Why player tracking has gone far beyond the slot machine

It was once a bastion for gaming insiders. Player tracking rewarded those who outhustled competitors with the cutting-edge practice of customer identification. It took precious time, money and resources to comprise a customer portrait. Yet the effort squeezed out an edge, deepened a property’s player base and planted the seeds for tailored offers.

Knowing one’s own players was an accomplishment.

That realm has evolved into an industry prerequisite. Player tracking hits the same buzz note as customer service, value-added and loyalty rewards. Properties must thrive in this area simply to compete, let alone win, and they must be far more cognizant of competitors.

The information drill-down spans partial comps, automated room rates and minute-by-minute analysis of a player’s worth. Will it ever reach critical mass, a point in which operators will have all the information they’ll ever need?

“As long as global technology continues to grow, so too will casino systems,” says Steve Walther, senior marketing and product management director for Konami Gaming. “We can expect to see continued growth in connected integrations with non-gaming features, touchpoints and amenities. Every aspect of how guests interact with the property is a representation of their customer loyalty experience, and offers growing significance to the future of integrated resorts. Mobile technology will also continue to impact the way players interact with the property, while providing new opportunities for data and analysis.”

It’s been some journey. Player tracking went from slot-centric systems to player-centric, into marketing applications for increasing time on device and finally into the world of data, dynamic pricing and the impact of non-gaming spend. Gut feeling is still valuable for hosts looking to entice players, but properties prefer data-driven comps by the numbers. The spa, nightclub and golf courses are all in play. So is the pool. And the bar. Integrated resorts have widened the playing field and enhanced the value of good information.

 

Synchronizing Selections

Las Vegas-based Konami Gaming, a leading innovator of slot machines and gaming enterprise management systems, is the casino gaming and systems division of Konami Holdings, headquartered in Japan. The company has been in the casino systems business since 2001 and its core technology supports nearly 400 venues.

Konami’s casino management system Synkros is best known in the industry for its 99.9 percent-high availability, player tracking at the game level, innovative marketing tool kit, and robust tracking of gaming and non-gaming data.

Recent innovations include a marketing tool kit and table-game enhancements. The tool kit product features configurable points, partial comps and floor-wide marketing exclusions. Table-game upgrades allow side-bet tracking, automated decisions per hour and incremental average bet calculations.

Walther considers the Global Gaming Expo an excellent springboard for new product features.

“The latest version of Synkros, which we’ll be showing at G2E 2017, carries a number of updates focused on empowering operators with greater control over how they manage player tracking functions with marketing and table games, as well as how accurately they can pinpoint key data points,” Walther says.

“This year, we’re showing important enhancements to our core marketing tool kit that empower site teams with maximum flexibility to optimize, customize, manage and track player reinvestment costs,” he says.

The configurable-points aspect addresses over-comping, which can hit seven figures annually for some properties. Table-game enhancements illuminate patrons who wish to gamble more aggressively. This could provide more enriching comp levels for them.

“Synkros is introducing a number of leading advancements to its table games functionality that allow properties to get as close as possible to the most accurate theoretical win calculations,” Walther says. “Our latest updates include side bet tracking and the ability to update average bet, skill, speed, and play percentage for both main game play and side bets. We also help take the guesswork out of typical average bet calculations with a more accurate and automated incremental average bet.”

Synkros’ automated decisions per hour (DPH) also empowers operators with more robust data accuracy by running analysis independently during the rating process, Walther maintains. These details enhance day-to-day management, helping operators keep “track.”

“Our latest table games and marketing tool kit enhancements are all about empowering casino operators with smart, flexible technology to match their business,” Walther indicates. “A robust player tracking system should equip teams with new possibilities, not limit them to a singular approach.

“It should drive more accurate data and analysis, even beyond what’s expected. That’s what ultimately pushes the industry forward.”

The company’s deeds have matched those words. Last month, Konami Gaming announced the launch of Synkros at Lac Courte Oreilles Casino Lodge & Convention Center and its outpost location Grindstone Creek Casino. Both are operated by the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in Hayward, Wisconsin, and feature 700 combined slots and table games. This marked Konami’s first Synkros installation in Wisconsin, which has 25 casino properties.

“Our key focus across all areas of the organization is guest service, and Konami’s Synkros provides that core technology piece that brings everything together and empowers our team to deliver a premier gaming experience every day,” says Lee Harden, chief executive officer at Lac Courte Oreilles Casino Lodge & Convention Center. “The benefits of Synkros’ advanced marketing capabilities, 99.9 percent uptime availability and agile infrastructure are already in motion.”

Synkros replaced an existing casino management system. LCO Casino and Grindstone Creek Casino gained access to robust multi-site management tools, advanced reporting features, player loyalty benefits and customizable marketing programs.

 

Take the Suite

Las Vegas-based Casino Data Imaging is a specialist in gaming business intelligence. It provides the reports, dashboards and graphical visualizations a casino needs to get the most value from its gaming floor, according to Adam Winkler, its senior product manager. GlobalSuite, which provides visualization and report analysis, multi-casino and multi-game, multi-denomination information, heads the company’s effort in this area.

