Surveillance in entertainment spaces

People seek out entertainment to relax and forget their worries, but unfortunately, major venues present a variety of security risks that make a lot of would-be visitors nervous about seeing a sports match, attending a concert or trying their chance at a casino. The large number of people, the alcohol and the excitement (or in the case of sports or gambling, deep disappointment) can endanger the safety of patrons and employees.

Fortunately, surveillance technology keeps getting better. Pelco’s multi-sensor panoramic cameras are at the forefront of changes that offer major venues a cost-effective way to identify and intervene to stop dangerous behaviour far more quickly than ever before.

Security solutions that work for low-key sites often don’t serve the needs of a major entertainment venue, such as a casino or a stadium. Those places present a number of unique challenges that only top-notch multi-sensor video cameras address.

The biggest challenge is the sheer number of people who attend a major sporting event, or who are cruising the floor of a major casino. These types of environments have traditionally lent themselves to crimes of opportunity, such as pick-pocketing, because offenders can so quickly disappear into the crowd and count on grainy, inconclusive surveillance footage that fails to identify a culprit.

Pelco’s multi-sensor cameras, however, provide high-definition images that let security personnel see exactly what’s going on, with the same precision that they’d enjoy if they were standing next to the patrons on the ground. Just as important, when bad behaviour is observed, staff can zoom in on the offender’s face and get a high-definition image that it can not only use to investigate the event in the near-term but that it can have on file for future reference.

Another inherent challenge is the size of the venues themselves. Pelco’s panoramic cameras cover large swaths of space – from 180 to 360 degree views – allowing those watching the footage to view much more than would be offered by a conventional fixed camera. Seamless, panoramic views ensure operators can see the entire scene, with no gap in coverage.

Pelco’s cameras are also equipped to deal with the considerable variation in light that event spaces are subject to, from the dim lights of a casino bar or the entrance of a football stadium after sunset. The cameras’ wide dynamic range – powered by SureVision technology – ensures crisp images no matter what the light conditions, from very dark to very bright.

What sets Pelco’s cameras apart from conventional technology, however, is its use of analytics to identify situations that would elude the naked eye. Analytics can instantly spot and alert staff to undesirable behaviours, such as an unattended bag or a person moving the wrong way through a door. Through integration, analytics capabilities are enhanced to immediately notify staff of the presence of a guest who has posed problems in the past, a feature of particular relevance in the gaming industry.

Video security systems are, of course, not just there to respond to problems in real time, but to gather evidence that can be drawn upon later. Looking back through footage is key to responding to reported issues involving guests as well as to assess the performance of employees. One client, the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, keeps up to three months of prior footage on hand with Pelco’s VMS storage. Authorised personnel can scroll through footage at breakneck speeds to find what they need, when they need it.

There’s no way to ensure that dangerous behaviour never takes place. But it’s the duty of those who oversee major venues to make sure that bad behaviour does the least damage possible to their patrons. It’s not just the right thing to do, but it’s good for business.

Tracking Undesirable Behavior in Casinos

Casinos with hotel properties are popular vacation destinations, and with good reason. They provide numerous forms of entertainment and amenities from one location to the next, including gaming halls, pools and beaches, spas, retail shops, amusement parks, and restaurants. Surveillance and security personnel need to be on top of all of these high traffic areas, and the unique challenges that these amenities face as complements to gaming operations.

Because they are attractions across all demographics and cultures, gaming properties and casinos attract a very wide variety of visitors, many of whom elicit undesirable behaviors ranging from alcohol and substance abuse to cheating.

Casino security has to balance a welcoming guest-focused attitude with a firm and capable presence to prevent and handle problems as they arise. Surveillance and security operations are a mainstay at casinos because they support a range of business imperatives, including not only the protection of employees, patrons and assets, but also compliance with stringent gaming regulations.

For many casinos, one of the best ways to create a highly structured, discreet and secure environment is by employing advanced video surveillance technologies that support high-quality analytics. In addition to delivering high levels of situational awareness, these systems also deliver documented evidence for investigations and court cases.

