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Wild Card

How slot systems have evolved along with technology

Wild Card

Slot systems, two simple words, denote a complex world for casino operators. They affect the course of valued player relationships as patron preferences change.

Operators witness a two-sided customer coin.

An increasing number of gamblers want instant funds access, fast action and a painless exit from the gaming arena. They wager through computers, bankroll their bets on phones and avoid the numbing gridlock of a brick-and-mortar casino. Others want added gambling menus: larger-than-life community tournaments, linked jackpots, the sounds of a slot-machine win and the pulsating feel of a live gaming floor.

Casinos address both sides. Their innovations steadily occur on gaming machines, through marketing offers to the players who use them or by flexible mobile solutions for tech-savvy young gamblers. Players enjoy machines with increased functionality, ranging from ticket-ordering capabilities to TITO and community tournaments.

Operators, meanwhile, view slot system enhancements through the marketing lens. They obtain more hardware for storage, better software to communicate messages and upgraded marketing tools to know the player. Knowledge is, indeed, financial power.

Casinos have powerful groups at their disposal—big companies that provide big solutions. As player preference diversifies, so do the products.


Phone It In

Lottery, gaming and interactive giant International Game Technology Plc. also grasps the small details. Especially the mobile ones.

The London-based powerhouse with a Las Vegas office annexed MGM as a high-profile vehicle for its new Cardless Connect tool. The software essentially turns the phone into a banker. Players can transfer funds to and from gaming machines via their mobile phones. They can utilize the integrated technology embedded into a casino mobile app and use smartphones rather than a physical loyalty card.

The time-saving element is significant.

A player sits down and points the phone at the gaming machine. A display shows the patron’s name and point balance. When the player leaves, the app automatically cards him out.

Cardless Connect is a vital component of IGT’s casino management systems portfolio, according to Sina Miri, vice president of casino systems for IGT.

“Cardless Connect technology works with IGT’s EZ Pay, a complete ticketing and scalable cashless systems solution,” Miri says. “It also enables the phone to function as a player loyalty card. Cardless Connect technology is compatible with iOS and Android, and thus provides an extremely familiar and easy experience.

“In this day and age, the mobile platform is so viable for entertainment and commerce that we recognize the need to deliver gaming experiences to players via their personal mobile devices,” Miri adds. “From our sports betting PlaySpot solution in use at MGM in Nevada to Cardless Connect, which we are rolling out in a number of casinos, we are delivering the convenience and perks associated with player loyalty.”

The Cardless Connect transfer functionality is secure, because funds are never on the phone, company officials say. The EZ Pay software does the heavy lifting of transferring funds from the player’s account to the EGM.

Cardless Connect was introduced to customers in 2015 and placed with them in 2016. Between various trade shows and its own advisory board, IGT refined the solution and unveiled a well-received product.

“We think the idea of cashless transactions is exciting, and so is the ability to replace the physical loyalty card with a digital one,” Miri indicates. “Just by its nature of being a simple-to-use mobile solution, Cardless Connect technology is well-positioned to engage a wide player demographic. Millennials, like the rest of us, use their smartphones for a wide range of activities including payment and gaming, so Cardless Connect technology caters nicely to them.”

While demographics are unique, principles are timeless. The connection between funds access, gaming convenience and customer loyalty remains fervent. Everyone wants to bypass long lines.

“This is more about expanding the value proposition for the player and the operator,” Miri says. “For the player, there is no more standing in line at a kiosk or having to remember to bring the loyalty card. For operators, Cardless Connect technology improves the customer experience while creating new real-time, location-aware marketing opportunities. It can help further solidify relationships with existing customers and improve new customer acquisition. Cardless Connect can improve player interactions, enrich the value of the property’s brand and extend usability of its mobile application.”


Everything in ‘Synk’

Konami Gaming, the Las Vegas-based subsidiary of Tokyo-based Konami Holdings Corporation, continues to thrive as a leading designer and manufacturer of slot machines and casino management systems.

Highly regarded Synkros, its casino management system, has allowed properties to make real-time offers on slot machines, based on significant data. The company that was already renowned for popular video games advances the method of facilitating the playing of those top games in the gaming world.

The system features several elements. From the in-machine hardware perspective, its Synk Box and True-Time Windowing technology allows players to access account and property information directly on any video slot machine. It also enables synchronized and on-demand tournament bonusing, with True-Time Tournaments, so operators can reward players with on-demand tournament bonus games and/or simultaneous tournament events.

The system continues to expand for the people who serve gamblers.

“One of our latest enhancements in terms of marketing and player loyalty is Synkros Offers Management, which empowers operators to reach, incentivize and reward players uniquely to their demographic and spend,” says Steve Walther, senior director of marketing and product management for Konami Gaming.

“In addition to advanced targeting capabilities for the property, players have the benefit of selecting from multiple available bonus awards—such as comp vouchers, free play, drawing tickets, tournament entries and extra point prizes—and receiving personalized notifications across a variety of touch points including kiosk machines, SMS, email, direct mail and EGM displays.

“Offers can either be non-contingent or require targeted action, and can be configured for specified time periods of activation, selection and expiration. This latest enhancement to our marketing suite gives operators the utmost flexibility and control to configure promotions and maximize their results—with seamless, real-time tracking across their player base.”

Synkros Dashboards figures to make the next big splash. Developed for the Synkros systems environment, it can interpret structured data to identify trends across the business.

