The Real Benefits

Security video keeps dishonest gamblers from their ultimate goal

The dream of easy money draws gamblers to casinos; the goal of preserving profits requires casinos to find ways to keep dishonest gamblers from gaining that money illegally. There are some scenarios and many reasons why casinos need to partner with security integrators to realize the full potential of their security systems.

Casinos worldwide do everything in their power to thwart cheating. Their security systems are a key component to stopping and prosecuting cheaters determined to make a dishonest buck.

A 2009 article in the United Kingdom’s Independent newspaper covered the story of security staff that monitored a pair of experienced swindlers attempting to cheat the Empire Casino in London’s West End.

How were they stopped? According to Doug Reeman, head of security for London Clubs International, which owns 11 major casinos including the Empire, it was a near-perfect operation where the evidence was so compelling the culprits had to plead guilty.

“The specialist PTZ cameras they used were so effective that the security team were even able to film the cards in the two men’s hands before and after the swap, a move they used seven times to net more than £5,000 in illegal winnings,” Reeman said.

Stop Employee Theft
Theft from casinos doesn’t stop with customers. Employees cost casinos millions of dollars every year. A quick online search of casino employee theft reveals many cases in 2010 alone:

  • Las Vegas Sun (March 22): An insurance company is suing two former Hard Rock hotel and casino employees, charging they were involved in the theft of $831,519 from the Las Vegas resort.
  • KRTV (Great Falls and North Central Montana/ Aug. 20): A Great Falls woman is accused of stealing thousands of dollars from Lucky Lil’s Casino.
  • Local News 8 (Eastern Idaho and Western Wyoming/ Sept. 23): A Fort Hall Casino employee is in trouble after the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes say they’re investigating an internal theft of thousands of dollars in fraud payouts from the machines on the gaming floor.
  • Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Dec. 20): A Bridgeville man pleaded guilty to stealing more than $200,000 from the Meadows Racetrack & Casino.
  • Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel (Dec. 29): Nine people, including three former casino employees, have pleaded guilty in federal court to cheating Potawatomi Bingo and Casino in Milwaukee out of thousands of dollars.

In the articles, video surveillance was credited for breaking three of the above cases, actually showing the employees pocketing cash or chips. These stories prove that when designing a security system, both front and back house operations need to be monitored and recorded with high enough image quality to be useful.

Enforce Regulations
Casinos face pressure from regulatory agencies and must follow policies put into place by the federal government, state governments, local ordinances, tribal regulations and their own company policies.

Fines are real and can be costly. According to a Jan. 5 Associated Press story, casino regulators in New Jersey issued $115,000 in fines to Atlantic City casinos “who failed to immediately catch a cheating dealer and customer, had a malfunctioning alarm system that let a robber walk away with $8,000 after holding up a cashier, allowed someone other than the winner to fill out tax forms for five slots jackpots and allowed underage patrons to gamble and drink.”

Once again, security systems play a crucial role in ensuring that all the regulations are met, and security video can be used to show proper authorities that the rules are being followed.

Beat Insurance Fraud
Not all con artists target casinos through gambling cheats. Some try to use fraudulent insurance claims.

In an Oct. 4, 2010, article aolnews.com covered a new study by the National Insurance Crime Bureau on “slip and fall” insurance cases. These are cases where scammers act as if they’ve fallen, pretend to be injured, and then seek compensation. According to the study, such claims are up 57 percent nationally but quadrupled in Las Vegas.

Security video can be used to analyze slip and fall incidents. On video, the fakery is often obvious with a partner being used as a lookout or liquids being spilled by the “victim” prior to the fall to provide a convincing reason for the slip. Gaming establishments now need security systems to monitor non-gaming areas like entrances, escalators, hallways and retail areas.

Protect Parking Areas
Casinos are concerned not only about the gaming areas themselves, but also surrounding property such as parking garages and parking lots. Stairwells and parking areas can be dangerous with dim lighting and plenty of parked vehicles for a person with bad intentions to hide behind.

With security systems, casino garages can be monitored, readying security guards for quick action if necessary to protect customers from robbery or assault and cars from vandalism. Security video can be used after the fact for evidentiary purposes.

The value of security systems for casinos does not end with traditional security functions. Security video can also be leveraged to gather important marketing data:

  • When should a pit boss open more blackjack tables?
  • Which store/kiosk displays are garnering the most attention?
  • What is the casino’s traffic flow?
  • Which advertisements/signs are being noticed by customers?
  • What demographic of customer is stopping and spending money in a particular part of the casino?

