A Royal Flush

Hidden gem packs in the customers while state-of-the-art surveillance system works behind the scenes

Tucked deep in the forest on the property of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, the MGM Grand at Foxwoods is truly a diamond in the Connecticut rough. The hotel/casino is part of a megaresort and gaming destination that attracts getaway gamblers from the Eastern Seaboard.

Its destination appeal includes numerous gaming facilities, a plethora of shows and entertainment events, and a hotel facility that is second to none. The complex’s numerous other revenue streams include restaurants that rival any of the city’s cousins.

Behind the scenes, an incredible surveillance system lies networked to three control rooms, watching and guarding millions of square feet of resort space. The tribal nation is not new territory to Cynthia and Ron Freschi and their team at North American Video. Their latest security installation work is part of a $700 million expansion project on a 2 million square foot addition.

The NAV contract totaled more than $5 million.

“This expansion project is just a part of our goals for the remainder of 2008 and into next year,” said Cynthia Freschi, president of NAV. “Our performance is based on maintaining the best-in-class security systems in the gaming industry and building that into a worldwide reputation.

“We are extremely pleased to have been selected for this high-profile project by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal leaders and Foxwoods surveillance team. It further validates our reputation for delivering advanced integrated surveillance solutions for the most demanding installations.”

Technology Futures
After spending a couple of days at the MGM Foxwoods in Ledyard, Conn., I asked Cynthia Freschi, president of NAV, a few questions about the security industry in general. I wanted to share this interesting Q&A with our readers.

Q. Technology will always have a role in the security industry, but what do you see coming down the road?
A. We’ll see the day in the not-too-distant future when there will be a non-invasive scanner at airports. This will be an interesting development in homeland security equipment. We’re also hearing about software matching with RFID and technology where cameras will have the ability and intelligence to hand-off tracking a person. I think we’ll also see chip interface with Wi-Fi and RFID very soon.

Q. What direction do you see NAV taking in regard to security?
A
. We’re interested in other verticals that have a similar footprint that we’re currently serving. For instance, I see NAV getting involved in the hospitality venue, key infrastructures and airports. We already have a contract with Augusta Aerospace to design and consult on a project. We enjoy this and plan to see more involvement in the airport industry.

Q. Will there always be room for the momand- pop startups? Are they a role player in this industry?
A. I hope there will always be startup franchises. They do play a key role in getting new technology moving. When I say new technology, I mean a product that we’ll actually see in about 18 months. From the players in this arena, we’ll soon see solar-powered cameras and technology, solar-powered Wi-Fi and many other technologies that will make a difference.

Q. Does the security industry need regulation?
A.
No. Giving the government control is not necessary. As long as there are standards and guidelines, new technology will continue. I believe regulation would put a stop to technology advances at the pace we’re seeing today. Guidelines would be the most beneficial.

Reputation Means Everything
The worldwide reputation is probably already established for NAV employees. For instance, the company was instrumental in the security integration at the Wynn Resort in Macao, China. At the Foxwoods Resort, the NAV installation is a test bed for intelligent video and other new technologies emerging in the industry. Reputation also included a combination of manufacturers’ cameras for the video surveillance installation, including products from American Dynamics, CCTVproducts.com, Panasonic and Sony. NAV branded displays also are deployed throughout the installation.

In fact, protection of Foxwoods is divided into a pair of entities. Security is responsible for the non-gaming entities of the property and facility. It’s the Office of Surveillance that involves NAV installers and technicians. Their efforts are coordinated by Tim Bohr, the director of surveillance for the Pequot Tribe’s assets at the casino.

Bohr said there are definite similarities in his current position, which he has held for 12 years, and his previous position in the banking industry. However, a gaming enterprise on tribal land is self-regulated because the tribe is a sovereign nation. He also works hand-in-hand with tribal police, Connecticut State Police, FBI and Secret Service, and other government law enforcement agencies.

“The tribal council has their own plan, especially when it comes to surveillance in the casinos and throughout the resort,” Bohr said. “I have been hired by the tribe to oversee and watch out for their assets. They keep very close tabs on the gaming experience here at Foxwoods.”

A Longstanding Partnership
Foxwoods and NAV had been partners for more than 15 years when the initial casino and resort was built on tribal land.

The Pequot Tribal Nation, like many other casinos on tribal land, adheres to the Native Indian Gaming Association regulations.

“We have found the Native Americans are much quicker to embrace newer technology, and by doing so they exceed already established regulations,” said Ron Freschi, NAV technical director. “Other casinos, whether it be on Native American land or not, are always asking for guidance from the people at Foxwoods. The Tribal Council is often suggesting or asking about newer technology, and they are willing to test it and truly understand how it works and how it will benefit their operation.”

At a time when the nation’s economy is experiencing a downturn, and gas prices are on the uptick, the Foxwoods Resort caters to up to 75,000 people a day. The surveillance equipment install at the resort has to be the best of the best.

