Since opening in 2016, Okada Manila has quickly established a reputation as a premier entertainment resort – and not just in the Philippines, but on the world stage.
Such was the scale of this US$2.4 billion development that more than 18,000 workers were employed during the first phase of construction alone, and the results were spectacular.
As its location in the Entertainment City district of Manila suggests, Okada Manila and its people are in the business of providing unforgettable experiences for their guests.
In addition to the dazzling casino and luxurious hotel, this vast, integrated resort boasts an endless array of world-class amenities, meaning there truly is something for everyone whether they are looking to shop, dine or relax.
One major hotspot is The Fountain, a US$30 million attraction designed by the same team responsible for similarly iconic water features in Las Vegas and Dubai.
Then there’s Cove Manila, Southeast Asia’s biggest indoor beach club and nightclub, capable of hosting up to 3,000 partygoers.
“What Okada aims to do is provide entertainment that’s safe, fun and has that wow factor,” explains Ashley Lorraway, the organisation’s Director of Security Infrastructure, Research and Development. “We throw absolutely everything at providing an extraordinary experience; that’s the number one thing Okada tries to achieve and we succeed every time.”
Okada Manila has certainly lived up to the hype that existed during the planning and construction phase, receiving Five-Star accreditation from the Forbes Travel Guide and becoming a true icon of the Philippines.
“Integrated resorts can be a dime a dozen; if you walk into one, you’ve walked into them all,” adds Lorraway. “But Okada Manila is not like any other place you’ve walked into. There’s no other resort that has the same feel, the same aura or the same atmosphere. You can find all the usual avenues of entertainment that you get in most integrated resorts, but there is just something extra special at Okada Manila. People will say that I’m biased but it’s absolutely true.”
Overcoming security and surveillance challenges
While he is keen to sing the praises of Okada Manila’s entertainment pedigree, Lorraway’s day-to-day concern – as his job title suggests – is how best to protect the resort from security threats.
As a seasoned technology expert, he heads up all the technological infrastructure for the security and surveillance platforms – supported by two data centres and around 200 server rooms – while training up the next generation of talented technicians and engineers.
Lorraway is also in charge of Okada’s barring and exclusion committee, whose prerogative it is to prohibit a small but potentially dangerous minority of visitors from entering the casino and wider resort.
Countless colleagues within the industry will be able to relate to the kinds of obstacles being faced by Lorraway and his team on a daily basis. Traditional challenges like budgeting are up there with the toughest, but luck has often been on their side.
“When you’re dealing with a board of directors, 9.9 times out of 10 they’re not technically sound,” says Lorraway. “You have to convince these business people that a certain technology is going to improve operations so they will give you the money to do just that.
“I’m extremely lucky, though, that part of Okada’s mission is to be an innovative global leader. I’m also lucky that we have one of the best CTOs on the planet and a Chief Security Officer who is very technologically-minded and supportive.”
Undoubtedly, however, the biggest ongoing challenge for the Okada Manila tech team is prioritisation.
The artificial intelligence (AI) explosion and the way emerging technologies are being applied to video analytics and facial recognition means there is seemingly a limitless number of pathways when it comes to innovation, research and development. The big question is which path to choose.
Lorraway continues: “There are only so many hours in a day and the question we have to ask ourselves is, ‘which mind-blowing technology advancement are we going to implement first?’. It sounds arrogant, but we have so many ideas and we’re working on so many projects.”
Okada Manila: Constantly evolving
Okada Manila has, as Lorraway puts it, been very good at “rolling with the punches” during its short history.
Evidently, the pandemic was a significant trigger, forcing the business to evolve with the launch of an online casino, while also considering practical measures at the resort itself such as the installation of contactless technology. So far, the online casino has proved a roaring success and an excellent revenue stream which looks set to continue growing.
