Essential Surveillance

IP video CCTV systems integral part of casino network

It’s no wonder that casino operators are among the most proactive and demanding users of video surveillance. A quality surveillance system is as much a part of the business model as chips, cards and highstakes dealers. For the casino operator, resolving gaming disputes is made easier with best-quality video for images and frame rates.

“An IP video system that delivers these essential elements also adds other dimensions to the surveillance operation by providing analytical search tools and features, such as recall of recorded video,” said Oliver Vellacott, founder of IndigoVision. “The use of IP video technology allows any component in the system to be located anywhere on the network. This gives large casinos the flexibility to easily and cost-effectively integrate CCTV surveillance into their operations and establish off-site control rooms or monitor multiple sites from one central point.”

Casinos face myriad issues, including the fact that they often cover a large floor area with a tremendous number of gaming tables and slot machines. Factor in a 24/7, high-motion environment in which large amounts of cash are handled, and this creates a venue of cheating, theft and fraud.

High Stakes
With so much at stake, the fast resolution of customer disputes is important. Also, if there is an incident or equipment failure, a gaming table or area can be shut down, costing the casino money.

“The presense of an IP solution is paramount,” said Thomas Lee, CEO of American Video Electronics Inc. “We always recommend an internal network because we see the digital advantages exceeding use of an analog system. We also stress a customized solution where unlimited cameras can be used to keep the business open and generating revenue.”

Depending upon the location of the casino, regulations vary, but it’s safe to say they are stringent. For instance, in Florida, no slot machine can be used if CCTV does not record each play at a digital quality high enough to see the numbers and symbols on the machine and if the denominations of the bills and coins being fed into them by players are not visible.

Unique Challenges
The advantage rests with IP video surveillance solutions because image quality is a key asset to casino operators. Perhaps the advantages of IP video can best be highlighted by looking at the disadvantages of analog CCTV. Traditional coax or fiber-based video systems are limited and are becoming increasingly unreliable and difficult to maintain.

Both Lee and Vellacott agree that a switching matrix is the component that provides control room flexibility for analog CCTV systems, but it cannot be easily expanded without adding new hardware. It also is location dependent.

“The analog camera industry is dying,” Lee said. “It may not happen right away, but it will go away in the next 10 years or so.”

Vellacott said the cost of expansion is poor even with the introduction of DVRs, which have improved recording capabilities— but they too are limited. He said DVRs have to be installed near the analog matrix, and frame rate and image quality are often compromised.

“Image quality is paramount to casino operators, and analog systems cannot accommodate the new breed of megapixel cameras,” Vellacott said. “The maximum resolution attainable with a composite video signal is only 4 CIF.”

Winning with IP
The way to beat the system is to use an IP video system, which provides a solution for aging and unreliable VCR/DVR analog- based CCTV systems.

“Casinos want a single, scalable integrated solution that provides reliable, high-quality video surveillance across any number of their offices or sites, and this is what IP video delivers,” Vellacott said. “Unlike centralized analog systems, which have a single point of failure, IP video systems are distributed and provide a more resilient and fault-tolerant solution. Recording is achieved using NVRs, which unlike DVRs can be located at any point on the network.”

The matrix is the key component in any analog CCTV system, and in an IP system, the network and software controlling it become the virtual matrix. Lee said in an IP system, the network and the software controlling it become the virtual matrix. In a true IP video solution, the analog matrix is removed and replaced with a virtual matrix.

“Casinos demand the highest standard video quality,” Vellacott said. “In order to detect sleight of hand or subtle scams, full frame rate live viewing and review of recorded footage is essential.

“Any lowered frame rates, dropped frames or jerky stop-start video make the system unusable when trying to track hand movements and cash or chips changing hands.”

Leading end-to-end surveillance systems guarantee consistent IP video streaming and recording of high resolution at up to 30 frames per second. And, as everyone knows, in the casino world, it is high motion, 24/7 and it’s critical that frames are not dropped, even in fast-moving scenes.

The Importance of Fault Tolerance
A high level of fault tolerance also is in demand by casino operators and government or independent gaming regulators. It is important for redundancy to perform at a high level. Gaming regulators mandate that active gaming tables are always recorded. A casino operator also must comply with the guidance of closing a table that is not being recorded. All combined, this means that casinos require a high level of fault tolerance and redundancy to minimize downtime.

In the event of a failure, an immediate failover component must be available, thus eliminating downtime. Analog systems often have to employ banks of VCR or DVR standbys in case of failure. This is a costly solution, in contrast to a well-designed IP video system that can eliminate table downtime due to NVR failure by multistreaming the camera video to a primary and secondary NVR simultaneously. Another solution lies in the fact that video recording can be automatically assigned to other NVRs in the system when a primary NVR fails.

“NVRs can be located at any point on the system and have redundant power supplies and network connectivity that eliminate any single point of system failure,” Vellacott said.

In the event of a failure and a failover to a redundant part, the IP video system also will have an alert and reporting system that will clearly identify the problem and prompt remedial action.

Overwhelmingly, IP technology has improved the means by which end users can search and use recorded video footage. Vellacott said key features, including easy cameras selected based on real-world names or overlay map reference and instant replay facilities, enable an operator to get to the footage quickly and easily resolve any dispute. In case of fraud, theft, possible terrorist activities and public liability claims, sophisticated analytics can be employed to quickly search and find the incident. Scene changes, activity in a particular area or directional movement can be targeted as search criteria.

Case in Point
When the Emerald Queen Casino in Tacoma, Wash., upgraded its aging VCR-based analog system to a fully digital IP video CCTV solution, the reliability and speed of the video analysis compared to VCR tapes was probably the biggest impact, Vellacott said. Due to the time taken and the quality of the VCR tapes, about 50 percent of disputes could not be resolved with the old system. It is now greater than 95 percent with the IP video system. Providing fast and reliable evidence to confirm or contradict customer disputes creates a better customer service environment and avoids unnecessary compensation.

The nature of many incidents in gaming may hinge on a few frames of information. IP video systems allow casino staff to review full frame rate footage forward and in reverse, in real time, at slow speeds and frame-by-frame. These kinds of tools are necessary to hone in on necessary evidence. Digital zoom features also are important to enhance the event or person in question.

Why Use Analog?
More than 85 percent of casinos still use analog and VCR/DVR systems, and the investment still lies in equipment and coax wiring. IP video systems provide components that allow step-by-step upgrade to digital as budgets allow, creating a hybrid system in the meantime. This is done by using transmitter/receiver modules that connect existing cameras and convert analog video to MPEG-4 or H.264 compressed digital for transmission over the network.

“The modules also can be used to convert the digital video back to analog for display on existing TV monitors,” Vellacott said. “This approach allows a hot transition whereby the digital system is installed in parallel to the existing system with no camera feeds being lost while the system is commissioned and tested.” IP video will have a smaller footprint, typically taking up about 25 percent of the floor space of an analog-based system. Environmentally, IP video also is a better solution, consuming less power, generating less heat and requiring less cooling.

IP video solutions can be fully integrated to include other systems such as access control, intruder security and POS and can consolidate all alarms from these systems within the IP video management software. A tight integration between systems can bring benefits to the end user. When an attempted intrusion is detected at an emergency exit door, alarms are triggered whereby a map is displayed on a video-viewing workstation that shows the location of the intrusion and displays video from the nearest CCTV camera that has been automatically panned to that event.

Powerful alarm handling features are already built into the software that allow the operator to monitor the situation after the incident is displayed upon alarm. This also provides a more efficient operator environment that leads to quicker response while allowing the operator to focus directly on the gaming environment.

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