“Synkros Dashboards was designed by operators for operators, to generate the most accurate and actionable data-points on which to build operational business strategies—both long-term and real-time,” Walther says. “We displayed it for the first time at G2E 2016, and our customers expressed strong interest. They were especially encouraged by the intuitive design and dynamic interaction, which unlocks a depth of insight across all areas of business with true analytical independence.

“These and many other updates are made available to our Synkros customers at least once a year.”

Walther asserts that systems technology becomes more prominent in helping a casino advance its position as world markets become more competitive. The daily data, analytics, targeting and technical support are more relevant than ever, he says. Synkros helps casinos maintain top player relationships.

“It provides the ultimate flexibility for our casino customers to develop their own marketing programs that drive incremental play on their gaming floor and across their entire venue,” Walther says. “The Synkros environment is a marketing powerhouse, allowing properties to differentiate the gaming experience on their floor, while also providing the stable and reliable core infrastructure that is synonymous with Konami. Whether it’s a SuperSeries floor-wide bonus, True-Time Tournaments or individually customized player incentives, Synkros can provide the right reward at the right time.”

And the hits keep coming. Late in 2016, Konami and Acres 4.0 announced their partnership to create more interactive player experiences by delivering industry-leading Kai mobile solutions driven through powerful Synkros data interfaces. This collaboration brings the core strength of Konami’s casino enterprise management system to Kai’s intuitive employee mobile app, giving on-site staff robust player loyalty and service information.

Under this partnership, interfaces between Acres and Konami result in a tight coupling of Kai and Synkros to support a new generation of incentives and bonuses. These interfaces allow casinos to uniquely reinforce behavioral objectives and attract new players, while retaining cost efficiency.


A Winning View

Scientific Games is a leading innovator in the global lottery and regulated gaming industries. It has become a premier gaming player, and, via the Bally systems portfolio, unveils a score with iVIEW 4, the latest version of the groundbreaking interactive display allowing casinos to reward loyal players with bonus games, virtual races and other perks without interrupting normal game play.

The new product will prosper by making marketing more effective, slot operations more efficient, and player experiences more compelling, according to Ted Keenan, senior director of product management for Scientific Games.

“Logically, iVIEW 4 is updated hardware with a faster processor, more memory, more storage and a modern operating system,” Keenan says. “It is a more capable platform for delivering the best user experiences. The magic is the software that runs on the new platform.

“The first magical software will be the web content management system being released in March 2017. The web content management solution enables a casino marketing team to update their own iVIEW content as easily as they update their website pages. The same web developers that manage a casino website will now be able to manage the content on the iVIEW devices. They can create new content, change the look and feel of existing themes, customize the content for specific player segments, and set publishing schedules.

“Suppose an operator wants to use the iVIEW to display an ad for show tickets to one group of players and a happy hour special to another group,” he continues. “Now, casino marketing teams will be free to create and publish their own customized and targeted content—no costly engagements, no scheduling conflicts with IT teams, and no lengthy downloading processes. The web content management solution is being released first with support for managing content on iVIEW devices, and will then be enhanced to manage content on kiosk and mobile devices.

“Finally, casino operators will have one centralized management console for content at all the various player touch points—slot machines, kiosks and mobile. iVIEW 4 is designed to run the content that can be managed remotely and can also run on other device types as well.”

Once that takes hold, new games will be developed to utilize the enhanced hardware capabilities, he says. Skill-based bonusing and collectible-style games to drive player loyalty will have improved graphics and animations not possible with other in-game hardware.

iVIEW 4 was field-tested extensively beginning last March. Production units were first installed at a Northern Nevada casino across the entire slot floor in October 2016. New casino openings and system conversions use this latest version of hardware, Keenan says. Many properties with older hardware will be upgrading partial or full floors.

Several casino departments can utilize the new product. Marketers can create a promotion, advertisement, offer, game directory or other content a player can interact with on an iVIEW or on a kiosk mobile device, Keenan indicates. Having content that works across multiple devices enables a marketer to decide when and how to communicate with a player.

“A marketer may, for instance, make a bonus game playable on a mobile device, but the award only redeemable on-property at a slot machine,” Keenan says. “Having a central point from which to manage marketing content empowers a marketer to optimize customer experiences and communicate with the customer seamlessly across the multiple devices used by a player.”

Slot operations are more efficient with easier installation procedures, automation of routine tasks, and faster startup procedures, Keenan adds. Most notably, the startup procedures, or reboots, have been reduced to less than 90 seconds, he says. This means normal floor operations, including ticketing, resume more swiftly even after a complete power-down scenario. If the power-down scenario is initiated by floor personnel, the reduced time means the employee is on to other tasks much more quickly, he says.

For players, the improved hardware is capable of higher-resolution graphics, more complex animations and faster load times.

This is the continuation of a long, successful trend. iVIEW has become a pay-per-view element of the company lineup in recent years. Under the Bally systems banner, iVIEW forged new areas of customer engagement, from drink and show-ticket-ordering capability to display manager and messaging services. What began as a means to increase time-on-device and expand the playing menu evolves into a sophisticated marketing tool.

For companies supplying the operators, this theme remains paramount. Bring gamblers more play options, and marketing specialists more knowledge of what drives them.

Slot systems—two simple words—are anything but.

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.