Michigan Casino Resort Refining Hospitality Customer Srevice with Kai Hotel

Acres 4.0 is debuting its Kai Hotel product at the Little River Casino Resort in Manistee, Mich. The resort, owned and operated by the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, already uses Kai to improve customer service on its casino floor.Guests already come to the picturesque Little River Casino Resort in northern Michigan to enjoy a nice stay, but now their experience promises to be even more satisfying as the property deploys a new Acres 4.0 product aimed at delivering a heightened level of hospitality customer service.

Manistee, Mich.-based Little River Casino Resort already uses Acres 4.0’s Kai to deliver a more satisfying customer experience on its casino floor. Kai, using a combination of mobile technology and artificial intelligence, is designed to provide solutions to issues that get in the way of customer satisfaction in order to improve the player experience. It does this several ways, including detecting problems on gaming machines and dispatching employees to fix them, and offering smart, player incentives via mobile phone.

“Kai on the gaming floor has helped them [casino employees] to be a lot more proactive in getting customers taken care of a lot quicker,” said Charmaine Stone, director of hotel operations for the 292-room casino resort owned by the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians. “The communication between team members has expanded quite significantly as well.”

Now Acres 4.0 is helping Little River improve the hotel side of the experience through its new Kai Hotel product making its debut this summer at the casino resort.

The seeds of the Little River project were sown as Stone and Little River’s previous general manager Wendell Long started talking with Acres 4.0 founder John Acres about issues on the hospitality side of the business, Stone said.

“We started talking about how it would be so phenomenal to have something like that in the hotel because what happens with our supervisors is that when they are stuck in an office, they’re not out on the floor with the team members or the guests, and so a lot of those face-to-face interactions are missing, but if they have a tool where they could be out on the floor and they’re still able to do their work, that would increase the hospitality level of our property,” Stone said. “Any time we’re able to connect with our guests and have our team members out on the floor but still able to do their jobs is absolutely a plus.”

Acres 4.0 already planned to expand Kai beyond the casino floor, and so the opportunity to help Little River made perfect sense, said Will Adamson, vice president of marketing for Las Vegas-based Acres 4.0.

At press time, Little River and Acres 4.0 were testing Kai Hotel with a small number of hospitality employees, with plans for full deployment in August. “The great thing about involving some of the team members now is that they will be able to tell their coworkers that this is a great thing,” Stone said, “and the more buy-in that you get from the entire property, the more successful the project is going to be.”

After spending time earlier this year with Stone, her IT director and employees in many different hotel departments, Acres 4.0 employees Will Adamson and Dan Wey found one universal issue. “The thing that we learned from talking with everyone was that communication is their Achilles heel,” said Adamson.

Connecting employees via Kai Hotel’s mobile-centric approach will help address the problems standing in the way of providing more optimal service, said Wey, Kai Hotel project manager.

For instance, hotel supervisors often find themselves in a predicament, Wey said. “If you’re with your data, you’re away from your customer, and if you’re with your customer, you don’t have your data, so there’s a disconnect there that we want to bridge,” he said.

An overview shows off the Little River Casino Resort owned and operated by the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians.That one aspect alone will go a long way toward enhancing the experience on the hospitality front, Stone said. “Having that availability to be able to do your work while you’re interfacing with a guest is just going to be so much more helpful for them to not feel like they’re tied behind a desk constantly or tied to an office, for that matter,” she said.

Having that added visibility to interact with guests is crucial, Stone said. “That is so important nowadays when there’s so much competition out there. We need to make sure that we’re being as hospitable as possible and that we’re on the floor thanking guests for coming and asking if there’s anything that they need help with.”

It’ll also be empowering to hospitality staff to be able to make a difference in the customer experience, Stone added. “I think that that’s going to give a lot more feeling of ownership to the employees.”

Kai Hotel is designed to streamline operational efficiency to best serve a hotel’s specific needs, Adamson said.

“With Kai, there’s this idea of taking tasks and being able to automate them in a way where there is accountability,” he said.

Every person has a device and is either on a call or not on a call actively, and a manager at a glance can see where everybody is, he said. It’s not a matter of supervisors keeping their thumbs on top of employees, but giving them better information to understand work constraints, he said. In housekeeping, for instance, not all rooms are the same—some may have two queen beds or other amenities that require more time to clean. In addition, cleaning the room of a family of four staying for a week will likely take more time than the room of a single overnight business traveler.

One way Kai Hotel can improve operations or address a special need is to prioritize the severity of a room to be cleaned and dispatch that accordingly, he said.

“Let’s say there’s a a high roller that just rolled up to the desk. He’s four hours early, and his king-size bedroom is not ready. His special set up, all the special needs he wants [a refrigerator, a microwave, etc.] is not complete,” he said.

Mobile devices are one key to Kai Hotel’s ability to enhance hospitality customer service.With Kai Hotel, Little River can create a speed call that says that the VIP’s room, Room 500, needs to be set up immediately.

“They can create that call and allow Kai to assign it to the right person based upon who’s assigned to what zones of the hotel,” Adamson said. Not only that, he said, but Kai is smart enough to know that while Room 500 should go to Dan because he’s working on that floor, Dan is already in the midst of another call so Kai will find the next available person to take the call immediately.

With Kai Hotel, hotel operators also can define their own terms, he said. “They might say if we have a VIP room that needs cleaning, that is a higher priority than anything else. If you’re on another call, it doesn’t matter. If you’re the closest person to that room, then you’re going to get that call,” Adamson said.

Kai Hotel also is changing the way hotel maintenance calls are addressed at Little River. Under the current manual process, a housekeeper who notices something that needs fixing, such as a broken lamp, would fill out a form—a glorified sticky note—and post it on the hotel room door.

“That visual indicator is what the maintenance guy is looking for when he’s combing the halls to find problems,” but there’s not an efficient way to determine that the issue was handled, Adamson said. “So much of their time is spent doing manual follow up communication between staff.”

With Kai Hotel, the housekeeper or manager can communicate the issue via text, and it will remain in the system until a maintenance person completes it.

Acres 4.0 offers a configuration website that allows properties to set up their own calls, priority levels, property zones, player tiers and more.

In addition, Kai Hotel offers a built-in chat feature similar to WhatsApp, a radio feature and a notes feature. The notes feature acts like a shared notepad for an entire department, and to-do lists can be used to create passive tasks to be accomplished, Adamson explained. “You could have a to-do list that everybody shares and goes on and grabs a to-do. Kai then takes it off the list once complete.”

Adamson noted Acres 4.0 plans to expand Kai even more. “The focus was always to come out the other side with a universal solution for the whole casino resort,” he said.

Kai Hotel also will help improve communication and the guest experience across the property, Stone predicted.

“Let’s say I get a complaint about the gaming floor, I will now not have to run to my office, hurry up and figure out who I’m supposed to connect to and send an email and hope that they get it right away or hop on a radio and then we have all this radio chatter,” she said. “It’ll be so easy just to send a text message to anybody on the gaming floor and say, ‘I’ve got this guest in this slot area and they need help. Could you please send a slot rep?’ Or vice versa—if a guest is complaining about a hotel problem [to a slot person], they’re able to connect to one of our supervisors right away so that one of our guests does not have to leave the property feeling as though they weren’t take care of. We want them to be more than satisfied when they walk out the door.”

Kai Hotel also will enable hotel staff to personalize the guest experience, because staff can use Kai to know the name of a guest in a given room, Stone said.

“That is so very important too for the front-line employees to absolutely know who they’re dealing with at all times,” Stone said. “To know their name right away will help them to connect with that guest a lot more so that they feel like you know them personally rather than they’re just another guest.”

Oaklawn Racing and Gaming: HBG’s Casino Expansion Design Hints of Horseracing Heritage

Hot Springs, Ark., is a lakefront resort town with a long and infamous history in the world of gaming. Once a haven for the rich and famous, the secluded town, located just southwest of Little Rock, became known as The Spa City—America’s First Resort, due to the area’s natural thermal spring waters long thought to have powers to soothe and heal. Hot Springs was also popular with notorious gangsters, such as Al Capone and Lucky Luciano, and equally notorious illegal gambling activity. Hot Springs historians boast that “the town offered Las Vegas-style amenities before there was a Las Vegas.”

Rising out of the shadow of its past, Hot Springs has continued to promote itself and draw visitors interested in experiencing its unique history and scenery, its historic Victorian-style Bathhouse Row and its vibrant horse racing heritage at Oaklawn Jockey Club, which was the only legal form of gaming available in Arkansas until about 10 years ago.

Hot Springs Gaming Comes Full Circle 
Oaklawn Jockey Club, now known as Oaklawn Racing and Gaming, is one of the country’s most revered racing venues. During the three-month racing season, up to 60,000 fans may gather on a race day to cheer on their favorite contenders. Since 1904, the horse track has brought some of the very best racing to the south; Smarty Jones, Zenyatta, Temperance Hill and many other greats have all run on the Oaklawn track over the years.

In 2009, Oaklawn’s owners added games of skill to the operation, bringing Hot Springs’ gaming past full circle, this time as a legal and valuable contributor to the community’s economic prosperity. Gaming revenues also help subsidize the racing operation and allow Oaklawn to bring in more customers and better prize purses for the racing winners, draw top names in racing and also boost exposure of their racing operation to different markets/clientele.

2009/2010 Expansion/Renovation to Oaklawn’s Grandstand
National award-winning entertainment and hospitality design firm Hnedak Bobo Group was selected to design the first casino addition and grandstand renovation to Oaklawn, completed in 2009 and 2010, respectively. “At that time, we designed a two-level racino at the south end of the existing horse racing Grandstand,” said Craig Conrad, AIA, principal at HBG. “Modifications were also made to the existing grandstand and other areas to meet both the current and future needs of race fans and casino guests.”

With two thriving operations under one roof, Oaklawn has seen tremendous popularity in Hot Springs, and the owners recognized the need to expand once again to accommodate current and future patrons. Oaklawn again retained HBG to design the new $20 million expansion to its gaming center, which was completed in late December 2014 in time for OaA view of Oaklawn Racing and Gaming’s table games areaklawn’s 111th race meet on Jan. 15, 2015.