Integrated analytics in fixed, PTZ, 360 degree, and panoramic security cameras can help to detect undesirable behaviors – such as an object left behind, card counting at the gaming table, a door propped open, a guest whose behavior is inappropriate, theft from employees or vendors, and more – and send alerts to security personnel. Surveillance analytics can also track identified individuals from camera to camera throughout the premises. Additionally, facial recognition analytics can alert operators if a known offender enters the casino, freeing security officers from constant monitoring of entrances and exits. And heat mapping can provide valuable insight into loitering statistics so that security officers can better allocate staff to problematic areas. The vast amounts of data provided by the surveillance system can be reviewed for specific trends to prevent further incidents from taking place, and deliver new sources of business intelligence.

With integrated video imaging, camera control and management, and analytics technologies in place, gaming facilities can have the real-time situational awareness and data needed to respond to and deescalate real potential threats and incidents from guests with simply bad manners and behavior.

Why Compliance is Never Worth the Gamble for Casinos

The gaming industry continues its fast rate of growth, and state, corporate, and tribal casinos across every state and county have stringent compliance requirements to which they must adhere. Regulations in the different markets vary widely, sometimes down to the individual casino. It is a complex process to design a surveillance system that satisfies all the diverse regulatory needs of a given location, especially as these regulations can change. Best-in-class surveillance technology providers help casinos keep up with the complicated gaming landscape as compliance requirements evolve and develop.

It’s essential for every gaming organization to adhere at all times to the many individual regulations governing casino surveillance. For example, some rules may require 30 days retention of video, while some may require seven days, or three months. Virtually all gaming institutions are required to have surveillance cameras in place and operational 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Any casino found to be out of compliance could be subject to significant fines or immediate closure – a business risk that no organization can afford to take. Casino owners and operators have many factors to take into consideration when it comes to maintaining compliance.

It is necessary to consider system upgrades when discussing the compliance needs of a given gaming institution. As the gaming market moves to IP networks, often maintaining hybrid or parallel systems, reliability is essential to the system’s continued functionality. To keep in compliance with regulations, a system needs to be continuously functional throughout maintenance and testing of new components and features. The ability of security technologies to integrate consistently with a variety of systems is another essential factor as this technological changeover occurs.

It is also important to keep pace with technological trends. Today’s megapixel IP cameras perform at the highest levels to ensure the best image quality, delivering more coverage with higher resolution and enabling casino security to keep tabs on tables, observe dealers and machines, and have a watchful eye on problem guests and other security risks. As technological capabilities relieve stress on compliance requirements, casinos can remain compliant while operating at high levels of functionality and cost-efficiency.

Future-proof systems ensure that as regulations change, systems can scale and integrate where needed to keep up. Whether a casino is hoping to maintain a legacy system, move to all-IP, or support a hybrid system, choosing the right system makes it possible to comply with evolving regulations while providing high levels of safety. This scalability allows for change without needing to rip and replace an entire system – or take a working system offline.

While it can be a challenge to adhere to all gaming regulations, maintaining compliance for tribal casinos often presents issues which are more individualized than for other casinos. These standards are typically created by tribal entities and may differ even from property to property. Remaining within the tribes’ compliance could require a different solution for every system. Familiarity with these differences is essential for anyone who is tasked with compliance in a tribal gaming environment.

Compliance is an essential factor for any gaming security system – as regulations differ, so must the deployment; in fact, every installation of a security system must be individualized to the compliance requirements of that casino. Being consistently compliant while remaining cost-effective and reliable is an essential component of a surveillance system in the gaming industry.

3 Ways Smart VMS Features Can Solve Common Headaches for Casinos

During the course of my ten-year career working inside of casino surveillance departments, I’ve seen some questions come up more than others. Three of the most common, most difficult video issues that I have been challenged to resolve are the following: Capturing high quality detail at backlit entrance points, improving facial recognition, and fixing sluggish video on monitor walls.

Problem No. 1: Facial Detail at Choke Points

Since the first CCTVs cameras were introduced to Casino Surveillance Departments decades ago, entrances and exits have been a notoriously difficult (yet critical) chokepoint tasked with capturing details about persons entering and exiting casinos. The quality issue can be attributed to a tricky combination of abrupt changes to backlighting from the rising and setting of the sun, light refraction through glass doors constantly opening and closing, static indoor lighting, headlights from moving cars, and the list goes on… As a result, traditional analog and most IP cameras are unable to provide sufficient detail to positively identify persons of interest after an incident occurs.