“The industry wants the same insight from their player analysis software as they get from Amazon, Netflix and other products in their personal life,” Winkler says. “GlobalSuite provides users with access to the data that works best for them. The software has done the hard work of linking game play to the players. Users of the software can see who plays which games, when they play and where they play. We help operators to use their game play data to quickly identify winning and losing themes. This allows them to get the most out of their gaming floor space.”

Winkler says GlobalSuite has doubled down on providing operators with familiar tools for game play analysis. If users are comfortable with using Microsoft Office, they can perform data analysis with CDI software, he says. Winkler believes CDI has taken complication out of the equation for busy casino operators.

“We modernized the front and back end of GlobalSuite,” Winkler says. “By the end of the year, the back end will support a 64-bit architecture while the front end will be indistinguishable from a standard Microsoft Office product. These updates along with a long list of UI updates will make it easy for users to get the most out of the system. Most of the upcoming changes are the direct result of user requests.”

Most GlobalSuite updates are as simple as Adobe Acrobat upgrades, Winkler says. If the system recognizes a new release is available, it will download the latest product and restart with the new version. Product updates are quick and painless.

According to Winkler, GlobalSuite evolves towards integrating more game play data into a single location while simplifying the analysis process.

“Too many companies are in an arms race towards flashy features that provide little to no actionable insight,” he contends. “We build a friendly system that allows users to get the most out of the system in the shortest period of time.

“The game-changing feature of GlobalSuite is the 3-D map,” Winkler adds. “We can visualize an operator’s gaming floor and overlay slot machines or tables with performance figures, like coin in, average theoretical win, or any other key metric. The gaming devices can be color-coded for any of these metrics by location or bank, and the system stores all historical maps so machines can reorient themselves when viewed historically.”

 

Ardently Expanding

Ardent Progressive Systems makes inroads with the Ardent Comp Validation system. It was initially launched at bar locations, but has grown into the slot-machine realm at 19 Nevada locations, including 11 on the Las Vegas Strip, according to Albert Tabola, its sales director.

The hardware unit helps properties identify wager totals and literally light up with information about what players deserve comps. The information can be spotted and attended to by cocktail servers roaming the floor. Winkler estimates the device can save a big property like Caesars $1 million in a one-year period by not issuing comp drinks players have not earned.

Robert Guinn, the Ardent CEO, says the device serves both players and operators.

“The system improves the engagement to the patrons that are playing and also frees up bartender/servers to spend more time servicing and connecting with valued customers,” he says. “The product tracks the average wager per minute and provides visual real-time triggers to the bartenders/waitresses depending on the level of play to either allow for comps, higher comp levels, to notify when comp levels are reduced, or to disallow for comping because of inadequate play.

“This will improve customer service and it has a reliable return on investment, which, unlike many other products in the market, is not subjective,” Guinn adds. “Anyone can visit a location that has our technology installed and see that it is working within five minutes. Extrapolate that over a period of a year and the savings from reduced liquor bills, increased game play and increased sales can be extraordinary.

“This product is the first to use visual feedback to quantify a customer’s play in real time without having to run back and check a monitor that may have dated information. The bartender now has a way to instantly test the reliability of his perception of a customer’s play.”

At the bar, it can help an employee “see the light.” The bartender, who may suggest a comp beverage to the player, knows the customer just put $20 into play because a blue LED alert has indicated that.

The system then takes over and as long as “the player continues to play at a predetermined average (set by the operator) he will receive complimentary beverages,” Guinn indicates. “The bartender knows this by a green LED. If the customer slows or stops his play at some point the green LED will turn off and a red one will start flashing, alerting the bartender that the customer has fallen below the predetermined average.”

The bartender can decide to keep the player engaged by offering a complimentary beverage or offer to start a new tab, resuming the bar-patron relationship and leaving gaming out of it.

The product allows operators to manage comps while allowing the bartenders to still make decisions, Guinn asserts.

Other comp methods are not as flexible, he believes. The bartenders appreciate this product because it still enables their discretion, he contends. It also provides a valued intangible. A bartender can inform the patron that his play did not warrant a drink, but provide one anyway. The concept will inspire some level of loyalty and likely produce increased play somewhere, sometime, even if not at that moment. The idea has strong upside.

Guinn says one of the more important data points the product calculates in real time and stores is the players’ average wager per minute.

“This is a key indicator that all of our locations have utilized for determining comps, and many times even premium comps based on a tiered average wager,” he says. “Utilizing a reasonable average wager over time allows for players to take breaks and interact with their friends without being penalized. In addition, comps are determined on wagers, not win/loss or initial buy-in, which are not a valid justification for issuing comps.”

Industry-wide, the value of player knowledge intensifies. So does the need to harness it. What do patrons like, where to they spend, what do they eat and what is their game, drink or favorite activity?

From a marketing standpoint, casinos love to store that information. From a revenue perspective, they want to track it and rack it. And to simply compete, they can’t lack it.

Author: Dave Bontempo

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.