The casino industry has always relied on vendors to provide a wide spectrum of games, systems, surveillance technology and any manner of other supplies that keep a gaming operation going. But there’s one supply that a casino simply cannot do without: cash.
Cash is the fuel of gaming, and the technology necessary to funnel money to and from players, and through the games to the count room, is the lifeblood of a gaming operation. It’s not surprising, then, that one of the top vendors to the gaming industry has made a business of dealing with money for 60 years.
Japan-based JCM Global is the leading supplier of solutions facilitating the transfer of money to and from the casino floor, from award-winning bill acceptors in slot machines to kiosks, printers and high-tech drop-box systems that both secure and account for a casino’s drop. Founded in the mid-1950s in Osaka, Japan, as Japan Cash Machine, Ltd., the company originally built its reputation providing currency solutions to a diverse range of industries, from banking to retail to vending and specialty industries. Its first products were mechanical cash registers.
But it is the casino industry that made JCM what it is today—and what it will be in the years to come. Casinos now account for a significant percentage of JCM’s business. The company markets the value of its money-handling solutions to casinos, then sells the solutions as OEM equipment to the slot manufacturers—often as preferred equipment. As a result, JCM is the preferred cash-handling vendor of several major casino operators, as well as the top slot manufacturers in the business.
“We market ourselves to the operators, so their preference on their property is always JCM peripherals and components in currency validation, ticket printing or digital media,” explains Tom Nieman, JCM Global’s vice president of sales and marketing. “We actually sell our products to the OEMs. We work diligently with the OEMs so that we are fully integrated into any of their products or platforms. Each OEM has a number of different platforms, so it’s critical that we work with them to make sure that our product fully integrates, proper firmware is in place, and can be an option for the operators to choose JCM product on whatever product they order from the OEM.
“Today, 85 percent to 90 percent of all purchases are chosen by the operator. As an operator sits down to put together an order, they have the opportunity to choose JCM products, and most of them do.”
It was a pioneering business move with one of those OEMs—leading slot manufacturer International Game Technology—that originally led to JCM’s dominance of the cash-handling sector of the industry, according to Hikaru (Terry) Izawa, JCM Global’s president.
“We’ve been in the gaming industry now for more than 30 years,” Izawa says, “with three big markets—North America, Europe and Asia. While we are very pleased with the major successes we have had outside the gaming industry, gaming remains at the heart of our business.”
Izawa should know. He has been with JCM for all of those years, having joined the company in 1985. He designed and developed the company’s first bill validator, introduced in the late 1980s. “The beginning of our company’s participation in the gaming industry was in Japan when we produced a bill validator for amusement centers,” Izawa recalls. “Then, we responded to the demand for a bill validator for use in a kiosk that vended rolled coins.”
Within the space of a few years, JCM responded to business needs by producing side-mounted bill validators for Sigma slot machines. But it was a request from IGT that would cement the supplier’s position and legacy in the gaming industry.
“Our big opportunity came when IGT asked JCM to develop an embedded bill acceptor for their slot machines,” says Izawa. “At that time, we didn’t understand really what a slot machine was. IGT trained us to understand how slots worked. Then we learned how to design bill acceptors for most of the slot manufacturers. The technology already existed, but we had to learn about gaming to understand how to embed them into the slot machine and make it work.
“Our first product, the DVD145, was only developed for use in the U.S., but IGT wanted to introduce it worldwide. That’s when we realized that we could develop a bill acceptor that would be have global acceptance. We developed the WBA (World Bill Acceptor) for the U.S. and Europe.”
The WBA product practically invented the cash-validation sector of the industry. By the late 1990s, there was scarcely a slot machine anywhere in the field that was not equipped with an embedded bill validator—usually from JCM, which continued to refine the technology with the Universal Bill Acceptor (UBA), and new generations of product ending with the currently dominant iVIZION, billed as the “foundation of intelligent validation.”
