Automated teller machines, also known as ATMs, were designed to electronically dispense cash to customers, creating a form of networked banking that reflects the wired state of casino floors in the 21st century.
The rapid advance of cash-access technology has swept through the gaming industry, altering the way money flows in today’s resorts. The next generation of ATM devices has transformed a seemingly perfunctory service into a focal point for casino operators and patrons alike.
Banking and Beyond
When ATMs were first placed on casino floors, they were standard cash-dispensing kiosks. A few notable companies took the initiative and began developing new applications for ATM hardware.
Certegy, which recently sold its ATM portfolio of business to Global Cash Access, has been at the forefront of ATM technology for years, and continues to develop software for its products that can be deployed on ATMs. Ijaz Anwar, Certegy’s senior vice president of strategy and business development, says Certegy has watched and participated in the evolution of ATMs from simplistic cash-access devices to sophisticated tools that enhance the casino floor.
“The evolution of ATMs and technology as a whole is an ongoing process,” Anwar says. “ATMs are graduating more and more toward multi functioning kiosk solutions, which really means that they’re being continually enhanced with multiple services, beyond just the traditional cash withdrawal that customers were used to.
“There are many other services that are being offered on ATMs, or what we typically now call financial service kiosks that offer in addition to the traditional ATM transactions, anything from player redemption rewards, ticket redemption or ticket purchases, and other financial services-making them multi-functional devices.”
Companies are now combining traditional ATM services with other applications that make the kiosks more than just cash dispensers. The advent of ticket-in/ticket-out technology perfectly complemented ATM services on casino floors, and cash-access providers like Certegy and U.S. Bank quickly bundled ticket redemption, bill-breaking and debit card transactions to transform their ATM kiosks into one-stop shops for cash access in casinos. Check cashing is another service that cash-access companies are bringing to the market to enhance the functionality of ATMs on gaming floors.
“A person can come up to the ticket redemption kiosk and either perform an ATM transaction or perform the other transactions they are accustomed to doing on an ATM, like a three-in-one, which is just a cash advance transaction using either a debit card or a credit card,” says Paul Nielsen, vice president and managing director of gaming services for U.S. Bank.
“In addition, they can actually do a check transaction. We have a technology partner who we work with for check guarantee, and that transaction is fulfilled right there at the ATM and cash dispensed. It comes out of their checking account, but it comes out as a check, not as an ATM withdrawal, so it’s actually not settled with their bank online immediately. Instead, it’s settled two days later via the check pathway.”
Cash-access providers have long provided three-in-one technology, which combines standard ATM services with point-of-sale debit or credit card cash advance transactions for casino patrons who may have exceeded their daily cash withdrawal limit.
“While most people’s ATM card limits may be $500, the banks consider Friday night to Monday morning one day, so Saturday and Sunday are all considered one day,” says Scott Betts, president, director and CEO of Global Cash Access. “If you think about our industry, where’s the peak usage within a casino? It’s certainly across the weekends. You’ll find very high percentages of ATM transactions get denied at the point of sale inside a casino for exceeding the limit. That’s where that technology has always been valuable, and still remains valuable today.”
Global Cash Access’ CasinoCashPlus 3-in-1 ATM product is a patented model that immediately rolls to a point-of-sale debit card transaction or credit card cash advance if the casino guest has exceeded his or her daily cash withdrawal limit.
“Instead of just rolling back to the home screen, we actually ask the patron, ‘Do you want to do another transaction type or point-of-sale debit transaction?’ If you say yes, immediately you roll into that transaction and go for authorization, and we’ll dispense the cash if the transaction is authorized through their bank,” Betts says. “It’s a very intuitive, very easy process that steps a player through that process.”
As ATM technology has moved beyond cash withdrawal and transitioned into more advanced, multi-functional purposes, cash-access companies are constantly seeking input from gaming operators as to what services or applications they would like to see on ATMs in their properties. Cash-access providers are now able to tailor ATM devices to individual properties, ensuring that each casino is able to personalize the gaming experience for its guests.