In the belly of this beast known as Foxwoods Resort, the surveillance system was designed with the future in mind. That means IP is the control room backbone where power, video and data are received and analyzed. Storage of all this information is taken to a different, offsite location.

The future in the Foxwoods control room also includes a redundant system of all activities and equipment. For instance, eight matrix switchers are linked with the capability of supervising nearly 12,000 cameras. The Foxwoods Resort has about 6,500 cameras online with the MGM using 2,200 surveillance cameras.

“The American Dynamics systems are a simple but effective casino application,” said Mike Womack, senior project manager for NAV. “The install went well with a few minor problems but nothing that wasn’t expected in a build this large.

“Now that we have installed this design, it will be an easy retrofit for a full IP solution in the future,” Womack said. “There is always a learning curve when a customer receives a new system. The Foxwoods staff have been using American Dynamics digital and matrix systems for years, so they will have no problem maintaining their systems for years.”

“Now that the system is in place and running, we have seen no real problems and it continues to function well,” said Mike Gauvin, technical manager at Foxwoods.

Show Me the Money
On tribal lands, there is no tolerance for gaming cheats. The surveillance staff includes about 100 employees who work 24/7, every day of the year, monitoring from three main surveillance rooms. Their vigilance is focused on the casino floor, the money pits and anywhere else there is a scent of cash. That also includes any movement of monetary assets within the casino proper.

Surveillance staff watch for such things as slight of hand with gaming chips and cards, using the latest technology, with some of the tables wired with surveillance technology so they can get a closer look where the action is. They also track known cheats throughout the world using a network of shared intelligence on a daily basis.

The matrix, or brains of the camera installation, is the switching system where inputs are sent to outputs and the entire surveillance system is housed. The housing area is shared by security and surveillance systems. NAV installed the surveillance side, which looks like a well-organized wire city. Six to eight NAV installers took six months to integrate all the wires and hardware within custom-made racks. The system supplies cool air through the floor and pushes the heat out the top of the systems. Once installed and online, racks are never opened unless more equipment is added.

With this kind of precision in an installation and the technology investment by the tribal council, Ron and Cynthia Freschi have caught the eye of top security technology companies that want to test their newest products. According to Ron Freschi, NAV and the Foxwoods installation have become a desired testing ground for technology.

Testing means that vendors seek permission to bring technology onsite for a review. This includes IP cameras and extended storage modules, all of which are passed by NAV engineers. NAV also has a full lab at their Las Vegas location. If, for any reason, a review or test gets a red light, the operation stops and doesn’t go any further. Right now, the hottest product in the testing blocks is analytic software. Both NAV and Foxwoods Resort are taking a long, hard look at the possibilities.

What Comes Next?
Because technology never stands still, NAV staff rely on training. It’s important for the Freschis to implement training to maintain their best-of-breed status. As Ron Freschi puts it, “We put our reputation on the line. We want to be thoroughly trained and ready at all times.”

Even in slower economic times, the casino industry seems to be growing. At least it is booming for NAV. Casinos are highly regulated, meaning NAV staff must do their job in meeting the standards, or the place won’t open. One of the things that keeps integrators moving is an installation with open architecture. That means best-of- breed equipment.

Currently, Foxwoods Resort mainly uses analog cameras, and installers have to ensure the cameras work. Without the cameras working, the games don’t open. If a DVR goes down, the pits follow suit, so there is quite a bit of redundancy where cameras are positioned to offer various angles of coverage. This ensures the gaming floor activities stay up and running.

In the not-too-distant future, IP video surveillance will be integrated as the full-blown surveillance system throughout the facility. The integration will affect access control, as well as other revenue streams in the resort, such as restaurants.

“The future is in IP video surveillance and IP-enabled cameras,” Cynthia Freschi said. “We plan to become more involved in the Native American gaming community because of their interest and trend to use the latest technology. Everything is an IT-based product anymore.”

Back to the Future
Talking about the future is like examining NAV’s past. The company grew of out a New Jersey garage in the late 1990s. Cynthia Freschi said it all likely started with a cold call. She said they would then meet up with the potential customer and find out what kind of system was wanted. But what really got the company started was customer service and the family-friendly atmosphere.

“We cared about our customers and their needs,” Cynthia Freschi said. “When we got our first big break, it was with a casino. It was a rather big contract, and the installation went perfectly. We always assured our customers that we would be there when there was a problem because we felt they were buying a service. It was all about a partnership.”

History has a way of repeating itself. Ron and Cynthia Freschi completed their tour of the MGM Foxwoods facility just like they started it several months ago. Their employees and customers are family. In fact, NAV makes sure the system is worthy of the company reputation by keeping an employee on site to ensure proper operation of the equipment. It’s an interesting relationship between integrator and end user that began with a hug and a $5 million handshake.

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