Solution:

When selecting new IP cameras, look for these features: Anti-bloom to overcome the starring effect of bright light, Wide Dynamic Rangeto capture detail across a wide range of lighting conditions in a single shot, and advanced low light performance with detail at .05 lux. For perspective Wikipedia equates .05 lux to the lowest end of the light of a full moon on a clear night.

Problem No. 2: Suspicious Persons

Does your surveillance department print and post Be on the Lookout’s on the wall or store them in a closed folder? I have visited over one hundred casino surveillance rooms in Las Vegas and across the USA and, in each one, I usually find myself staring at the snapshots of those patrons who have recently been documented for causing problems within the casino. The issue with the placement of these posts is that the BOLs are out of eyeshot from real time operations. Casino watchers will see hundreds if not thousands of patrons each day, and yet are so infrequently exposed to snapshots of the most critical BOL Alerts.

Solution:

Look for a Video Management System with a digital video loop that links to your casino’s photo database. The photo viewer behaves like a slide show, displaying photos of high priority BOLs – right alongside your live surveillance video. Rather than wasting the time (and ink) to print images to post across the room, the looped photo display provides top-of-mind awareness of potential threats.

Problem No. 3: Sharing Video

Any time surveillance footage must travel beyond the capable hands of the surveillance department, all bets are off. For the most part, two techniques are used to share video outside of the surveillance room: (1) Departments purchase separate review stations to be installed outside of the surveillance room or (2) Surveillance departments export video along with a playback client via transferrable media. Many inefficiencies can arise from both situations.

In scenario 1, non-surveillance casino employees (who are usually novices when it comes to VMS) are forced to fumble with a new app to find relevant footage. This process wastes time and resources until the correct video can be identified and reviewed. To make matters worse, the financial burden of paying for this review station usually falls on the surveillance department’s budget.

Scenario 2 is no better because it offloads protected video from a casino’s isolated network and then requires the non-surveillance employee to install a playback application onto non-surveillances computers.

Solution:

Look for a Video Management System that accommodates collaboration across departments and is easy-to-use for VMS experts or novices. (Think of how Google Docs makes it easy for multiple users to share and edit documents in real-time.) Especially valuable is the ability to share multiple video streams, whether they are live or recorded, with observers outside the surveillance room. For example, the F&B Manager can sit down at a client and be shown precisely the video she needs to see for her investigation, and if further forensic investigation is required, the surveillance department can queue up video in real time to deliver conclusive evidence.

Before purchasing a new or upgrading your current system, consider these real-life problems and assure your VMS has the power to solve them.

With New IP VMS Technology, Do We Still Need Separate Pit Cam & Surveillance Systems?

Casino environments are difficult, and, as such, so is the design and implementation of a casino surveillance system.

Historically, whether by design or restriction of available technology, many casinos have operated on separate Pit Cam systems (for surveillance of gaming areas including blackjack, roulette, and baccarat) and general surveillance systems (covering slot/pokie machines, bars and entertainment areas, entrances/exits and public walkways).

Each system has its own core server, recording server and workstations housed in separate locations, and requiring separate teams for operation and maintenance. This dual system approach largely has been due to the available analogue technology, which was leading in its day, and included matrix switches and DVR’s, with BUSS connected PTZ controllers with limitations of cable distances and distribution points. However, an important question has arisen: with new IP Video Management System (VMS) technology, do we still need separate Pit Cam & general surveillance systems?

Among the reasons for preserving dual surveillance systems is the ability to restrict feeds to individual operators, thus assuring their focused attention. IP VMS technology, however, provides the ability to distribute camera feeds to any given point on the CCTV network and can allow or restrict operators to view these individual feeds.

Consider that we no longer have restrictions of cabling distances because the entire system is managed this through carefully designed and engineered network switch points, and all devices connected such as cameras, servers, workstations, spot monitors and PTZ keyboards communicate over this designed IP infrastructure.