Expansion Design Elevates Casino’s Prominence 
At 83,400 square feet, the latest expansion—the second in five years—more than doubles the size of the gaming floor adding hundreds of new gaming terminals and a High Limits section, and creates key F&B amenities to target the needs of Oaklawn’s gaming patron, including Silks Bar & Grill and Bistro 2705 grab and go café.

“The new addition required that an entirely new entrance be created for the casino along the south elevation,” said Shawn Hobbs, AIA, lead designer and senior associate at HBG. A dramatic new illuminated two-story entry experience gives the gaming side of the house a new separate identity and announces the casino’s elevated status on par with its racing counterpart.

Designers reinvigorated the casino’s exterior design while maintaining a similar design scheme and materials that had become part of Oaklawn’s gaming brand since the casino opened in 2009. Oaklawn’s original racing grandstand structure was formed with strong horizontal shapes leading HBG designers to introduce simple volumes and linear and interlocking building shapes to tie the casino together aesthetically. A mixture of color and texture creates visual interest. “Red, orange, tan and gray metal panels contrast with a light-colored stone base and columns to create a contemporary aesthetic,” Hobbs added. “At the new entry, these materials converge to frame the new two-story window wall, which gives a glimpse of the excitement found within the illuminated interior.”

A curtain wall of shimmering strings of metal beads sets off Pop’s Lounge and a new High Limits area from the casino floor.Ease of maintenance and durability were factors in material selection. Materials including metal wall panels, ground-face aggregate block, dimension stone cladding and glass blend to create a sleek and sophisticated visual presence.

Designers planned all casino additions and grandstand modifications to give the racing grandstand clear views of the adjacent racing track. The casino was sited to the south to allow separation and the most ideal conditions for the horse races. For example, all exterior additions and kmodifications could not feature colors that would distract the horses. Because of this, the casino elevation facing the racetrack maintains neutral colors on its facade. This potential impact led to a more austere exterior. Designers focused most of the “wow” on creating a spectacular interior experience for guests beginning in the dramatic two-story entry lobby.

Interior Subtly References Horse-Racing Heritage 
From the exterior, the inviting glow from the illuminated glass entry feature offers an enticing view into the large-scale, Chihuly-inspired glass chandelier hanging dramatically from the two-story lobby. The lobby’s dark, sophisticated color palette and rich finishes are highlighted by a massive, stark white custom art piece hanging above the new gift shop. “The art piece’s linear bands run through it at angles mimicking the linear forms found in the overall design scheme,” said Jennifer Smith, IIDA, HBG interior designer and associate. “The grand staircase and escalators appear as structural elements in the lobby, with their strong visual presence and height lending a dramatic effect in the tall entry lobby as they lead patrons to the main gaming floor on the second level.”

“With added amenities and added gaming machines came a need for reconfiguration of the gaming floor to accommodate ease of access and efficient functionality,” Conrad added. Oaklawn’s 12 table games were located directly at the top of the escalators and staircase, serving as the centerpiece of the gaming action. Gaming machines are grouped around the tables, with The Winner’s Circle, the new High Limits area and all F&B amenities placed strategically around the perimeter of the gaming floor.

“Reinforcing Oaklawn’s visual brand, the new gaming floor maintains essentially the same interior design aesthetic our team established in 2009, with some enhancements,” Smith said. All carpeting was replaced with the same or similar patterns and some light fixtures were reused, such as the large glass chandelier that now graces the entry lobby, which was delicately dismantled and relocated from the former entryway.

Silks Bar & Grill offers a relaxing, modern take on the sports bar experience.All design references in the expansion hint of the rich horse-racing heritage at Oaklawn, using abstract design themes as the catalyst for discovery. For instance, one must look twice to see that the main inset carpet pattern on the gaming floor is a series of abstracted galloping horses. “Other abstracted references to racing involve dynamic overlapping planes and linear elements that work together with lighting and pattern to create a sense of movement around the floor,” Smith said. The new High Limits area and the adjacent Pop’s Lounge bar are set apart by half walls under a curtain wall of shimmering strings of metal beading that capture the flashing color and light from nearby gaming machines. The effect is a production of speed and movement that harkens to the excitement of racing.

Silks Bar & Grill—Hot Springs’ newest spot for great food and great sports is Silks Bar & Grill, located inside the casino, adjacent to the table games, activating the perimeter with movement and light from more than 30 large-screen televisions throughout. Angled ceiling elements over the bar and dining seats and simple styling impart a modern interpretation of racing horses with dual finishes inspired by horse and jockey. Sports memorabilia adorns the walls over the booth seating. The dynamic ceiling plane, engaging lighting levels and a warm, natural green, yellow and brown color palette draws patrons into the venue for a relaxing and fun experience.

Bistro 2705—In the Bistro 2705 grab and go café, stark white walls and casual metal dinette furniture create a lively backdrop to find a quick bite or late night snack. As a further ode to horse racing, the bistro’s focal wall is adorned with a custom wall-covering pattern reminiscent of starting block numbers and colors. Against the bright white wall, the effect is uplifting and fresh.
Possibly the most challenging undertaking in each project involved the careful design and construction phasing that allowed the expansion and renovation projects to move ahead with minimal disruption to operations. “It would have been impossible to complete a project of this magnitude without dividing it into phases,” said Plant Superintendent John Hopkins, a member of Oaklawn’s senior management team who has spearheaded the expansion.

Bistro 2705’s custom wall covering delivers a nod to horse racing with its pattern reminiscent of starting block numbers and colors.“The end result of our expansion efforts is a bigger and better entertainment experience,” Hopkins said. “We are thrilled to have this new gaming area ready for guests coming to town for our race meet.”

Fortunately, Oaklawn’s guests did not seem to mind the minor inconvenience. In January, Oaklawn Racing and Gaming was voted Best Racetrack/Racino in the Mid-South region of the United States by readers of Southern Gaming and Destinations magazine. This recognition comes shortly after Oaklawn was voted Best Casino/Gaming Center by the readers of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette during its annual Best of the Best awards for 2014.


KEY PLAYERS

Owner: 
Oaklawn Racing and Gaming, Hot Springs, Ark.

Operator: 
Oaklawn Racing and Gaming, Hot Springs, Ark.
Eric Jackson, General Manager

Architect and Interior Designer: 
Hnedak Bobo Group, Memphis, Tenn.
Dan Elias, AIA, LEED AP — Principal/Principal-in-Charge
Craig Conrad, AIA — Principal / Project Manager
Shawn Hobbs, AIA — Senior Associate / Lead Architectural Designer
Jennifer Smith, IIDA — Associate / Lead Interior Designer

Contractor: 
Flintco, Springdale, Ark.

Konami’s SYNKiosk Delivers Promotional Power to Patrons

SYNKiosk’s functions can be accessed via a mobile app.
For years, standalone kiosks were the only game in town for casino operators seeking to provide promotional benefits and loyalty club updates to patrons.

But the game is changing, as shown by the debut of Konami Gaming Inc.’s SYNKiosk that leverages a powerful solution across multiple platforms and multiple devices, including traditional kiosks, gaming machines, smartphones and other mobile devices.

SYNKiosk, which is tightly integrated into Konami’s SYNKROS casino management system, also offers self-serve enrollment options through a kiosk that lets players enroll in a loyalty club, create a player’s card in less than a minute, or, if already enrolled, update information or reprint a card.

Konami approached Atrient through one of its previous installations, and in 2014, the two companies collaborated on a promotion for the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) at the Indian Gaming show in San Diego.

“They were looking to do kind of a proof of concept as to how Konami and Atrient could interface,” said Michael Ratner, Konami’s director of product management, systems. The two companies worked together to create a contest using Konami’s True Time Tournament product. The contest allowed NIGA attendees to take part in the event on the show floor, with the high scorer winning a prize.

“The trick behind it was to give the attendees player’s cards so they could go and play on Konami machines in this tournament, so it kind of dovetailed very nicely with showcasing the enrollment kiosk,” he said. “We set up a mini system in their booth, and players got their cards, walked over to a machine and played a tournament game so it was a really nice combination of showing how the enrollment kiosk worked as well as the integration between Atrient and Konami and also the byproduct of having it showcase our tournament product.”

That event led Ratner to seek more details about Atrient’s mobile application because Atrient business development director Jessie Gill had mentioned that it would be available in a year’s time. “I started to ask more about the mobile platform and what it does, and he said, ‘Exactly what you see on the kiosk is what players are going to see on their mobile devices,’ which intrigued me,” Ratner said.

Ultimately, Konami and Atrient reached an agreement that gives Konami the exclusive distributorship for the software powering the enrollment kiosk and “the three legs of the kiosk stool”—the traditional kiosk, mobile application and the EGM—to Konami systems customers, Ratner said. Atrient also offers the technology through its PowerKiosk solution.

“Our relationship with Konami is they have taken all of our software, licensed it and rebranded it, and then we’re going a few steps further to develop functionality that’s unique to this product as it pertains to SYNKROS,” Gill said. “We’ve built a few more hooks and more functionality specifically for SYNKROS.”

And Konami has contributed a significant amount of intelligence. “For example the next release of this product is going to be significantly due to Konami,” Gill said, hinting at cool new features in the works.

SYNKiosk also includes standalone self-serve enrollment kiosks that allow players to avoid player’s club lines and instead enroll and print a loyalty card, update information and more.
SYNKiosk also includes standalone self-serve enrollment kiosks that allow players to avoid player’s club lines and instead enroll and print a loyalty card, update information and more.
“SYNKiosk was named for its unique ability to synchronize traditional kiosk functionalities with the powerful marketing tools available through SYNKROS,” Ratner said. “The kiosk business is not going away. Casinos still are placing self-serve kiosks around the casino floor, so that was of interest to us and our customers.”

Gaming operators have been receptive to SYNKiosk and its benefits, Ratner said.

“The reaction has been pretty surprising because up until now everyone’s been so used to seeing the game screen as being a game screen and nothing else so when you put something else on the game screen, that’s the ‘a-ha moment.’ The light bulb goes off, and it’s like, ‘Hold on, so my machine doesn’t have to be a machine all the time? I can offer these enhanced services to my players and they never have to leave the machine,’” he said.

Konami and Atrient have just begun to scratch the surface of how to leverage that capability in new ways. “As we go further down this integration path, there may be instances where we favor one system over the other,” Ratner said. “For instance, we may have generated an incentive through SYNKROS, but we can push it through the SYNKiosk mobile product and display that information on their [players’] mobile devices to let them know they’ve received something.”

