP they are moving closer to a world Cisco knows all too well.