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Data Crazy

How do you interpret massive amounts of information? Turn to the experts.

Data Crazy

Data analytics: one term, from countless directions, embodies the quest for the gaming edge.

Operators embrace the cutting-edge role of the color-coded, patron-spending treasure map. If a picture is generally worth a thousand words, a casino graph or trend may be worth a million bucks.

Data has never been more relevant. Integrated resorts get bang from the non-gaming buck, bringing hotel rooms, spas, golf courses and restaurants into the numbers-crunching world. A financial tweak gained through data can determine the success of a financial quarter.

Casinos have witnessed a long journey, from intuitive placement of machines and eyeballed player ratings to targeted promotions, the identification of declining players and the assessment of promotional dollars spent. Loyalty and data-based marketing programs drive revenue.

The new information age attaches trend to the spend, at a reasonable cost. Operators need data-analytics tools, which augment gaming operations for the relatively inexpensive price of consultants and software.

While the categories of data analytics appear endless, they come in three major forms: through consultants, via internal assessment and through new products.


A Complete Picture

The Innovation Group, a premier consulting ally of the gaming industry, has been associated with more than $100 billion in investment across six continents and several industries. Its client base includes multibillion-dollar companies, banking institutions and casinos.

Bryan Wyman, senior vice president of operations and data analytics, says this market sector is ascending.

“I have a seven-month-old, and just like my son, I think data and analytics is at the ‘learning to crawl’ stage right now in casino gaming,” he says. “But also like my little guy, data and analytics will be up and running around very soon. I think we’ll see that being at the forefront of data and analytics will really separate out the best-run businesses out there, and as the industry continues to consolidate and focus on margin, I think those that are lagging will become acquisition targets.”

Data and analytics provide both tangible and subtle contributions. Tangibly, they help properties make comp decisions, and to determine loyalty club offers and direct-mail promotions. The information plays a subtle role in addressing some emotional, non-gaming factors.

“I think nearly everything collected at a property is useful as we start to push toward really personalized experience: hotel and dining preferences, spa treatments, and obviously gaming and marketing data,” Wyman says. “Having the pillows I prefer in the room and a welcome basket that has the right snacks creates this immense sense that this is my home away from home, that the property knows and cares about me, and this is a big part of what creates the brand loyalty we all desire from our guests.”


Driving the Right Vehicle

Accessibility to data has been enhanced by the digital world. Smartphones are ubiquitous. One can send SMS or push notifications to instantly reach guests and likewise gather real-time location data, including seeing what Instagram posts are being made from the casino floor.

This creates a balancing act for casinos: the opportunity for abundant new real-time information, along with the requirement to assess it property.

“It’s really a fantastic time for data analytics, and people are hungry for it,” Wyman says. “But I think there’s a lot of confusion about what to do with the data, and one of the biggest sources of frustration we hear about is software.

“There’s a lot of software out there that claims to offer canned solutions to problems across all casino and resort operations. But a lot of companies end up with a little buyer’s remorse when they see that the software doesn’t do exactly what they want.

“I liken it to buying a Ferrari but not being able to drive a stick. It’s neither the Ferrari’s fault nor the driver’s—the Ferrari is a great car, but it doesn’t address the driver’s needs. So we work with operating teams to develop cost-effective ways to solve the problems they want solved.”

The beauty of a consulting company is its ability to tailor individual solutions to properties. Rather than manufacture or distribute a product for mass deployment, it can address situations in a one-on-one format.

“Direct marketing is a great example of an area where we’ve been really effective,” says Wyman. “With one operator, we were able to help refine their direct marketing program by improving their segmentation. Besides improving the personalization of offers by really understanding behaviors, we identified large behavior groups of guests who were unprofitable at the end of the day, and we were able to reallocate a portion of their reinvestment into other groups that needed just a little richer offer mix to get them to visit.

“This was net-neutral on overall reinvestment, but great for the bottom line. And we were able to prove this out statistically, which gives a great deal of confidence to all involved.

“With another group, they came to us to help them with visitation declines. We were able to not only identify a group of patrons driving the visitation decline, but we were able to diagnose the root cause, a combination of competitive factors and on-property changes, and work with them to design a solution.”


Blended Assets

The Agilysys niche is rich. The Alpharetta, Georgia-based company was well-placed to serve the merged world of resorts and casinos. Its software-driven analytical tools enhance revenue areas that have become more significant to the combined hotel-casino bottom line. Company innovations from recent years impact poolside, restaurant, check-ins and reservation areas.

Ravi Acharya, the company’s director of engineering, believes the market sector embarks on a significant new phase—an analytical age of discovery.

“As more resorts are adopting in-room tech, only a fraction of them measure how and when guests access and use the in-room technology,” he says. “Knowing usage patterns can tell a lot about guest expectations—including their preferences, which most resorts aren’t yet thinking about. That’s where we expect our business intelligence tools to be in the year to come. We’re thinking outside the box with more creative and unexpected ways to capture and analyze the data that’s readily available.

