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Super Signs

Digital signage is lighting up exteriors, the casino floor and hotel lobbies

Super Signs

Digital signage embodies two major gaming-industry components.

First, it is functional. Digital solutions replace traditional printing operations like design, approval, press setup, printing, drying and delivery. They create messaging flexibility, in scenarios ranging from new restaurant menus to updated show lineups and upcoming tournaments, to instant room discounts.

The function serves the bottom line, too. Casinos embrace the digital network format, which appears more expensive up front but becomes a money-maker by eliminating the traditional printing expenses. Inside of a couple of years, this system becomes a source of profit.

Second, the digital age also is fun. It conveys swagger, emanating from an operator’s checkbook. Brilliantly lit, well-orchestrated messages spark excitement throughout a casino. They are tangible, visible, and stimulating.

Casinos also embrace the social-media craze via signage. With an estimated 200 million cell phones in existence just in the United States, messaging apps have become the real-time rage.

The digital network can flourish on or near the games as casinos launch their multi-layered attempt to market and retain players. Building exteriors offer another perfect canvas. Properties put up impressive symbols of prosperity—a gigantic ball or Ferris wheel, for example—that can be seen from miles away. These landmarks, which also display messaging, help identify casinos. Las Vegas and Atlantic City establishments, among others, have taken digital signage to that level.

Some consider signage a $2 billion annual market, as operators continue to sign on. Several companies, from Bally Technologies and JCM to Gaming Partners International, CastNET and YESCO, eagerly feed it.

Bally: A Cool Jewel

Casinos utilize Bally CoolSign, a marketing tool designed to help casino operators enjoy a simple yet powerful user interface.

First, the general:

“It’s everywhere you can think of,” says Matthew Olden, product manager for multimedia solutions at Las-Vegas based Bally Technologies. “Convention spaces, hotel lobbies, elevator banks, pools, spas, restaurants, hotel rooms and the exterior of the property.”

And the specific: Pre-determined thresholds can trigger specific offers. There is no need to change the message or formulate a new one.

“You can schedule something once and then wait for the condition,” Olden indicates. “It’s raining right now here in Las Vegas. You can have an ad for that occasion telling people ‘don’t forget to visit the concierge to get your umbrellas.’

“You can tailor a message to your hotel occupancy. Give a 20 percent discount on the rooms until you hit a certain number of rooms sold. Then you can change it to 15 percent, automatically.”

And finally, the emotional: it spikes the enjoyment of tournament and jackpot winners. CoolSign can drive and stream content to slot-machine devices like iVIEW and IVIEW DM, sending congratulatory messages of victory. Throw in lighting and sound integration to intensify the experience.

“It really can change the ambience of a casino,” Olden says. “It drives more interest. It shows you an upcoming event like a tournament, lets you see it as it unfolds and shows you the result of it afterward.”

When Bally set Guinness World Records for the world’s largest slot machine tournament in Pechanga last year, the CoolSign media-management system enabled patrons to view the tournament leader-board information on digital monitors and display screens throughout the property.

The Video Wall format provides another eye-opening venue. Its Cosmopolitan 2 product is a large screen broken up into at least 16 individual windows, each proclaiming an offer from the spa or steakhouse, tournament information and the forecast. In one sense, it’s a Wall of Fame. Nearly everything a property may wish to pitch customers can be seen from one location.

Gaming was not the first recipient of this technology.

CoolSign was initially developed for shopping malls, Olden says. 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.

“Casinos were later to the game,” he says, “because the solution sets available in the past were not tailored to gaming. The solutions did not account for the casino slot floor. That has changed for the industry.”

JCM: Expanding the Line

JCM Global builds upon a sound foundation. The Osaka-based powerhouse (Japan Cash Management) already is a leading supplier of automated transactions solutions for the banking, gaming and retail industries. Its extensive line of award-winning products set global standards with products like the Universal Bill Acceptor and Intelligent Cash Box.

Digital signage is one of its new star players.

