In-N-Out

Validators, printers, tickets: the critical ware that enables it all

Where would today’s gaming world be without bill validators and ticket printers for slot machines? Together, the technology represents the first interactivity a player has with a game—and the last.

From a casino’s perspective, the first interaction is the most crucial. In the beginning, if the bill validator doesn’t take a player’s money or ticket, nothing else matters for that game. It’s relatively simple to understand that if no money goes in, there’s no way to play. Yet, the technology behind these gatekeepers is anything but uncomplicated.

Intelligent Validation
According to Tom Nieman, vice president of global marketing for JCM Global—a pioneering company in bill validation on the slot floor—things have evolved considerably.

“That’s because the raison d’être for the bill validator was to defend the casino against counterfeiting,” explains Nieman. “Criminals have not sat stagnantly since JCM invented the industry’s first bill validator. Instead, they have been very active in creating craftier counterfeits, and we have steadily moved forward, staying one step ahead, developing new technologies to defeat criminals in alliance with the federal agencies and issuing banks worldwide.”

The marketplace demands an ongoing commitment to security, says Nieman, but the company’s latest products also reflect the evolution to even more “intelligent” validation. The company’s new iVIZION bill validator features the latest technology in identifying and processing currency or tickets. Designed as the company’s fourth-generation concept, it also provides “an app for that” pathway to future innovations.

The iVIZION system uses contact image sensing (CIS) technology to secure the validation process, scanning more data points as well as capturing a full 100 percent image of the banknote or ticket. To detect and prevent manipulation or mechanical cheating, iVIZION provides an optical and patented mechanical anti-stringing device.

To meet the need for more intelligence from bill validators, the company’s ICB (Intelligent Cash Box) 2.0 is designed to capture, store and report transactions. This element provides for extensive reports to meet various operator needs, and has an RFID module for easier access to its encrypted, web-enabled data.   

With iVIZION (above), the company also is introducing what is said to be the industry’s first display bezel, the Sentry 2.0—a high-resolution, two-color LCD that can be customized and is easily programmable. Various messaging capabilities include quick dispute-resolution displays available with the push of a button.

Also setting a new precedent—the validator’s modular design will accommodate innovative new applications and future enhancements. Upgrades will be provided through future “apps.”  

“Think of iVIZION as the base unit, with a nearly endless range of applications for today and tomorrow,” says Nieman. “We believe it will be the new standard for the category.”

Listening to the Customer
“The market is beginning to leverage the information from the bill validator to manage cash and security, making processes better and more efficient,” explains Eric Fisher, vice president-Americas for MEI, a company which entered the gaming market 10 years ago and now has a robust share of the market for bill validator equipment. “The purchasing decision for a bill validator used to be the responsibility of the slot team. Now, departments like finance and accounting are very interested in the reports that can be generated, and have become involved in the purchasing decision.”

Listening to what the marketplace is saying has led the company to apply customer knowledge, along with new technology, to its latest product offerings. As a result, the company has introduced new product enhancements that will define the next generation of its Cashflow SC bill validator, featuring improved recognition, security and speed.

“During the development stage, we deliberately did not include bells and whistles that add cost and do not impact profitability,” says Fisher. “Instead, we focused on enhancing the core elements of a bill validator to provide value.

“In particular, we listened to our customers’ concerns of raising capital to implement any new products. We created our Cashflow SC to be backwards-compatible with our legacy technology, and updated the capabilities of the support tools to be able to recognize the difference between next-gen and legacy for customers with mixed floors.”

The next-generation Cashflow SC not only is compatible with previous versions, but also with MEI product extensions that have expanded the reach of bill validators from the slot machine to the entire cash management process. In particular, the latest version will take full advantage of  Easitrax Soft Count, an integrated software/hardware solution that places information collected into a database that can be networked to multiple locations and be accessed to analyze slot floor performance. With Easitrax Soft Count, operators have the ability to manage their assets from the slot machine to the soft-count room with a new level of control previously not accessible.

According to Fisher, the company also focuses on customers through its sales strategy. “We let the customer experience our products firsthand through a Value-Added Trial (VAT),” he explains. “During the VAT process, customers have the opportunity to compare Cashflow SC to their current bill validator in a side-by-side, 90-day trial. We show how the increased acceptance rate and security results in more money in the cash box at the end of the day.”

Server-Ready
“It is no longer acceptable to make a banknote validator that is just quick, reliable and accurate,” explains Eric Kaled, director of marketing for Crane Payment Solutions, a company formed in 2006 that provides payment-system technology to a wide range of industries under the CashCode brand. “The validator of today must be diverse and ready for the future.”  Kaled says the ticket-in/ticket-out concept has changed the game since its introduction 10 years ago, and now, the industry should be responding to what may be the next big wave, server-based gaming—as well as seeking to provide answers to challenges now happening on the slot floor.

“If server-based gaming is the next big wave, then validators need to be versatile, able to handle any currency, any voltage and any protocol at any time,” says Kaled. “At the same time, today’s operators are remarking how their cash boxes are filling up with tickets as well as money. Thousand-note cash boxes are not enough.”

According to Kaled, responding to challenges assailing today’s casino operations has been a driving force for his company’s new products, and has helped Crane develop industry “firsts”—including four-way bar code acceptance, a universal front-load product and now, the Last Five Bills Report. 