“We don’t want our products to be one-size-fits-all for every casino,” Betts says. “It’s really about what they want to do and how they want to operate our devices. Obviously, the cash transaction is something that we handle, and it’s done according to all the rules and regulations for cash access, but in terms of the machines and how they operate; what messages come on the machines; how they want to operate those; whether or not they want a machine to just do cash access or whether they want to be able to have a person also check their points… We want to get into the position where it’s really the equivalent of server-based gaming for us, where the devices themselves can be driven any way a property wants, based on the fact that we now have connection between their system and our system.”
However, U.S. Bank’s Nielsen says that customizing ATMs can sometimes go too far.
“We have on certain occasions asked the operators, ‘Is there something in particular that you want?’ and some operators have come back and said, ‘We really like this idea of putting some kind of novel transaction right on the ATM,'” Nielsen says. “Frankly, what we’ve learned from the large consensus is that an ATM transaction should be fast. People should be able to walk up to a device, quickly insert a card and walk away with their cash with as little interruption as possible. Putting novel types of transactions on ATMs interferes with that primary goal.”
The convenience and speed of ATM kiosks is integral to casino operators, who value the fact that cash-access devices, bundled with additional applications, help to streamline the casino floor.
“What we’re responding to is the casino operators’ desire to reduce expense on the one hand, and on the other hand we’re trying to create a convenient location for patrons,” Nielsen says. “If they want to go to the cage and do a check transaction, they still can. But if it’s handier to run over to the ATM or the TITO device and do a check transaction there, they can do it there instead. This helps the casino improve on the satisfaction and the consumer experience in the casino significantly.”
As ATM applications become more diverse, cash-access providers are pushing toward the newest technological frontier: marketing. While there are strict regulatory guidelines placed on ATMs as banking devices, ATM software can allow casinos to connect to patrons who use their player’s club cards at a kiosk. There are no restrictions on marketing to players on cash-access devices, because those players allow the casinos to track them by signing up for the club card.
“When players sign up for playe’rs club cards, they basically say, ‘Yes, it’s OK for the casino to basically follow me around,’ if you will, and that’s basically what a player’s card does,” Betts says. “It allows the casino to follow their play across the casino. For that, you’re going to get points and you’ll be able get different offers. Do you want to do that or don’t you?
“The consumer always has the affirmative ability to opt into those programs, because it’s in their best interest to earn more points and have access to special offers. We view that the same way. We’re not doing anything the casino’s not doing today. We’re just saying, ‘You can now use our devices to access that.'”
Some players may be concerned about being marketed to on an ATM screen, but Certegy’s Anwar says the cash-access provider does not retain the information processed at the ATM, and that a patron’s personal financial information is not transmitted to the casino.
“From our perspective, the way that Certegy’s transactions work, is we don’t have access that data directly, and when Certegy processes a financial transaction, we’re not giving any customer sensitive data to the casino,” Anwar says. “We provide the application and the transaction processing.”
The messages that casinos can choose to convey to player’s club card-holders at ATM kiosks include offers for slot play, deals on buffets, comped hotel rooms and other strategies designed to accentuate the player’s relationship with the casino.
“There are a lot of things we can start to do that really customize the experience and brand the player’s experience,” Betts says. “ATMs and redemption devices aren’t the same at every single property. Your experience in front of an ATM or redemption device at Bellagio is going to be different from that at Wynn. That’s really what will help our customers reduce costs, because we can start to take cash off the floor, but also increase their ability to manage their player tracking, and to bonus and market to people at a very captive point, when they’re standing in front of a machine deciding how much money to take out.
“That decision, whether conscious or not, is, ‘How long am I going to play? What am I going to play? What am I willing to do here tonight?’ That is, from a marketer’s standpoint, one of the moments of truth. That’s when you really want to talk to a person.”