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Can Gaming Surveillance Become a Profit Center?

05 June 2014

In this interview we caught up with John Katnic, Synectics’ Vice President of Global Gaming.

Over the last two decades, the global gaming market has undergone remarkable change. Though Las Vegas is still the undisputed entertainment center of the world, the Asian gaming explosion has been fuelled by the popularity of table games like baccarat. At the same time, concepts like the Internet of Things and Big Data have become inescapable, as inter-device connectivity and data mining capabilities have become more prevalent and valued.

We wanted to understand the specific demands these developments have placed on gaming surveillance solutions, and how casino surveillance departments and systems are evolving in response.

How would you summarise the gaming surveillance climate today?

Casino surveillance is in the midst of a global tidal change with the rapidly-growing migration from analogue to digital technologies. More and more IP-based data in casinos is being generated from physical security, point-of-sale, player tracking, slot, and table systems. And, of course, casinos are also introducing HD and Megapixel IP cameras with advanced functionality.

This move to IP is a positive development that offers access to invaluable data about players, dealers, trends, anomalies and so on. However, the bad news is that there’s now too much information for managers and surveillance operators to deal with.

Our challenge, as a technology and surveillance solution company, is to figure out ways to sift through that mountain of data and distinguish what matters. We need to give people a way to interrogate data and identify events that are most likely to be of interest, and, importantly, ensure this information is readily available and/or retrievable.

Clearly, different global regions have very different needs - is this having a big impact on projects?

Yes. Different regions and casinos require different types of functionality and integration.

In the US slots machines represent a huge part of casinos’ revenue. In these cases, casinos are more interested in tying slot data to video, so they respond when a door has been opened, if there are any tampering alarms, or to review jackpots of a certain size.

In Asia baccarat is the game of choice. As we’ve become more active in this region, we’ve seen increased requests for integration to baccarat and player tracking systems. Casinos maintain detailed records about their players, including frequency of visits, average and aggregate bets, and how long they play. Each baccarat table also has screens that display real time statistics. So it is now possible, if not required, to overlay player and game data with video, and to alert operators of trends and exceptions.

Where do you think the greatest untapped potential exists in today’s gaming market for system integration?

We’re seeing a growing demand for integration to player tracking systems, both for marketing purposes and to uncover potential collusion or card counting by combining video and player data.

In several of our customers’ casinos around the world, we’ve seen situations where players are in collusion with employees that result in huge losses for the enterprise. For instance, a table game manager might overstate the amount his buddy is betting each hand, to cash in on unearned comp’d dinners, hotel rooms and, in some cases, cash rewards.

With live analytic tools monitoring player tracking and video surveillance systems, operators can be alerted when buy-in to betting thresholds or averages are exceeded and directed to actively observe that game. They can also run a quick report to see how often a particular player and dealer have been engaged at the same table, to help substantiate foul play.

Retrospective analysis is also possible, and we’ve seen a couple of cases where comp fraud audits on this kind of data have exposed scams that cost the casino $500,000 or more in losses in a six month period.

This is just one scenario in which data integration and analysis can add tremendous value. There are other benefits as well, like helping casinos adjust staffing levels, refine target marketing, manage or train dealers, or revise floor plans to increase foot traffic or play. Once you understand what makes your best players return, stay at the table, or increase or decrease play, you can serve them better and attract similar quality customers to your business.

It’s a big opportunity, for sure.

This seems to be something you’re passionate about.

Yes, because I think this touches on the bigger picture.

In casinos data typically resides in departmental silos, funded by independent budgets and managed by disjointed directors and objectives. Everybody owns piece of the puzzle, but to be truly effective all that data must be joined up in a common format and environment, analyzed as a whole, and then intelligently shared with the executive stakeholders who are responsible for the overall operation. Your most valuable customer may play at your casino because he loves the Kobe steak dinner and satin pillow cases. Food & beverage, hospitality, and player hosts all contribute to keeping or losing that customer, so data correlation and communication between them is absolutely essential.

As a gaming technology provider, we are looking for ways to eliminate business silos and build bridges with tools like the Dataveillance engine in our management software that can intelligently analyze data from disparate systems. With access to thousands of video cameras covering the entire property, and highly trained, regulated and vetted personnel, surveillance is the ideal place to gather and monitor this kind of corporate-wide data.

One of our goals is to get surveillance teams to think differently about their jobs. Traditionally, surveillance meant looking at live or recorded video and hoping to catch someone doing something wrong. But with so many cameras to choose from, and increasingly complex scams, you can no longer depend on visual feedback alone. It’s now about understanding what’s going on behind the curtain, down in the data. If surveillance managers and departments think more like data analysts (thus, “Dataveillance”), then I believe there’s untapped opportunity for surveillance departments to evolve and contribute much more significantly to the wellbeing and profitability of their casino. What a radical concept… surveillance transitions from a cost center to a profit center! It’s not only possible, in my opinion it is essential and inevitable.