The industry, Ratner said, is bound for a much more mobile-centric future.

Patrons will be able to play tournament games, redeem offers and play promotional games right on their mobile device. One day perhaps the mobile device will become the new loyalty card, he said. But that last step may take a little longer. “Because we as an industry have trained people to use loyalty cards, I think it’s going to be a while before we actually convince players that they don’t need a card anymore,” Ratner said.

Using Konami’s True-Time Windowing™ technology, carded players can pause game play to access SYNKiosk functions through an icon on the game screen. The technology delivers a variety of real-time updates, including point balances, win/loss statements, available offers and promotions. It also allows players to redeem offers, search for their favorite games, update personal information and check out information on restaurants, shows and other hotel amenities.

SYNKiosk is also available right on the gaming machine.
SYNKiosk is also available right on the gaming machine.
“The kiosk provides more than just information—many systems out there will just let you know that there’s a drawing tomorrow—but when I touch promotions, drawings and offers, I have those offers not just available to look at, but I can actually participate in that promotion,” Gill said.

SYNKiosk gives the casino operator flexibility and control over promotions, Ratner said. For instance, “If I’m sitting at home and I see I have two tournament entries, the casino may option this feature to not allow you to play the tournament games when you’re at home, but only at the casino,” he said. “But the fact is if I’m sitting in my living room and I see that I have two tournament entries, that’s going to drive visitation.”

SYNKiosk also can streamline casino monthly gift giveaways, Gill noted. Typically, patrons must go to the promotions desk, give their names, present their identification and loyalty card, and then someone looks up whether they qualify and then, once qualified, gifts are awarded. “With this application, I touch monthly gift, and I see what’s available to me,” Gill said, demonstrating on a SYNKiosk-enabled gaming machine during an interview at Konami’s Las Vegas offices. “This says I need 25 more same-day points so now I know I don’t have to go to the club; I don’t have to wait in line. I know what I need to qualify,” he said. “Once I’ve qualified with those 25 same-day points, I can immediately get a coupon vended that I can just swap for the gift,” a simpler, more efficient process.

But all that automated functionality doesn’t mean there’s no room for personal interaction with players, Gill said. “You still want to have that person-to-person contact, but that can be done on the floor. It doesn’t have to be done at the players club where it can be more aggravating because you’re waiting 15, 20 minutes, 30 minutes to talk to somebody for 30 seconds,” he said.

Moreover, features such as the ability to update account information can also benefit the casino as well as the player. Giving the patron the ability to update information in real-time allows the marketing department to capture more accurate information, ultimately helping the department reduce costs and operate more efficiently.

Where is the Money? Part 12 of 36: Why Your CFO Should Stop Asking about Hold Percentage

Authors’ Note: Hold percentage has long been used as the metric that determines the cost of play. Doing so is dangerously misleading for many reasons, including the variability of the rate of play of customers, and that the rate of play is determined by a combination of the player, the bonus rounds and the game. As the player is involved in the rate of play, it is absurd to consider any cost-of-play calculations that do not look at actual player behavior. In this article, we collaborate with Robbie Sawyer, vice president of slots at Grand Casino Mille Lacs, to examine a more meaningful and mathematically accurate measure of the cost of play. We thank Sawyer for his participation in writing this article. Grand Casino Mille Lacs has a variety of the newest, most exciting casino slot machines around, including multi-line/multi-coin, traditional three-reel and poker. The gaming floor has more than 1,900 video slots, keno and poker machines to choose from. The gaming floor is also home to more than 266 nickel machines and games in 1¢, 2¢, 10¢, 25¢, 50¢, $1, $5, $10, $25, single and multi-denominations.

“If we could raise our hold by one tenth of 1 percent, we would make an extra million dollars!”

Anyone who has worked in slot operations has heard this statement from the chief financial officer—and often from the chief executive officer, general manager, vice president of marketing, director of food and beverage, hotel front desk clerk, housekeeping and pretty much everyone else working for the casino. The problem with this statement is it is both oh-so-alluring and so completely, utterly wrong.

Let’s begin with the allure, which is more money, of course. If we just raise the “price” a teeny, tiny fraction, we will make more money at no risk or cost. It’s so easy! Or at least it would be if the vice president of slots had a little dial back in his or her office that could instantly change the hold percentage of the entire casino floor. And if by making that change to the entire casino floor, every other factor (particularly coin-in) would hold constant.

Later we will examine this concept of volume-price a little deeper, but first let’s take an in-depth look at why this statement is so wrong.

How Does Actual Hold Percent Change?
When looking at actual hold percentages, it is important to understand what can cause this number to fluctuate over time and to reconcile the reason behind these fluctuations.

Let’s suppose that a casino changes the games on its floor. Before anyone gambles on this new floor, the hold has already changed, because the games have changed. But what type of hold are we referring to? In this case, it’s the arithmetic hold. Arithmetic hold is defined as the average hold of each machine on the gaming floor without any regard to the volume of play. One can think of arithmetic hold as the hold percentage lever for the casino operator. If an operator is instructed by the CFO to raise the hold percentage of the casino floor, the attempt to do so likely will involve raising the arithmetic hold.

But, of course, this does not always work. That is because there are two other considerations when looking at hold percentages: customer choice and Lady Luck.

If arithmetic hold is the lever of the casino operator, theoretical hold (or theo) is the measurement of customer choice applied to the arithmetic hold. Defined as theoretical win divided by coin-in (which is equivalent to a weighted average of coin-in by theo hold over all the machines being measured), the theo hold of a casino floor is heavily dictated by customer choice.

As a simple example, suppose that our casino operator has two machines, one set at 1 percent hold and the other set at 9 percent hold. The arithmetic hold of this casino floor is then 5 percent. However, if the customers put all of their money into the 1 percent hold game, then the theo hold is only 1 percent—and any effort by the operator to raise the hold percentage by adjusting the 9 percent game will be completely futile. Put simply, if customers prefer lower hold games, then the theo hold will be lower than the arithmetic hold, and operator attempts to raise the theo hold may be met with customer resistance.

Finally, we have Lady Luck and her influence on actual hold to consider. Actual hold is actual win divided by coin-in, and as such, it is highly influenced by the volatility of gaming outcomes. And no matter what the operators set the arithmetic hold to be, no matter which customer choices drive the theo hold, in the end Lady Luck will have a significant influence on the actual hold.

We tackled this issue in great detail in our April 2011 CEM article “Hold a Sacred Cow.”1 Basically, as it turns out, the hold percentage of the casino floor is a nearly meaningless number.

At a machine level, hold percentage is an important metric, and we will see later that it is one of three metrics that influence customer perception of the price of a game. Plus, changes to hold percentage for a single machine will have wide-ranging consequences to the overall performance of that machine. Raising hold may not have too negative of an impact on volume, in which case the game will produce more theo win. Alternatively, it could significantly reduce volume, in which case the theo win will decline.

However, as we add more games into the analysis, the relevance of hold percentage declines exponentially. Once the casino floor is being considered in its entirety, hold percentage is nearly irrelevant.

What is the Price?
But if hold percentage is not the price of a game (or of our floor), what is a good measure of price?

Let’s start by asking a customer about his experience on our gaming floor. “Bob” has just completed a session on our floor. If we walk up to Bob and ask, “How did it go today?” Bob is not very likely at all to say, “Well, your casino held 8.5 percent against me.”
Bob is far more likely to respond with one of the following lines:
• “I won!”
• “It was terrible. I lost $100 in 15 minutes.”
• “Great! I broke even but got to play for two hours.”

In all three situations, Bob is referring to his time played and/or money won or lost. Thus, the price of the game should be a measure of money won/lost over a time of play: Price = Win per Hour of Play.

Now, whether to use theo or actual win here depends on the situation, but for the remainder of this article, we will use theo win: Price = Theo Win per Hour of Play.

What is the Volume?
Every CFO is focused on revenues, and in the end, the CFO’s goal is to maximize revenues while minimizing costs. By looking at hold percentages, CFOs are hoping to leverage the formula Revenue = Volume x Price, and are attempting to use coin-in as volume and hold percentage as price. As we just discussed, however, theo win per hour is a better metric of price. But then what metric best represents volume in this formula?

Let’s go back to Bob. We already know Bob sees time-on-play as important. Another factor that may come into light when talking to Bob is his ability to get on a game. For example, perhaps Bob will make one of these comments when asked about his gaming day:
• “It was great. I walked in and sat right down at my game!”
• “It was very frustrating. My favorite game was occupied, and the person playing it stayed on it for an hour.”

Clearly, Bob is able to feel the impact of occupancy, defined as the percentage of time that a game is being played. Furthermore, our CFO will appreciate occupancy as it can be used as volume in our formula, due to the fact that Revenues = Occupancy x Theo Win per Hour of Play x Number of Hours x Number of Machines.

So now we have two metrics to present to our CFO to help him or her better understand our revenues as a function of occupancy and theo win per hour. But how should we present this data, and how does this data change over time?

Segment the Revenues
In this section, we present anonymized data from Grand Casino Mille Lacs—and again thank Robbie Sawyer for his assistance in interpreting these results. While this is not the real data set and not the real conclusions for Grand Casino, we are still able to understand the concepts by examining this anonymous data.

In Figure 1, we see the overall results (over an unspecified time period). We see $5.5 million in theo win across 1,873 machines. The average occupancy for these games is 29, and the average theo win per hour is $33.

Now let’s dig deeper by segmenting the revenues using a Quartal technique (see Figure 2). With this technique we can create a “balanced scatterplot” of each machine’s performance. We use the x-axis to arrange the games by occupancy and the y-axis to arrange the games by theo win per hour. Then the Quartal technique balances the revenues, creating four groups of games on the scatterplot, each containing the same amount of revenue per group.

As an example, in the upper left corner of Figure 2, we can see that roughly 25 percent of the revenue is coming from 423 machines that average only 17 percent occupancy but $61 theo win per hour. In the lower right, we can see another 25 percent of revenues is coming from 398 games that have a much higher average occupancy of 42 percent but a much lower theo win per hour of only $20. Think of the upper left as our “Tiffany” games and the lower right as our “Walmart” games. In most gaming markets, we need to provide both types of products.

