All Bets on Better Surveillance
Choctaw Nation casinos improve the odds with networked cameras
- By Fredrik Nilsson
- Mar 02, 2010
Despite an atmosphere of fun and games, running a casino is serious
business. If you operate a chain of gaming sites, your need
for vigilance increases proportionally. With the popularity of Native
American-run casinos on the rise, the Choctaw Nation, which
owns a number of casinos in southeastern Oklahoma, has taken
advantage of this momentum to build new facilities and renovate its older locations.
Given the increased traffic to its casinos, security is ramping up surveillance
to protect its high-stakes operations.
Over the past five years, the tribe's Pocola, Okla., casino tripled in size to accommodate
more than 1,000 slot machines and a 200-seat off-track betting facility.
During that period, the Choctaw Nation, which is the third largest Native
American tribe in the United States, also added casinos in Durant and Broken
Bow. The tribe will open an additional four new casinos this year in McAlester,
Grant and Stringtown, Okla. The renovations and planned expansion spurred the
tribal gaming commission to look into modernizing its surveillance systems to better
help security staff keep a closer watch over patrons, employees and the criminal
element often attracted by gaming sites.
Upping the Ante
Initially, the Choctaw Nation used analog surveillance systems to monitor gaming
floors, high-stakes poker tables and slot machines, as well as the money cages. But
over the years, the tribe found the legacy analog cameras were becoming a hindrance
to working with local law enforcement. The images they captured were too
poor to be used as evidence in court. And because the video was being recorded
on VCR tape, the quality degraded as it was watched multiple times, creating difficulties for security teams who had to play back images repeatedly over the days
or weeks of an investigation.
"Casino security needs advanced cameras that will capture the details of a card,
a ticket and the number of chips thrown on a table or under one's hand," said
Paula Penz, gaming commissioner for the Choctaw Nation.
Tribal leaders began investigating open IP-based surveillance solutions that
would provide more secure, evidentiary-quality video recordings for all their casinos
and operate at 30 frames per second to capture even the most subtle moves
of patrons and employees. Furthermore, they wanted an open-platform design
that would be easy to set up and expand without major expense or disruption of
After an in-depth evaluation, the tribal selection committee chose an array of
fixed and PTZ network cameras from Axis Communications to watch over the
back-of-house hallways and money areas such as the cash booths and ATM kiosks,
as well as building exteriors, parking lots and high-stakes gaming areas at six
of its casinos.
To date, the Axis cameras have replaced their analog counterparts on the floor
and back of house at the Pocola casino. New surveillance installations at Broken
Arrow, Stringtown, McAlester, Grant and Durant bring the total to more than
1,000 cameras running on the casinos' fiber backbone. With future expansion of
Choctaw Nation casino operations, that network camera total could eventually
exceed 3,000 at all of its properties.
"Axis network cameras meet our needs for running 30 frames per second and
high compression without compromising image quality," said Jason Pritchard, integrations
manager of onsite solutions for the Choctaw Nation. "That made our
Meeting Commission Criteria
The National Indian Gaming Commission sets casino surveillance camera guidelines
at 30 fps for optimum security. Equally important, the network cameras are
PoE-compliant, saving the casinos infrastructure and installation costs by using a
single cable to both power the cameras and transmit the video signal over the network.
Their analog counterparts, conversely, required running a coax cable bundle
all the way to the head end.
Because the network cameras support efficient MPEG-4 and advanced H.264
compression standards at 30 fps, the casinos can maintain 14 days of archival footage.
By deploying virtual network video records on a Pivot3 serverless computing
platform instead of physical servers, Choctaw casinos have eliminated about 90
servers from the project, saving on data center build-out costs as well as electricity
for power and cooling.
"We're already seeing value from our conversion to IP cameras, both in the
resolution of the video and the easy operation of the entire video surveillance
system," Pritchard said. "Being able to archive 14 days of video is an important
part of our daily operation. It gives us a permanent record of each casino's activity
and protects our operation from theft and fraud as well as any unforeseen events
Behind the Scenes
Several casinos manage network cameras through a universal network video management
system from Petards, a U.K.-based software company. Others use the
Omnicast network video management integrated with a Synergis access control
system, both from Canada-based Genetec. In both cases, the systems allow security
staff to change camera settings through the network, avoiding disruption of
gaming operations on the floor where the cameras are installed.
Because network cameras are monitored 24/7 from surveillance rooms on the
casino properties, security can immediately respond to incidents of theft, threats
to customer safety or questionable behavior of patrons or employees.
Ever-changing Lighting Conditions
Extreme variations in light levels are typical of casino environments, which include
everything from dim mood lighting to flashing signs and neon lights.
"We needed surveillance cameras
that could react quickly to extreme
lighting changes without compromising
image quality," Pritchard said.
The Choctaw Nation chose AXIS
216 fixed dome network cameras with
advanced image processing that deliver
crisp images in low lighting as well as
glaring brightness. The automatic iris
control changes the lens aperture to
maintain optimum light level to the image
Several casinos are using fixed dome
network cameras with H.264 compression
and built-in two-way audio capability,
including an audio detection alarm
that allows for real-time communication
with patrons, staff or intruders.
"This feature eliminates the cost
of installing separate cabling for
microphones in the cash booths,"
And because the cameras support
advanced H.264 compression, Choctaw
Casinos have been able to reduce
the size of the video stream by more
than 80 percent, compared with MJPEG
compression, and as much as 50
percent more than with MPEG-4, signifi
cantly lowering network bandwidth
and storage requirements for their video
Several casinos also use network
dome cameras for broader coverage of
high-stakes gaming areas, parking lots
and general floor activity. Designed for
both indoor and outdoor operation, the
PTZs offer rapid auto focus and great
optical and digital zoom under a wide
variety of lighting conditions. They
give the security staff the option of 360
degrees of endless pan and continuousmotion
guard tour as well as remote
Deterring Fraud and Crime
Initially, the network surveillance cameras
were put in place to combat patron
cheating and similar threats that would
erode the casinos' profits. But with the
forensic-level image detail now available
to the tribal gaming council, the security
system also is helping the Choctaw
Nation control internal misconduct,
such as dealers pocketing chips and
"Employee theft can seriously impact
a casino's bottom line," Penz said.
Putting a stop to that kind of activity
is already giving the Choctaw Nation
a measurable return on investment
from its video surveillance system.
In an industry perceived as having
deep pockets, fraudulent insurance
claims for slip-and-falls, vehicle damage
and other mishaps are another
common occurrence. With more comprehensive,
high-caliber coverage from
their network cameras, casino security
directors now find it easier to determine
whether there is any liability
stemming from these claims. As word
has spread of the new surveillance systems,
tribal leaders are already noting
a significant drop in false slip-and-fall
allegations and shortages at the tables