Therefore, IP technology allows more flexibility for distributed architecture within all aspects of a complex casino environment. We have the ability to allocate our VMS server and recording hardware in a centrally managed location, but then, through system programming, can create individual “virtual” systems and allow only the relevant users to have access to one or both of these systems. This then offers us the appearance of two individual systems at an operator’s level through aggregation of systems while managing our resources in a more efficient manner. Specifically, the same security and/or IT department can maintain with ease these designs, databases and infrastructure, lowering maintenance and operational costs for the casino and raising efficiencies.

Miki Manjal is a security industry veteran, having spent the last 12 years with Pelco. Manjal leads the development and implementation of Pelco’s global strategic plan within the Casino and Gaming market.  Matthew Horne, Pelco Sales Manager, contributed to this article.

5 Benefits of an Analog-to-IP Upgrade for Casino Surveillance

Surveillance is a mainstay in the casino and gaming industry because it supports a range of business imperatives, including not only the protection of employees, patrons and assets, but also compliance with stringent gaming regulations.

Analog surveillance systems have been the standard for decades in this industry, and are still widely viewed as a safe and secure solution. But the combination of recent advances in IP-based systems, including strong encryption and other new functions, with far superior images and other benefits, have led the migration of casinos to IP-based systems.

The general security surveillance market has already widely embraced IP-based technologies, driving costs down and fueling the continuing addition of new capabilities made possible by digital imaging. These additions include analytics and improved WDR performance, as well as heightened access and transmission security. Understanding the potential benefits of these capabilities will help casino managers determine the right time to upgrade from analog to IP, and how to best employ digital functions to achieve important business objectives.

While analog technology met basic needs at one time, analog systems have inherent qualities that limited their effectiveness, including lower image resolution and the need for time-consuming manual review. Today, digital surveillance systems offer the gaming industry outstanding image quality and a full range of benefits that let casinos meet their business needs with lower operational costs.

When considering a surveillance system upgrade, casinos and the gaming industry look for options that are cost effective, scalable, and provide the best technology for operators in terms of image quality, retention and retrieval of needed video, and user interaction. Upgrading from an analog system to an IP-based digital system will provide these desired qualities and capabilities.

Here are five key benefits of upgrading from an analog to a digital IP system:

  1. Affordability: Upgrading to an IP system doesn’t require breaking the bank. A property can quickly recoup upgrade costs by reducing losses associated with theft and physical damage, as well as by improving operator efficiency. An IP system can run in parallel with an existing analog system, allowing a property to upgrade using a phased approach or taking part in a complete overhaul. And, the cost of digital components has come down significantly in recent years even as capabilities have increased.
  1. Scalability: Casinos and gaming properties continue to expand their physical footprints, adding both gaming spaces and non-gaming spaces such as retail, restaurants, and meeting rooms. A digital surveillance and video management system built on an open platform can easily integrate with your analog and IP equipment, and has the flexibility to scale to meet evolving needs.
  1. Image Quality: Digital camera technology has made impressive advances in offering state of the art image quality, far exceeding that available from analog cameras. High definition signals from current digital cameras are encrypted and transmitted quickly, increasing system security. Among many benefits, sensors now provide better clarity, wider fields of view, and the ability to tackle difficult lighting conditions. Providing these improved views to the operators results in better monitoring, less guesswork, and more efficient investigations.
  1. Storage: Retention is a key component of casino regulations. Upgrading to a digital system lets a facility implement a far more efficient and secure storage strategy. For example, the best systems can not only provide near-instant random access to desired footage based on timecode or metadata tags, but can also use smart compression techniques to increase the reliability and capacity of stored data. These capabilities often let facilities increase the retention time of stored video, while allowing for automated analytics and search functions that are impossible to implement with older analog systems. Further, digital storage systems can easily be configured for RAID redundancy, ensuring critical video can be retrieved when needed.
  1. User Experience: Current IP surveillance systems have also leveraged years of learning in their user interfaces, minimizing the amount of user training required when upgrading. Features and functions are familiar to current operators, and easy for new operators to learn. Improved ease of use benefits normal operations, but really pays off in the response to critical situations, where intuitive interfaces let operators focus on the situation, rather than struggling with controls and settings when seconds count most.

Upgrading an analog system to IP reaps benefits for your casino surveillance operation, and the transition will be easier than you might have expected.