Now let’s take our Quartal technique one level deeper, down to the 1/16th (or 6.25 percent) of revenues (see Figure 3).

Here we see a wide range of game performance groups. From the 98 games with a $114 theo win per hour and an 11 percent occupancy in the upper left, to the 101 games with a 57 percent occupancy and a $15 theo win per hour in the lower right. Armed with this robust data, we can begin to identify and analyze our gaming floor from this perspective of volume and price.

Over time, we will collect multiple pictures of our gaming floor through this lens, and it is important to understand the changes over times by doing variance analysis.

Variance Analysis
Now that we have a very detailed picture of our casino floor from the perspective of two customer-facing metrics that combine to give us the price-volume formula for revenues, we can leverage this new picture of our data to optimize game changes and measure the impact of these changes.

At a high level, we can leverage the price-volume formulas for variance analysis:
• Volume effect = (new volume – old volume) x original price
• Price effect = (new price – old price) x new volume2

At a deeper level, our slot operators can now begin the process of optimizing each of the revenue segments created by our Quartal process above. Selecting one of the revenue segments and optimizing those games, our slot operator can return in three or six months and see the impact of his or her game changes. Did the segment that was optimized increase its revenues? Did any other segment of games become cannibalized and demonstrate decreased revenues as a result?

Note that each of these revenue segments is very different, and each will have a different optimization strategy. For low occupancy but high theo win per hour games, our strategy may be to extend time on device by improving customer service. For high occupancy but low theo win per hour games we may want to look at ways to increase the price, perhaps by raising the minimum bet or lowering the maximum bet to encourage more max betters—or possibly even raising hold percentage after all.

This process of optimizing one revenue segment at a time, and examining the profitability of these optimization efforts by looking to other revenue segments to see if cannibalization occurred, can be applied repeatedly as a continuous improvement process.

Change the Conversation
Ultimately, we can give our CFOs much more information than in the past, such as:
1. We are currently pricing our games at x theo win per hour and seeing volumes of y occupancy.
2. This result has changed, and we can show you the changes in terms of the volume effect and the price effect.
3. We have optimized a number of revenue segments, and these are the results (hopefully positive!) we are seeing.

These three statements bring us to a special place where, with real data on the price of the game and real data on the results of price, changing hold percentage is no longer relevant and we are able to discuss the actual price of the game.

Footnotes
1 http://www.casinoenterprisemanagement.com/articles/april-2011/gaming-floors-future-part-x-hold-another-sacred-cow
2 Further details can be found in the Treadwell Media Group blog: http://blog.treadwellmedia.com/archives/13.

Andrew Cardno has more than 16 years of experience in analytics ranging from modeling health-care drive times to gaming floor analytics. He presents on the future of analytics and is living in the U.S. and works with worldwide corporations. He serves as the chief technology officer of VizExplorer. He can be reached at andrew.cardno[at]vizexplorer.com.

Dr. Ralph Thomas, chief data scientist and vice president, gaming division, VizExplorer. During his 10 years in the casino industry, Thomas has focused on maximizing profitability by applying statistical analysis to company databases. Previously, Thomas spent 15 years in academia, as both a student and a lecturer of mathematics. He can be reached at ralph.thomas[at]vizexplorer.com.

Robbie Sawyer brings nearly two decades gaming experience to his role as Vice President of Slot Operations at Grand Casino Mille Lacs. He is responsible for all aspects of a slot department with over 1900 gaming machines and 61,000 square feet of total gaming space. Robbie was instrumental with the creation of Play Pulse®, Grand Casino’s slot volatility marketing campaign.

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Comments
Never spent a day of my life in anonymity
Submitted by Anonymous on Mon, 06/01/2015 – 12:10.
Aside from AA, I’m not one to write letters or post anonymously. Hi, my name is Rex Stock, and I wrote the reply to Andrew and Ralph’s piece.

So no one gets the wrong idea, please know that I think Andrew Cardno is brilliant and I like his products very much. I introduced a lot of operators ((Cannery Casinos, Station Casinos, Atlantis Resort in Reno and their Colorado Property, Gila River, Desert Diamond, Delaware North) to what was then BIS2 and asked those operators to invest in his product, which they did…

Ralph Thomas is one of the industry’s great thinkers, mathematicians, and analyst, and anyone who thinks Ralph isn’t capable of improving their slot floor is sadly mistaken. He’s the best.

However, I disagree with this notion that hold percentages don’t matter, and I spent a lot of time working in operations and the supplier side with more than simple anecdotal/mythology to support my observations.

And, in my travels, players can tell the difference between a tight machine and one that is set at reasonable payback percentages.

On the other hand, it may be true that players cannot properly discern when a game is set too liberally (video poker excepted) but that seems to be more an outcome of basic variable reinforcement psychology and to think either side of that equation is equal, I believe, is a mistake made all too often by those–as Cardno and Thomas so adeptly point out–looking for easy answers to a very complex world…

reply
Where Theory and Reality Meet
Submitted by Anonymous on Mon, 06/01/2015 – 10:37.
Anyone that has run a slot floor or talked with players or spent any amount of time watching the dynamics of slot play will tell you that while it’s nice to talk about theoretical win to figure out comp levels, there’s no doubt that a player can tell the difference between the play of 93% game versus one that is 88%, or even games that are set at 98%.

For the sake of this article I’ll keep my comments to high hit frequency games that are quite common in most markets (especially Minnesota) but just know that there’s still a class of games in markets that use stepper technology with games that have a hit frequency of 20% on a good day.

And, certainly, this was proven time and again up in Minnesota (where Grand Casino Mille Lacs is located) when video gaming machines that utilize multi-line/multi-coin high-hit frequency games were first introduced in the early 90’s.

Back then we did lots and lots of data crunching and without a doubt there was negative ramifications moving a game to a ‘tighter’ hold of 88% while increasing it to 96% did nothing to increase coin in–it simply allowed a few more players per month to win the top award.

Here’s a comment in the piece that should prove useful and raise suspicion of the premise of this article:

“Note that each of these revenue segments is very different, and each will have a different optimization strategy. For low occupancy but high theo win per hour games, our strategy may be to extend time on device by improving customer service. For high occupancy but low theo win per hour games we may want to look at ways to increase the price, perhaps by raising the minimum bet or lowering the maximum bet to encourage more max betters—or possibly even raising hold percentage after all.”

The question needs to be asked why the games are low or high occupancy?

Location of the game, overall occupancy of the casino, AND hold percentage are all variables in that outcome. The notion of extending time on device by ‘improving customer service’ is almost laughable–players will sit and play if their having fun with or without customer service (gone are the concerns about hopper fills and such so that’s not really an issue) and they certainly aren’t going to sit around and lose their ass for extended periods of time just because a host is checking in on them…

When the CFO comes and tells the slot director that they need more money so “tighten up the games”, especially in a place where it is all local/repeat visitors, fight them with all you’ve got.

And while one can always hear the battle cry of the slot player that “the machines are tight, and I can’t win” sometimes there’s more truth to that than this article would have you believe.

Hospitality Trends and Indian Gaming

For Indian gaming, hospitality trends include highlighting our Native culture and history, which is a unique aspect that only tribal communities can offer to the world. Today’s gaming consumers are looking for memorable experiences that set their visit to one property apart from another. Although there are countless factors affecting gaming trends—for Indian gaming, factors such as culture, history and experiential opportunities with traditional food, dance, art, music and entertainment are among the most sought after.

Native culture is a part of life for Indian country residents. As a result, it is an easy trend to incorporate into the Indian gaming experience. Our Native American culture is part of who we are as a people, and it guides our daily routines. It’s been shown that Native American culture is one of the most studied and inquired about by foreign visitors. Implementing pieces of tribal culture, such as language, art and cuisine, provides a way to educate Indian gaming customers while offering an authentic cultural experience during their time at our properties.

Culture buffs and travelers are looking for unique experiences while foodies—another subset of the tourism market—are looking for gourmet and traditional food experiences that meet their discerning tastes. Cross promoting among our gaming properties, resorts and cultural museums is a chance to increase visibility to our other tribal enterprises.

Indian gaming patrons have opportunities to experience some of the most colorful exhibitions of Native American dance when they attend the many Pow-wows that are offered in the Indian country circuit throughout the year and are often in close approximation to our casino properties. Pow-wows are social gatherings that include drumming, singing, competitive dancing and feasting. Many of our local vendors and craftsman are available at these events to sell beadwork, leather goods, art, basketry, jewelry, clothing and much more.

Past federal policies of assimilation and relocation sought to suppress Native language, culture and religion. Native Americans fought back and tribal culture has persevered. Today, revenues from Indian gaming are helping to further foster Native language, culture and identity. In this regard, tribes are educating not only public policymakers, but also the general public—including our customers—about the positive impacts that Indian gaming revenues are making in Indian country. Indian gaming is an exercise of true self-determination by tribal governments. Indian gaming dollars are working to begin to reverse more than a century of injustices inflicted by past failed federal policies.

Indian gaming dollars are funding the construction of tribal history museums. From reservations in Connecticut to Minnesota to California and throughout Indian country, tribal museums serve to not only preserve our culture, but also educate the public by telling the unique stories of our Native history. The museums also share our language, music, dances, traditional architecture and other traditional activities. Many museums are connected to our gaming operations and truly serve to round out the experience of our gaming customers.

Another feature that Indian gaming offers is our unique Native cuisine. In recent years, Native foods have been getting well-deserved attention with the rise in the popularity of locally sourced foods. Our seasonal harvests and regional foods are distinctive to our tribes and often represent tribal philosophy. A perfect example is the offerings of my tribe, the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, through a program called “Tsyunhehkw^,” which means life sustenance and shares our teachings of the Three Sisters. Corn, beans and squash are planted together in collaboration to provide life sustenance for the people. Each provides an element of support, to allow each entity to grow. The Three Sisters showed our ancestors the value of creating an environment to maximize our sustenance. Following the teaching of the Three Sisters, we work to create a structure of collaboration and support for people of all nations to flourish. The opportunity to offer our valued guests these traditional experiences through cuisine and other means is priceless.

As we did in the past, we must adapt with the times to not only persevere but also remain an industry leader. Our tribal gaming operators are highlighting the unique and natural opportunities that come with opening our homelands to visitors while incorporating trends of the future. The one-of-a-kind experiences that we offer our guests underscore our culture, traditions and historic practices and are the most memorable in the industry.

