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Casino System Leaves Nothing to Chance – Security Sales & Integration

Editor’s Note: While we prefer to bring you installation profiles as a passive participant, the Odawa Casino is a unique opportunity to give you an exclusive behind-the-scenes vantage point. The author was intimately involved in planning and executing the sophisticated video solution at the recently opened gaming resort in northern Michigan and is able to provide our readers with a true “insider”perspective. He is describing events that he helped shape, and the only way to do that is by telling the story in the first person.

Most consultants, integrators and other professionals involved with large-scale security projects tend to develop a sixth sense. We learn to pinpoint problems in the early going and then formulate the necessary adjustments to be successful.

This added sensitivity is important to us, as it occasionally helps us identify those projects that are doomed from the start. Since the survival of your business is often dependent on the success of your projects, it is important to recognize and embrace your “gut instinct.”

Far more uncommon is the project that incites a gut feeling from the get-go that success is inevitable. Indeed, it is rare to find a job that has the necessary backing from upper management, openness to new technology, and a well-defined process for project planning,procurement and rapid problem resolution.

The video surveillance installation at Odawa Casino, located near the waters of Lake Michigan in Petoskey, Mich., was such a project. The design included two control rooms and auxiliary monitoring locations,encompassing a new casino, parking structure, special events area and a remote waste water treatment plant. All of it secured with full integration between video, access control and other gaming systems.While I’d like to say I was pleasantly surprised, all of us involved with this project genuinely knew it would succeed from the start.

Success Begins With Adoption of ‘Qualifications Selection’ Process
In large part, the project’s expected triumph was due to the tribe’s embracement of the Qualifications-Based Selection(QBS) process, according to Kevin Kane, an owner’s representative for the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians (LTBB), which operates the gaming resort.

“This is a nationwide program that is based on prequalifying vendors, interviewing where necessary and then negotiating fees,”Kane says. “This allowed us to select vendors with a proven track record and the skills needed for us to succeed, while still meeting our cost and budgetary objectives. In fact, the entire project finished not only on time, which is not uncommon for casino projects, but under budget, which is certainly the exception.”

Prior to designing the solution, and even before the project got off the ground, the surveillance focus group was tasked with crafting system requirements to a rough order of magnitude and setting the budget. This group — consisting of the tribe’s CFO,general manager, regulatory director, surveillance manager, surveillance lead technician and owners’ representatives — had a general idea of what they needed the system to perform. They desired a wall of video monitors that would display numerous cameras simultaneously, plus operator stations free of distractions and enough room to work effectively and comfortably.

“We are thankful to be working for a tribe that has vision and wanted to make sure that our part of the puzzle fit into their picture,” says Vince Cook, regulatory director for LTBB.

Tribe Prepares for Gaming Future Informed by Past Experiences
The members of LTBB were no strangers to analog and digital video. Prior to the Odawa Casino project they owned and operated the nearby Victories Casino with its 16 gaming tables and 1,100 slot machines, plus restaurants, a bar and other amenities. The tribe had already upgraded its analog recording solution to a Nice Vision Pro 200Series DVR system. The old facility also had a Pelco matrix switch and more than 300 cameras from various manufacturers, both fixed and pan/tilt/zoom (p/t/z) models.

“Our system had grown through evolution,” explains LTBB’s surveillance manager Tom Gould. “We knew that the new facility would allow us to make a fresh start, both from a technical and an operational perspective, and we were looking forward to applying what we have learned over the years.”

One of the things they had learned was they did not want to go it alone; a consultant would be essential to the new project. The new facility — with about 50,000–square feet of gaming floor space — would be much bigger, including 1,500 slots, 30tables, a special events area, more amenities and considerable room for growth.The camera coverage would also be greatly enhanced, with roughly 800cameras, more operators and a great deal more technology to manage the operation. As part of the product and vendor selection process, the tribe first needed to find the right consultant to guide them.

