Casino Rama recently hired H.H. Angus & Associates Consulting Engineers (HHA) to help them overhaul their existing power infrastructure. Today’s digital Casino offers a wide variety of electronic gaming machines that provide patrons with an unlimited amount of choice, thrilling graphics and an overall interactive playing experience.

With over 2,500 of the latest state of the art electronic gaming machines, Casino Rama is located just north of Toronto, on land belonging to the Chippewa’s of Rama First Nation, over 3 million patrons visit this popular entertainment destination annually. Concerned that power quality issues occasionally damaged the sensitive electronics in their gaming machines, Casino Rama gave HHA the mandate to find a solution that protected their equipment while minimizing the games downtime as well as the shutdowns required to implement the selected solution.

These machines offer visually stunning touch screen LCD monitors with color changing LED lighting, crisp audio systems and onboard computer systems with state of the art software. While Casino operators have a multitude of choices that are available with respect to gaming machines and the choice of games available, they are often left with little choice on the incoming power quality of their casino’s utility service. Power quality issues were increasingly adversely affecting these gaming machines and interrupting a pleasurable entertainment experience, especially during adverse weather conditions which often resulted in power disruptions. It should be noted that at no time are the security or integrity of the games affected by the power quality.

Power quality is a term that is used to determine the compatibility of an electrical power supply (voltage) to the connected consumer devices. In this case, the devices are electronic gaming machines. Issues affecting power quality can be divided into two groups: steady-state disturbances that are periodic and/or of lasting duration and event-based disturbances which are momentary in nature. Both groups are further defined by categories that pertain to voltage levels above expected tolerances, voltage levels that are below expected tolerances and momentary fluctuations in voltage. Specific examples of each type of phenomena include:

•    Failures/Blackouts/Brownouts – system outages where utility power is unavailable or operating at a reduced level.
•    Surges/Overvoltages – increased voltage magnitude for short durations or prolonged durations.
•    Sags/Undervoltages – reduced voltage magnitude for short durations or prolonged durations.
•    Frequency variations – deviation from the standard 60Hz voltage supply.
•    Switching Transients – very brief fluctuation in the magnitude of voltage, usually in the nanosecond duration.
•    Harmonic Distortions – distortion of the voltage waveform caused by non-linear loads.

HHA started the process of finding a power quality solution by analyzing Casino Rama’s existing power distribution systems, existing critical loads and plans for future electrical load growth. Existing building infrastructure was reviewed including available service space and mechanical infrastructure. A number of recommendations were put forth to Casino Rama with varying degrees of risk mitigation and budgetary requirements. Casino Rama opted to incorporate a 1.2 MW centralized uninterruptible power supply (UPS) into the portion of the existing emergency generator powered distribution system dedicated for their electronic gaming machines. In simplistic terms, UPS systems operate by converting an incoming utility power supply from AC to DC and using that power to feed a rechargeable bank of batteries. The battery bank subsequently feeds an inverter which converts DC to AC and feeds the critical loads – the casino’s electronic gaming machines. Power quality disturbances on the incoming AC supply are filtered out and there is no possibility of having any disturbances transferred through the AC-DC/DC-AC conversion process. In addition to providing protection against power quality disturbances, the centralized UPS can provide gamer’s with an uninterrupted playing experience during a utility power outage, as the UPS will bridge the gap between the onset of a utility power outage and the time it takes the Casino’s onsite 3 MW emergency generators to come online and support the critical loads. 

Implementing the centralized UPS system at Casino Rama had its own unique challenges. Available service space had to be sourced. The system had to be integrated within the facility’s electrical system, in a way that minimized the duration of machine shut-downs and tie-ins. Additional air conditioning units had to be provided to ensure that the requisite ambient temperatures are maintained for the system.  Structural reinforcement was required to ensure the floor slab was able to support the added weight of the battery banks. All of these requirements had to be taken into account when designing the project that would install the centralized UPS system. Construction documents were prepared for all of the various trades and the project was tendered to electrical contractors. The competitive bidding process resulted in a project that ensured a prescribed level of quality, with respect to construction materials and methods, at fair market value.

Since the installation of the centralized UPS system, Casino Rama has had zero power quality incidents affecting their sensitive electronic gaming machines. In addition, electrical distribution fault related downtime has been eliminated resulting in a substantial reduction in annual maintenance costs. John Haley, the Director of Engineering and EVS at Casino Rama states “The installation of protective electric equipment designed and specified by H. H. Angus and Associates Ltd. is working amazingly and has afforded us the confidence that we no longer need to pre-start all three of our 1 MW generators during every looming lightening storm”. Given the growing trends towards electronic gaming, today’s digital casino can learn an important lesson from Casino Rama and take the proactive approach towards removing power quality issues from their facility. Removing the adverse of effects of power quality issues at your casino can maximize a gaming experience that can be enjoyed by all.

Steve Smith, C.E.T. and Philip Chow, P.Eng., PE, are senior members at H.H. Angus & Associates Consulting Engineers Ltd., and specialize in critical power solutions for the gaming industry. As independent service providers, they bring a wealth of experience in electrical systems, building infrastructure and construction. H.H. Angus and Associates Ltd. is a privately held engineering firm headquartered out of Toronto, Canada, with offices in Chicago and Dallas.

Originally published in Canadian gaming business