The new system utilises a hybrid configuration with analogue cameras covering both gaming and non-gaming areas and the addition
The upgrade involed installation of over 3,000 cameras and a new video monitoring room

When Harrah's Cherokee Casino & Hotel in North Carolina decided to undertake a complete expansion and remodel to their existing facility, the Cherokee surveillance staff turned to security systems integrator North American Video (NAV) to provide state- of-the-art video surveillance and access control systems to effectively monitor their casino and non-gaming attractions. The surveillance upgrade and expansion were part of a major overhaul to the hotel and casino property, which included: doubling the size of the legacy gaming space, adding a new hotel tower, and complete remodel of existing areas.

The complexity of installing the new security and surveillance system made the job unique, as reflected by the 20 plus different construction phases of the project that would involve closing various sections of the property for a time and coordinating closely with various contractors to install new systems while maintaining a live operating and gaming environment for the properties guests. The scheduling of the installation was equally important as multiple trades would be working in unison to ensure minimal downtime of the casino’s existing facilities.

NAV first met with the casino about the new expansion in the middle of 2008. More than three years later and after the installation of cameras and other high-tech systems, the expansion is nearly complete and a new state-of-the-art video surveillance system is in place. The enormous job involved installing a new video monitoring room, recording solution and system head-end, in addition to adding more than 3,000 cameras.

The new system uses a hybrid configuration with analogue cameras covering both gaming and non-gaming areas and the addition of IP megapixel cameras to cover “digital” table games. When updating of the older section is completed this summer, virtually every part of Harrah's Cherokee's surveillance will be new. Despite an air conditioning failure, the massive complexity of the job and numerous complications during construction, NAV was able to install the new equipment in record time.

Casino in the smokies

Harrah’s Cherokee Casino & Hotel is an enterprise of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation and is the only casino in the state of North Carolina, located within a 3 hour drive of Atlanta, GA. In addition to 3,600 slot machines, the casino offers 36 tables where blackjack and baccarat are played using real chips and real dealers with virtual cards that are “dealt” by computerised video monitors. Included are 10 non-smoking tables that also use video monitors in lieu of cards. Approval is pending with the state of North Carolina to use live card dealers in the casino in the near future.

Besides gaming, the newly expanded Harrah's Cherokee also offers a 21-story luxury hotel and conference centre. The hotel décor highlights the beautiful mountain setting of western North Carolina, and an elevated mountain walkway over Soco creek leads guests from the casino into the hotel. The grand lobby of marble floors and earth colors provides a lodge-like feel in a warm and comfortable setting. The hotel also includes a covered garage, arcade, indoor pool and workout room, as well as a 15,000-square-foot conference centre. The Creek Tower added 454 guest rooms and 78 suites to the property, increasing the total room count from 576 to 1,108, the greatest number of hotel accommodations in the Carolinas.  

The expansion and relocation of the video surveillance control room has benefited system operators by improving their working conditions
NAV built the system from the stage of creating drawings to managing and installation

Before the project, Harrah's Cherokee had an existing relationship with NAV, which had provided the property with video equipment over the years; however the new expansion greatly transcended the earlier scope of work. “NAV had always met all our timelines for equipment in the past,” said Juan Owle, Surveillance Manager of Harrah's Cherokee. “NAV also has a solid reputation and an in-house design team, and they are located on the east coast closer to us. We wanted a company that would be there for us over the long-term.”

NAV was invited in mid-2008 to bid on the multi-phase expansion, which would include developing surveillance for the new hotel tower and casino and then going back and completely updating the surveillance of the older sections after the current expansion opened.

“Keeping the existing system and the new system up and running during the changeover was a big challenge, as was the sheer magnitude of the system and the operating environment,” said Steve Malia, Vice President, Engineering Services and Marketing, NAV. He notes that coordination of the various phases and other complications made “intense project management” an important function of NAV as the installing integrator.

NAV coordinated with main construction personnel and subcontractors to minimise the impact of the expansion on ongoing operations of the property. The surveillance system installation happened during a busy time at Harrah's Cherokee, but NAV did a good job of communicating with other contractors to minimise downtime, said Mr. Owle.

NAV was involved from the project's inception, and the integrator used a design-build approach to create the system in cooperation with the operations, architectural and interior design teams. NAV built the system from the stage of creating drawings to managing the installation. They also worked with Harrah's Cherokee to reuse some of the existing equipment in order to minimise costs, including using an existing matrix switch, and other equipment from the existing sections.

NAV coordinated with main construction personnel and subcontractors to minimise the impact of the expansion on ongoing operations of the property

A hybrid surveillance system

The hybrid system uses Pelco technology, including the Pelco Endura 2.0 IP-based recording platform. Harrah's Cherokee uses Pelco's Sarix 1.3-megapixel cameras to provide additional resolution for the digital gaming tables. These network cameras are connected directly to the Endura platform. The vast majority of the casino's 3,500-plus cameras are analogue, and they are connected first to a Pelco 9780 matrix switch, whose two nodes provide more than 3,500 inputs and 128 outputs to the Endura platform. Analogue cameras are Pelco DF5 fixed domes and Pelco Spectra 4 pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) domes.

“We felt like the analogue cameras weren't keeping up with the digital table games, and we wanted to upgrade our viewing capabilities of these tables,” said Mr. Owle. Megapixel cameras are also used in some non-gaming areas, such as the “soft-count” cash handling area.

An advantage of the Pelco system is the practice of “pooling” video archiving/storage across multiple units, which the user considers more fail-safe and secure compared to saving video to a single storage device with direct failover to another device. The pooling approach also allowed the system to take up less valuable real estate square footage than would a fully redundant system. Furthermore, the streamlined approach requires less power consumption, both related to system operation and the high cost of environmental/climate control of areas housing the system.

Harrah's Cherokee favored Pelco as the front-end supplier for scalability and to ensure an easy pathway to future expansion. The new video infrastructure could now support up to 4,500 cameras. Also, with 98 percent of the property's cameras supplied by Pelco, staying with a single brand offers troubleshooting advantages and strengthens technical support, said Mr. Owle.

“NAV came here and built a state-of-the-art system, and we are very happy with it. NAV has always been willing to step in and provide assistance whenever they could.”

Benefits of the new system

The expansion and relocation of the video surveillance control room has improved working conditions for system operators. Previously, operators were crowded in a small room alongside the server equipment and sometimes had to move to a different workstation to view video. Now there is a larger control room, operators have access from each workstation, and there is plenty of space for servers elsewhere.

In addition to viewing the gaming areas and providing security, the surveillance system provides operational advantages for Harrah's Cherokee. For example, operators can view how many guests are waiting in line or whether employee performance reflects their training. Supervisors can be alerted in real-time to address any customer service issues. Mr. Owle emphasises that security, gaming surveillance and business operation issues “all go hand-in-hand at the end of the day.”

“Our biggest issue with the old system was that we were maxed out,” said Mr. Owle. “NAV came here and built a state-of-the-art system, and we are very happy with it. NAV has always been willing to step in and provide assistance whenever they could.”

What comes next?

In a property as successful as Harrah's Cherokee, future growth is always likely, and the new video system is prepared to accommodate whatever the future holds. “We wanted something that would be scalable from a company that has a track record of building quality equipment,” said Mr. Owle. “We don't know how big this property will get even five years from now, and we wanted to be prepared on our end. Forward thinking has prepared us to handle any expansion in the next five to 10 years, whether it's more restaurants, gaming space, event venues or whatever.”

“NAV is a strong partner and has a strong reputation,” he added. “I couldn't imagine them not being part of any expansion plan going forward.”

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