“We wanted someone who could look at our needs and expectations and guide us in making choices,” explains Kane.One example: the existing system had a video wall, consisting of a bank of monitors, all individually controlled through the matrix switching system. While this allowed for real-time video refresh on each screen,it would not provide much operational flexibility, was expensive to implement (a much larger matrix switch would have been required), and would have consumed substantial space in the room.

The final design included front projection of video images fed through the digital side of the system, thereby reducing cost and adding the ability to dynamically resize images as needed, depending on what transpired in the facility at the time. “The decision to put video quality on the desk rather than on the wall was the right one for our application, but we probably wouldn’t have come up with that on our own,” Kane says.

Potential Consultants Solicited by ‘Request for Qualifications’
Once the project had received all of the necessary approvals, a”Request for Qualifications” document was sent out to a number of prospective vendors. To save time and maximize participation,the document was sent to consultants, manufacturers and integrators. It clearly stated the needed qualifications for each group. As a consulting firm, for example, we had to certify we did “not manufacture, furnish or install such systems and our firm does not have any affiliation with any surveillance equipment manufacturers or surveillance integrators.”

Similar restrictions were placed on other trades, while questions were designed to reveal as much as possible without requiring respondents to jump through hoops, as can often be the case (see side bar).

I was impressed with the initial interview, as were many of the other consultants and vendors selected for different areas of the project. The focus was on building a team based on capabilities and experience, not the strength of a PowerPoint presentation.Kane instructed me (and other vendors) to keep it short and to the point,and to “leave the marketing folks at home.”

Installation Begins to Take Shape; Integration Capability an Emphasis
Once I was on board, we reviewed the design process to date. In the head-end area, we left raised computer flooring in the rack room and extended it to the adjacent technician’s shop. This would allow us to move the technician to another location in the future, if needed, and expand the rack room. We eliminated the raised floor in the surveillance room, and instead opted for two-foot-wide trenches running from the rack room to the operator and supervisor consoles. The Winsted console we selected features an integral cable management system that we used for console wiring, which also offered some cost savings.

Expansion was a critical factor as well. It is not uncommon for casinos to grow and expand far beyond their initial footprint and we wanted to be prepared. The initial system design called for roughly 800inputs, so we sized the racking and infrastructure to support more than three times that number, or 2,500 cameras.

Our firm calculates HVAC and power requirements as part of the design process, so we provided this in two phases — initial system size and expanded size. It was decided to size the UPS system for the expanded capacity, but only purchase batteries for the first phase. This eliminated the high cost of purchasing more battery capacity than was initially required, since batteries are a consumable.

We also provided two areas for video review outside of the command center. Access to the monitor room was to be extremely restricted, so functions that would normally be done in the room at a supervisor console were moved to remote monitoring consoles. One was located in a common area of the surveillance suite, while the second was placed in a conference room. This allowed both semi-private and private viewing, as access to the surveillance suite is limited as well.

Most casinos divide video monitoring into two areas: the heavily regulated surveillance department tasked with monitoring the gaming floor and any money handling areas (including the passage of money into and out of the facility). The security department monitors all other areas including roadways and parking lots. A second command center was designed for security, but it was considerably different from the surveillance console in that it could accommodate more rack mounted security equipment as needed for future growth.

The two monitoring consoles and third security console served a dual role. If there was ever a system failure or condition that made the surveillance room uninhabitable, the operators could simply move to one of the other consoles to resume their duties.

To accomplish this, we designed the system as a single large system that was partitioned in such a way to limit access based on passwords and job functionality. In this manner, the security operator would not have access to call-up or control a gaming camera, but a surveillance operator, with access to all cameras, could send a gaming camera to a monitor in security. This allows a person with more restrictive system access to view an important image they wouldn’t normally be able to see.

