The expansion of the gaming industry past its Atlantic City and Las Vegas roots has been the leading domestic story for the last two decades, and now that the expansion is part of the permanent landscape, casinos and vendors have turned their attention to tracking players’ gaming and non-gaming spend.
“Casinos, like most business enterprises, are swimming in a sea of data,” says Glenn Goulet, chief executive officer of Table Trac, Inc. “The challenge is the ability to pull out what you need and take decisive action. With player and guest acquisition costs rising, the ability for casino operators to understand the total spend and lifetime value of guests is quickly becoming a key component in any casino management system.”
The ability to track player activity really serves several purposes. First, the individual property gets to accommodate the player’s needs and habits with the appropriate promotional offers. Second, that property gets to share the information with its “sister” properties under the same brand across the United States. This is especially important for regions that are dense with gambling areas, like the Louisiana and Mississippi areas or Arizona, California and Nevada in the Pacific Southwest.
From a macro standpoint, tracking player activity allows for casinos to develop group trend analysis, not just individual habits. The biggest trend is the activity being tracked, and the analysis being developed is focused nearly as much on non-gaming spend.
“Whether the money spent is in retail shops, hotel nights, dining or entertainment, today’s savvy casino operators understand that spending time cultivating the experience with their most loyal players and guests will, in the end, drive revenues,” says Goulet. “Today’s casino management systems must be able to identify the moments in the guests’ journey where the most value is generated—and then maximize those returns.”
The Age of “Big Data”
Although it is one of the hot buzzwords across several industries, the ability to capture, analyze and quantify massive amounts of consumer information or “big data” is on the forefront of all player tracking technology. Big data can be used efficiently to drive revenue and increase margins, which drives the interest of big data by publicly held casino brands whose shareholders always want increased revenue streams.
“Everyone is looking for big data to target their promotions,” says Tom Doyle, vice president of systems product management with Bally Technologies. “It is what you do with that data to increase response rates, or modify a campaign to increase your return rate, which may mean having players show up at a different time or a different day of the week.”
Big data gives casino players a singular unified voice they do not even know they have. As the domestic casino landscape continues to be more competitive than ever, the entry of big data into the industry allows for quantifiable value propositions against competitors, and that emphasis on dollar value ultimately benefits the player.
A byproduct of this trend is the enhanced ability to communicate with players. Before, mail delivery was the preferred route of delivering player promotions, but with big data, casinos are now identifying the best ways to contact players, whether it be via text message, social media or more traditional communication vehicles.
“The main difference is in the marketing and management teams that best understand the type and depth of reporting we have been providing casinos for years,” says Bill Stackhouse, spokesman for SMP Communications Corporation, manufacturer of Kaliedoscope, a unique player portal that reads directly from the player tracking system and continuously updates vital player information. “It is almost impossible to be confident in making decisions without the data to support, track and measure the results.”
One area in big data that is often ignored or not even collected are players’ interests. With the trend of non-gaming spend steadily increasing, Stackhouse hopes Kaliedscope’s focus on this area will position the company for future success.
“For years the player interest information has never been entered into the tracking system; that is one of the prime reasons we developed Kaleidoscope,” says Stackhouse. “The player now fills out their own, very detailed interest survey that ties directly to their play history. Now we don’t have to guess which of our best slot players also like boxing. They have already told us.”
The ability to capture big data means different things to different vendors. For Genesis Gaming Solutions, the unique ability to capture live table game wagering using the company’s proprietary “retro fit” product has found a solid niche. The ability to place sensors under the table felt to track live wagering is a combination of big data and new technology that is not often found on the casino floor.
“We want to be at the forefront of the industry with our type of valuable information,” says Randy Knust, president of Genesis Gaming Solutions, whose Bravo Poker System and Bravo Pit Systems are popular on casino floors. “We are helping casinos more accurately rate and compensate their players, no matter what level of gaming they are participating in.”
Another unique way casinos are using the table game big data offered by Genesis Gaming is by using it to rank dealers, grade their performance and develop coaching and mentoring plans for dealers. It also allows for a better estimate of hands played per hour and any correlation to size of wagers being placed.
“Our product also has the ability to monitor side bets with an entirely new level of detail,” says Knust. “It is great for tracking player skill level in a certain game and identifying which promotional offers should work best.”
What is working best with big data is that this dynamic information is streamlining many manual operations in the player research department. Whether it is tracking spending, personal interests or live table game wagering, it has opened the way for an entirely new gaming experience.
“The main outcome of all this data collection and analysis must boil down to the ability to define the value,” says Goulet. “That means link your analytics to business value—how will these numbers increase revenue, create operational efficiencies and most important, increase customer satisfaction?”