CEM’s 2015 Hospitality Operations Technology (HOT) Awards

The sixth year of Casino Enterprise Management’s Hospitality Operations Technology (HOT) Awards presents a new group of this year’s hottest, most innovative products for hospitality settings. The awards drew a number of companies to submit their best products, with some new names earning well-deserved awards.

The HOT Awards honor outstanding products that make a positive difference in gaming and hospitality operations. One winner was selected from each of six different categories, reflecting a range of products to increase a casino-hotel’s efficiency and enhance revenue. The categories were employee productivity and efficiency, revenue generation, guest experience enhancement, self-service products, media and content management and Internet services.

A panel of judges faced the difficult task of selecting winners from many nominations. This year’s judges were Bob Ambrose, instructor of gaming and hospitality, Center for Hospitality and Sport Management, The Dennis Gomes Memorial Casino Training Lab, Drexel University; Wendy Reeve, CEO, RRR Consulting; Donald Kneisel, vice president and chief information officer, Resorts Casino Hotel; Arte Nathan, professor and executive director of The Center for Professional and Leadership Studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas; and Bruce Rowe, president of Renaissance Casino Solutions.

Each one of these winning products ranks among the best and hottest new technology available for casinos, hotels and resorts. We look forward to what these companies come up with in the future. Read on to learn more about this year’s winners.

Employee Productivity and Efficiency
VizExplorer—hostViz

Revenue Generation
Duetto—GameChanger

Guest Experience Enhancement
Scientific Games Interactive—SG Universe

Self-Service Products
VizExplorer—patronViz, powered by JOINGO

Media and Content Management
CastNET—CastNET SocialView

Internet Services
Traffic Generation—The Hub

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Employee Productivity and Efficiency
VizExplorer—hostViz™

VizExplorer’s hostViz, a productivity tool that empowers hosts with real-time data, won this year’s Employee Productivity and Efficiency HOT Award.

With hostViz, marketing and player development executives are able to focus and engage with those patrons who will provide the most ‘lift’, be more efficient and able to provide the right attention to a larger portion of their patrons’ list, and also create a unique and personal customer experience by having the right patron data at the right time. This allows casino hosts to identify and nurture more player-relationships and improve the casino’s bottom line.

One of the ways the hostViz system accomplishes this is by leveraging existing data maintained by the player tracking system, including Active Directory Identifiers, Players’ Assignment and Coding, Comps information, event information and any other available player data. The desktop and mobile versions operate on a VizExplorer data-analytics platform that easily accesses data from these sources without having to build a dedicated data warehouse.

Instead of manually checking multiple spreadsheets and systems for each player’s information, hostViz collects all casino player information into one convenient system to give hosts everything needed to offer the right customers the right offers at the right time. Hosts are then able to plan and execute player development strategies more efficiently.

A primary advantage of hostViz mobile is its ability to refresh compiled data and provide real-time performance information and metrics. It puts the power of real-time information such as call lists, RSVP data, comps, patron profiles, player pictures and trigger notifications directly in the hands of hosts, no matter where they happen to be on the floor.

This ability to analyze all player and gaming activity means hosts are able to spend more face-to-face time with prime customers. Hosts can interact with patrons right on the casino floor, with the ability to access those patron’s player activities from the convenience of their mobile devices. As John Fernandez, director of player development at Downstream Casino Resort, said, “hostViz provides us with a powerful, mobile tool to improve our hosts’ player-development efforts without the need to send data to the cloud. This capability was paramount to us as we sought to purchase a software solution that would increase profitability while protecting tribal sovereignty.”

In addition to enabling hosts and player development managers to offer more personalized service to patrons, hostViz also provides host managers with a strategic tool that enables them to measure host performance metrics with several management components. The contact and communication management components give hosts the ability to review player information and access calls, logs and emails. The task management component lets host managers create, assign and prioritize tasks for hosts who are then able to view and execute those tasks. Host performance gives host managers the ability to set and track the progress of goals for their hosts. Reporting includes the host managers’ abilities to review and analyze host performance reports, tasks completed, player calls made and more.

Already installed at 10 properties across the United States, the customizable hostViz software is changing the way hosts interact with players on the casino floor. By allowing users to be more proactive with customers and players who might have otherwise gone unnoticed, hostViz assists in boosting sales performance and improving the casino’s bottom line with efficient, real-time data.

VizExplorer expressed its honor and excitement at hostViz receiving the Employee Productivity and Efficiency award. VizExplorer’s Chief Technology Officer, Andrew Cardno stated, “These awards, in combination with the overwhelmingly positive customer response these products have received, validate our decision to expand beyond desktop-based data analytics solutions into mobile-enabled operational tools that enhance player engagement.”

Revenue Generation
Duetto—GameChanger

Duetto GameChanger has earned the Hospitality Operations Technology (HOT) award for Revenue Generation this year.

Duetto GameChanger is a revenue strategy technology that provides casinos unmatched flexibility and control, revealing new opportunities to increase revenue, enhance resource and business mix decisions, and to optimize total resort profitability. GameChanger uses new consumer-centric data to more accurately forecast demand and then makes it possible for casinos to price all room types, channels, dates and promotions independently of each other to maximize revenue and open the doors to all prospective business. This method is called open pricing and it can take an all-inclusive approach, dynamically determining the total value of each casino hotel guest by prospective gaming and non-gaming revenue potential.

For casinos that collect customer spend at the tables, slots, spa, restaurants, golf courses and retail stores, GameChanger can calculate the total value of each customer and customize offers and room rates based on each customer’s values. This helps casinos build customer loyalty and capitalize on non-gaming revenue channels. This is particularly important as non-gaming revenues account for increasing amounts of total resort revenues.

In a press release, Duetto’s Co-founder and Chief Analytics and Product Officer Marco Benvenuti said, “We see enormous potential in every aspect of pricing at casino hotels and integrated resorts. For example, complimentary rooms: Legacy systems follow a simplistic comp or ’no comp‘ criteria. Isn’t it better to offer a valued guest, who would not otherwise qualify for a free night, a discounted room or some other incentive instead of nothing at all? Casino hotels are also failing to leverage the value of various room types. The goal is to always get the right guests in the right rooms at the right times, maximizing all potential revenue. GameChanger empowers its users to achieve all this, and more.”

In addition to being a pricing tool, GameChanger can also be used across departments to best leverage valuable intelligence and collaboration to achieve better decision-making. GameChanger observes web-shopping behavior by looking at lost business regrets and denials, social review, air traffic, weather and more. The technology is then able to forecast far enough out that sales and marketing departments can target campaigns to address need periods and pull unnecessary offers. This allows casinos to fill rooms with gaming guests and increase revenue during peak off times. As Kenny Epstein, owner and CEO of El Cortez Hotel & Casino, said, “The Duetto solution has completely transformed our revenue strategy… Before implementing the system we didn’t have the visibility to understand where we were giving up margin and profit, and in a competitive market like ours, we could no longer afford that.”

As a completely cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS) solution, Duetto GameChanger requires no installation or maintenance, which lowers the total cost of ownership for casino hotels. Users are able to access the software from any browser on any device without plugins. Updates are free and often, providing all users with the latest product instance. Additionally, GameChanger’s smart alert engine monitors, interprets and highlights areas of need so casinos spend less time collecting data and spend more time responding to market conditions and making the most of all potential revenue channels.

On winning CEM’s Revenue Generation HOT Award this year, Benvenuti said, “This is an incredible honor that further validates all of the team’s hard work. It is great to receive such high praise from both our customers and such an esteemed panel of judges. We really feel our revenue strategy technology can be a ‘GameChanger’ for this industry and are excited to help casinos truly optimize revenue across their entire property.”

Guest Experience Enhancement
Scientific Games Interactive—SG Universe

Scientific Games Interactive’s SG Universe won this year’s Guest Experience Enhancement category with its elegant and easy-to-use interface.

SG Universe is a product suite comprised of independent product verticals, each powerful in its own right, but even more so when operating as an interconnected offering. Three of the key SG Universe products include Play4Fun Network (P4F), Mobile Concierge (MC) and VenueBet (VB). In aggregate, they provide casinos the ability to engage their players with social casino gaming, mobile marketing and on-property mobile wagering (respectively), increasing brand loyalty and allowing casinos to build engaged online player communities anchored by a strong mobile platform and an unrivaled portfolio of slots and table games found on casino floors around the world.

The full-featured and multiple jurisdiction-approved VenueBet platform provides several functions including player account registration, ewallet, bonusing, deposits, withdrawals, accounting and reporting. The same game vendors and themes available on the gaming floor are available on mobile devices and tablets with the integration of SG Interactive and third-party content servers to the platform. Class III, Class II and community gaming contents are available to various markets via the SG Interactive servers and Bally, Barcrest, Shuffle Master and Williams game libraries are exclusively available to land-based casinos through SG Universe.

With SG Universe, each player’s personal mobile device can be used to experience their favorite games in wagered format anywhere on the casino property or in social casino format anytime, anywhere. Players can play in complete comfort and in the company of their friends, all with the assurance of a true quality gaming experience that includes the best content, best bonusing and best winning experience. The goal of SG Universe is to extend the gaming experience and to present gaming in a friendly and modern way in order to attract new players who may be unfamiliar or uninterested in traditional slot machines or physical table games.

The flexibility of SG Universe’s product design and user interface allows it to operate in multiple modes simultaneously so as to satisfy the maximum amount of player gaming preferences. Players are able to interact with SG Universe on their personal mobile devices anonymously, using a kiosk to deposit funds to use on devices. Players can also create an iGaming account, deposit funds, access the devices to play games and earn iGaming loyalty awards. For the ultimate interactive experience, players with an iGaming account can choose to link their land-based player card account to their iGaming account and earn rated play, land-based loyalty points, land-based rewards and experience all of the same table game and slot bonusing on their mobile or tablet device.

This integrated interface offers benefits for casino operators. Integrating SG Universe to a land-based casino management and loyalty system, all of the gaming floor benefits follow the player as he or she continues the gaming experience on a mobile or tablet device. This allows returning players the familiarity of their favorite games and benefits and, additionally, introduces new players who wouldn’t visit the gaming floor to the operator’s loyalty program. Operators are given new marketing opportunities to engage new players and grow the casino’s client base.