“iVIZION does something very important—it sees the entire note or ticket, front and back, and captures that entire image,” Izawa says. “That is something no other bill validator does, and that ability to capture the full image is very important, particularly as cash-based businesses around the world continue to face down the challenge of sophisticated counterfeiters.”
Battling counterfeiters is an important part of JCM’s business, says Izawa, and JCM’s success in this area is one of the reasons for its success as a supplier. “Our main job is to keep the casino safe from counterfeiters,” Izawa says, “so our products need to be able to accept legal bills and reject counterfeit bills. These days, the field of global currency is so diverse—some bills are made out of paper, others are made of plastic materials. Each material has many issues, so we have to be on guard against any attempt to subvert those bills.
“These elements are the most important factors for the future of our business. That is why we work closely with government and law enforcement agencies worldwide, to stay one step ahead of counterfeiters, because it’s more than just a counterfeit note. Those counterfeits most likely fuel a larger criminal enterprise, which is why we take our business of defeating counterfeiters so seriously.”
The “intelligent validation” of iVIZION extends to the other end of the slot cash system, the drop box, with JCM’s Intelligent Cash Box system winning a slew of industry awards of its own.
“Errors with mishandled standard cash boxes can lead to accounting errors, with the wrong cash box being pulled or a wrong cash box being re-inserted, leading to cash reporting errors,” Izawa explains. “But the ICB provides a clear picture of where the cash box comes from, the money that should be inside and how and when it was received. It increases the accuracy of the financial reporting for any casino.”
But beyond the basics of transaction efficiency and real-time knowledge of a casino’s float on the slot floor, Izawa says customers report a wealth of other benefits from ICB. “There were unforeseen benefits, such as one casino in Oklahoma who told us the plastic boxes dramatically decreased workplace injuries and worker strain,” he says. “The Intelligent Cash Box system has been very useful to the gaming market, and each customer has benefited in their own way, finding the solutions in ICB they needed most.”
A natural extension of JCM’s business in bill validators and cash boxes—and its technology—lies in the market for redemption kiosks and ATMs. “Our equipment is an integral part of casino redemption kiosks,” says Nieman. “Our bill-accepting technology is one of the best in the world, but the product itself is different. Redemption kiosks have a huge money-handling capability, and many of the Intelligent Cash Boxes we provide are for these redemption machines and not for slot machines—we designed an extra-large-capacity cash box for iVIZION for use in the kiosk. This has been a big area of growth for us.”
JCM has not rested on the strength of its industry-leading cash-handling systems. In recent years, the company has branched out into the other essential cog in the system of slot-machine play and redemption in modern machines and kiosks—the ticket system.
After partnering for a few years with thermal printing manufacturer Nanoptix as a distributor of its ticket-in/ticket-out printers, in 2014 JCM finalized the acquisition of FutureLogic, Inc., a still-on-the-rise producer of popular printing systems that incorporate couponing as a marketing tool. “FutureLogic and JCM are two companies that operate in a similar space, and provide the highest-quality products for the gaming market,” says Izawa, “so our alliance was synergistic. And when you add our technology to their products, our business will grow. JCM is now combining the technology of bill acceptors and printers to create new products.”
It’s likely JCM will branch out to other related specialties in the future. “Think of it this way,” says Izawa. “I go to a supermarket and find many different products—that’s what we are at JCM. We can be a one-stop shop for our casino customers when they want to buy cash-handling equipment, cash transaction equipment, ticket printers, signage and displays, and more. We can provide our customers with many products and try to anticipate how we can service them better.
“This is because JCM is always seeking opportunities to better serve our customers. This is how our agreement came about with our digital media offering. Several customers approached us asking if we had a solution in this area, which at the time we did not.”
This new division, JCMedia, offers a wide range of digital LCD and plasma display monitors from Samsung, LG, Philips and others as part of display systems.