JCM provides the LCD terminals through which casinos can stream content. That can mean information on the floor via items like ePoster, which has a display both for static images and for video. JCM’s digital signage product line includes the Video Wall, a large screen for watching football in clubs and sports books.

The company recently added partnerships with Samsung for access to hospitality channels in hotel-room televisions and Bright Sign for streaming. It continues moving toward a strong social-media presence as well, according to Doug Fundator, its business development and resale business director. Fundator was brought aboard in the last year as JCM continued to grow from a company that verifies the authenticity of bank notes to an outfit that addresses the players using them.

“JCM is well-known for the idea that you can put a $10 bill through our validator, get a picture, image, serial numbers, and data on good notes or bad notes and report all the information,” Fundator says. “Then it became images of driver’s licenses, and diagnostics about the performance of the games. Now we are focusing on the messaging through the media system.

“It’s exciting to see JCM really leveraging the contact we have and devoting itself to becoming a solid technology company, on top of our other achievements.”

“Margaritaville Resort Casino, in Bossier City, Louisiana, purchased an abundance of LCDs for video walls and large format displays on the floor,” Fundator says. The Graton Casino, in Sonoma, California, brought in displays and overhead signage for its gaming floor. William Hill, with approximately 115 sports books in Nevada, purchased approximately 20 displays for each location, Fundator indicates.

“Everybody is getting into media,” Fundator says. “It’s still going to be the largest-growing area for everybody. You can’t just have a whole bunch of televisions. You need to have effective ways to get messaging out there to your clientele.

“Customers want information available via everything from their phones to media packages. JCM will play in that space.”

YESCO: A Visual Wow

There are times when message streaming inside the property just isn’t enough. Just ask the Las Vegas operators who use YESCO to make colossal statements at the gateways to their properties.

Utah-based Young Electric Sign Company (YESCO) offers the gamut, including custom signs and electronic displays, outdoor media, specialty lighting, sculptural elements and historic signs. Elements from these different areas blend into signage displays used in the gaming world.

In the past year, three of its Las Vegas projects—the Aria pylon, Harmon Corner and the upcoming Linq for Caesars Entertainment—reflect a different connection to gaming. Signage, it appears, can exceed the realm of practicality. It can be a metaphor for muscle-flexing.

“Technology and ingenuity within YESCO has evolved to the point where we are now creating complex structures that are completely skinned with LED, rather than attaching LED signs to themed structures,” says Nick Priest, the special projects director for YESCO in Las Vegas. “Our clients tell us, ‘We don’t want the usual. We want something that no one else has. We want to create a visual first impression that attracts interest and allows versatility.’

“The idea works. Steve Wynn is proof of that, in my opinion. He came up with the fantastic idea of a moving element that plays along with the content outside of his Wynn property about six years ago, and it is still relevant today.”

The CityCenter area continues to evolve as a Western version of Times Square. The larger-than-life presence of signage promotes both the general area and specific properties.

Massive architectural projects may indeed become the visual tie-breaker to separate properties. Many already have mastered customer service and amenities. This is the next master stroke enabling an operator to break out of the pack.

Want more players? Create mystique. Establish a visual identity.

In April, YESCO unveiled its design for a 260-foot-high pylon for Aria, helping the luxury resort property owned by MGM Resorts to be seen from three miles away. It is an endlessly programmable, free-standing marquis, lit by 11 million LED (light-emitting diodes) pixels. Beautifully illuminated, it serves as an advertisement for their venues and entertainment. It is an impressive visual structure that draws eyes to its content. The structure is the largest marquee on the Strip, and announces Aria as a unique, upscale establishment.

The next YESCO project, Linq, opens in October. It’s a huge Ferris wheel directing customers to shopping areas immediately off the Strip and toward Harrah’s Las Vegas. YESCO signage can be viewed with messaging on a sleek LED pylon and undulating LED “vortex” that directs one’s eye toward its club area.

About a year ago, YESCO unfurled a monstrous television screen display at Harmon Corner, just across from CityCenter. YESCO’s work includes a four-sided, 20 mm pylon display for the Cosmopolitan. All exterior LED displays and strip-accent lighting are coordinated from a centralized show control system.