Scientific Games Interactive expressed its pleasure at receiving CEM’s Guest Experience Enhancement award and stated, “This award is a strong testament to the ability of SG Universe to empower casinos with cutting-edge digital gaming and marketing technology to increase the ROI they see on their biggest investments and value propositions—their casino property and their player databases—by providing the types of casino entertainment modern players prefer in a format with which they’re already familiar, anchored by the casino games they know and love from the Bally, Barcrest, Shuffle Master and Williams game development studios.”

Self-Service Products
VizExplorer—patronViz™, powered by JOINGO®

It was a close competition in this year’s Self-Services Products category, with each nomination coming within a point of another. However, VizExplorer’s patronViz™, powered by JOINGO® came out on top. patronViz is a player-facing application available on iOS and Android operating systems that allows players to directly connect with casino brands from any location using a mobile device. Currently there are six core features available, including the Mobile Players Club, Game Finder™, In-Casino Services, Targeted Messaging, Geofencing and property information content.

With the Mobile Players Club, players can log into their loyalty account and get information regarding their balances, offers, coupons and promotions, tier level and host information. Game Finder provides an interactive display of the casino’s gaming floor, all optimized for mobile. With Gamefinder, players can easily search and find their favorite game(s) on the floor. Casino Services can support property services such as valet pick up, drink orders and F&B orders. Targeted Messaging and Geofencing allow operators to target players based on location and send the right message at the right time. The ability to interact with uncarded players allows operators to provide information about signing up for loyalty programs, as well as informing them about promotions at the property. Finally, patronViz can offer directions to the casino, means to contact the various departments within the casino and the ability for players to review and share offers via email and most popular social networks.

Taking advantage of the integration of mobile phones in our daily lives, patronViz helps players to find the information that they are looking for, ask for assistance, review their balances and offers and more without the need to stand in line at a player’s club or a kiosk, thus increasing their time on device in the casino.

The product was rolled out as part of an OEM agreement between VizExplorer and JOINGO in March 2015. patronViz doesn’t require direct access to sensitive databases and requires no special changes to existing architecture for use. Additionally, VizExplorer manages all licensing requirements from both VizExplorer and JOINGO.

The existing Data Integration Hub from VizExplorer integrates seamlessly with patronViz, allowing operators to take advantage of the VizExplorer architecture and dataflow, combined with the JOINGO mobile loyalty product. For those already using VizExplorer products, patronViz also integrates with crmViz™, floorVizPLUS™ and hostViz™.

VizExplorer was honored to win two awards in this year’s award series. “These awards, in combination with the overwhelmingly positive customer response these products have received, validate our decision to expand beyond desktop-based data analytics solutions into mobile-enabled operational tools that enhance player engagement,” stated Andrew Cardno, VizExplorer’s chief technology officer.

“patronViz powered by JOINGO is set to revolutionize the way casinos interact with their patrons on mobile devices by combining the robust data offered by the VizExplorer Integration Hub and the JOINGO mobile loyalty system. We are extremely proud of the patronViz product and honored to receive this award,” said JOINGO Director of Field Operations Danielle Parsons.

Mickey Presiach, VizExplorer’s director of products, added, “We are thrilled and honored to win this award in the self service category. It reinforces our belief that mobile apps play a vital role for both casinos’ players and operators and continue doing so in the future. With the patronViz product, operators can seamlessly integrate with the VizExplorer platform and start utilizing its advanced capabilities such as targeted messaging, geo-fencing, mobile player’s club and game finder. For players, it is the perfect companion to instantly find information and get service without the need to stand in line at the player’s club or at traditional self service kiosks.”

Media and Content Management
CastNET—CastNET SocialView

This year’s winner of the award for Media and Content Management is SocialView from CastNET, a one-of-a-kind suite of digital signage products with two primary purposes. The first is to display tweets and Facebook posts from approved social media accounts. Once an approved social media administrator posts to Facebook or Twitter, the content is displayed on designated digital signs. Other digital signage operators have shown interest in these capabilities of the signs.

With SocialView, the information is streamlined to display on digital signage, websites and social media. Social media messages are displayed in eye-catching digital signage, all sent from one place. The digital signage can be branded for each specific location with matching colors and logos.

The second purpose was developed specifically for the gaming industry. CastNET SocialView supports tweets and Facebook posts generated by the slot machine or gaming device after a jackpot is won, without the need for human interaction. If the player used a player rewards card, the tweet or post includes the name of the game, first name of the winner, jackpot size and a hashtag. If the player did not use a rewards card, the announcement includes only the game, size of jackpot and hashtag.

CastNET SocialView has the ability to flag keywords to ensure tweets and posts containing those words are not accidentally displayed. The screen provides fresh content that can be set to scroll at specific time periods. The company can show it values its customers, and customers are encouraged to follow and friend the company every time they see a screen.

It can be a challenge to keep content updated and accurate on all of the different forms of social media used by a property. Entering the content multiple times on each different format takes up time and reduces employee productivity, during which time the employees could be interacting with customers.

Multiple approved accounts can post to the SocialView signs at the same time. These screens can be displayed in any location, including lobbies, event areas and waiting rooms. Patrons passing by can see the excitement on the gaming floor and may be encouraged to spend their own time on the floor as well.

The product is already installed at the Winstar Casino in Thackerville, Okla. The property is “extremely pleased with how CastNET SocialView encourages its guests to stay longer and play more,” said Lance Hutchinson, CastNET vice president.

The Winstar Casino no longer requires a digital signage administrator to schedule and monitor social media and jackpot related content, as CastNET SocialView is able to monitor alerts and signals from other software and support systems on the property and then broadcast jackpot celebration content to the video walls and monitors on the property. CastNET’s team of motion graphic designers and Alpha Video Creative Services worked together with the casino to design content for the video wall and monitors, ensuring a one-of-a-kind experience.

When asked for the company’s reaction to winning the award, Hutchinson said, “We are extremely honored and delighted to have been chosen as a winner by such a distinguished panel of gaming industry experts who Casino Enterprise Management selected as judges for this contest.”

Internet Services
Traffic Generation—The Hub

The award for Internet Services went to The Hub from Traffic Generation. The Hub collects information on casino customers’ online and offline activities, presenting it to clients in a series of marketing tools to drive player engagement and revenue. The Hub can help properties in a number of ways, including consistent and profound scrutiny of players’ online behavior; social community management; digital casino optimization; individually tailored experiences based on user data; improved communication with customers; game optimization; and digital marketing advisory services, including CRM, online acquisition marketing and player segmentation.

“This is a fantastic acknowledgement of the unique value The Hub delivers to its land-based casino partners. We designed The Hub with a clear purpose in mind: to make holistic, convergence marketing and player development work for casinos in an increasingly digital age. It’s so wonderful to see the CEM judging panel recognized our accomplishments, and we are incredibly elevated and grateful,” said Andy Caras-Altas, CEO of Traffic Generation.

The Hub provides useful information, including player demographics such as age, gender, purchase behavior and location. The program can also use emotional sentiment data to determine the player’s emotional state in social channels, allowing properties to engage with players who are having positive experiences or contact a player who is dissatisfied to address grievances or disputes.

If the casino offers a digital gaming platform, The Hub can track which games a player chooses; how long that player stays on the game; how many credits were wagered, lost and earned; and the amount monetized from every game. The information is displayed via interactive heat maps, allowing for optimal online game positioning for each player, just as would be done on a physical casino floor. These analytics make it possible to make player-favorite games more easily accessible.

Properties can use information collected on social media to defend brand reputation and address the needs and expectations of its different types of customers. As the only gaming-focused CRM system to include emotional sentiment, The Hub can track positive feedback, allowing the property to reinforce elements that are working, and any negative feedback can show what needs fixing to provide the best possible experience.

Players leave extensive trails of information about their preferences, which The Hub can aggregate and interpret. This information can be used to individualize guest experience on a property. From there, the information can optimize future guest experiences.

Additionally, The Hub enriches communication between property and customers, and allows for the identification of a customer’s preferred communication channel. Customers can therefore communicate with the property on their own terms. Properties can better cater to preferences and expectations of VIPs or handle crisis control more effectively.

Traffic Generation clients have reported an increase in all KPIs, including 20 percent increases in active player base, 30 percent increases in marketing ROI, 50 percent increases in average revenue per year and 60 percent increases in VIP average revenue per year. The Hub relieves properties of many expenses, and that increased revenue can be productively reinvested in the property.

“I remember being so impressed by The Hub when I first saw it that I decided this was a company I wanted to be involved with. This award is a wonderful legitimization of the work we have done in this space so far—and the perfect inspiration to continue,” said Jeff Connors, president of North American sales, Traffic Generation.

The Future of Marking Cards on Casino Games: Part 2—Strategies for Marking Cards in Alternative Games

The purpose for marking the cards is to give the cheaters card information that other players at the table do not possess. This information is then used to make betting decisions, additional betting or folding decisions, and possible hand playing strategies.

The following list describes several common alternative casino games in which the players touch the playing cards and are able to mark key cards to gain future card information. The most successful method for a casino executive to expose marked cards is through detection of the different play and betting characteristics that the cheaters display while playing on the table. Very few marked card attacks are discovered because pit or surveillance personnel have spotted the actual daubs or paints on the backs of the cards. It’s important to pay attention to hand playing and betting patterns that marked card cheaters employ as these patterns differ from the strategies exhibited by the everyday player. Once marked card play is suspected, the cards can be removed from the game and analyzed.

Three Card Poker
Three Card Poker (TCP) is a poker-based table game marketed under Scientific Games’ SHFL brand. The player elects to stay in the game by making a call bet, and the dealer has to qualify with a queen or better. The player touches three cards. The optimal player strategy is to call the ante (stay in) with a minimum hand of queen/6/4. Based on that strategy, the house mathematical advantage is 3.37 percent of the ante wager.