On the software side, we focused on integration capabilities.We provided for full integration between access control and CCTV (fairly standard in high-end installations), but also provided for communication between a variety of subsystems such as slot data systems, cash registers, casino marketing cards and slot cash voucher systems. Also included was audio recording from a variety of sources and in selected areas as required by tribal and National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) regulations.

“Working with a consultant [throughout the design process]really opened our eyes to the different technologies available to us,” says Cook. “We had previously focused primarily on coverage and video quality, and there were things like automatic camera call up on alarms that we just hadn’t thought of. Adding these features and capabilities has put us light years ahead of where we were before, and our being a part of the design process, from start to finish, has been a huge help.”
Video, Access Control Vendors Ease Expansion, Offer Flexibility
Once the design parameters were fleshed out, it became important to select a manufacturer. Doing so would simplify the bidding process by allowing us to work with a manufacturer to fine-tune the system design, and make it easier to compare bids since all integrators would be bidding the same functionality and essentially the same equipment.LTBB chose to go with a single manufacturer for as much of the CCTV system as possible. This would allow the tribe to focus on integration with other systems without worrying about integration between the various CCTV sub-systems.

After careful consideration of a number of full-line suppliers,Clovis-Calif.-based Pelco was awarded the contract. The tribe’s experiences with Pelco equipment had been extremely positive. The decision offered the advantage to reuse some of the Pelco equipment(such as matrix switch cages, keyboards and p/t/z domes) for expansion of the system at Odawa when the Victories Casino closed. Other equipment, including fixed cameras and the NiceVision recording system,was broken up into a series of smaller systems and utilized in other tribal properties where compatibility with the Odawa Casino system would not be a requirement.

The selection of an access control system was given careful consideration as well. That it had to integrate well with the Pelco system was a given, but there were other opportunities for blended operation. Access to other databases such as time and attendance, and even cafeteria meal purchases, were added to the specification wishlist, as were hybrid cards with both proximity functionality and printed bar codes to support legacy systems. Ultimately, Rochester,N.Y.-based Lenel was chosen as the access control manufacturer because of its flexibility and willingness to support all levels of integration.

Integrators Selected onFamiliarity With Equipment, Customer Service
Two separate integrators were selected for the project, in part because of the timing of the system purchases. First up was the CCTV integrator, American Video and Security (AVS). Based in Black Creek,Wis., AVS focuses on gaming and has done a lot of work with otherNative American casinos. The company is very familiar with Pelcosystems and had recently finished a gaming project for the NorthernLights Casino in Carter, Wis.

One aspect that impressed LTBB about AVS was its long-term plan for customer satisfaction. As part of its proposal, AVS agreed to hire and train a local technician who would work on the project through the installation and remain on duty at AVS expense for a full year.”We’re a small company with big customers, and we feel that going the extra mile on service and support makes us stand out in competitive bid situation,” comments Rick Verbsky, president of AVS.

Access control was to be handled by Grand Rapids, Mich.-based SecurAlarm Systems Inc. Gloria Lubber, executive vice president of SecurAlarm, worked closely with us through the design process and provided many enhancements to the system design based on their past experiences. “We are used to customers who require a great deal of flexibility,” Lubben says. “This project allowed us to present a variety of different options and truly customize the system around the specific project requirements.”

Point-to-Point SystemRequires More Cable, But Advantages Rule
One requirement of the system design was the recognition of the fact that expansion was a given. While the head-end was appropriately sized for growth, we felt it important to allow for the addition of more field devices without the need to constantly pull more cable.Casinos typically use analog video for live camera call-up to avoid latency, with an integrated encoder/server-based digital recording system for storage and retrieval of events. Since this required point-to-point wiring of cameras (instead of a networked configuration), we designed a UTP-based system utilizing equipment provided by Nitek of Rolling Meadows, Ill.

