Gaming Security
Gaming Security

Mar 1, 1999 12:00 PM

As Mystic Lake Casino Hotel has grown, the surveillance department has added equipment to cover new areas of the 370,000-square-foot complex just outside Minneapolis. Featuring four restaurants, a luxurious hotel with more than 250 rooms, gaming activities, headline performers and shopping, the Prior Lake, Minn.-based casino has grown rapidly since it was built in 1992. Surveillance staff members say they lost track of the size after 300,000 square feet.The casino's budget did not include funding to expand the command center to accommodate new surveillance equipment keeping watch over 3,500 to 3,700 employees; 3,500 slot machines in a 102,000-square-foot gaming room; 110 blackjack tables, a 1,000-seat Bingo room, and the restaurants and public areas of the hotel.Surveillance manager Richard P. Thake describes the department as more proactive than reactive. "Our job is to catch things as they happen on the floor, whether it's a theft or a cheat card play. That's why we have thorough training and such a large console," he says.Feeling the effects of growth, the department eventually ended up with a 7-foot wall of CCTV monitors with operators sitting only 3 feet from the console. Surveillance operators had to lean way back in their chairs to view the top monitors, which prevented them from doing their job properly, Thake says."They would have to step back to see the top row; it just wasn't adequate for surveillance monitoring," Thake says. "It was more of a security console for giving a quick glance as opposed to constant observation that is required in surveillance monitoring."Another problem prior to surveillance department expansion included difficulty servicing the equipment because there was much less space for technicians. With little space for tape storage, racks of tapes were placed around the perimeter of the small command center. "With the addition of more VCRs and equipment, we didn't have the racking space to make it happen," Thake says.More employees were needed to operate the equipment, but there was not enough space to accommodate them.And with incidents increasing since 1996 from petty to larger crimes, the department needed surveillance of all cashier booths and main ticket redemption counters."Everything else in the casino had expanded except the surveillance monitoring room, so we had to do some changes to catch up," Thake says.Last fall Thake received a green light to proceed with an expansion to triple the command center in four months from 350 square feet to 750 square feet - which does not include 600 square feet of equipment space - and a renovation that brought the casino's surveillance into a new age of technology. The size of the department, originally squeezed into 750 square feet, has been increased to 3,000 square feet with a 150-square-foot room that can store up to 7,500 VHS tapes. It is a major aesthetic improvement, Thake says."As far as increasing productivity, it has been immeasurable," Thake says. "Team members are more motivated and are catching more live incidents than before. There is more working space for the team members and all around better working conditions that add to productivity."The new command center has a three-tier system consisting of three sections of consoles and Sony monitors. The first tier is the main observation wall that comprises 23 20-inch color monitors and 32 9-inch black-and-white monitors. Three feet in front of that wall is the second tier, or the main working console of four operator stations, each with three 14-inch color monitors. The number of monitors per station was increased from two to three to provide more space to operators, who get two 15-minute breaks and are encouraged to stretch out every couple of hours for 5 to 10 minutes. The third tier, behind the working console, is the shift manager console on a 10-inch podium with two 14-inch, color monitors."In this type of design, all operators have a clear line of view of the main observation wall," says senior technician Jim Arsenault. "By incorporating the shift manager's station in the room, he can supervise, give direction and oversee the daily activities in the room."Monitors on the observation wall show camera coverage of the main coin redemption booths and high-risk areas that change each shift period according to events in the casino. But the surveillance operators can pull up any camera on any monitor as necessary.More than 700 cameras cover the complex, including 400 Sensormatic pan/tilt/zoom black-and-white cameras in low-light areas and color cameras at every cash-handling area. Fixed cameras include the JVC TKC4000 general use color cameras with 300 lines of resolution that Arsenault says are inexpensive and suitable for general use areas such as doorways and storage rooms. Higher resolution Panasonic WV-CP454 Super Dynamic color cameras are used in high-risk areas. Cameras are recorded on 175 low-and-high resolution Sony VCRs.Other equipment includes: a 768 X 48 matrix switcher, time/date generators and quads, all by American Dynamics; 54 color quads primarily used at gaming tables and 42 MV99P full duplex color 9-input multiplexers, all by Robot. All modular racking and tape storage equipment and custom-made cabinetry is supplied by Winsted.In addition to state-of-the-art equipment, the surveillance department has its own break room with a TV and VCR, personal lockers and a kitchen area with a sink and refrigerator. Team members are not allowed to socialize with members from other departments or to have spouses employed in other departments. They are also not allowed to transfer from surveillance to other departments. Other improvements include:- Larger staff. The expansion allowed Thake to hire more advanced surveillance operators for a full staff of 37, including the director of internal control, surveillance manager, three shift managers, a training coordinator, four senior technicians, 26 surveillance operators and an administrative assistant.A full staff of technicians also means the surveillance department is covered if one person takes a job elsewhere. "Before, we could lose someone that has all the expertise knowledge, but now we have more than one person with that knowledge," he says.- More room for tape storage. The department expanded its Winsted System 85 equipment and storage racks because Winsted's modular design allows for expansion and mixing and matching, Arsenault says."The modular components allow flexibility in room design," Arsenault says. "They are single components that can be grouped together to create one rack. You can add on as much as you want."- Improved serviceability. Technicians now can make quick fixes - even if it means complicated installations - on the spur-of-the-moment to correct emergency problems. "We can do everything more thoroughly in a shorter period of time," Thake says. And the room is large enough so that the console can be offset from the wall, leaving ample working space for technicians without losing valuable command center space, he says.- Better cooling system. An upgrade of the mechanical cooling system separates it from the rest of the casino, Arsenault says. The HVAC eight-ton unit keeps the command room and equipment and tape storage areas at 72 degrees.- Solid backup power supply. In the event of a power shortage, the surveillance command center could still operate, Arnsenault says. A dual generator backs up the utility power supply, and deep cell batteries are capable of supplying power until the generator is up to speed. "If the whole casino were to black out completely, we would still have control over everything," he says. "We have a lot of storms here and incidents of vehicles smashing into phone poles, that sort of thing."- Sense of style. Custom-made cabinetry fits into the racks in smaller areas to store tapes and also lend an aesthetic touch to the otherwise high-tech environment, Arsenault says. Other soft touches include highly polished wax floors with multicolored tiles of blues, pinks and mauves, soft gray walls with streaks of pearl, and carpeting in some areas.The casino also has a separate security department with a larger staff monitoring interior and exterior casino grounds and a smaller command center in a different location. Security monitoring is used for quick-glance surveillance, mostly of exterior areas not watched by the surveillance department.Surveillance operators must observe key gaming areas at all times and watch employees and guests for unusual behaviors indicating an intent to commit a crime, such as a guest walking with a jacket over his or her arm or a looking around more than usual.While security staff members patrol parking lots, man internal assigned posts and handle the processing after crimes have occurred by scrutinizing surveillance footage, the surveillance staff keeps track of more complicated crimes that they are trained to recognize as they are in progress. "All our monitoring personnel have to be trained about what to look for; sometimes it takes a good year before they pick up on it," Thake says.It wasn't hard to sell the expansion, he says. "It wasn't a fight. They realized the importance of revenue protection, whether it's for the company or for guests. They realize that we are an important part of the industry. They do like to keep us up to snuff."Says Arsenault: "When the casino was first built, it had a great security, but it wasn't updated and it went from being one of the better ones out there to being behind. We were like a great five-year-old computer; it was maintained well and functioned great, but it was not up with the times, so we took the step to bring it up to a state-of-the-art department."

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