Card marking strategy: TCP is a big target for card markers, who will mark the qualifying cards of queen through ace, marking each rank separately (known as a three-way pattern), and use this information to decide whether to fold his hand or play. The cheater would stay in on any hand that does not indicate the dealer possesses a qualifying card. If the dealer does possess a qualifier such as a queen, the cheater stays in the hand if he holds a queen-10 or better hand. It goes without saying that a dealer hand possessing a king requires a king-10 hand or better, and an ace requires an ace-10 hand. A dealer also qualifies with a pair or higher, but this occurs with approximately 20 percent of the dealer hands (the cheaters have knowledge when the dealer will receive a pair of queens through aces), which isn’t great enough to pose a problem like it does in five-card games. Marking each rank, queen through ace, and using the information for call/fold decisions, the cheater should gain an approximate 20 percent + advantage. To detect marked card play, watch for an abnormal number of hands the suspected player or players stay in but should have folded.

Four Card Poker
This game is another four-card poker variation marketed under Scientific Games’ SHFL brand. The game is similar to TCP, but as the title suggests, four cards are used instead of three. Also, there is no dealer qualifying hand, and the player can raise up to three times his ante. The game is structured so that the dealer receives one extra card (six cards total) on the deal to form his best four-card hand. One of those six dealer cards is dealt face up (exposed). The player touches five cards (discards one). The dealer has a choice from his six cards to make a four-card hand. The house mathematical advantage, using an advanced but not optimal strategy, is 2.9 percent of the ante.

Card marking strategy: This is not attackable by marking cards if the game is dealt correctly, only one dealer card back can be seen. If the house procedure instructs the dealer to spread his five unexposed cards face down (as opposed to a single stack), cheating by marking cards becomes much more attractive.

Crazy 4 Poker
This game is a poker variation marketed under Scientific Games’ SHFL brand. It has been around since about 2004 and is one of the more successful poker-based casino games. Players touch five cards (discards one). Dealer qualifies with king high or better. Best hand strategy is KQ84 to raise, large raise with AA or better. The game’s house advantage is 3.4 percent of the ante wager.

Card marking strategy: This table game is tough to attack by marking cards. Marking kings and aces for qualifying information is limited since pairs or better occurs 49.9 percent of the time (minus the king/ace pairs+). The game isn’t attackable if it is dealt correctly. Only one dealer card back can be seen when the dealer’s cards are placed in a single stack. Observations of the game conclude that many casinos instruct their dealers to spread the cards (sometimes partially) on the layout to indicate the dealer has taken the correct number of cards. Under these procedures, the edges of the cards could be marked and read during the partial card spread.

High Card Flush
This game is not a standard poker variation. It made its debut in the summer 2011 and is marketed by Galaxy Gaming. The game follows a fold or call structure, like Caribbean Stud Poker and TCP. Where it differs is in the hand ranking, which is all about making the highest possible flush out of seven cards. The player touches seven cards. The dealer qualifies with a three card flush of 9 higher or better. The house advantage is 2.7 percent of the ante. Optimal strategy has the player folding 9/7/4 or lower. The dealer will have a qualifying hand 75.36 percent of the time, and the player will call 67.86 percent of the time.

Card marking strategy: High Card Flush is not a game that’s attackable. The cheater would need to mark both suits and high cards, and if dealt correctly, only one dealer card back can be seen, and that does not provide the cheater with enough information to gain an advantage. Note: Game is open to collusion. Don’t get information gained by players colluding confused with marked card information.

Let it Ride Poker
In the late ’90s, Let It Ride was among the first wave of alternative casino games. It is a simple poker-based game in which the player is paid based on his five-card hand. No dealer hand to worry about. The twist is that as the cards are revealed, the player has the opportunity to decrease his bet if he doesn’t like his cards. Three cards are touched by the player. The dealer controls two community cards. The player needs to have a pair of 10s or better to win. The H/A is 3.5 percent of the average of the original three bets.

Card marking strategy: Let it Ride is a game that can be attacked by card markers. The card marker will mark 10s through aces with each rank marked differently—a total of 20 cards. The cheater’s advantage is the two dealer-controlled community cards’ backs are visible when dealt using the standard procedure. The cheaters know when to take back their bets if they don’t have a pair of 10s minimum hand, or leave the bets up if the marked community cards indicate they hold a strong hand. Watch for bet decisions that don’t follow common sense based on the visible information at the time the decision is made. The advantage from marking cards would provide about a 10 percent plus edge.

Mississippi Stud Poker
Mississippi Stud Poker is a poker-based table game marketed under Scientific Games’ SHFL brand. The game is simple to play. Wins are based only on the player’s final five-card hand. The skill is in deciding how much to raise, or fold, as the cards are revealed. The player touches two cards. Usually the three dealer-controlled community cards’ backs are visible. The player is allowed to wager up to 3X his ante during 3 betting rounds. The player hand will push on pairs of 6 through 10 and win on pairs of jacks or higher. Based on an optimal strategy the house advantage is 4.9 percent of the ante.

Card marking strategy: Game can be successfully attacked by marking ranks of jack through ace individually. The cheater could extend his return by marking to 6s through 10s as well. This game would provide a huge return (50 percent or greater) to card marking cheaters because of the 3X wagering option. As stated previously, watch for bet decisions that don’t follow common sense based on the visible information at the time the decision is made. Keep as many of the community cards covered until the moment they are exposed. Note: This game is open to hole-card advantage play. Do not confuse information gained through seeing a sloppy dealer’s community cards with information gained from marked cards.

Pai Gow Poker
Pai Gow Poker is a variation of the Chinese domino game Pai Gow tiles. While Pai Gow Poker is a game of some poker skill, it is not difficult to learn proper strategy for setting hands. Generally, each player wagers against the dealer hand causing the entire table to win or lose together, resulting in a fun and social game. The players touch seven cards, and the dealer usually banks, and the bank edge is based on ties of the low hand or high hand. Ties occurring in the two-card hand (common) or the five card hand (uncommon) are won by the banker. This produces a banker edge of approximately 1.3 percent, and because of the 5 percent commission charged on all winning (net winning) results when the house banks, the house advantage on a player wager is 2.8 percent, and when the player is banking, it’s practically a break-even game.

Card marking strategy: Card marking in PGP involves marking the aces and joker, with the marked cards seen when sitting in a seven-card stack prior to player banking. Watch for the seven-card stacks containing the most aces and/or joker is directed into the cheater’s banking hand through manipulating the dice or dice cup. Marking cards for player hand setting strategy does not provide enough of an edge to be a threat. When the PGP game uses a shuffling machine that drops seven-card stacks along with a number generator (not dice cup), marking cards for player-banker information is eliminated.

Texas Hold’em Bonus
The first Hold’em-based table game was originally played in September 2005. Like real Texas Hold’em, the player may bet his hole card after the flop, and after the turn (but not after the river).
The ante requires a straight or flush (depending on the location) or higher to win. All winning bets pay even money. The strategy for playing the two-card hand is to fold unsuited 2/3 through 2/7. The player who stays in until the “flop” bet will make the “turn” bet 43.1 percent of the time and the “river” bet 48.5 percent of the time. If the player made the turn bet, then he will also make the river bet 85.8 percent of the time. If the player made the flop bet, but not the turn bet, he will make the river bet 15.8 percent of the time. The house advantage is approximately 2 percent of the ante using an optimal strategy (that no one really knows).

Card marking strategy: Texas Hold’em Bonus is a moderate game to attack by marking cards. High cards are important, but if dealt correctly, only the two dealer card backs are visible, and none of the flop/turn/river card backs can be seen. The card marker may mark ranks 10s through aces. By knowing a high card is in the dealer’s two-card hand is strong enough to gain a reasonable edge. Watch for hand decisions based on the information not available at the time of decision.

Ultimate Texas Hold’em
Ultimate Texas Hold’em is a very popular poker-based casino game in which the player may make one raise at any time during the course of the hand. Unlike other poker-based games, raises made after the ante still have action, even if the dealer doesn’t open. This game is marketed under Scientific Games’ SHFL brand. The player touches two cards. The strategy for UTH is quite complicated. If the player were to play optimal strategy, the house advantage would be 2.2 percent of the ante and blind wager. Most players are subject to a 3 percent + house advantage.

Card marking strategy: Ultimate Texas Hold’em is a difficult game to attack by marking cards. High cards are important, but if dealt correctly, only the two dealer card backs are visible, and none of the flop/turn/river card backs can be seen. Like Texas Hold’em Bonus, the cheater may mark ranks 10s through aces. Knowing a high card is in the dealer’s two-card hand is strong enough to gain a respectable edge. Note: This game is subject to advantage players gaining the hole-card. Don’t confuse the two attacks. Marking cards is cheating; advantage play is legal, but not welcomed.

Getting a Jump on the Latest Technology with Technovation Solutions

The lobby of Technovation Solutions’ Technovation Center is the gateway for the company’s unique, immersive environment dedicated to showcasing high-tech products and concepts for hospitality, gaming and other business sectors.

Located on a small side street in a light-industrial area of southwest Las Vegas is a small building filled with high-tech products and new concepts for hospitality, gaming, retail and other industry sectors.

Technovation Solutions showcases a broad range of technology solutions from 23 partners in a unique immersive environment. The products, which include varied offerings such as digital way-finding, in-room guest controls, automated F&B solutions, table game management systems, supply chain management software and much more, are up and running in the company’s Technovation Center, which includes a simulated VIP suite, hotel lobby, casino floor, restaurant and meeting areas.

Interested companies seeking to improve their operations and better serve their customers can send key executives to tour the center’s user environments and see, touch and feel the products in action.

“The goal is to build customer experiences and to provide the technology and staff enablement tools required to execute that experience, and to do that in an immersive way,” said Techovation Solutions CEO Peg McGregor.

Customers touring the center can actively engage with the technologies in use in each area, giving them a better understanding of the innovative tools and how they might deploy such technologies.

Many of these technologies involve abstract concepts that can be tough to wrap your head around, according to Technovation’s Director of Operations and Experience Sean Gallagher. Customers are reading about these new technologies or discussing them over the phone, but that is often a poor substitute for hands-on experience with the product.

“It isn’t until clients immerse themselves in the Technovation environment that they get to experience, and truly understand, what a full circle customer journey could look like,” Gallagher said. “Part of what we get to do here is weave our different partners and their services into that all-inclusive story that they’re looking for.”

Clients also experience both the customer-facing and back-end solutions, because understanding the back-end is a significant consideration when making decisions on new hospitality solutions, McGregor said. “It’s about providing the staff with the experience and tools necessary to execute the guest experience.”

