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View from the Top

Surveillance departments go to new levels of efficiency with 360-degree camera technology

View from the Top

“We can 360 them.”

For casino surveillance officials, this phrase has been part of the vocabulary only for around five years. However, in terms of capability to catch cheaters, thieves and other undesirables in a major casino operation, the phrase has meant everything.

The “360” refers to the 360-degree surveillance camera. Where the traditional CCTV camera trained on a table or a hallway has a field of vision restricted to the area at which that camera is trained, 360-degree surveillance cameras have no blind spots—a fisheye image is captured of an entire room, and that image can then be manipulated by software and used to identify people, regardless of exactly where in the room they may be.

The Swiss supplier Oncam Grandeye, an international surveillance equipment provider with offices in the U.K., the U.S., Turkey and the Middle East, has been a leader in 360-degree surveillance technology, providing surveillance cameras for use in malls, public parks, and increasingly, on cruise ships. The 360-degree views are great for studies on the flow of foot traffic between shops in a mall, “analyzing where people are going,” says Greg Alcorn, director of global sales for Oncam Grandeye.

If that sounds perfect for casino applications, that’s because it is. Several years ago, Oncam branched into the casino market, providing the 360-degree technology as part of overall surveillance solutions. Alcorn says it works best in concert with other cameras in the casino systems. “It offers situational awareness of the entire floor, and permits the operator to zoom in with other cameras where needed.”

The 360-degree view is provided by a device that couldn’t be more discreet—only a few inches across, the typical camera captures an entire room’s image even from a perch behind the ceiling. Flush with the ceiling, the camera is virtually unseen. Yet, the wide-angle fisheye image, which it sends in real time to a network video recorder (NVR), can be manipulated by software into separate images to zero in on a particular part of the floor. That quarter image or half image or 16th image can be panned and zoomed as if a separate camera had captured it.

Best of all for casino applications, no action is missed by surveillance. “You can’t go across the casino floor and hide from the camera,” says Alcorn. “You can’t hide from the fisheye view.”

Complete Solution

Ted Whiting knew the implications of 360-degree technology at first glance. That’s why Whiting, director of surveillance for the Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, insisted it be on his laundry list of requirements for the surveillance package of the new Aria, which he presented to Honeywell, the vendor putting the system together.

The Aria’s state-of-the-art surveillance operation combines the Oncam Grandeye 360-degree cameras with more traditional megapixel cameras. The two surveillance technologies work together to provide a video history of a given subject, using high-definition cameras at “choke points” such as entryways and the pathway from the parking garage to keep a digital video log of faces entering the property.

The system uses the 360-degree image to track suspected thieves or cheats around a casino and, if necessary, back in time. For crimes of opportunity—grabbing a cash-out ticket, picking up a purse, even robberies—the capture rate is huge. Such crimes are typically done by locals, often people who are players at several casinos, with player’s club cards. The 360-degree surveillance allows the casino to start with video of the incident itself, and follow the subject back to where he entered at one of the choke points, or where he inserted a player’s card or sat down at a table game.

“We can follow that person to the table games, and get an image at the table, maybe with a player’s card,” says Whiting. “We can follow them for seven days back through the casino. We can follow them into the parking garage and get a license plate.”

That was another of Whiting’s requirements for his dream surveillance system at Aria—license plate recognition software. “It works through the NVR, and captures every plate number (entering the garage). If we pull a number, it will tell us every time you’ve visited in the past month.”

He adds that Aria’s system is part of a network spanning all 10 of the MGM Resorts properties in Las Vegas, a fact not counted on by many thieves who have been apprehended at Monte Carlo or New York-New York for a crime committed at Aria or Bellagio. “For license plate recognition, we have 17 lanes covered—here at CityCenter, Monte Carlo, Bellagio, Crystal’s and Mandarin,” Whiting says. “You can’t come in here without us catching you.”

Whiting says combining tools like this with the Oncam 360-degree camera has increased the rate at which suspects are caught “many times over.”