The Vegas properties followed the lead of other YESCO clients like Revel, which sports the 40-foot LED sphere. Sitting atop the Atlantic City property, it makes an instantly identifiable icon. The ball is visible from the highway and will link the property to anyone who gambles.

Gaming Support: A Perfect Fit

Gaming Support USA loves the financial ring of one word: compatability.

“We are the experts in the interfacing to the gaming devices and systems,” says Don Baugh, the CEO and GM of the Las Vegas-based company.

Gaming Support produces, for slot-bank solutions, media players that connect to the progressive controller (to receive current jackpot amounts and jackpot hit information). The company drives content on the video displays along with the progressive amount and jackpot hit celebrations.

Naturally, the buildup provides suspense.

“As the numbers go up, the excitement level grows with it,” Baugh says. “Players are convinced it’s not going to be hit beyond a certain amount, so if you’re closing in on, say, $100,000, that’s pretty significant.

“The jackpot does not always have to be cash. There are times the operator will give away a car, and we can show a video for that.

 “The image of the jackpot amount goes away, and then the movie (a short clip on the screen) changes, so now you’ve got fireworks going off on the screen, maybe a trumpet and the message says, ‘Congratulations, we just had a jackpot winner!’ You hear the celebration music, you look up around you and there is most likely somebody celebrating.”

The company’s existing product is a Windows-based solution, but it announced at G2E a product that allows scheduling of media content through an iPad app that updates the media player wirelessly. A manager can use one pad to control a bank of 10-12 machines. He can also move to another area, log in at that location and control another set of machines.

The product is often referred to as Media Player Lite.

“The operator can customize the look of the display,” Baugh says. “Where do you want the jackpot amount to be, what kind of 10-15-second movie do you want playing with that? The movie is something that can loop over and over.”

Baugh’s company deals directly with casino operators. Many are in the Midwest.

For larger floor-wide media solutions, it works with Alpha Video/CastNET of Minneapolis to drive video displays across the casino floor. It also provides solutions for other property displays including the restaurant menus, poker room seating list, cashier windows and convention rooms.

CastNET: A Sense of ‘Mobile’ity

CastNET, which provides signage service to more than 120 U.S. properties, throws out a mobile “fishing pole” to lure significant business.

The spinoff company of Minnesota-based Alpha Video and Audio Inc. linked Near Field Technology (NFC) with the mobile age. In August, it launched MobileHere, a system that allows smart-phone users to take messages away from the casino floor. The innovation was showcased at G2E, and will likely be displayed in casino properties throughout the fourth quarter.

Apple’s anticipated endorsement of the NFC chip figures to dramatically enhance the market for products like MobileHere.

NFC is a short-range, wireless RFID technology that is meant for applications where a close physical touch allows information to be exchanged. By placing an NFC-enabled smart phone or mobile device against a CastNET with MobileHere digital sign, viewers can download information or be directed to media content on their device.

Customers can be directed to websites, videos or mobile app stores. They also can instantly download way-finding maps, menus and coupons. If someone wants to access information from a high sign, it will be available on a kiosk labeled “MobileHere.”

“Up until this point, there has been no way to take anything away from the signage,” says Charles Meyer, emerging technology specialist for CastNET. “There are so many messages that go by, but you are most inclined to remember the ones that have value to you. The casino can now direct the customer to see what they want them to see.

“Let’s say an operator has a restaurant that used to be a buffet, but now it’s a steakhouse. Maybe your overhead sign can announce that, but you can talk about something deeper. You want to talk about giving away an appetizer between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. for anyone who buys an entrée. You want to talk about 2-for-1 specials. You can do that inside of CastNET.”

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.

MobileHere created a new realm for it.

“We’re always being asked about whether digital signage can deliver ROI for our clients,” he says. “The answer is that it can. Every time a phone touches the kiosk, you will know what type of phone it is, the size of the stream, the operating system, the date and the time, and what the customer took away, message by message.

“That’s important for casinos who know that the customers are always changing.”

Functional, fun and profitable. The formula is taking casino signage into its new era.

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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