Operated by Arizona’s Yavapai Nation, Fort McDowell Casino has traveled a long and winding road in its quest to convert from analog to IP.   Courtesy of Fort McDowell Casino

Since opening the first bingo hall in Arizona in 1983, the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation has expanded to become the Fort McDowell Resort and Casino, comprising 128,000 square feet of slot machines, a 1,800-seat bingo hall, 18 blackjack tables and 20 pocket tables, as well as a number of food and beverage venues, a golf course and a resort hotel.

Security for gaming and back-of-house areas is overseen by the Fort McDowell Tribal Gaming Office (FMTGO), which has maintained and fully provisioned surveillance coverage and compliance prior to each expansion initiative. The sometimes volatile growth has fostered a strong DIY culture with regard to surveillance, leading the tribe to embrace a culture of system design and full systems integration capabilities.

As a result, FMTGO surveillance techs and management are routinely called upon to design, source, build and install off-site camera systems and other low-voltage solutions for nearby locations including courtrooms, schools, community centers and mobile safety buildings. All of these projects are provided without using local integrators for design and labor services, and the only interaction with surveillance providers is confined to equipment orders only.

In 2004, following management changes, FMTGO accepted a proposal from a local systems integrator to convert the existing system from VCR to DVR recording — the first time the tribe diverged from its do-it-yourself philosophy. The conversion retained the existing American Dynamics level 3, six-bay video matrix switch as the video system’s front end.  VCR systems were scrapped and replaced with:

  • A climate-controlled, 12-rack capacity server room and datacenter housing 50 16-channel, 4U DVR units.
  • Updated UPS and fire-suppression systems integrated with a full server-room build-out.
  • Installation of aesthetically pleasing console components and a professional-looking server room.

However, despite outward appearances, the project soon became an administrative challenge for the FMTGO. Aside from eliminating the need to change VCR tapes, the FMTGO found the remainder of the new system to be cumbersome and provide only marginal improvements in video quality. In short, the new system was not a significant improvement over the VCR and multiplexers it had replaced. The DVR server hardware and network were cutting-edge at the time, but the DVR software was prone to crash without warning and had no provisions for error-logging, alerting or health monitoring. Additionally, matrix switch the tribe had been using required operators to interact directly with the DVR servers and export video to a shared network for reviewing.

In 2006, there was another management change, and by 2007, the FMTGO was given the go-ahead to take corrective action. The replacement system would include Hikvision 16-channel encoder cards and a stable VMS solution. Because of budget constraints, upgrades occurred gradually by attrition, and the FMTGO needed to re-purposed as many computer components as possible. This process lasted until December 2012, when operators were finally given access to a unified and stable VMS client.

Faced with the prospect of a new casino in the near future and a 20-year-old analog matrix switch and infrastructure, FMTGO has decided to deploy an IP video system. The planned system will satisfy stringent design, scalability and cost criteria, while maintaining FMTGO’s spirit of self-reliance.

In 2007, megapixel cameras were expensive, but at the time seen as the only way to provide quality coverage of the casino’s poker tables.  FMTGO built its first NVR server, installed a PoE switch and deployed 22 first-generation Arecont and AV3105 cameras over the poker tables in December 2008.

In making its final selection of VMS solution, the FMTGO had a number of minimum requirements that any prospective solution would have to meet. The system would need to:

  • Enhance surveillance coverage and be both operational and easy to use.
  • Identify threats to public safety and the enterprise.
  • Ensure compliance with casino regulatory bodies and conform to industry standards.
  • Provide a cost-effective migration path from analog to IP.
  • Demonstrate clear advantages over the current analog VMS and competitive offerings.
  • Allow for a smooth transition from existing network camera and NVR server installations to future casino and surveillance datacenter facilities.
  • Offer a clear, flexible licensing model.
  • Provide 64-bit installations for Linux servers and 32- and 64-bit clients for Windows and Linux workstations while also supporting both x86 and ARM processor architectures.
  • Deliver a flexible server-side API for user-developed computer vision applications and RTSP re-streaming functionality.
  • Demonstrate consistent and aggressive software cycles for bug fixes and feature enhancements.

After carefully evaluating its options, the FMTGO selected DW Spectrum by Digital Watchdog. Leveraging the functionality of the software and installing a number of megapixel products, the FMTGO has seen a dramatic increase in system performance. The tribe will continue to migrate analog cameras to the DW Spectrum solution, ultimately replacing all its analog cameras and abandoning the practice of using analog-to-IP encoding for fixed IP cameras. The process has resulted in the ability to replace five analog cameras with one IP camera in most coverage areas. The exceptions are places where objects like cashier targets are required to be monitored by 11 dedicated cameras.

DW Spectrum also provides a number of tools that provide an intuitive and accessible user experience. For example, operators are no longer preoccupied with video controls and can instead focus on scrutinizing video content. Compared with the previous solution, DW Spectrum allows operators to more quickly perform live video monitoring and forensic review and provides more advanced capabilities and feature sets, reducing stress on operators.

Aside from improved operator control, DW Spectrum delivers organic, robust administrative features and granular control over each facet of the VMS configuration, allowing administrators to take advantage of the capabilities of cameras, servers, the network and operators. An added benefit is that no extraneous menu choices, redundant configuration settings options or decoupled configuration utilities are required to perform this control.

According to Jason Tannaz, FMTGO’s surveillance manager, the DW Spectrum solution inspires confidence necessary for system-wide migration to IP at the casino.

“To say that FMTGO is pleased with DW Spectrum is a gross understatement. FMTGO looks forward to providing long-term enhanced surveillance protection to its community using the game-changing IPVMS technologies made possible by Digital Watchdog,” he says.