The Last Five Bills Report is one of four unique industry-developed automated reports provided by the company’s the oneCheck solution. Introduced at G2E last year and co-developed with Nanoptix, the oneCheck system is a cash management solution that provides dispute resolution and accounting reconciliation quickly and easily through the automated reports.

“Although it doesn’t sound very exciting, one casino reports that oneCheck is savings of $26,000 per year,” states Kaled. The casino reports that time, labor, security and revenue savings result from the simple capability of having the floor attendant press a button on the bill validator for a report.

The Validator Performance Report is another unique capability that can be handled securely by a floor attendant. “Let’s say that auditors make a surprise visit and want to check the firmware on various casino machines. This report provides data with minimal time and effort,” says Kaled.

Teamed with the printer performance report, yet printed separately, the instant Validator Performance Report provides the bill validator serial number and firmware version as well as a host of other information. “It’s a simple solution that also will minimize machine downtime, keeping players happy,” concludes Kaled.

Smooth Finish
The player is ready to leave the game—and the last impression of his or her experience is the interaction with the not-so-lowly ticket printer.  

If the players have won, they excitedly wait for a monied ticket. But what about the player who has lost all his playing money? Can they still walk away with a good impression? Companies involved in the “what prints out” side of the equation have taken on this challenge.

“Today, it’s more about enhancing a player’s personal experience,” states Tim Moser, product marketing manager for Transact Technologies Inc., a company providing ticket printers under the Ithaca and Epic product brands.

“We have envisioned how ticket printers and particularly, our products will be key components of a real-time, networked gaming environment that can reward players before they leave the gaming machine. The ability to prompt players with promotional offers at the gaming machine, giving them the ability to accept the offer and then printing the offer so players have validation that the offer will be honored, is driving the latest developments in our business.”

In particular, the introduction of ServerPort shows how the company will enhance the overall gaming experience for players. ServerPort upgrades the company’s Epic 950 printers with an array of capabilities including the ability to connect directly to player tracking systems and to print promotional offers or coupons at the slot machine. A well-recognized thermal printer for gaming machines, the Epic 950 offers numerous advanced features including quick disconnect, reliable ticket burst and present, low-ticket sensing and USB connectivity. 

The company’s new Epic Ten80 has internally integrated patented dual-port capability, providing interfaces to allow casinos the opportunity to drive promotions and coupons. It also will provide casinos with a printer that conducts the transaction with 30 percent faster time, and along with the Epic 950, provides 33 percent more standard ticket capacity.

“All these products are designed to put the casino in the driver’s seat to tailor the individual player experience,” says Moser. “We see operators become very excited about the capability to provide this immediate feedback and reward of players. It can do more—minimize or eliminate waiting in lines at player’s club or redemption centers, and increase the time players spend at gaming machines or on property.”

What’s Next?
The next big development in validation and printing technology: couponing.

“Promotional couponing indeed will provide the next big lift in gaming,” states Nick Micalizzi, vice president of domestic sales and marketing for FutureLogic, Inc., a company that was part of the first ticket in/ticket out introductions in Las Vegas, and has since shipped more than 1.3 million TITO gaming printers worldwide.  

Promotional coupons can be used to reward and retain players, and equally importantly, to recruit patrons to players clubs, bringing in new members to the loyalty programs where the casino’s best customers typically reside, explains Micalizzi.

“Even more appealing to casinos looking to new sources and added revenue, promotional couponing also can be used for cross-venue marketing,” Micalizzi says.

With non-gaming revenue becoming more important to casino resorts and complexes, Micalizzi says linking reward programs across multiple leisure experiences, as well as casino floors, has become an important initiative. The company is working closely with its EGM and casino customers to facilitate this evolution of the ticket printer market.

“We were recently granted a patent for our dual-port printer technology, which effectively turns our GEN2 Universal ticket printer into a multi-function promotional printer,” says Micalizzi. “In addition, our PromoNet couponing solution, which allows operators to potentially comp 100 percent of their patrons, will be entering into field trials this fall with several casinos.

“We continually conduct studies around player behavior, looking for ways to create new products and applications that enhance the gaming experience.”  

The company has expanded the features and functionality of its technology with its Eclipse universal ticket and receipt printer, which is designed for video lottery terminals and unattended kiosks. A new CouponXpress desktop printer brings its GEN2 Universal printer’s features, functions and flexibility from the game to the cashier’s cage, hotel front desk and other transaction points.  

The company also was honored as one of the Best Productivity-Enhancement Technologies for 2010 at Global Gaming Business magazine’s annual Gaming & Technology Awards, for its new TableXchange printer/scanner, which connects table games to the casino’s existing network by scanning and printing TITO vouchers.

As server-based gaming and other new technologies emerge, printers and validators will evolve right along with them. All of the changes will be based on one element, for both the casino and the player: convenience.

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A marketing veteran also based in Las Vegas, Carolan Pepin has been working with companies from beyond the U.S. since her introduction to international business in Chicago with the Japanese conglomerate Panasonic. After being recruited to the gaming industry in 1996, Pepin worked for Aristocrat, Sigma Game and Cyberview Technology. Most recently, she has focused on helping an East European gaming manufacturer with its expansion into the American markets. Pepin can be reached via pepinmarketing@aol.com.

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