“We sought out re-sell arrangements that we believed would give our customers the best product at the best value,” says Nieman. “We even went so far as to find a content creation solution. As for other agreements in the future, if they would serve our customers’ needs, then we would be open to them. The bottom line is, JCM is always sensitive to bring value to our customer relationships. If there is a synergistic product that JCM believes in—product availability, product quality, etc.—and we can make it convenient for our customers to buy from JCM—price, delivery, support—then we could consider it.”
Izawa adds that JCM strives to bring its customer service culture to any and all of these new product ventures. “We provide a physical product to our customers, and those products may have a program or characteristics that aren’t familiar to the customer, so our customer service begins even before the purchase,” he says. “We need to make sure that our customers understand how to operate our products, and we’ll go to great lengths to ensure that happens. Our customer service reps are directed to train the customers on the install, how to operate the product, and how to maintain the products.
“Every JCM employee knows the customer comes first. And the reason they know that is because we live it as a management team. In our headquarters in Japan, in Las Vegas, in Germany—in each of our offices, our managers lead by example.”
Into the Future
JCM’s main business has always centered around physical currency, but that doesn’t mean the company isn’t prepared to facilitate cashless play in the casino industry, whenever that may happen on a large scale.
“JCM’s company name is Japan Cash Machine,” Izawa reminds. “That means we’ll do anything that has to do with money. What we need to provide for the customer is to maintain all transactions, whether that means the physical transfer of money or electronic means to move money around. We want to be prepared for anything. Right now, we are figuring out what the next steps will be in this transition, and we will play a part in it.
“This is an exciting time for technology. There are so many possibilities. And wherever transactions go in the future, we will be helping to lead the way with innovative products that both serve and protect our customers, just as they do now.”
He adds that JCM will work with regulators all along the transition path to new money-transfer technologies. “Especially in the gaming business, a company’s relationship with the regulators is most important,” says Izawa. “If we didn’t have this kind of relationship, we’d have many problems, so it’s important that we maintain good relationships with them.”
“What’s interesting about cash in the gaming industry is that it crosses two disciplines of regulation where JCM has large footprints—gaming and banking,” adds Nieman. “Maintaining good relationships on both sides allows us to work better in both industries. Working with the treasury departments who create and distribute the currency, then to the gaming industry where those notes are played, and then back again to banking. It’s an interesting, highly regulated cycle, and good relationships are vital to our success.”
While JCM continues to work with regulators on future payment technologies, for the present, cash is still king. “We’re developing bill acceptors for use in over 130 countries,” says Nieman. “Each country has its own specific issues, so we need to understand how their currency systems work. In all these countries, we have a relationship with their governments and their banks. They inform us of their plans to issue new currency, so we can be prepared to accept these new bills the moment they come out.
“We can also give them some feedback on how the next generation of currency can be more secure, so we’re doing a lot of work prior to the issuance of any new bills.”
For now, Izawa is in command of growing a remarkably diverse range of products, but he says the company culture at JCM makes it easy. “Before I came to JCM, I worked for a very large, very corporate company in Japan—everything was rules,” he says. “When I decided to come to JCM, I was impressed by the communication from top to bottom. It felt like family, and we hope it still feels that way today. We try to allow each employee to explore new things. This approach of freedom and creativity and innovation brings an energy and an excitement to the company.”
At the same time, Izawa says JCM will remain open to new types of business—including participation in a Japanese casino industry, although the process has been moving very slowly.
“The gaming bill was recently postponed for a number of reasons, one of them being an upcoming election,” says Izawa. “But since the pachinko business is so large in Japan, the relationship between a gaming and pachinko industry is uncertain. That’s another reason it has been postponed.
“But since Japan is our home country, we want to be involved. We hope someday soon the gaming law will be accepted, and we will be able to play a big role in a Japanese gaming industry.
“Whatever happens, we want to work with companies in the gaming industry. We are not only a company selling our products, but we want to create a healthy and vibrant gaming industry with our manufacturing partners and operators. That is our goal.”