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Partners in Time

How slot machine manufacturers team up with third-party suppliers to create a more dynamic product

Partners in Time

Cha-Ching.

The sound of a rebound filters through the gaming world. Revenue figures have inched up recently, with Las Vegas reporting some of its best totals in six years. Nearly 0 million was wagered on the Strip in one month.

Perhaps no one loves this news more than those who supply slot-machine products. Companies offering bill validators, coupon printers and cabinets await a surge from the industry giant, as slots still produce 65-70 percent of gaming revenues. More demand for their products could be imminent and it may be payback time for past wisdom.

Companies invested research and product-invention dollars several years ago, hoping to seize a market share when the economy rebounded. For them, it was never too early to have a product if their sense of the market was right.


TransAct Soaring

TransAct Technologies notched a significant April score with its Epicentral couponing solution. The Hamden, Connecticut, company added 3,500 casino installs between Northern Quest in Spokane, Washington, and Wind Creek in Atmore, Alabama during the first week of the month. Combined with the 1,000 machines set up last year at Nisqually Red Wing Casino in Olympia, Washington, TransAct has a substantial Epicentral lineup.

This was a nice breakthrough for TransAct, which develops printers, terminals, software and other products for the many industries including gaming, food safety and hospitality. In the gaming world, coupons are king.

 “It’s very exiting now that we have a total of three properties running the system with about 4,500 games,” says Tracey Chernay, executive vice president of sales and marketing for TransAct Technologies. “There are so many ways the casinos can use Epicentral, to reward players instantly or give them tickets for future drawings.

“We are live across the entire casino floor. Every game on the floor is turning out a coupon.”

Wind Creek Casino & Hotel utilizes Epicentral for its Lucky 7 and Wonders of the Gulf promotions, which involve the drawing for additional prizes for both carded and uncarded players. The carded players also gain personalized messages.

“We are pleased that the Epicentral print system tested well with our players, and we are looking forward to optimizing the overall casino experience,” says John Enriquez, Wind Creek vice president of information technology. “To further enhance the experience of our patrons, we have trained employees to be knowledgeable of every feature of it.”

With the launch of Epicentral, Wind Creek is the first casino in the Southeast able to give players game-play prizes, he says.

Northern Quest, meanwhile, unfurled Q Cash, a slot bonus program. Every few minutes each day, a Q Cash ticket worth $5-$500 will be randomly issued to a guest playing a slot machine. Any guests can win a Q Cash ticket by playing with their Camas Rewards Card on any slot machine at any level.

Patrons will know they have won if a Q Cash ticket stating their name, account number and cash amount prints from the slot machine’s ticket printer. It can be redeemed at the casino cage or cashier’s station for 30 days after its issue date.

Chernay says another success story—Epicentral’s debut at the Nisqually Red Wing casino in Olympia—continues rolling. The program launched last year spiked enrollment, visits per player and top-tier play. Chernay says the casino has been able to maintain a 25 percent increase in club players who qualified for top tiers and a 10 percent rise in guests earning reward play. The coupons and targeted promotional offers are keeping customers in the property longer, she says.

TransAct continues to combine printing and couponing effectively. It unveiled the Epic 950 printer in the mid 2000s. It was a ticket-in/ticket-out printer, but always had a secondary port, because it was designed with couponing in mind. The company then unveiled Epicentral, the software system that connects to the printer so the Epic 950 prints both TITO tickets and coupons and promotional offers directly to players—while they are playing.

Epicentral connects with the casino server and with management systems, food and beverage, etc.

 
JCM: In the DNA

Japan Cash Management continues building upon a significant boardroom decision. As the world economy collapsed in 2008, the Osaka-based company played the contrarian role of revving up. The policy of advancing while the economy retreated was a significant move for JCM, which specializes in gaming, banking, kiosk and vending industry solutions.

The company produced the cutting-edge iVIZION bill validator, which debuted in 2011, and a series of 2012 enhancements known as Dynamic Network Applications (DNA), in time to greet the reawakening gaming world.

Operating wirelessly or hard-wired, DNA passively monitors the EGM “SAS” line for critical housekeeping data, while securing two-way communication with all critical peripheral components. With this DNA, operators can get extensive reports and alerts in real time and deliver firmware updates instantly, with no downtime, across the entire operation. DNA also enables regulators to verify peripheral devices and software versions, and view reports.

Dynamic Network Applications sits on top of the iVIZION, and has become available along with it, according to Tom Nieman, JCM’s senior vice president of global marketing.