“What’s also coming is personalization for casino areas like high-volume buffets,” Acharya adds. “When the patron checks in, staff can see their total patron value rating and personalize the experience accordingly. The profile data will show the patron’s typical spend or food preferences and allergies. This goes beyond identifying VIPs.”

Inside the data-analytics big picture, Agilysys touts its own rGuest Analyze, which works seamlessly with InfoGenesis POS and operates with the property management system LMS (for Lodging Management System).

“Unlike anything else in gaming and hospitality, rGuest Analyze provides access to business data and trends on demand,” Acharya says. “Our customers like it for its dashboard with at-a-glance graphs and charts that visually show how the business is performing. They also use the technology to identify their top-performing employees. And they like knowing they can perform these tasks in just a few seconds.”

The rGuest Analyze product works well with point-of-sale for F&B or retail environments and in conjunction with property management systems to identify business trends in hotel operations.

Acharya says rGuest Analyze helps resorts, especially those with abundant hotel rooms like properties on the Las Vegas Strip that need access to business patterns at their F&B and retail outlets.

“They want to use the business data from the PMS to view guests’ habits, and they want to use that information to offer personalized incentives like upselling or cross-selling,” says Acharya. “Resorts could soon have technology that allows a guest to swipe their key card at a terminal upon arrival. They might be checking in for dining reservations or at reception; on the terminal screen, staff will see the guest’s profile, including whether the individual has a loyalty card, how many times they visited, how much they spend, their favorite menu items and other information that helps staff understand guests better. This data is something that casinos and hotels still don’t know about guests, but it can help staff design the best incentive based on the individual’s preferences, status and their other profile information.”

Acharya also touts rGuest Analyze as a money saver.

“Restaurant margins tend to be small, and as the adage goes, ‘A dollar saved is a dollar earned,’” he says. “POS analytics are an important part of saving the restaurant money. There are two primary POS analytics categories that operators should focus on: menu item performance and staff performance. Understanding the data in each of these areas will illuminate hidden costs.”

How servers actually perform can be quantified from data in the point-of-sale software, Acharya indicates. The POS analytics help restaurants identify opportunities for staff training by analyzing things like tip percentages, table turn times, average sales per cover and how many specials were sold.


Crunch and Bunch the Numbers

Knowing the numbers and what lies behind them is a major business element for Everi. Its financial technology solutions process more than 108 million transactions annually and generate more than $28 billion to casino floors, according to Jesse DeBruin, the company’s senior vice president of gaming operations.

Numbers speak volumes.

“Everi uses analytics software to evaluate the performance of a cross-section of its lease footprint made up of approximately 14,000 games, inclusive of both original content and licensed brand themes,” he says. “This data enables team gaming operations to track and predict revenue and conduct effective testing of game titles on certain parts of an operator’s floor or the same game on a different cabinet at the same property.

“The analytics platform allows it to identify relevant trends in game performance and run analyses that support everything from design decisions to deployment of new and existing titles and player mechanics.”

Everi uses a data-driven approach to support its decision-making. This can include what games to place in the field, how to configure bet structures and how to merchandise product. Those insights are fed back to development for future decisions, along with performance data fed back into the company’s proprietary data warehouses for analysis.

“On the FinTech side, Everi collects and analyzes data from the more than 840 casinos that are connected to its secure network,” DeBruin says.

From a data mining standpoint, the process also is intricate.

“We evaluate transaction data from our ATMs and self-service kiosks for a number of reasons,” he says. “First, we ensure that cash cassettes within these devices contain the appropriate number of denominations and bill counts based on property and location of the device on the floor. This is important for devices we manage and for reports available for our customers. These devices are typically the first touch point for a patron once they step foot on the floor, so providing a frictionless transaction experience is critical.

“Second, we want to identify friction points which may indicate an issue, an opportunity to improve patron experience or pent-up demand for new products or services. Lastly, we capture this data to deliver real-time reporting and dashboards via our XView platform to support customer operations.”

DeBruin says the biggest change the company has seen in gaming analytics in the past year or two has been the improvement of tools available to operators and manufacturers.

“The Eilers team has done an outstanding job producing game and cabinet reports widely consumed by the industry,” he says. “Many operators are using Reel Metrics, granting them access to performance across multiple sites and regions. Tableau is also a great tool used by operators and manufacturers alike. There are certainly others to cite, but this improvement in tooling and reporting has given both operators and manufacturers earlier and better access to performance data to facilitate better decision making.”

From varied perspectives, industry operators use this important, emerging tool. Big data and small details unearth hidden financial gems.

Casino Connection Sports Editor Dave Bontempo is an award-winning sports writer and broadcaster who calls boxing matches all over the world. He has covered the Philadelphia Flyers in the playoffs, as well as numerous PGA, LPGA and Seniors Golf Tour events, and co-hosted the Casino Connection television program with Publisher Roger Gros.