Watching over gaming tables with HD

Watching over gaming tables with HD

Faced with challenges such as false claims, theft, game scams, money laundering and drugs, casinos are upgrading their surveillance and security systems to ensure safety for all. Many casinos, to date, are still tied to analog solutions. “Of the hundreds of thousands of cameras monitoring and recording the 700-plus gaming properties in North America, we estimate less than 10 percent are currently IP and, even fewer are full HD (1080p) IP,” said John Katnic, VP of Global Gaming at Synectics. Pace of migration varies. “In North America, most new builds are opening with IP infrastructure, or at least a hybrid combination.”

According to Scott Paul, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Pelco by Schneider Electric, Neveda is changing. “Roughly 25 percent of the operators are fully digital. The remaining have yet to make the transition to digital or HD.”

“The casino and gaming market is expected to experience a gradual increase between 5 to 10 percent in network video surveillance product sales through 2014 in North America,” said Steve Surfaro, Security Industry Liaison, Axis Communications. “The gaming industry is one sector where the adoption of IP-based technology has been slower. As this market continues to accept and adopt network cameras, the market share for analog cameras will shrink approximately 2 to 5 percent. The Gulf Coast in the U.S. will be a prime target for system upgrades in a few years, especially in Mississippi and Louisiana. Native American gaming in Mississippi and Alabama is also expected to drive considerable growth. The Oklahoma gaming market continues to upgrade from analog to IP with virtually all new installations on the gaming floor using IP video. You even have certain local gaming commissions, like the South Dakota Gaming Commission, who are mandating that any table with US$100 or more limits must be covered by HD cameras.”

Avigilon is optimistic about the HD drive. “If we take into account that more than 500,000 analog cameras are operating in North American casinos and the total number of units worldwide likely exceeds 1 million, that translates to huge growth potential for HD,” said Douglas Florence, Business Development Director for Global Gaming, Avigilon. “HD adoption has picked up greatly since 2007 when we first saw a few Native American casinos install their first megapixel or HD cameras.”

Other conditions for business development have improved as well. “Lower TCO for complete HD systems, cheaper storage technology, and vendor policies that avoid charging recurring software licenses all help with the growth,” Florence added.

Follow the Money
Cash cages, registers and table games are where most HD deployments are found. “Game tables, slot machines, cashiers, PoS terminals and the vault are usually monitored by HD systems while standard definition (SD) IP cameras focus on remaining areas,” said Scott Bartlett, CEO of Southwest Surveillance Systems.

Being able to visually confirm currency denominations or hands is a bare minimum, Katnic said. “Table games benefit by being able to distinguish a queen of spades from a king of clubs from a ceiling-mounted camera 20 feet away. This is particularly true of fixed cameras because operators can digitally zoom in to an HD shot with less pixilation compared to a fixed analog unit.”

HD resolution is best suited for when money is being handed out. “It provides much better visual information for card handling, money exchanges, card identification and chip values,” Surfaro said. “HD is very well-suited for dispute resolution when discrepancy between the cashier and the patron arises. The use of HD cameras and redundant coverage on ‘high stakes' slots and tables is also becoming a ‘standard' as recognition of negative behavior like card counting is much easier.”

According to Paul, entry and exit points are other “hot spots” for HD solutions as most casinos have excellent relationships with local authorities and are frequently requested to provide quality footage for identifying people of interest.

HD solutions might be more widely used if the cost is justified by the content being monitored. “Most demonstrations start out at table games, and once security directors experience the clarity HD cameras provide, the desire to add more HD products grows. HD cameras have been added to areas such as restaurants, count rooms, casino entrances and parking areas,” Florence said. The investment pays for itself when operation executives learn that they can make a more informed decision on a dispute or reduce false liability claims.

Legal Issues
In the U.S., continuous real-time recording is mandated for all gaming activities, and the minimum duration is seven days. However, many casinos opt for longer retention times for various operational and security reasons. “Retention requirements vary by country, state and what's being recorded or viewed,” Katnic said. “A few states, like Wisconsin, require 30 days of recording for all cameras. Most others, including Nevada and other major gaming jurisdictions, require a minimum of 7 to 14 days. Some regulators require 14 days for gaming, cages and count rooms and just a week for slots, parking lots and so on. Singapore and Macau casinos typically require 30 days of retained video for gaming areas.”

Most regulations were drafted around analog technologies, and there are few specific requirements in relation to a particular HD resolution such as 720p or 1080p. “The standard across most international, regional and local regulations is that the video produces 30 fps to provide real-time monitoring,” Florence said.

Most operators, thus, choose said frame rate for almost everything, according to Paul. “Nevada requires 30 fps for a minimum of seven days for gaming operations and 2 to 7 fps for nongaming. Live viewing is always 30 fps. Everything digital is required to be redundant and as failsafe as technically possible.”

Redundancy and resiliency are crucial, as lost video can result in fines from $100,000 to millions. “We see requirements like RAID configuration on storage, but not specific to RAID 5, 6 or otherwise,” Bartlett said. “But there are more stringent requirements in Nevada that require no more than eight gaming cameras to a piece of hardware such as a network switch. This is in order to avoid catastrophic failure. We have gotten around this requirement with redundant power supplies, fans and the like. Again, the more resiliency, the better for casino applications.”

Winning Big Ain't Easy
Budget remains one of the biggest hurdles when considering upgrades. In this economy, the best option may be to phase slowly from an analog system to a hybrid system. Solution providers need to provide a simple, scalable migration path. “Most casinos currently implement hybrid/IP infrastructure using SD which allows them to leverage existing analog matrix technology,” Paul said. New system architecture needs to align itself with existing system design.

Another challenge with HD is the processing power of each camera, as not all HD cameras are as powerful as manufacturers claim. “We are seeing HD deployed in the gaming and money areas only. The drivers are the technology itself. We need to maintain a high frame rate with HD streaming on multiple channels,” Bartlett said. “A typical casino would like to have 10- or 20-megapixel cameras that can send multiple streams at 30 fps, but that isn't going to be feasible in a while. We are starting to see more 3- and 5-megapixel cameras and higher frame rates, but are still away from mass adoption. Once the technology ‘catches up' and can meet those needs, you will see a lot more HD deployments.”

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