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Perfect Together

Online casino games and brick-and-mortar slot machines share the gaming space

Perfect Together

The thing about wide-area progressives is that the more people who play, the larger the jackpot becomes. Simple mathematics. In the pre-digital age, this math theorem built upon a bank of machines in one casino. Then came a bank of machines from multiple casinos linked to the same game. Jackpots increased with each addition.

The latest jump, just beginning to make inroads, pairs an online version of the game with the same game at brick-and-mortar casinos.

Simple mathematics?

IGT has launched the first U.S. omnichannel progressive, a jackpot shared between online and brick-and-mortar casino versions of the iconic game Wheel of Fortune.

“IGT is the only gaming supplier that offers true omnichannel jackpot games where the jackpot liquidity of the land-based, mobile and online versions of the game are linked and shared into a combined pool,” says Gil Rotem, president of iGaming for IGT. “This translates into quicker jackpot accrual and can increase the theoretical time frame between jackpot hits.”

In Canada, it’s Powerbucks Wheel of Fortune, and that one has a track record going back to 2016. “The game just celebrated the minting of its 50th millionaire,” Rotem says. “In May, we extended that success to New Jersey with another Wheel of Fortune game. The Triple Gold Spin omnichannel WAP game is off to a remarkable start in New Jersey.

“As part of IGT’s global content strategy, we aim to port a portion of our land-based titles to iGaming titles, but it’s not a one-for-one conversion,” says Rotem.

Many of the same games that are successful in land-based casinos also excel in the digital space—Wheel of Fortune, Skunks Gone Wild, Cash Eruption, to name a few. Omnichannel success is not guaranteed, however, and that’s OK. Or even sought, says Rotem. Players heading to a casino have different expectations than players who may casually pick up their phones for a few spins while winding down for the day.

“We conduct many player intercepts and focus groups to ensure the success of our games and ensure our content is aligned with player preferences and growth opportunities,” Rotem says.

Still, success breeds success, so look for omnichannel WAP products to be a “pillar of IGT’s innovation strategy and content roadmap for years to come,” Rotem says.

Consumers seek choice and convenience. Gaming is no exception, he says. “I believe there will always be brick-and-mortar casinos with slot games akin to what you see today. I also believe, however, that the demand for and adoption of mobile gaming will only continue to grow where regulation permits. Online and land-based gaming are highly complementary businesses that are most effective when leveraged together.”

Understanding Customers

Truth is, the gaming industry continues to adapt better than any other industry in understanding its customer, says Brendan Bussmann, managing partner, B Global. “There likely is a scenario that the games are different, but the titles remain the same.”

The catalog of variables per game as well as the number of games is infinite. “This is all about finding a niche with a customer on both the land and online sides of play,” Bussmann says. “If done right, you’ll see both sides of this, but some customers will want different experiences on mobile versus land. In the end, if you do it right, you’ll have a more engaged customer.”

Everi’s Triple Jackpot Gems

Everi’s Triple Jackpot Gems

Everi has not yet approached the wide-area progressive across both channels. The company has an omnichannel game developed in coordination with MGM, for example. But there are still a number of jurisdictional hurdles that need to be cleared in order for a true omnichannel WAP to be offered by Everi. “I’m told these hurdles won’t be easy to overcome,” says Tim Richards, Everi’s executive vice president, strategy and digital gaming.

“Still, Everi is going great. Our offering of crossover or omnichannel product extends our portfolio. We currently have 85 online sites in the U.S. and Canada offering our game content via our Spark RGS. These games are ported to the RGS from our land-based catalogue of games.”

The customer reception has been fantastic, according to Richards. Everi just launched Vi, the company’s on-premises mobile platform. This product is the combination of Everi’s land-based products that are already implemented in hundreds of casinos across the industry.

Vi’s purpose is to offer a friction-free bridge between the physical casino devices and systems to the digital and online environment for players. “It allows the players to easily accumulate play across all gaming types, use a common wallet and funds, and receive loyalty offers and promotions related to every form of gaming and spend they participate in, all while eliminating the constant frustration they experience when moving between these activities,” Richards says.

Wave of the Future

This is part of the future, people. Welcome it.

With online casino gaming and sports wagering expanding, this omnichannel approach to the customer is going to be required. If you do not cater to each channel of gaming and reduce the friction the player has to engage with the operator, they will go where it is easier, Richards says.