Security System Challenges
Now that the need for security systems has been established, it’s important to be able to tackle the challenges of getting the high-quality images required in all areas of casino security. To be effective in casinos, security cameras must capture details -- of people, gaming tables and surroundings -- regardless of the lighting and even when the images are magnified.

Finding the right camera to meet all the challenges faced by casinos can be a daunting task. In today’s market, no camera is a one-size-fits-all solution. Different scenarios create the need for a wide range of cameras:

  • An environment that is backlit -- such as the inside of a casino looking outside or in a casino lobby -- requires a camera that offers wide dynamic range (WDR). Dynamic range is the ratio of the brightest image that can be captured by the imaging system to the darkest image that can be captured simultaneously in the same video frame.
  • Light intensity greater than the brightest possible image will cause the sensor to saturate to white, while light intensity less than the darkest possible image will not register on the camera’s image sensor, resulting in black. Both of these conditions distort the image, hiding potentially vital information that lies outside the dynamic range of the image sensor.
  • WDR cameras are capable of capturing highlight and shadow detail, including backlit images, in the same scene. The greater the dynamic range, the more significant improvement in image quality in scenes consisting of both bright and dark areas.
  • Gaming establishments need cameras that are capable of capturing natural color and details in any lighting.
  • For instance, security staff need to be able to distinguish between red and black playing cards as well as the color of the chips in both well-lit and lowlight areas. Natural color is also important in identifying people where subtle nuances in skin tone and clothing shades can make a difference when capturing and prosecuting a suspect in a crime. Detail is essential when monitoring and recording facial features, cards, chips, and roulette wheels.
  • Video is often used for license plate identification and facial recognition. These scenes require high-res cameras that make it easy to distinguish image features and details. The resolution must hold even when the camera is in zoom mode.
  • Additional challenges for casino security cameras include lighting issues such as glare and reflections. These problems can cause image artifacts including vertical smear and pixel blooming, which make the video unusable for identification or prosecution. Glare can occur off of gaming tables and slot machines inside the casino and off of car mirrors and windows in parking areas.

When and if an integrator or casino security director gets a handle on all of the situations above, he is often faced with a new challenge -- low light. Installed cameras must be capable of recording usable images in a dimly lit parking garage or darker areas of the gaming floors. Unfortunately for most cameras, low light equals no color, limited dynamic range, high levels of noise, or, in the worst case, no image at all. One solution is to add more light, which is expensive, can change the desired ambience, and is bad for the environment. Another is to use true day night (TDN) cameras. TDN cameras can produce an image in low light, but without color due to their reliance on infrared light.

A security guard, the police, or a prosecuting attorney won’t be able to tell the bad guy in the red shirt from the good guy in the blue. Settling for a third option -- less than ideal video -- is simply not an option for most casinos. Never forget: a security system that cannot produce actionable images is a waste of money. Period.

The Security System Solution
System integrators and end users can now solve their security video issues because of a revolutionary new camera chip. The Seawolf chip by Pixim Inc. offers effective resolution, wide dynamic range and low-light performance at an affordable price. Cameras based on Seawolf can handle backlight situations, capture realistic color, and eliminate glare in all lighting conditions. Additionally, Seawolf cameras offer an impressive 0.1 lux low-light performance at 30 fps. Now technicians can install cameras that will work in any lighting condition right out of the box.

Traditional analog CCD-based cameras lose much of their resolution when the video is recorded and reviewed. However, due to Seawolf’s high total resolution (horizontal times vertical), its high-quality, color images are preserved by commonly used DVRs and displays. Casinos will now have high resolution images that can be used for evidentiary purposes following a crime.

Seawolf is based on Pixim’s Digital Pixel System technology. Pixim’s technology employs hundreds of thousands of self-adjusting pixels to act like individual cameras, eliminating image-compromising visual noise and delivering the highest resolution, natural color and clarity, even in challenging lighting conditions. This all-digital system efficiently captures the whole picture, down to the crucial details.

In contrast, traditional, analog CCD cameras use image sensors where every pixel receives the same exposure, creating overexposed images (white) in bright areas and underexposed images (black) in dark areas.

This article originally appeared in the March 2011 issue of Security Today.

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