Covering All Bets

Tampa Bay Downs uses video encoders to exceed state-mandated standards in poker room.

When the state of Florida mandated stricter surveillance standards for casinos and other gaming venues, Tampa Bay Downs needed to find a cost-effective way to increase the frame rate and image clarity of its archived video. Rather than scrap its entire analog camera system, the thoroughbred race track sought to replace its poker room DVR-based recording equipment with digital encoders.

Tampa Bay Downs purchased an Axis video encoder rack and an array of hot-swappable encoder blades from an Axis partner, Illinois-based CDW, to digitize the video stream from 60 analog cameras in its Silks Poker Room. The race track also bought a new Milestone XProtect corporate video management system that allows security staff intuitive access and multiple search options into the archived video stored on a series of HP servers.

The high image clarity and 30 frames per second transmission speed of the new Axis video encoder have enabled Tampa Bay Downs to exceed the statemandated surveillance standards. And since the Axis encoders use advanced H.264 compression technology, the race track has been able to archive far more than the 14 days of video mandated by the state of Florida without expanding its storage array.

Keep Revenue Flowing

The 30-table Silks Poker Room operates 18 hours a day, seven days a week. Some 60 cameras provide multiple views of the patrons and dealers as they play Seven Card Stud and Texas Hold'em. More than 50 plasma televisions and roaming tellers also allow fans to watch and wager on simulcast horseracing and other pari-mutual events as they sit at the poker tables.

State regulations require that the operation be under constant surveillance. This was problematic under the race track's old DVR-based system.

"If a DVR failed, we would have to close the section of the poker room covered by the cameras attached to that system and lose the revenue," said John Hernandez, network administrator for Tampa Bay Downs. "If an Axis encoder blade should ever go down, though, we can hot-swap the card in a matter of minutes with no disruption to gaming activity."

It took Tampa Bay Downs less than 24 hours to install the encoder rack that could house up to 14 hotswappable video encoder blades. The 4U 19-inch rack, one of the industry's highest-density rack solutions, can integrate up to 84 analog cameras into an IP-based video surveillance solution. Because of its redundant power supply, one can be replaced without disrupting rack operation. The rack even supports hot-swappable fan cassettes that can be replaced without cutting off power to the rack.

"We currently use 10 AXIS Q7406 video encoder blades that support six analog cameras per blade," said John Vacha, director of information technologies for Tampa Bay Downs. "And we have room to add up to four more blades before we have to add another rack."

For Vacha, the additional benefit is the ease with which Tampa Bay Downs can swap out cards should Axis come out with new features and capabilities.

The Milestone video management system also contributes to operational simplicity with its ease of use, reliability and fl exibility that an open platform provides. Tampa Bay Downs wanted a video management platform that would allow the freedom to expand without a costly forklift upgrade.

"Milestone has delivered on everything promised—from how easy it was to set up and run to how fl exible and scalable the system is for future expansion," Vacha said.

Boosting Clarity

Before Florida adopted stricter standards similar to those instituted at Las Vegas casinos, surveillance guidelines were very general. There had to be suffi cient camera coverage of the entire poker room. But other than 30 frames per second, the regulations didn't specify the number of cameras or recording resolution.

Tampa Bay Downs was already proactively placing cameras in the poker room to give management multiple views of individual areas.

"You don't usually put up a ladder and replace a camera in the middle of the day," Vacha said. "So we need to have several cameras angled on activity in an area or the state will demand that we shut down the section for lack of surveillance."

Under the new regulations, however, Tampa Bay Downs would have to boost its recording resolution from 320x280 pixels to 4 CIF—recording live viewing at a resolution of 704x480 pixels.

"Most DVRs don't reach that level of clarity," Vacha said. "But in looking for a solution, we didn't want to buy all new cameras or rewire our entire surveillance infrastructure. With the Axis encoder technology, we could use our existing infrastructure and legacy analog cameras and even exceed the new state mandates."

The encoder blades deliver 30 frames per second in resolutions up to D1 (720x480 pixels in NTSC), giving Tampa Bay Downs extremely high image clarity. Because the encoders support H.264 compression technology, Tampa Bay Downs has reduced its surveillance bandwidth requirements while increasing the storage capacity of its existing drives.

"We've been able to far exceed both the resolution requirements and the state-mandated 14 days of archiving without having to go out and buy a whole new storage array," Vacha said.

Migrating IP Surveillance

"Tampa Bay Downs is always looking to improve the security as well as the creature comforts of our customers," Vacha said. "Now that we've exceeding our expectations in our poker room, we're considering upgrading our analog surveillance in other areas of our operation, such as our betting windows, which are still using our old DVRbased systems."

With the flexibility of the Axis encoders, even if Florida gaming regulations get tighter, Tampa Bay Downs is confident that its new IP technology will easily meet stricter requirements.

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