With technology moving at lightning speed, companies have to act quickly to capture the market’s need and release products that are innovative as well as multi-functional. That need is especially high for the gaming industry.
And no area of technology has served that need in so transformative a manner this decade as bill validators and ticket printers. The two areas combined have led to the elimination of coin-handling from casinos, and the institution of ticket-in/ticket-out technology has changed the very nature of slot machines, leading to a revolution of penny games and more volatile, higher-holding games.
No company has been more important in the development of TITO technology than California-based FutureLogic, Inc. In 1999, the company released what would become the industry-standard TITO thermal printer.
The company’s latest printer, the GEN2 Universal, accommodates networked gaming and different game types with three ports, the RS232, NetPlex and USB2. FutureLogic also provides a promotional couponing product, PromoNet.
Nick Micalizzi, FutureLogic’s vice president of sales and marketing for North America, says PromoNet is yet another product that demonstrates the company’s emphasis on multi-functionalism and efficiency.
“By using a secure system approach, PromoNet ensures that casino servers are in full control of all communication with the printers and cash-out tickets,” Micalizzi says. “It also offers casinos of any size a flexible, cost-effective, real-time method for delivering targeted promotional campaigns.”
PromoNet can be used with any gaming machine that is equipped with the GSA-compliant versions of the GEN2 Universal or GEN2 VST Universal printers.
FutureLogic’s newest product may be its most innovative yet. TableXchange aims to eliminate the need to replenish chips at table games by incorporating the same TITO printing technology that is already in use in slot machines around the world. With TableXchange, players will be able to use tickets at both slot machines and table games.
The product was previewed at G2E 2008 to great enthusiasm. At the trade show, FutureLogic received feedback and tips regarding TableXchange’s functionality and efficiency, and incorporated useful advice into the final product, which will be released soon.
For FutureLogic, TableXchange is not just another product. Like the introduction of the TITO printer, the implementation of TableXchange could very well change a casino’s operations.
“We believe that this ability to print and scan vouchers at table games will change TITO gaming for several reasons,” Micalizzi says. “First of all, it will enable casinos to connect table games to their existing TITO networks and provide a common currency across the casino floor. Secondly, it will create a bridge between slots and tables and help casinos identify valuable crossover players. Thirdly, we think the device will help streamline casino operations by virtually eliminating the need to replenish chips at table games.”
The product will also have the ability to process rewards cards, enabling players to receive points by playing at tables just as they do at slot machines.
TransAct Technologies, Inc., another leading printer supplier, has also been adding to its product repertoire. The Epic 950 printer, which was introduced in 2004, will now play host to the company’s new ServerPort technology.
ServerPort, which can also be added to existing printers, was also launched at last year’s G2E. It links a casino’s printers to a server-based network. TransAct’s senior vice president, Tracey Chernay, says ServerPort is intended to enable Epic 950 printers to be multi-functional-the new technology even connects to promotional couponing systems.
“The idea behind ServerPort was to be able to provide the capability for casinos to upgrade their printers to connect to a network,” Chernay says. “What we wanted to do with ServerPort was provide them with the flexibility and protect their investment by adding a component, which is basically what ServerPort is.”
Protecting investments is significant for the gaming industry, especially amid the current economic climate, when upgrading to a new batch of printers may not be financially feasible for some operators. Those with Epic 950 printers can choose to keep their printing capabilities as is, or upgrade to the new ServerPort technology.
ServerPort adds to the Epic 950 printer’s existing ease in serviceability and reliability by enabling operators to automatically download software or firmware to each printer and game on the casino floor, no technicians required.
The Epic 950 is also easy to rack in and out of a slot machine-a simple latch is used to connect and disconnect the printer when it is need of service. And, of course, the Epic 950 can be placed in any brand of slot machine, preventing the need for casino operators to purchase different printers for different machines.
The ease of the Epic 950 is what operators looked for when TransAct’s Epic 880 printer was introduced at last month’s International Gaming Expo. The Epic 880 will service gaming devices like amusement games and video lottery terminals.
Jean-Louis Drapeau, vice president of sales and marketing for Nanoptix Thermal Printers, says his company is also developing products for ease and functionality, even going so far as to custom-design printers for an operator’s specific needs.
