Bonusing systems-extra prizes that have nothing to do with slot machine results-have in just a few years become integral to slot player tracking systems.
Now they are moving to table games. Next year, as server-based gaming is introduced at CityCenter in Las Vegas and begins its march across the gaming landscape, bonusing systems will help casinos to target their most valuable players with rewards that they will truly prize-and increase profits.
Bonusing is an expanding frontier whose potential hasn’t been defined, much less reached.
As major slot manufacturers have realized those potentials, they assimilated smaller companies that developed proprietary bonusing systems.
Derik Moobery, Bally’s vice president of system sales for Western North America, recalls, “In the ’80s and ’90s people bought systems for slot accounting, to track the money and track theft. In the ’90s player tracking arrived. As we moved out of the ’90s it became not just important to track players but to incentivize them, to drive additional revenue toward the slot.”
Brian Macsymic, director of product management for Casinolink Enterprise at Progressive Gaming International Corporation, credits this development to the Australian market.
“It became an integral part based on mystery progressives, which were born from the Australian market,” he says. “It evolved outside of the base game with interesting and compelling ways of bonusing players. It was natural to tie it to a loyalty program.”
PGIC played a part with its Mystery Progressives, which were part of its Casinolink Jackpot System, or CJS.
Vince Manfredi, director of strategic marketing services for International Game Technology, adds, “It was a technical evolution. Some industry leaders had the vision to see that a network could be more than just a data collector for accounting; it could provide two-way communication and player incentives at the point of sale.”
In the 1990s Bally introduced Coupon Cashless (today’s Power Coupon), which addressed a business problem posed by bus groups and giveaways-how to give back more to the player.
Back then, notes Moobery, “you actually got a roll of quarters as you got off the bus. Question was, how do we know they even play those? Or do they buy a cup of coffee and breakfast and then take the next bus out?”
One gaming tribe, says Moobery, knew the answer because they had a convenience store across the street. They could track how many rolls went into food instead of the slots.
Coupon Cashless converted giveaways into credits that could only be spent in the slot machine. A company Bally acquired in 2002, ACSC, developed the technology for downloading credits into the slot.
“Today that is a standard tool, but that was actually developed some time ago,” says Moobery. “People think that tools like bar coding, marketing coupons and downloading credits are new, but some have been around for 13 or 14 years.”
Aristocrat also led in developing bonusing systems. Product Manager Lael Berelowitz notes that Aristocrat’s Oasis 360 evolved over the last 15 years as both the technology and the savvy of casino patrons progressed in tandem-driven by casino expansion outside of Nevada and New Jersey. Competition increased, giving players a reason to pick one casino over another.
“Oasis 360 was originally developed to provide a robust accounting solution,” says Berelowitz. “Aristocrat recognized the shift toward the need for patron-centric applications and developed feature-rich bonusing modules like SpeedMedia Splashdown Countdown and Ricochet Rewards.”
Today, says Moobery, “when someone buys a system, the first question is, what bonusing system does it have? First it was slot accounting, then tracking, then bonusing. Where it became integrated, they would say, ‘We now have the ability to bonus players; how much more money am I making?’ Now, we can run reports and tell how, if we give a player $10 in bonuses, we get X amount of play.”
Today’s casino operators have several bonusing options.
Bally offers the Power Bonusing Suite, where each product meets different needs. Customers buy the bonusing tools that work in their markets.
Power Winners lets casinos offer a mystery jackpot that starts with a certain value and can have a must-hit-by value or must-hit-by time. Players watch a plasma screen or Bally’s iVIEW tracking device to see where the mystery jackpot is at any time.
Power Coupon, a bar-coded marketing coupon, is inserted into the bill validator to put cashable or non-cashable credit on the game.
With Power Promotions, players can convert slot points or a promotional offer into free credits on the machine.
Power Bank lets players deposit money, and when they are done playing, load the money directly to their account. The next day they can download directly to the machine.
Power Sweepstakes lets players earn raffle tickets or chances to win a prize. For instance, if you play a video 21 game and you hit “21” you get a chance on a drawing. Or if you play X amount, you get X amount on a sweepstakes.
Power Rewards allows different types of multiplying to incentivize players. Play X and get Y. Bally got the idea from a casino operator who was very close to competitors and realized that the Blazing 7s slot machine looks the same at every casino.
As Moobery recalls it, the casino operator said, “‘I know players split their time. How do I get them to sit longer at my casino? I want to give them an incentive to play longer at my casino.'”
The final two products, Live Rewards and Tournaments, both run on the iVIEW. Live Rewards provides individualized bonus games configurable by the casino. Pay tables are dynamic. The pay table on the bonus game is really dynamic in that it links to players’ play habits on the base game. With two players side by side on the same game, one plays a penny, the other plays max bets. It will give better rewards to the player making higher bets. This difference is obvious to the players.
