| 18 April 2010
Sprawling across 67 acres on the Las Vegas Strip between the Bellagio and Monte Carlo resorts sits the recently opened CityCenter complex. The complex, a joint venture between the MGM Mirage and Infinity World Development Corp., is one of the largest privately funded construction projects in U.S. history.
CityCenter is composed of the 61-story, 4,004-room Aria Resort & Casino; two, non-gaming luxury hotels, the Mandarin Oriental and Vdara Hotel & Spa; Veer Towers residential buildings; and, Crystals retail and entertainment district. In addition to 4,000 hotel rooms, Aria contains 10 bars and lounges, as well as 150,000-square-foot gaming space with 145 table games and 1,940 slot machines.
The new CityCenter complex in Las Vegas utilizes a total of 3,700 surveillance cameras to watch over guests and employees. The cameras are a hybrid mix of both analog and IP video solutions from Honeywell. Photo courtesy Honeywell
To help secure a facility of the size and scope of CityCenter, the complex utilizes a hybrid security system, which consists of a total of 3,700 surveillance cameras and a couple of thousand points of access control, according to Ted Whiting, director of surveillance for Aria. Having worked in gaming security for the past 21-plus years, Whiting moved over to the CityCenter project in 2006 after working as director of surveillance at the MGM Mirage.
In this "At the Frontline," Whiting discusses the challenges behind designing and implementing security systems at Las Vegas' newest mega complex.
Photo courtesy CityCenter
What are some of the challenges involved with designing and implementing a security system of this size?
Right from the start, we knew we wanted a system that was the most advanced in the industry. We wanted to blend the best of the current technology with the best of the new, and since we were creating something that had never been done before, I knew I had to make sure this would be ok with the gaming control board - because we are regulated by them. For a couple of years leading up to our opening, I would periodically contact the gaming control board and show them what we were planning to do and they were always very receptive of the technology, but they could never approve it right there. I had to wait until a week before we opened to see if it would really work... so that was a challenge to make sure that we stayed compliant. The actual size of the system really didn't make it more difficult, it just took more time to make sure that we were covering all of our bases.
How did you pick which solutions would be a part of the CityCenter system?
We went through a real exhaustive process. We had four or five (vendor) finalists and we used their products at our different properties. We tested them for a couple of weeks and then we scored them based on more than 100 different points. Based on that score, we came up with the winner and Honeywell happened to win. Then we went to sourcing and made sure that they did their thing. We had nothing to do with the pricing - corporate sourcing handled that - but we were able to pick the best product based on our demos using the criteria we established.
What are some of the benefits of using a hybrid system?
The benefit of using both (IP and analog) is that analog doesn't give me everything I want and neither does IP video. We were able to get the best of both technologies and we've done a great job here. As an example, a PTZ is an analog camera; it doesn't work in the IP world. There's latency, so you move the joystick and the PTZ won't move if it's IP. In an analog system, it moves perfectly in real time and I didn't want to give that up and I didn't have to. I also wanted the best of the IP world, which means I wanted megapixel cameras, I wanted HD cameras and I wanted 360-degree cameras, because analog cameras can't do what those cameras can. Hybrid right now is the only way to go. I would say in maybe 5 years analog may be completely gone, but not right now.
Why does analog remain such a big part of surveillance in the gaming industry and what kind of strides have IP cameras made in the gaming market?
There are a couple of reasons that IP is still lagging behind analog, it's going to change quickly, but for now, it's still behind. Even two years ago, IP cameras were too expensive, the picture wasn't as good, the video had latency, and a fourth problem was that we had no idea how long the cameras would last. An analog camera will honestly go seven years most of the time, but I didn't know (about IP) because IP cameras hadn't been out for seven years, so I couldn't make that statement. In addition to that, you have to be within IP distance put an IP camera in. If your camera is more than 300 feet away from your first com room, you can't put an IP camera in without buying additional equipment.
Some of these problems have been solved. With IP cameras now, the picture is so much better it's ridiculous, and they're not that much more expensive. As far as infrastructure, we made sure we're future-proofed here and that I can pull out any one of my analog cameras and just plug an IP camera in there and I'm in distance every time. The cost of an IP camera has always been higher than an analog camera, but it also costs more to record (IP) because it takes up more bandwidth. These HD cameras I've got now only take up a little bit more bandwidth, so I don't have to spend more money and I'm getting a picture that is literally three times as clear. That's the biggest stride. The thing that I want to see happen is IP cameras make it to the PTZ world. I would like the latency to go away and I would like that same clarity in a PTZ, but that hasn't happened yet.
How has security and surveillance changed in the gaming industry and how have those changes materialized themselves in the CityCenter project?
The bottom line for us is that we're still here to protect the casino's assets - which means not only protecting the money, but also the guests and employees. I think we do a really good job of that, we've always done a good job, but the technology makes us more efficient when we're trying to do these things. One of the ways (we do this) is that we literally have more video. We have almost 100 percent of the casino floor covered, so if there's any problem in the casino, we will probably have video of it. Then, we are able to conduct a proper investigation, where maybe in years past we wouldn't know what happened. The other thing that we are doing is tying data to video, so we are able to analyze all these different data streams we have. Say there's a suspicious transaction at a cash register, we're able to filter that out, click that transaction's text and the video appears. Then we're able to determine whether or not that's an incident of theft.
How do you plan on upgrading and improving your security system in the future? Was scalability a big issue in selection process for security solutions?
Scalability is always a big issue. We don't want to buy something that we can't do anything with two years from now. We future-proof not just the hardware, but the infrastructure as well. The next thing I see coming is that we are going to buy more of these HD cameras. The more that get sold, the cheaper they are going to be.
We are also looking at video analytics. Up until this point, there were only a few analytic behaviors that really worked consistently. I think that the video industry is really gearing up to take on those challenges and make them all work. We have license plate recognition and it works fantastic, but one that doesn't work that I want to see work is a "trip-and-fall." I believe that will be in the next couple of years and that is when we will start installing (analytics systems) once they work really well.