“From the operator’s perspective, they will find that this approach also reduces their acquisition costs and expands the return on their current investment in their brands, loyalty club, and the capital they have already invested in their facilities,” he says.

As a simple and easily quantifiable example, Everi has provided a handful of casino-branded games to online operators. These games have continuously been top performers on their sites. The reason for this is that players have an affinity towards and trust the brands they have been visiting and playing with for the past 20 to 30 years, Richards says. “Players understand the power of combining their spend within a common loyalty program. This is no different than any other loyalty program behavior outside of gaming.”

Richards says physical casinos offer much more to players than they can online. Casinos are a place for entertainment, being among people, seeing a show, having a nice dinner, and also gaming. “Even when playing a slot machine by yourself, you’re among others. When you win a large jackpot, others comment and are happy for you. It is a very different environment and emotional experience than gaming online in the comfort of your own home. People crave the interaction of others and enjoy time away from their home,” he says.

It is also up to the casino operators and vendors to create a cohesive experience for the player that allows them to both understand the difference between the gaming offerings and give them the incentives to move between those environments. Of course, all this must be offered in very safe and responsible way.

“It has been our experience that most of our games that have had success in the land-based space also do well in the online gaming space,” Richards says. “Generally speaking, a good game is a good game no matter where the player chooses to play. Some operators have found that specific games that are not in the physical casino space do well online, as well.”

These games tend to be more volatile and non-spinning reel games that a younger, male demographic might enjoy. Table games also do very well in the online space. Since sports betting is now being offered widely, it has driven players that would not have otherwise played a casino game to play online. These players tend to be driven to the new games and table games.

However, gaming is slow to roll out new products versus other industries, due to the regulatory and compliance processes. By improving this process and consolidating jurisdictional approvals, operators and game providers can roll out new product faster and to larger audiences, to learn more and react quicker to correct and improve products, Richards says.

The premise is the same between the two platforms, but as we have continually seen changes in the land-based product, you see those same or other changes occur in the online product, Bussmann says. “While the themes and premise may be the same, the ability to adapt and innovate to the consumer continues on both fronts and may offer a different experience depending on the platform.”

The future of this industry as well as the keys to its past has always been adapting to the consumer. No one does it better, but it’s understanding today’s customers, how they evolve, and how to keep them engaged. “The same is true in the future customer. Give them an entertainment experience that matters,” Bussmann says.

“It’s a new world out there, and using all levels of data to understand it is key.”

Paying to Play: Funding all play should be seamless

People hardly use cash. In almost every situation life rolls merrily along without the Benjamins or the Lincolns or the other dinosaurs collectively known as cash. If you know anything about casinos, land-based or digital, that shouldn’t come as a surprise these days.

Debit cards, credit cards and ACH more than fill whatever the need. That goes for almost all casino transactions.

iGaming has been an inherently cashless gaming vertical for decades, says Gil Rotem, IGT president of iGaming. “Land-based gaming is increasing its pace in offering cashless experiences via quality products such as Resort Wallet and IGTPay and has been adopted by big-name operators such as Station Casinos and Graton Resort and their players,” he says

Now that direct processing to online gaming sites is allowed and reliably approved, the payment options are very similar, says Tim Richards, Everi’s executive vice president, strategy and digital gaming. “The top three choices are debit cards, credit cards, and ACH. Cash is still very prevalent in the casino space and can also be deposited to online sites through companies like PayNearMe that accept cash deposits across their network of retailers.”

PayNearMe is not only safe and secure but encourages responsible gambling as well, according to casino.org. Many regulated casino sites and poker rooms now accept PayNearMe as a deposit option. While credit cards and e-wallets can offer a convenient way to deposit into an online casino, PayNearMe guarantees the payment goes through, along with 100 percent security.

Prepaid card products have dwindled in use due to direct processing, their exorbitant fees, and the friction they build in related to withdrawals, Richards says.

“Payments have become less of an issue as it has become more accessed by banks, but you still have friction points for a truly cashless environment,” says Brendan Bussmann, managing partner, B Global. “I do not believe we will have a truly cashless floor from the ground up until some of the new gaming floors begin to open in the next few years, but regulation needs to keep up with technology.”

Bill Sokolic is a veteran journalist who has covered gaming and tourism for more than 25 years as a staff writer and freelancer with various publications and wire services. He's also written stories for news, entertainment, features, and business. He co-authored Atlantic City Revisited, a pictorial history of the resort.

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