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Making Sense of Signs

Whether they are directional or informational, signs are necessities in casino resorts

Making Sense of Signs

Welcome to digital signage, the gaming hybrid of powerful messaging tool and thrilling, expensive toy. This is a wild card in the deck of gaming operators. Signage can alert customers to updated specials, room rates or meeting-room information. The message can be subtle, fancy, large or small in accordance with the style preference of the casino.

This tool has grown significantly over the past two decades. It began as a way to trim printing costs, progressed to expanding customer content and has evolved into a catalyst for making striking corporate statements. From its original main base on the casino floor, it now encompasses every end of a casino property. Digital signage has become an unofficial extension of marketing, in-house communication and advertising departments.

Two components drive its success. First, the information helps customers find ways to stay on property. Second, the mechanism allows operators to make large, definitive proclamations about who they are. Flex those psychic muscles. Spend a couple million to beam company messaging onto a large screen, through a well-lit chandelier or atop an identifiable piece of architecture. Take it on faith that the rate of return will be there, because it probably will.

Expenditures must sometimes be fun.

A Very Cool Sign

Bally’s CoolSign has turned the casino floor into a world of instant messaging, advertising and adrenaline.

Bally Technologies considers the product a casino-centric management tool. It can act as cheerleader, proclaiming a jackpot hit and displaying where hot machines are. Digital signage can act as a marketing or hosting specialist, announcing updates in “perishable inventory” like room-rate and restaurant specials. The communications vehicle also maximizes the technology in gaming units like slot machines. Messages can crawl right through the top of a player’s machine.

“One of the most prominent features is the experience of being able to change the entire dynamic of a casino,” says Matthew Olden, a systems product manager for Las Vegas-based Bally. “If you feel like the energy in the place is lower and people may have the feeling they are not winning too often, you can give them the idea that the sense of luck is not gone. You can show them that jackpots are being hit and make them aware of all the payouts on the casino floor. You can display all that. You can do a light show. You can bring energy onto the floor. Everybody else in the casino can see and hear that a jackpot has been hit.

“If your stomach is growling and you want to eat, you may see that there is a special right in the casino restaurant and that you don’t have to go out to a local place,” Olden adds. “You may also discover that the rate is good for, say, two hours. You can go make your reservation and decide to play for a while longer and know that you have a place to eat.”

Operators can determine whether they want to inform customers of sporting-event results via Yahoo or send a message about the weather.

“A casino in Wisconsin may wish to inform players that if they leave right now they will be caught in a terrible storm, if that’s the case,” Olden says. “They can also add to that message the fact that there is a special on room rates.”

CoolSign was initially developed for shopping malls, Olden indicates. The company that owned it, AdSpace, went out of business. Bally eventually purchased the product. Olden, who used to sell to Bally Technologies on behalf of another company, was brought on board to keep developing it. He says there’s some type of innovation every quarter.

CoolSign exists in about a third of the world’s countries, he estimates. It can be found on the continents of Asia, Europe, Africa and territories like Latin America. Inside each property, the places it can be displayed continue growing.

“You can see it in dwelling points, whether you are in line at buffets, certain VIP lines, ATM systems, even elevators,” Olden says. “That’s an excellent place to utilize CoolSign, and so is the casino cage. You can put signs over that.

“For casino operators, CoolSign is excellent because of its ability to change the mood of a property, give customers important information and, I think in the next phase, develop a revenue component from this by way of third-party advertising. And for customers, it’s a nice feature because of the live, dynamic content. The information is accurate and can be changed on the fly if needed.”

New Technology, Old Friends

JCM Global leverages decades of relationships into a strong offering for its LCD terminals and video walls equipment. The company, founded in Japan, is already the world’s leading supplier of automated transactions solutions for the banking, gaming and retail industries. Its extensive line of award-winning products set global standards with groundbreaking products like the Universal Bill Acceptor and Intelligent Cash Box.

How does signage fit into that?

“It is complementary in every way to what the company does,” says Peter Cummins, territory sales manager for JCM’s Western United States market. “This is a growing division within JCM that stands on its own, but it also dovetails nicely with the customer base we are already dealing with. The company has relationships built up over many years with casino operators, and has been able to be a solutions provider for them. We started the signage division ourselves, and it has been built nicely. We’ve seen a steady climb overall and a surge in the last two years.”

JCM Global provides the LCD terminals through which casinos can stream content. In addition to supporting the 3M MicroTouch ClearTek II touch system installed base, JCM will offer casino operators interactive digital LCD displays featuring the 3M MicroTouch DST touch system, which is available in display sizes ranging from 32 inches to 46 inches.

The video wall, utilized often in sports bars with giant-screen televisions, provides another vehicle for message streaming.

Messages can’t simply stare at people anymore. They need panache.

“A casino no longer has to keep paying for labor and printing on a generic piece of paper if it doesn’t want to,” Cummins says. “Instead of having a piece of cardboard, here you have someone coming in and walking toward a sign, and they could be hit with five messages. For those with a smart phone, you can even be connected to the casino’s web page. All the offers can be put on there—slot tournaments tomorrow, a show later tonight. We can get all of that onto an LCD screen, and now we can have touch screens too.”

Cummins chuckles, recalling how a casino operator deeply fell in love with the LCD terminal.