The Place for Products
With player tracking technology in such demand, the marketplace for these products varies greatly, especially with the presence of big data. Because the availability of big data is so new, both traditional industry heavyweights and smaller companies are battling to bring the latest and greatest to their clients.
The software platform for the player tracking technology is sometimes just as important as the tracking program itself. Bally Technologies runs successful programs of both IBM and Microsoft Windows platforms. Bally has been successful using both for a decade.
The IBM iSeries platform is home to the Bally SMS and CMS product groups. They use the platform to fully manage, extract, analyze and control vital casino and player information. Bally SMS Solutions fully equip clients to handle slot monitoring and operations, including promotional coupons to players based on wagering. The Bally CMS solution includes software products to manage player tracking and analysis, player’s club enrollment and redemptions.
Customer interaction still reigns supreme, and that is why SMP Communications equipped Kaleidoscope with a live chat feature for the player to the casino, as well as a comments section to speak directly with casino management. It also tracks routine information such as points earned toward their next card level, banked points and their value. It also has a direct link to their casino host or customer service representative.
Kaleidoscope also features an event invitation and RSVP management module created specifically to the players’ interests learned through a simple survey at sign-up.
“Because each player is tied to their unique data, the casino can determine an automated email distribution plan whereby any time a negative comment is received, the player’s value to the casino determines where the email goes, which is displayed immediately,” says Stackhouse.
“The highest-value player’s comments may go directly to the general manager and marketing director, where the lesser-value player’s comments may just go to a customer service representative trained in how to promote service recovery.”
On the opposite end of the customer service spectrum, one of the value promotions that Genesis Gaming gives its clients is that their table game wager tracking prevents overcompensation of players by casinos, which also directly affects the bottom line. Their ability to use sensors under tables to monitor wagers and side bets has dramatically enhanced the accuracy of their casino clients.
“Table games are expensive, with a lot of overhead, and floor space is always at a premium,” says Knust. “We are able to optimize the gaming mix to get a higher return.”
For Goulet and Table Trac, the product PlayItVision allows for unique marketing and service window/picture-in-picture style functionality. This provides players with the opportunity to manage certain aspects of their player’s club account directly at the machine, compared to having to use a promotional kiosk or traditional player’s club station.
“The new player tracking feature allows operators to have the ability to deliver timely interactive promotions,” says Goulet. “This includes tickets to special events or shows, and dispensing food vouchers.”
Mention the term operational efficiency to many casino managers in various departments and they are as likely to discuss player promotions and outreach, just as much as internal staffing issues. The focus on a player’s “total value,” both gaming and non-gaming spend, means that grading players is not as simple as it was a couple of years ago.
“The use of biometrics is everywhere in chips, face recognition and employees performing transactions and players using their reward cards,” says Doyle. “As biometrics are infused with more mobile devices to employees and customers, it will enhance the overall experience.”
The big data collected by the latest player tracking systems and the ability to review the data in real time allow for player promotions that are designed for their social habits as much as their wagering practices. This especially helps the casino property maintain efficiency if the promotion is to a show that is not routinely sold out, a retail destination during off-peak hours or particular casino games that are slow during weekdays.
“Certainly the spend has changed, but the tracking of non-gaming spend is trailing quite a bit behind gaming,” says Roy Corby, chief operating officer of Acres 4.0, developer and manufacturer of Kai, a workflow product that allows for real-time solutions on slot machines. “However, in general the increased spend in non-gaming areas is not nearly as profitable as the gaming spend. We see some properties developing programs for frequent hotel stays or frequent concert purchases.”
Their product, Kai, “listens” to a casino’s slot system and instantly detects machine events like hand-paid jackpots and bill jams, and dispatches the most qualified, available employee to respond. Although different than traditional player tracking systems, Kai definitely assists with casino efficiency.
“Right now Kai is focused on improving the slot department’s workflow,” says Corby. “But we see opportunities for Kai to help improve customer service through all areas of a casino and resort.”
Since a player’s options on game play are limited, Stackhouse of Kaliedoscope believes the most unique information in a casino’s player tracking system is an individual’s personal tastes. This includes preferences in movies, sports, television and shopping. They also specifically track local media preferences, so technically the player tracking begins before a person even steps onto the property.
“Results are reported in real time, and the dashboard analytics allow the casino analyst to view responses by nearly endless criteria combinations,” says Stackhouse. “Each query can be filtered by player value, gender, age, distance from casino and more. A casino can find out how many players 35 years and older, that are worth $200 per trip, and like live boxing with a couple of clicks on the dashboard.”
Regardless of whether the players are in Las Vegas or Louisiana, Mississippi or Michigan, they become the ultimate winner during this battle for big data in player tracking.
“The players are in control,” says Goulet. “Just as the iPod put the internet and the world of entertainment in the palms of many people, technology development in player tracking has also worked to give players the advantage.”