In addition to the company’s top-seller, the Paycheck 3 printer, Nanoptix has created specialty printers that cater to niches within the gaming industry. For instance, one California casino needed to print promotional tickets for a mass amount of people. Using a TITO printer in the cage, the casino employee was forced to pull tickets one by one-a practice that was quite inefficient.
The casino came to Nanoptix, which in turn developed the High Speed Couponing Printer: fast tickets, no employee necessary. Developed for a single property, the product is now being shipped to casinos all over North America. The same is true of the company’s Spill-Proof printer, which protects the printer from liquid damage in a casino’s bars or restaurants.
“It has application in a gaming market for any type of receipt,” Drapeau says. “It is specialized, but it’s becoming an all-purpose printer. That’s the beauty of it.”
The Paycheck 3 printer is the company’s main all-purpose printer, with its ability to print a ticket in 1.2 seconds, as well as logo branding on both the front and back of a ticket and anti-jamming bezels.
Nanoptix also teamed up with Crane Payment Solutions to link its printers to a cash box management system. The printer will then be able to provide every statistic contained within casinos’ bill validators, from number of bills and tickets to preventive maintenance information.
“It simplifies it for casino operators,” Drapeau says. “You don’t have to buy all of this expensive hardware or software.”
Bills, Bills, Bills
Bill validation often works hand in hand with ticket printing and, like printing companies, the bill validation industry is constantly looking to technology to add ease and reliability to its products.
Unlike printers, bill validators deal with cash exchanges, and therefore must be protected with the highest levels of security.
MEI Gaming, a manufacturer of unattended payment systems, first introduced its Cashflow SC product in 2002 after four years of extensive research and engineering. The high-tech bill acceptor went above and beyond, applying the new ticket-in/ticket-out technology to cash flow transactions.
Cashflow also implemented counterfeit detection technology that enabled casino operators to prevent fraud. The product also provides cash storage within a polymer alloy cassette that will prevent breakage, as well as a lockable and removable cash box.
MEI’s Cashflow product was recently the subject of a patent lawsuit filed by JCM Global, another leading supplier of bill validators. Last month, a Las Vegas, Nevada jury ruled that MEI’s Cashflow infringed upon a patent held by JCM, and acknowledged that MEI did not willfully violate the patent. As it stands, MEI will be required to modify future Cashflow products released on the market by replacing two screws in the bill validator’s pusher assembly with two rivets.
Eric Fisher, MEI’s vice president of gaming in the Americas, says the outcome of the lawsuit will not have an effect on customers.
In the meantime, MEI’s latest product, Easitrax Soft Count, will extend the Cashflow’s high-quality bill acceptance and security into casinos’ soft count rooms. Easitrax Soft Count will further enhance existing Cashflow products by collecting information from MEI bill acceptors and categorizing it in a database. Gaming executives can then analyze the information and use it to their advantage in operating their casino floors.
Easitrax Soft Count is made to be retrofitted to Cashflow products already in place at casino properties.
JCM Global is also working on developing new, practical products in a harsh financial climate. The company released a new bill validation product, Vega, at IGE last month. Made of high-impact plastic, Vega has all of the important security features of JCM’s other, high-end bill validator, UBA, but at a lower cost. JCM Global Senior Vice President Tom Nieman says he is eager to see if Vega’s reception matches his expectations.
Vega is JCM’s first foray into value-oriented gaming solutions, and the product is unique to the marketplace. Nieman stresses that Vega will not replace UBA because it “attacks a different market, a different price point.”
And while UBA remains popular, having been incorporated into high-end resorts like the recently opened Encore, JCM is already working on the next generation of bill validators. Its Intelligent Cash Box product is a step in that direction. ICB records all transactions and displays the data when taken to the soft count room, so employees will know before opening the cash box how many notes are contained inside and what the values of those notes are.
The company also partnered with Gaming Partners International to develop Trident Table Safe. The product is placed at each table game to capture the cash and validate each bill.
“As it works today, that cash goes into a free-form box, and they don’t really know how much they have in cash until the next day,” Nieman says. “In essence, this puts a small, secure safe at every table. When the money goes through, it immediately goes into the accounting system.”
As for future plans, the fourth generation of JCM bill validators is in the works.
“There is new technology out there, just as the counterfeit activity around the world has gotten better,” Nieman says. “The sophistication by counterfeiters today is at a greater level than it’s ever been. If we’re going to continue to be the guardian and the entry point for all the revenue that comes into the slot machine, we have to improve our technology.”