“We were scheduled for a meeting and he didn’t have much time so he told me to walk around the place and tell him how many he needed,” Cummins says. “We had a strong relationship, I knew he trusted me and so I toured the facility and told him to buy eight. He said, ‘No, I’ll buy five.’ I couldn’t convince him to go with eight, so he purchased five. I was there when the product arrived and when he showed the LC’s to the customers, they loved it. He asked how many he had ordered. I said ‘five.’ ‘Well, why didn’t you tell me to buy eight?’ he practically screamed at me.”

Cummins says the signage also carries a practical compliance element. Missouri can fine casinos that put outdated promotional material throughout the property, he says. That’s never a problem when casinos use continually-changing content piped throughout the floor, sports bars, restaurants and convention areas.

The Alphas

Minnesota-based Alpha Video and Audio Inc. established a strong presence in the sports field a couple decades back. It has worked in perhaps 40 different professional stadiums, according to its vice president Lance Hutchinson. The company spun off a division called CastNet and developed a powerful gaming network.

It provides signage service to over 120 U.S. properties, including the Borgata in Atlantic City and six new properties in Ohio, according to Hutchinson. Alpha Video can integrate with everyone from IGT to Konami, and it has brought universal systems operation to many locations inside the casino.

Technically, CastNet is an easy-to-use yet powerful software solution for managing digital signage content. The company considers it the premier turn-key solution for any large-scale digital signage deployment. CastNet’s ability to offer a multi-user approval workflow, enterprise-wide authentication and IT management features makes it a perfect fit for large organizations.

“The reason we have been successful in gaming is that we bring many different talents to the forefront,” Hutchinson says. “We understand the video systems, the digital signage system and the distribution of technology. We can lower the cost for casinos and still give them the best operational setup.”

Hutchinson indicates that Alpha Video, via CastNet, provides hardware, software and even creative content. The latter service has emerged because of job cuts in the casino industry. CastNet thrives by being agreeable, from a systems perspective.

Hutchinson says most properties are involved in either driving top box displays, putting signs over a bank of machines or using associated screens on the floor. CastNet, he says, uniquely interacts with all three.

“We are vendor-agnostic,” Hutchinson says. “One reason people look at us is that all of our systems can talk to other systems. If you have an operator with Konami for half its machines and IGT for the other half, our systems can talk to both, whereas for many, their systems can only talk to one.

“When we have had operators switch from one vendor to another, the nice thing is, you won’t have to spend any more money by coming with us. That’s very important, because so often in this business if a company has to change slot systems, it has to change (display) manufacturers.”

While casino signage has been a hit on the floor, its widespread property use upgrades the appeal. That drives Alpha Video’s success in a different area, Hutchinson says.

“One of the major stories we tell is that when we first went into properties, digital signage came from many different sources,” Hutchinson says. “You would see six or seven different ones, like perhaps two vendors for the outdoor sign, another in the hotel, somebody else on the slot floor. The reason they had done that, most likely, is they’d gone with the cheapest bidders in those areas.

“We have succeeded in encompassing all the systems in the property.”

Beyond the usual slots, tables and guest areas, CastNet signage reaches the game and property touch-screen information, menu boards, cashier cages, employee communications and in-room TV systems, among others.

Having a Ball

Utah-based Young Electric Sign Company (YESCO), founded in 1920, was a pioneer in neon signage—and thus in the neon image of Las Vegas. These days, the company offers the gamut from custom signs and electronic displays, outdoor media, 3D and special lighting and historic signs. Elements from these different areas blend into signage displays used in the gaming world. It has separate manufacturing facilities for interior signs, exterior signs and digital electronics.

Jeff Young, the company’s senior vice president, says gaming accounts for about 40 percent of the company’s business, and may become more.

Rod Wardle, the vice president of electronics for YESCO, says the gaming industry was an early adapter of technology, using signs to go on main street in front of their facilities.

“Now they are using it in more unique ways to create excitement,” he says. “They are turning into entertainment and beyond. Properties are putting them in and around the entertainment venues, the pool, the front desk, etc., any place where people congregate.”

YESCO expanded into the resort and gaming industry in 1932, just a year after gaming was legalized in Las Vegas.

The company does manage to take signage to a grandiose level. Its work often surrounds a company’s signature architectural piece. Take “the ball” at Revel. Sitting atop the property, it makes an instantly identifiable company trademark. The ball is visible from the highway, and will link the property to anyone who gambles.

“The sphere is about 40 feet tall,” Young says. “We basically clad (connect) the outside of the sphere with the light source. It attracts attention. It is large and beautiful and attracts a lot of attention to the building.”

His client agrees. The ball, perched atop what appears to be a razor-thin line tilting toward the ocean, emphasizes the whimsical and unexpected experience the guests will discover inside Revel. It was designed by Mitch Gorshin, Revel’s executive director of fun and creative. (His father, Frank Gorshin, played “The Riddler” in the Batman TV series.)

“The ball is an engineered marvel of strength, technology, accuracy and scale that captures the American ‘can-do spirit’ in all of us,” Gorshin says. “I congratulate YESCO for their contribution to the new skyline of Atlantic City.”

YESCO just completed a monstrous television screen display on Harmon Avenue, just across from CityCenter in the heart of Las Vegas.

How far has better picture and resolution quality come? It has grown from 500,000 LED (light-emitting diodes) at the Fremont St. experience, to 4 million LED at Wynn and now 30 million for the Harmon Avenue project.

Just one piece of evidence of how far the sign has come—and the evolution of its use in the gaming industry.

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.

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