This was one of a few exceptions to the “one manufacturer” rule, and was largely due to the DIP switch-based distance compensation design used on the Nitek hubs. With DIP switches,a failed hub or module can be quickly swapped out for another one by simply matching up the switches. Units that use potentiometers tend to require more extensive setup and drift over time, while self-calibrating units never stop calibrating and can degrade the image as they compensate for changes in the image that fool them into thinking the cable distance has changed. We also selected hubs with dual outputs, allowing us to route the video signal to both the matrix switch and the digital video encoder without the use of a separate distribution amplifier.

While a point-to-point system requires more cable than a networked system, it has other advantages that, in some applications, make it more cost-effective and flexible. For one, we did not have to worry about the cable distance limits inherent in Internet protocol(IP)-based video systems, and the use of 4-pair Cat-5e cable to each camera location allows three additional cameras to be added per cable(two if the camera is a p/t/z model, which use a pair of wire for data).

Cameras were routed to one of two rack rooms on the casino level or directly back to the rack room, whichever was closer. An extensive patching system based on “66 block” style interconnection terminals and 25-pair Cat-5 cables allows for reconfiguration of cameras in much the same manner a telephone system uses.

Separate power cables were used instead of conductors on theCat-5ecables to preserve the spare pairs for video expansion and allow the possibility that future cameras might draw more current than the Cat-5ecable could support. While this flies in the face of convention—electronics equipment tends to get more efficient, not less —we had some concerns that future cameras might incorporate features such as higher resolution imagers, internal hard drives and video analytics.Therefore, we wanted to be prepared.

Camera selection is also a challenge in casinos. We were helped some what by the fact that Pelco carries essentially two different lines of p/t/z dome cameras. The Spectra IV Series is well suited to lower light areas of the casino floor, where the wide dynamic range feature compensates for huge differences in lighting, be it flashing slot machine to shadows around the base of each machine. The wide range of optical magnification (35x) allows cameras to track people throughout the casino and image stabilization is a big help in certain areas as well.

At the other end of the spectrum was the Spectra Mini. These cameras are not much bigger than fixed domes and feature 10x zoom lenses. Our firm had used them successfully in the close quarters of a cruise ship casino and we specified them here in areas with lower ceilings where high magnification and low light response were not a factor. This allowed us to minimize the aesthetic impact of the domes in certain areas without compromising performance.

Changing Nature ofIndustry Evidenced During Installation
Throughout the installation process, the challenge of adjusting, moving and modifying cameras to accommodate varying lighting issues and other décor concerns was ongoing. While Dave Lucas of AVS experimented with different positions, angles and lenses, his brother, Jim, handled the software configuration and adjustments to the Pelco Endura digital video system and 9780 matrix switch.

As cameras were brought online, each was titled on the matrix and adjusted for frame rate, resolution and storage time on the digital system. Operators training on the system prior to opening saw the camera count grow and were amazed at how good the video quality was,compared to what had been state-of-the-art just a few years ago.

As the casino construction progressed, no tradesman or construction worker could so much as adjust their clothing without the watchful eye of surveillance upon them. While this was supplemented by formal training sessions, the real-time experience gained during construction was a tremendous help in acclimating people to the system.

One unforeseen problem with the cameras speaks to the changing nature of our industry.

At one time, cameras were all synchronized to the 60Hz power line frequency. By utilizing a camera’s vertical phasing (or”V-Phase”) feature, integrators were able to matchup all cameras in the system, eliminating the picture”roll” when switching from camera to camera. In practice, cameras were rarelyV-Phased, and customers rarely noticed a roll, but there was no harm in continuing this proud tradition. However, projects that fully utilize online UPS power systems sometimes have slight timing problems and do not deliver precisely 60Hz power. This causes the video images on certain cameras to orbit the screen, moving in a barely noticeable clockwise rotation.

The operators at Odawa noticed it immediately, however,proving that the quality of the tools we were providing for them was well deserved.While we were able to have the UPS calibrated to eliminate the problem,we went to internal sync on all the cameras to prevent this problem from recurring if the UPS ever drifts. Based on our experiences, we will be calling for internal sync on future projects as a precaution and have recommended to manufacturers that they reconsider their default setting.