“Technology is supposed to be a force-multiplier, meaning you don’t need as many people to do the same task,” Whiting says. “We need more people, because we always have the video to review. We always identify a suspect. We don’t always get their name, but we always get their face. More than half the time, we catch the person, we get the money back, we trespass them or we have them arrested.”

Before the technology was implemented, he says, catching a thief meant you got lucky. “You’ve got a fixed camera over an area, and you’d see an arm,” he says. “I’d see this all the time. ‘I saw a guy with an arm. Looked like he had a shirt on.’ Now, we 360 them, and we have their picture, every time. They probably have played or done something to identify themselves before that. Almost always.”

Whiting is full of anecdotes from his job that show the value of the 360-degree camera—some he can actually relate on the record. He tells of one woman who was tracked down after an “opportunity theft.” She had been playing blackjack with a player’s card, and later snatched a purse. Using the 360-degree camera, surveillance officials tracked her backward, and pulled her player’s club file.

The woman actually was back home in San Francisco when Whiting’s team called her on her cell. The number was in the club database. She was told they were aware she snatched a purse, before driving away in a rental car (they had the license number). If she would return the items, the victim would not press charges. The next day, a FedEx arrived at the casino containing the purse and all its contents.

“She was caught because we were able to track her backward,” Whiting says. “She went right to the Strip after the theft, so we wouldn’t have been able to catch her (without the technology).”

In another case, the casino helped the U.S. Secret Service with a counterfeiting investigation. “They were passing counterfeit notes all over town, and we got a license plate on the suspects,” Whiting recalls. “They came to the Mirage, and there was an alarm. We caught them with the notes. Done. We closed the case in no time.

“Without the technology, we would never have known they were there, just watching the casino looking for random people. What surveillance is about is creating triggers. That’s where the technology is taking us. We create triggers with license plate recognition alarms, with data—we’ll mine data for standard deviations, wins that don’t look right.”

Tickets and Free Play

Whiting’s team watches the table games for cheaters and card-counters, but on the slot floor, he says the two most common incidents his team deals with are ticket thefts and manipulation of the free-play system in the player’s club.

“The slot floor used to be such a great source of catching people cheating, with the sluggers and the light devices; in my career I encountered all of those things,” says Whiting. “But it’s a lot harder to cheat the slots now.”

He says ticket thieves still use the same tricks as the old bucket thieves in the coin days—they’ll throw coins on the floor as a distraction. The method that worked for coin buckets and purses apparently still works for cash-out tickets. “But here, we catch them,” Whiting says, “because they have to cash out at my kiosks, with that perfect ID shot. Or maybe they’ll get caught at Monte Carlo or Bellagio.”

More common than ticket thefts, though, are attempts to manipulate the free-play system used by virtually every player’s club. “If you’ve got a player’s club card in, don’t use 1234 as your PIN,” Whiting says. “If I find that card and put it in, I can access everything you’ve earned.”

That doesn’t mean people who do it won’t be caught. “We’re creating triggers that catch this (crime),” Whiting says. “For example, if you always play at Bellagio, and your card is inserted at Circus, it’s probably not you. An alarm will go to surveillance—‘Hey, Mr. Jones is playing, and he usually plays at Bellagio.’ Then we have security pick him up.

“The bulk of these people don’t realize we have 10 properties. We may not catch a ticket thief right there, but we’ll put their face out to 10 properties. They’ll go to one of them sooner or later.”

Getting to that point, of course, depended on the integration of the 360-degree camera into the multi-faceted surveillance system. Says Whiting, “It is the best forensic tool in the business.”

Frank Legato is editor of Global Gaming Business magazine. He has been writing on gaming topics since 1984, when he launched and served as editor of Casino Gaming magazine. Legato, a nationally recognized expert on slot machines, has served as editor and reporter for a variety of gaming publications, including Public Gaming, IGWB, Casino Journal, Casino Player, Strictly Slots and Atlantic City Insider. He has an B.A. in journalism and an M.A. in communications from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. He is the author of the books, How To Win Millions Playing Slot Machines... Or Lose Trying, and Atlantic City: In Living Color.  

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