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Keys to the Casino

February 1, 2005
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With more than 2,200 employees and nearly 350 keys, the Sycuan Casino faced a daunting task in controlling access to secure areas while facilitating access for essential operations personnel. Located in San Diego, Sycuan features more than 2,000 slot machines, 34 table games, two restaurants, a deli and a 450-seat performing arts theatre. The casino needed a reliable, secure method of issuing and storing keys, as well as a comprehensive system for maintaining an accurate audit trail.

Paper logs, which had been used in the past, had been ineffective and insufficient for the casino’s facilities. According to Harold Johns, security director for the casino, keys were hanging on paperclips, out in the open, for any employee to take.

At the recommendation of the director of compliance from the Gaming Commission, Sycuan turned to key management products provider, Oxford, Conn.-based Morse Watchmans, for its expertise in large-scale key user facilities. The casino’s key objective was to obtain a manageable system to issue, retrieve and track keys that eliminated human error.

Working closely with Johns and the facility management team, the company developed a customized key access solution to meet the casino’s goals utilizing its KeyWatcher key management system. The system consisted of wall-mounted key storage cabinets that eliminate lock boxes, unreliable manual logs and messy key identification tags. The system helps prevent lost or stolen keys by only releasing assigned key to users with the proper authorization code and recording the access history of each key, including user, date and time of checkout/return.

With the system in place, when a key went missing or overdue, an alarm could be programmed to alert security personnel of the situation. Security professionals could then quickly track down the person who checked the key out. The system was installed in combination with Key-Pro software to provide the casino with extensive key management reporting options, centralized programming, advanced network capabilities, improved system communications, detailed reporting and real-time transaction polling.

Solution in action

“Morse Watchmans was extremely helpful in developing our key management system initially, and has helped us to expand it as necessary,” said Johns. “Anytime we have a new key access challenge arise, it is responsive and presents us with two or three options and a recommendation based on our goals. I always follow their recommendations.”

The key management system eliminated Sycuan’s paper chase created by the casino’s outdated, and seldom updated, manual logs, providing the casino with a precise log as to the times, locations and holders of all keys at all times. Sycuan started with one KeyWatcher cabinet managing 100 keys strictly for the security department. Today, the casino uses 14 cabinets in eight locations throughout the facility, tracking and managing keys for secure areas over its entire operation.

Under the authority and administration of the casino’s assistant director of security, the system can be easily customized to meet each of the facility’s individual department needs. Sycuan’s security department can set access constraints at an individual level, for each key, every hour of each day. For example, if installation of new equipment is scheduled in a department, access hours can be extended for relevant employees for the installation period, then returned to normal at the project’s completion.

Any unauthorized key access attempts or discrepancies such as late key returns or returns to the wrong location trigger an immediate alarm to the security department and show up on reports. At Sycuan, key reports are run for the entire operation weekly by the security department and all discrepancies are noted and resolved appropriately. In addition, all departments also run key reports at the beginning and end of each shift, resolving key accountability issues immediately.

Since implementing the key management system, Sycuan Casino has maintained a strict accountability for keys throughout its operation. The system provided controlled access to keys to authorized personnel when they were need, requiring dual and triple user authentication as needed. Keys have been continuously tracked, while reports can be printed in order to provide information required by the Gaming Commission as to the use and location of keys to secure areas.

In the cabinet

“Before KeyWatcher, our key management was a nightmare; paper logs were seldom updated and there was no way of tracking down a key when it was missing,” said Johns. “Now, anyone who once felt they were more important than the system now realizes they aren’t. The cabinet is not concerned with a requestor’s rank, status, pay stub or any other parameter…only whether the person is authorized to receive that key at that particular time of day or week. KeyWatcher has unlimited patience and will wait until the correct set of elements are met before releasing a key. Key management doesn’t get much better than this.”

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