Team Approach and a KeenEye for Problem-Solving Ensure Success As the casino progressed through construction and a flawless opening, there were the usual number of challenges, but none jumped out as opportunities for “lessons learned.” With a decision process in place that allows for rapid, informed decisions, a manufacturer that is ready to jump in and help as needed, and two experienced integrators on the job, this project was a testament to the success of the team approach.

But the final measure of performance is ultimately customer satisfaction. “In this case,” explains Kane,”we had a client who had suffered from unfulfilled expectations on previous projects. Through our planning, processes, and attention to detail, we were able to exceed their expectations. We created a showcase and raised the bar for future projects.”

I’m sure I speak for the entire team when I say I’m looking forward to the next one.

Redundancy Relied on for Fail-Safe Protection

The critical nature of the video surveillance solution at the Odawa Casino in Petoskey, Mich., made safeguards essential. As much redundancy as possible was built into the system. In addition to the items mentioned in the case study article beginning on page 70, such as dual output UTP hubs that feed digital and analog systems separately,there were many areas where redundancy ruled. These include:

Camera power supplies— No two adjacent cameras are fed from the same multi drop power supply. This ensures that a power supply failure, however unlikely,will not shut down an entire area, and is a design requirement we adopted for all of our projects based on work we do for the USPS.

Digital data redundancy— In addition to the server-based redundancy offered by redundant arrays of independent disks (RAID)-5 hard drive configuration, we provided a spare set of Pelco Endura encoders and servers. If a server or encoder fails, the analog matrix switch will automatically switch the cameras to a spare encoder, server and RAID. This also allows for server maintenance without the loss of data.

Hardware redundancy —All servers have dual redundant power supplies, and each power supply is fed from a different circuit breaker. A spare CPU is included with the Pelco 9780 matrix switch to take over in case of failure.

Master evidence server— All video clips that are pulled out of the overwrite rotation are saved on a master evidence server located in the rack room. A second master evidence server, also featuring RAID-5 redundancy, is located in a separate building and backs up clips stored on the master evidence server every 15 minutes.

Dual response to alarm events— Door alarms are handled by the access control panels through the access control server, which is connected to the matrix switch through a high level data interface. A second alarm path is provided through alarm contact closures that are fed through an alarm interface on the matrix. In this manner, if communications ever fail between the access control panels and the central CPU, alarms will still go through.

Detailed Program Used to Select Vendors for CasinoProject

An integral component to selecting vendors for the Odawa Casino project was the submitting of prequalification data in compliance with the nationwide Qualifications-Based Selection (QBS) program.

Some of the questions were generic in nature, while others drilled down into design philosophies and experience with other gaming andNative American projects. Questions included:

  • Type of firm (surveillance equipment manufacturer,surveillance consultant or surveillance integrator)
  • Background information about your firm and any other partners that would be involved
  • Biographical information on the principals of the firm and those individuals with your firm with whom we would be working with directly
  • List the gaming licenses currently or previously held by your firm and the reason, if any, of those licenses are not current
  • Verify if your firm is a Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians (LTBB) licensed contractor or if there is any issue in being aLTBB licensed contractor
  • State the level of experience your firm has in working with all tribes and the current and past relationships with any Michigan tribe
  • References of tribal organizations that you have provided services; include the contact information for the appropriate individuals
  • List the digital surveillance systems your firm has in place, including the size, location and contact information
  • Address your firm’s approach and schedule by answering how you: develop cutting-edge technologies and virtual matrix systems;integrate existing digital surveillance systems to your digital surveillance systems; offer service and support during installation,startup and over the life of the system
  • Other information you feel is pertinent to our selection process

A confidentiality agreement was also required for the Odawa project,and the format to be used in the response was not specified. This allowed LTBB to evaluate the care each prospective vendor took in preparing its answers, proving that no matter how old you get, spelling still counts!

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