With the annual approach of the Global Gaming Expo, the industry’s focus turns once again to the slot sector. Most of the attention, as usual, will fall on the “new model year” of games and the ever-advancing hardware on which they are presented.
Slot supplier IGT will, as always, show a dizzying array of new games this year, along with new cabinets that accommodate the modern player with elements such as ergonomic seating, 4K graphics and USB charging ports for cellphones. But the leading slot manufacturer is taking the modernization of gaming one step farther.
The vehicle for this modernization is the IGT Advantage casino management system, an electronic ecosystem for the slot floor that was itself conceived to modernize and simplify player rewards. Its predecessor was the Acres Advantage system invented by John Acres, the industry legend credited with pioneering electronic, system-based bonusing to replace the old bounce-back coin coupons that had been ubiquitous in the snail-mail boxes of player’s club members.
IGT inherited Acres’ computerized bonusing when it bought Acres Gaming in 2003, and has consistently improved upon the IGT Advantage system since then. Most recently, the focus has been on bringing the slot play experience into the 21st century, with slot club logins, cash access and funding of slot play all possible the same way millions of consumers—particularly, pretty much anyone born after the mid 1960s—are already accustomed to making purchases, payments and other transactions in the world outside the walls of casinos—via the smartphones that have all but become a human appendage.
For IGT, the solution lies in two additions to the IGT Advantage system, Cardless Connect and Resort Wallet. Cardless Connect allows players to dispense with plastic mag-stripe player club cards, activating carded play with a touch of the smartphone near the card reader. Resort Wallet is a mobile wallet for funding gaming activity, from depositing and withdrawing funds in a casino account to transferring funds to that account from outside sources.
“With Resort Wallet, you as a player are able to use that mobile wallet not only to transfer your funds to a gaming machine,” explains Nick Khin, chief commercial officer, gaming for IGT, “but let’s say you were at the bar. You’d be able to settle that bill with the funds that you’ve got in your mobile wallet. Resort Wallet also allows you to fund the wallet different ways. You could go to the cage and fund the wallet, if that’s what you want to do. And where regulations permit, you would be able to fund the wallet through external sources as well.”
IGT, of course, led the last major revolution in funding slot play, when its EZ Pay ticket system replaced coins on the floor. Cashless, says Khin, is the next step.
“I really believe that it’s not a question of if; it’s a question of when,” Khin says. “And we’ve already seen, in other industries outside of gaming, consumers have embraced this technology, and they’re using this technology.”
IGT has produced a video for its customers that demonstrates the advantages of Cardless Connect and Resort Wallet in a story featuring two potential versions of a player—“Bob Yesterday” and “Bob Today.” Both characters start their day at a coffee place, and both pay with their smartphones. Then, both head to the casino, where Bob Yesterday can’t find his player’s club card and has to stand in line to get a new one, then stand in another line at the ATM, while Bob Today simply goes to his favorite slot machine and starts playing, and moving on with his mobile wallet to a new machine by the time Bob Yesterday even sits down.
Bob Today hits a bonus while Bob Yesterday waits for an attendant to refill the tickets. The “Intelligent Offers” feature of IGT Advantage notifies Bob Today via his phone that he has free play on the Fortune Link bank of games, while Bob Yesterday just walks by the games. Bob Yesterday digs in his wallet to pay the bar tab; Bob Today pays at the bar with Resort Wallet and goes to use his free play.
The video goes on to demonstrate other perks available through the mobile phone. Both “Bobs” have an offer from the steakhouse. Bob Today gets a ping on his cellphone telling him of the offer, and goes to eat around the time Bob Yesterday walks right by the restaurant and leaves to go home.
“In the video, before he went to the casino, Bob went to his favorite coffee shop and paid for his coffee using his mobile phone,” says Khin. “We are seeing this more and more. When you take an Uber, when you take a Lyft, you’re not dealing with cash anymore. You’re paying for those services via your mobile device. So, consumers are becoming very, very familiar with using this technology, and it’s just a matter of time before they expect to be able to use this technology in a casino.”
Khin says IGT executives realize there won’t be any wholesale replacement of cash in casinos—at least not like it happened with coins and EZ Pay. “We here at IGT are very realistic,” he says. “It is going to take some time to get player adoption. But we have designed this solution and this technology so players have a choice. For example, if you want to card into a machine with your plastic card, you can. But if you are interested in and comfortable with using the technology and carding in with your mobile phone, you can do that too.