“The announcement of DNA, at G2E in 2012, was the fulfillment of a promise,” he indicates. “We call it the foundation of intelligence validation. You can build some real cool apps both to enhance your security and to enjoy peripheral management tools. DNA can help you manage your floor and labor costs.

“By the time G2E rolls around in 2013, you will be hearing about DNA from live customers, not just us.”

The JCM pitch addresses downtime caused by, among other things, paper jams and problems with printers. The DNA software acts like “a baby monitor,” according to Brian Montano, product development manager for DNA at JCM.

“The slot director can sit in his office and look at what he needs before it happens,” Montano says. “Does the baby need to change diapers or be fed? Or, in this case, is the cash box almost full or off line? Is the printer almost empty?

“This gives you periphery alerts. You can realize that you will be out of paper in 45 minutes and get someone down to the floor and get it swapped out within 30 minutes. At least then, you’re not finding out about the problem the first time a customer tries to use the machine and it won’t work.”

While this scenario has become less frequent with cash boxes becoming bigger, their impact is always detrimental. If a heavy-traffic game goes offline, significant play is lost. Perhaps the gambler leaves the floor.

“Think of the time it takes to upgrade a machine,” Nieman says. “A guy has to shut the machine down, use a hand-held component, plug it in, wait 60 seconds, close it, lock it up and go to the next machine.

“With DNA, he is just going to use the software that runs the device. Now you can upgrade 2,000 machines at 3 a.m. with one download.”

Nieman says the DNA reports can be accessed via laptops, phones and tablets.

DNA follows up what was already a cutting-edge development of iVIZION.

The iVIZION bill validator fits inside the machine with an array of features. That includes Contact Image Sensors (CIS), which, at 85 millimeters wide, can capture all world currency at 100 percent of the image, according to company reports. It is self-calibrating and has a sealed banknote path with dirt- and liquid-resistant design, resulting in less service-related down time.

It reads at 2.7 seconds per note and optically centers banknotes, which eliminates the need for mechanical centering. The device also has high-level anti-stringing technology. Thieves have previously used the string concept to put a legitimate bill in a validator, have credits counted, and pull the bill back out.

iVIZION has helped casinos to validate bills more quickly. It enabled Hollywood Casino Toledo and Horseshoe in Cleveland to process more than $1 billion in a three-month period last year.

It debuted at Hard Rock in Las Vegas in 2011 and became part of both Maryland Live! and New World Resorts in 2012.

Banking on PromoNet

FutureLogic’s PromoNet couponing solution debuted at G2E in 2011. It advanced into live trials in 2012 and landed installs both in Nevada and internationally early in 2013, according to Nick Micalizzi, vice president of sales and marketing in North America for FutureLogic.

The Glendale, California, company’s four-year development of PromoNet expands its gaming impact. Already known for exceptional printers, FutureLogic brought an element of immediacy—coupons—to the floor. The issuance and deployment of coupons keeps customers in the game, both financially and psychologically.

 “We are seeing promotional couponing at the game pick up in the marketplace,” Micalizzi says. “It’s one of those hot topics people want to talk about right now. Casinos have found it so appealing for a variety of reasons. It can be that they are providing that feeling of luck to people who have lost, because here comes a coupon they can use now.”

For creative marketing departments, the flexibility of the product appears limitless. It can help spot unidentified future club members, reward players instantly and establish face-to-face customer relationships via the mobile section of PromoNet. They also provide an instant level of program feedback.

“You can use this product to gauge redemption rates on certain promotions,” Micalizzi says. “If you are promoting to the wrong person or for the wrong reason, that customer won’t redeem the coupon. But we are seeing redemption rates in some cases of over 50 percent (dwarfing industry norms of 2 percent-8 percent). Think of the flexibility. A property can issue a coupon good for the particular night it is generated or to be used in the future for some type of bounce-back, in which the customer would return during a particularly slow period.”

PromoNet works by way of a dual port inside the slot machine. One connection fits the game, the other handles promotional couponing. The product has two major categories. Its “bank” operation concerns a group of isolated machines. The operators can arrange to have adapter boxes placed inside the games quickly, usually inside of a week.

The PromoNet “campaign,” dedicated to most or all of the casino floor, involves several mechanisms. It ties into the e-mail network, allowing marketing people to create the design, slot operators to approve the reward triggers and amounts, accounting departments to determine the number of coupons allowed and then slot operators to download the adapters into the games.

Another benefit occurs in the growing online area. A barcode on a coupon can enable a player to reach the casino’s website via his smart phone and then redeem rewards. This process also extends to a person’s home computer. The player can type in the barcode number and reach the same website.

The mobile influence extends to a portion of PromoNet that enables a casino host to visually track a player, converse with him and print out a redeemable coupon.

