Southwest Surveillance and the gaming market comeback

Focus on IP, HD capabilities, promise of analytics, meta data on the horizon
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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

DESTIN, Fla.—Talking with Security Systems News at the PSA Security Convention here this week, David Pettit, president of systems integrator Southwest Surveillance, described the comeback his company experienced in the past five years.

“We were on our strategic plan. Then when the economy took a nose dive, we went into survival mode. Now we’re back on the strategic plan again,” he said.

Southwest Surveillance, based in Las Vegas, derives 99 percent of its revenues from the gaming vertical, and that industry was particularly hard hit during the recession, said Pettit, a PSA Security owner.

Casinos’ revenues are directly linked to consumer confidence levels, he said. When the economy is poor, fewer people gamble in casinos. “And when revenues are down 5 to 10 percent, casinos put a lid on cap ex,” Pettit said.

Southwest’s revenues have risen steadily in the past three years. Pettit expects to do $26 million in revenues this year. That’s down from pre-recession revenues of 2007, but it’s a nice rebound from the “extreme contraction” the company experienced in 2009.

Southwest has been in business in its current form since 2001. Privately owned by Pettit and Scott Bartlett, CEO of the company, Southwest employs 37, many of whom are IT-savvy, with multiple IT and manufacturer certifications.

In addition to the challenges of the recession, Southwest has had to contend with the particularly long gaming sales cycle, which is one to two years, and can be complicated by internal tribal political shifts.

“We have some jobs [on the books] that date back to 2009. They’re not dead, just held up,” Pettit explained.

Today, business is being driven by several factors, including the fact that some casinos have simply put off upgrades for several years and they now “need to spend money whether they want to or not,” he said.

The move from analog to digital cameras is also driving business. Casino security directors like the increasingly more reasonable price point of network cameras and the special capabilities of high-definition cameras. They are drawn to the promise of some technology—particularly analytics—to help “security contribute to the profit center or to enable casino surveillance business,” Pettit said.

Advances with analytics are also driving sales. Pettit expects to incorporate more facial recognition and dealer management-type analytics that do things like count cards as the analytics themselves continue to improve and as more HD cameras are deployed.

On the horizon is the use of meta-data tags. IGT, a leading manufacturer of slot machines, has some interesting ideas about how to use meta data from slot machines tied into the video surveillance system, he said.

Casinos record “petabytes of video footage,” Pettit said, and unless there’s an incident, it’s stored for a certain period of time and then recorded over.

New technology may incorporate that video into slot machines so a customer is alerted, for example, when the valet brings his car to the front entrance. The customer likes the convenience; the casino likes the fact that the customer is spending more time sitting at the slot machine, Pettit said.

There are many other potential applications, but Pettit said the real use of meta data “is in its infancy. Testing and approvals are still needed.”

Pettit said his company focuses on the engineering and customer service aspect of surveillance in casinos. He likes to work directly with the owner so that Southwest Surveillance can respond immediately to a request for information rather than having it passed to a general contractor, then to an architect, then to an engineer.

Pettit says business is good and getting better. “2013 is going to be a good year,” he said. And 2014 looks even better.