“When you go to cash out, if you are more comfortable with a ticket, you can get a ticket. But if you are comfortable with transferring the funds from the machine into your mobile wallet, you have that option. It’s about giving players the option, not forcing them to adopt it.”
Bonusing, Service and M5
In addition to giving the players the option to use their smartphones for any manner of transaction, the IGT Advantage system streamlines customer service for the operator. The inherent bonusing in the system, as well as player rewards, comp offers and other communications, are streamed to the players’ phones, and offers can be customized in real time, thanks to a content management tool known as M5.
The name is derived from the system’s use of HTML5 programming language. What it means for casinos is the ability to update and renew marketing campaigns directly, instead of older Flash technology provided by a third party.
“M5 allows casino operators to customize their marketing campaigns, and the information that they want to display to players,” Khin explains. “They can push the content down to the service window or player display unit.”
Marketing offers can be relayed to loyal players through Intelligent Bonusing, a suite of bonuses that are customized according to key player information already housed in the Advantage CMS. “It allows the casino operator to create bonuses based on key information the casino already has and tracks in their system,” says Khin.
“The information could be around the demographics of the player, it could be around where the player lives, in terms of ZIP code, the player’s preferences for games, the play level. You’re able to slice and dice all the information that sits in the system, to create bonuses that are going to be relevant for a particular player.”
“The key to the Intelligent Bonusing is that it’s real time,” adds Rachelle Rabago, IGT’s director of global product management. “It’s delivered to that player in real time, which is something that earlier versions of the bonusing system were not known for, because of the technology that was available during that time.
“Now, as a player cards in, as a player walks by, as a player increments their point values, they’re delivered that specialty bonus right then and there. In the past, a player had to card out and then card back in to be able to get delivered a specific bonus—and it was a basic horse game, or it was a basic car game. Now, the delivery can be specified to the player who is carded in.”
Khin says customers are only beginning to discover the possibilities inherent in the Advantage ecosystem. “Operator adoption is still in its infancy right now, in all honesty,” he says. “We would like more of our customers to adopt these tools, so we’re in the process of making sure that our customer base is fully aware of the availability of these applications and features, and how to use them—and how they can derive value out of them.”
These customized bonuses are accompanied by a complete menu of services available to players without leaving their game, including a Beverage On Demand application that allows the player to order a drink, and links to outside services to make a restaurant reservation, get a room at the hotel or other services, right at the slot machine.
The restaurant app connects to the OpenTable online reservation service. “So, if you’re at your favorite casino and you want to make a reservation at one of its restaurants, you don’t have to get your mobile out of your pocket, or call them or go into an app,” Khin says. “You can do it right there on the gaming machine. I think the one thing it shows is how powerful Advantage is in terms of being able to connect to a lot of these third-party applications.”
According to Rabago, so far, over 50 customers worldwide have adopted the M5 product, including around 30 in the U.S. Station Casinos has adopted the Cardless Connect and M5 products enterprise-wide in 19 properties. The new Encore Boston utilizes M5 as well.
Khin is confident that these are only the beginning of what he calls “revolutionizing the player experience.”
21st Century Tools
New tools in the IGT Advantage casino management system are designed to bring player’s clubs, access to funds and player rewards up to date with the technology familiar to millions outside the casino:
• Cardless Connect
Players can download an app that allows them to enact carded slot play with a tap of the smartphone, as an option to plastic player’s club cards.
• Resort Wallet
Players can use a mobile wallet for funding gaming activity, from depositing and withdrawing funds in a casino account to transferring funds to that account from outside sources, allowing game play as well as payment at bars, restaurants, spas and other on-property retail outlets via the smartphone.
• Intelligent Bonusing
Operators can tailor bonuses and rewards to the needs and preferences of each specific player, based on player data already in the Advantage system.
M5 allows casino marketers to update and customize bonuses and player rewards, and communicate them to the player in real time. Beaconing technology can trigger rewards at venues as the player passes them by.
• Real-Time Services
Players can order a drink, make restaurant reservations or access other services without leaving the slot machine. Links to external services such as OpenTable allow for reservations to be made directly using the slot machine’s service window.