The Cole Kepro Cabinet

The hardware and software that operators use can be capped off by a sleek gaming cabinet. That’s the specialty area for Cole Kepro, the Las Vegas-based industry heavy hitter. Celebrating its 20th year in gaming, the company designs cabinets based on specifications from the slot manufacturers. It also purchases items like bill acceptors from JCM or the printer from TransAct.

Cole Kepro operates out of a 108,000-square-foot building and presents an array of products. The cabinets need to be user-friendly for slot technicians to access quickly.

The company’s major gaming areas include upright and slanted models, the bar-top, varied specialty cabinets, XVR cabinets and custom cabinets.

Cole Kepro unveiled its XVR series at G2E in 2012 and is running live trials. The series blends the best of the upright and slant cabinets. They are aesthetically pleasing and designed to fit the industry’s appetite for 23-inch LCD monitors. Their presence is designed to match the slightly expanding standard for LCDs while keeping the cabinets small enough to fit small spaces, thus enabling more machine space on the floor. Interesting options in the XVR series include fast-track wiring, a power distribution box, a sound system with subwoofer and LED lighting.

Cole Kepro also lists a specialty area in its 2920 and 2028 series. For example, the company’s Kepro cabinets have a wide-screen touch LCD, stereo amplifier, card reader, bill validator and ticket printing components. Optional elements in this series include cabinet wiring, power distribution box, barcode scanner, LED sidelights, backlit logo and wall-mounting kit.

The bar-top model has a wide-screen LCD with a sound-system subwoofer and a flow-through ventilation system. It also features backlit deck glass and a pop-up bill validator as standard.

The slanted tops offer optional bill validators and integrated speaking ports as added features. They offer a height of 68 inches and width of 28 inches.

Cole Kepro’s upright model has a slim-line cabinet design, LED lighting, an AC and DC power distribution box and a sound system subwoofer as options. Standard features include a belly door, bill validator stacker and removal component, slide-out printer tray and thermal printer support.

MEI Advancing

It may be fortuitous that MEI, based in Malvern, Pennsylvania with an office in Las Vegas, is in the note-acceptor business. According to Eric Fisher, senior vice president of operations for the Americas, there may be more money to go around in 2013.

“We are seeing a gradual increase in the replacement rate across almost every jurisdiction,” he says. “This is being led by the U.S., where an improving economy has led to increased profitability and, as a result, more investment.

“New properties, largely driven by new or expanding jurisdictions in the U.S. (Illinois and Ohio) and expansion in Asia (Manila) are beginning to increase. We are now far enough removed from the financial crisis that operators’ balance sheets are healthy enough to consider new investments.”

Note that phrase: “far enough removed.” It is unusual to hear anyone speak of the recession nightmare in the past tense. MEI has a reason for its optimism. It’s called 2012.

The company enjoyed a record year, Fisher says. It obtained Revel in Atlantic City as a client for its Cash Advance system in April and closed contracts with companies in Canada.

It expects a robust 2013 as its new SC Advance System merges with an expected surge in slot-machine replacement. The SC Advance is a second-generation upgrade of the Cashflow SC bill acceptor system.

“SC Advance is now being specified in new properties and several existing customers are planning a transition from Cashflow SC to SC Advance,” he says. “Because SC Advance is backwards-compatible to Cashflow SC, we have the flexibility to support our customers’ needs and have worked with OEMs to guarantee a supply of both products.

“MEI didn’t add superfluous functionality that added unnecessary complexity and cost. The new features—enhanced speed, four-way (and improved) barcode acceptance, a new recognition system and expanded memory—offer incremental improvements to a product that was performing very well. The result is a product that provides continuity with previous investment and is built to last well into the future.”

MEI is already known for its bill-validating presence in industries ranging from grocery store checkout counters to subway systems. It handles 2 billion transactions a week and validates bills in nearly 100 currencies, Fisher says. Ten years ago, it brought the Cash System into gaming. The second generation began early in 2012 and, among other things, essentially doubles the amount of bills that can be processed.

Fisher says the value of SC advance works like this: It has an improved recognition system, which provides proactive security by utilizing transmissive sensors to see all the way through notes in multiple wavelengths. The SC Advance also has faster note-to-note speed, which quickens transactions. Its expanded memory allows more notes to be recognized in a specific release of firmware. And it has comprehensive barcode recognition, which processes barcode coupons in all four directions and improves acceptance on multi-width currencies.

It’s easy to assume that slot machines debuting at trade shows or in casinos came off the assembly line as you see them. The reason they do? Third-party vendors have supplied the parts making the whole possible.

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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