Tournaments allows players to enter a tournament at any slot, instead of the casino roping off a bank or area. Most slot tournaments are not played with real money. Here, players use real money-on any game.
IGT’s Advantage System features a network that gives the casino the ability for rudimentary communication from system to player. There are hardware options that are part of the player tracking kit in each machine, depending on the option. The most advanced is NexGen, a touch-screen display that provides the ability to reward and surprise specific players while they play.
NexGen greets the guest with sound and the guest’s name, describing pending awards, current balances and how much free play credit they have.
According to Manfredi, “It creates switching costs in the mind of the player, because it builds loyalty, giving benefits for playing at a particular casino.”
Any kind of player tracking hardware is a separate component at the option of the operator. If a casino purchased such a system it could buy NexGen. If it bought 100 slots and it had the Advantage system they would be installed before the machines are delivered.
“It’s one-stop shopping,” says Manfredi. “The interactive and marketing side takes these concepts and makes them more powerful exponentially. NexGen is important not just in today’s casinos, but down the road when we see that become a bridge to the server-based world.”
Such a system generates more slot machine play.
“Number one: we know slot players like to play slots, so if we give extra games and extra credits and extend time on device we have components for building loyalty,” says Manfredi.
“Ten years ago the idea was to deliver a fixed level of credits or a mixed jackpot. Our first bonusing customers in Australia had $1 million giveaways. They delivered a life-changing award linked to the venue-not because you were playing a particular game, but because you were playing in a Crown Casino. They give the opportunity to build loyalty.”
In more primitive scenarios, he notes, everyone was eligible for the bonus. NexGen can use animation to create a game within a game, or another bonus game. “Instead of just delivering $500 we can have everyone who is eligible participate in an animated horse race, where one player wins the $500,” he says. “This lets us create a fully branded bonusing experience. It’s a segue to much greater depth as we move into server-based.”
Progressive Gaming’s Casinolink Jackpot is an enterprise-wide management system with layers providing centralized control of progressive and mystery jackpots for slots and table games. It delivers a real-time global view.
Promotions are built around loyalty points. Properties can, based on demographic data, offer promotional credits. There is also a random player bonus solution where a winner is chosen from predetermined criteria, e.g., “You might offer a promotional credit for anyone over 50 who plays on Tuesday, who would be eligible for random giveaways throughout the day. When the prize is awarded, media signs throughout the casino would celebrate,” says Macsymic.
The Jackpot module enables expanded jackpots and bonusing across multiple sites.
These tools are available for both slots and table games.
Casinolink Jackpot enables table game progressives in local and multi-site links on games such as World Series of Poker, Progressive Texas Hold ‘Em, Caribbean Stud, Progressive Baccarat and Progressive Blackjack from the same server as slot progressives and mystery jackpots.
PGIC’s player tracking interface was developed in partnership with IGT, and it is integrating the server-based NexGen into the system. That will be available this month.
What’s the future of bonusing?
“What you are seeing is that it is becoming more targeted,” says Moobery. “If not every player has an equal opportunity for a bonus, casinos can focus more on specific programs that make it more profitable. That’s where server-based and high-speed floors come in. The biggest advantage you get is the ability to communicate with the player, to push product or media or marketing to that player based on who they are.”
Readers who buy books on Amazon.com know exactly what Moobery is getting at. You can use bonusing to, say, fill a showroom by getting tickets to people who might like a particular show or type of show.
That will arrive with the high-speed floor.
Manfredi agrees: “It really gets into server-based gaming where we have more horsepower. Soon, a player will insert a card and we’ll know his past preferences. If we can use the system to understand who has a preference for show tickets and who deserves them we can ‘paper the house’ with intelligence, not randomness.”
Macsymic believes that bonusing technology will transcend the slots boundary. “It will lend itself to hospitality, going beyond the four walls,” he says. “Server-based deployment brings a new level of sophistication. Today bonusing solutions are implemented with 10-year-old technology. SB will bring faster, more efficient ways that go beyond giving people free play.
“Starting in 2009, you will see really interesting technology enhancements. Some are starting to be deployed in S2S (the GSA system-to-system standard), so you will be able to connect separate systems, like tables and slots. Our random player rewards and point multiplier promotions can already bridge slots and tables. As technology gets more integrated it will transcend those barriers.”
Earle G. Hall, president and CEO of DEQ Systems Corp., which manufactures a table bonusing system (see sidebar) provides this perspective:
“Remember how faxes, printers and scanners were once three products? Now you can pick up three in one. You see a convergence where all table games have the possibility to be connected. Players will demand the same bonuses from slots and tables, because there is discrimination. Wife and husband, who often play different games, are not treated alike. Bonusing is another name for customer relationship management.”