Another major evolution has involved the use of facial recognition which, a few decades ago, was being examined but was something of a pipedream given the necessary AI algorithms were not yet powerful enough. But now, the technology has reached the point where it has the potential to replace pretty much any authentication that exists within a casino environment, such as ID passes and reward cards, and can even be used to record player ratings.
“We have dramatically expanded our use of facial recognition, to the point where we are testing with a view to using it in other areas beyond security,” Lorraway adds.
Introducing new technology to combat fire risk is another example of Okada Manila refusing to rest on its laurels. Fire is the single biggest threat to a venue of this size, regardless of the industry, and it is essential to have the best alarm and suppression systems installed.
The tech director continues: “We're innovative here; we're always looking for new ways to protect life, especially when you’re such a big site and you can’t monitor every little area.
“We’ve evolved when it comes to tackling fire, right from the notification and alarms to state-of-the-art suppression systems.”
A hotbed for innovation
The aforementioned boost that AI has given to facial recognition and similar processes cannot be celebrated enough by Lorraway.
“AI is everything,” he proclaims. “All of the greatest leaps forward that anybody makes in the next decade or two are going to be AI-relevant.”
In the security and surveillance technology space, in conjunction with gaming protection, use of video analytics powered by AI is the direction in which Okada Manila is already heading.
“Say you’ve got a 12-man cheating syndicate which is meeting up on site,” Lorraway adds, providing a hypothetical example. “Traditionally, surveillance people would look at their activities over a period of time and try to denote all the members of that syndicate.
“With AI, what would usually take weeks now takes a matter of seconds, depending on the processing power. We can tell the AI that we’ve already confirmed one of the members and we want to know everybody he's had contact with.”
Then there’s behavioural recognition and the prospect of teaching AI tools how to recognise the type of behaviour seen among those who are cheating or looking to steal, including pickpockets.
“Casinos are rife with pickpockets,” Lorraway goes on. “So, we’re in the midst of teaching the AI to recognise them before they’ve even picked a single pocket.
“It’s the kind of stuff where, if I told you 25 years ago, you wouldn’t even believe it. But we’re working on it, we’re proving it and we’re implementing it.”
Okada Manila is already benefitting from facial recognition when it comes to detecting banned patrons on its premises. Whether they are a prolific criminal, terrorism suspect or a responsible gaming risk, relevant individuals who are spotted by the facial recognition system will trigger an alert before security personnel escort them away.
However, like in all innovative technology departments, the team is constantly asking how they can go one step further; in this case, how can they reduce the time it takes for a banned patron to be recognised and security personnel dispatched?
The answer is facial recognition sunglasses which, granted, sounds a bit James Bond when you first hear it, but the technology is available.
Lorraway explains: “Security personnel will wear the sunglasses attached to the facial recognition system and get an immediate alert when a wanted person approaches. Banned patrons won’t even get in the building.
“It sounds like pie in the sky stuff, but we’ve already done it. We’ve tested the prototype, it works and we’re going to implement it – end of story. That’s another incredible thing in the pipeline.”
Licence plate recognition, vehicle IED scanning and privacy screening, which sees innocent parties automatically blurred out when incident footage is exported and viewed for legal purposes, are just some of the other processes being made substantially easier by AI and analytics.
The importance of vendor management
Clearly, Okada Manila’s tech team and the wider business cannot go it entirely alone and frequently enlist the help of a trusted selection of key partners.
“Vendor management is one of the most important aspects of a technology professional’s job,” Lorraway says. “When there’s a force majeure event like the pandemic, you want to have the kind of relationship where there’s flexibility and you can work together to create a winning scenario.
“Vendors used to be very siloed but, these days, you need versatile partners that can cover a multitude of areas.”
One example Lorraway gives is Sync4U, a local provider of facial recognition capabilities, as well as a host of other innovative technology for fire protection and security purposes.
Another partner, Andaman Sea and Earth, offers some of the best video analytics and management systems on the market.
“Having the kind of relationship where your partner is well connected, and can help you find the right people for a specific purpose, is exactly what you want.”