Technovation personnel lead the tours and work closely with clients to understand their challenges and priorities and help define collaborative solutions. The innovation partners also benefit, gaining insight from Technovation to help them better understand client demands, ways to improve their products and possible avenues of collaboration to achieve solutions.

“Those collaborations become important not only for us in terms of what we’re able to put in front of the client but also in terms of the partners and the value add that the partners get as a consequence,” McGregor said.

The VIP suite at the Technovation Center showcases innovative guest room features.
The VIP suite at the Technovation Center showcases innovative guest room features.
Interest in the Technovation Center has been high, McGregor said, noting the firm works with several corporate gaming clients in Las Vegas and that its advisory board includes leaders from many hospitality and gaming companies.

“We’ve gotten a ton of recognition now on the basis of partners who have come to the table and joined in with us,” she said. “We are also fostering partner sales, and we’ve been able to do that not only in terms of domestic brands but international brands as well, so that’s pretty exciting for us and our technology partners as well. Clients have been impressed with the ability to one-stop shop and see some the best available technology.”

Interest stems partly from a need to satisfy changing consumer desires for the latest hospitality trends, McGregor said. “Many of the major Las Vegas brands, with slot revenues down, realize that going forward they need to be hospitality brands, not merely gaming brands. So what does that mean? It defines a fundamental shift in thinking from merely enhancing casino revenues to understanding and enhancing the entire guest experience from food and nightclubs to mobile check-in and digital concierge apps. Beginning to think through the entire customer journey and enhancing each touch-point has become far more significant in client planning and strategy.

Companies are also seeking to address consumers’ desire for a more connected, more seamless experience. “The notion of standing in line for 30 minutes for check-in probably doesn’t cut it with most guests,” she said. “So how do you change that? What are the technologies out there that allow you to start thinking through the changes?”

That’s the kind of question that companies are answering through new technologies, she said. “It’s about somebody landing at McCarran, and the hotel, knowing that they’ve just landed, can check them in right then and there, and the controls in their rooms start getting set to their preferences. There’s a whole story that you can begin to tell around that… It’s sort of figuring out what is that seamless experience for the guest, and, given different brands, how do you start putting that together.”

Technovation Solutions also provides other services, including user groups, training programs and a new series of expert events on specific subjects relevant to hospitality, such as effective social media use or cyber security.

From a partner perspective, Technovation delivers strong value to companies seeking to get their products in front of the right companies.

The casino area of the Technovation Center highlights high-tech table game products.
The casino area of the Technovation Center highlights high-tech table game products.
One such partner is Woodlands, Texas-based Genesis Gaming Solutions. The Technovation Center features several of Genesis’ high-tech table game solutions, including its patented BRAVO Card and Chip Detection system that features light sensors embedded under the table felts to detect when cards or chips are placed in position and signals the system that a hand and proposition bet is being played at that spot. It also showcases the SmartTender automatic beverage system for which Genesis is a nationwide distributor. The product, touted as the world’s first portable touch-screen bar, can pour hundreds of drinks with a patented touch-screen system and is designed to control liquor costs by eliminating over-pours, spills and free drinks.

“I think Technovation is a great idea. They offer a center where potential customers and other vendors can see all the latest and greatest technology products. I believe our membership has really benefited us,” said Genesis Gaming President Randy Knust. “The groups that visit the center are usually upper management representatives from large corporations looking for products that can enhance their operations. Anytime you can get your products in front of decision makers, it is a great opportunity. The groups that come through the center usually represent a wide cross-section of the company including operations, accounting and IT,” Knust said. “As the different groups come through the center, we evaluate if there is interest in our products. At that point Peg and her team will help schedule follow up discussions and meetings,” he said.

The center also hosts groups from outside Las Vegas or even outside the United States—groups that may not necessarily cross paths with Genesis Gaming or other member partners, Knust said. “Any type of contact with a potential customer that you would normally not have an opportunity to meet with is always a good thing.” Knust said he also sees the value in interacting with other innovation partners. “It also offers us access to technology I don’t know about or would never run into otherwise. There are all sorts of technologies that may augment what we have.”

Where is the Money? Part 11 of 36: Finding the Millennials

Millennials—the largest demographic bubble, bigger even than the baby boomers—are coming of age. This dynamic, socially active group has grown up using mobile devices and social media, and they consider the Internet old technology. When we look at our customers today, the numbers show that the money is in the 50-plus player. However, as we look to grow our business and to build for the future, it is the millennials we need to consider, in hopes that this group, like others before it, will take to gaming later in life. But, who are they? And what do they want?

The Millennial Generation is identified as having a link to the millennial year 2000, born in or growing up during a period in the U.S. when the birth rate peaked (1990s). This group follows Generation X and is sometimes called Generation We, the Global Generation, Generation Next or even the Echo Boomers. They are important for two reasons: First, understanding this group allows us to understand long-term demographic trends and gain some insight into the mega demographic forces that are altering the world we live in. Second, this group is a very small part of the revenue of most gaming facilities, and as such, finding a product that meets the entertainment needs of this group will allow savvy operators to snatch significant market share from operators that choose to ignore all but their “core” business.

A quote from ancient times can help us understand the challenge in understanding the millennial milieu—or really any of a subsequent generation:

“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.”1 — attributed to Socrates, 400 B.C.

Along with breaking the mold set by their parents, as every new generation has since ancient times, millennials are also shaped by greater forces. Washington Post writer Catherine Rampell sums up one of the major influences on the millennial outlook as such: “Economists have known for a while that the damage from downturns can endure long after the economy has turned, especially among those whose greatest sin was bad timing.”

Millennials grew up in the Great Recession, and because of this, it has been hard for them to find work, hard for them to imagine a future and in general hard for them to find their way in adulthood. This generation is likely to long remember the hardships of their early adult years, when they were burdened with debt and jobs were nearly impossible to find.

While these insights give us a basic idea of the millennial experience, we authors argue that rather than exploring the stereotypes of the millennials, we should first look at the data and become informed on what is actually happening to this important demographic group. With this thought in mind, let’s look at the demographics and scientifically studied behaviors of the millennials.

Boomers vs. Millennials
To best understand a new consumer group, we need to compare it to another existing group that we understand very well. It is the comparison itself that is important, as it allows us to use our strong understanding of the current market (and marketing) to describe how this new group might be different. As we have discussed in previous articles, the gaming industry is driven by the baby boomers, so we have chosen this as our baseline for comparison.

The Pew Research Center data for demographics is a great starting place for our comparison. Looking at the numbers, compared to the baby boomers, we can see that the percentage of white millennials has dropped from 72 percent to 57 percent, mainly due to an increase in the percentage of Hispanics, which grew from 10 percent to 21 percent. In short, we can say that the main shift is a growth in the Hispanic population. Table 1 shows the change in demographics by generation, from the baby boomers to the millennials.

Table 1: Generational Change in Demographics2

Age Generation White% Hispanic% Black% Asian% Other%
18-33 Millennials 57 21 13 6 3
34-49 GenXers 61 18 12 7 2
50-68 Boomers 72 10 11 5 2
69-84 Silents 78 8 8 4 1

Figure 1: Demographics of millennials compared to baby boomers3
Figure 1: Demographics of millennials compared to baby boomers3
Figure 1 shows a line graph comparing the demographics of baby boomers and millennials. We can see that the red line showing the Hispanic population is the main upward change, and the dark blue line showing the white population is the main downward change.

Gambling in Latin America4
With this massive shift in the population demographics from white to Hispanic, one of the first questions raised is: Do Hispanic people gamble? A quick look at gambling in Latin American shows it is growing at approximately 8 percent over the last four years, compared to an approximately 3 percent growth rate in the U.S.5 Without digging into the fine details, we can say that Hispanic people living in Latin America are driving substantial growth in the industry. This is relevant to the U.S., as it is an indicator that Hispanics in the U.S. are a potential market.

Figure 2 shows gaming revenue in Latin America over the past decade. It appears to be a straight line graph, but it also includes the regression line and R2. The R2 of 0.9925 indicates that a straight line captures 99 percent of the information about the trend. Note that there is a slight uptick in the 2013, 2014 and 2015 years. This is worth watching, as it may be the beginning of a larger consumer adoption curve movement.

Figure 2: Gambling in Latin America
Figure 2: Gambling in Latin America
Millennials and Gaming
Millennials, however, are much more than their demographics. According the Pew Research Center, “The Millennial generation is forging a distinctive path into adulthood. Now ranging in age from 18 to 33, they are relatively unattached to organized politics and religion, linked by social media, burdened by debt, distrustful of people, in no rush to marry—and optimistic about the future.”6

Millennials are forming alternative families and culturally approaching housing and finances differently than generations past. Likewise, millennials are not the mainstream entertainment consumers of the past, as they are used to interacting with many entertainment avenues at one time. They might sit on the couch watching TV, for example, but it is a much different experience: streaming the latest web-based television series on the flat screen while interacting with the program on a tablet, smartphone or laptop, browsing the web in another tab and also texting their friends or updating social media on the side. The millennials are a generation of multi-tasking individuals that expect high entertainment value in shorter periods of time and in many formats. Thus, it appears at first glance that entertainment options for this generation need to fit this bill. Many believe that slot and table gaming products will need to be innovative in design and exclusivity, and that entertainment over gambling is the key to capturing the millennial market. To be sure, our manufacturers believe this, as we see trends in this direction with more slot machines being duel screened and with video game-styled graphics.

But are the manufacturers correct? Are these new innovations actually appealing to millennials, or are they simply stealing baby boomer business from one type of slot machine and moving the boomers to these newer games?

Figure 3: Manufacturer Comparison
Figure 3: Manufacturer Comparison
Game Preference Analysis
As we discussed in our April 2015 article, player preference is critical to tease out the comparison between different groups of customers. This is exactly what we did, using player preference and some data that is representative of a property in on the West Coast of the U.S. [Note: This data is indicative only, and you should do this analysis on your own data if you want to understand this trend correctly for your property.]

In our data setup, the millennials are 20- to 34-year-old players, and the numbers have been normalized to sum to 100 to show the distribution of play. The boomers are the 50- to 68-year-old players, and again the numbers a have been normalized to show the distribution of play.

Figure 4: Preference Ratio
Figure 4: Preference Ratio
We first wanted to compare the different manufacturers to see if there is a difference in preference by manufacturers. (See Figures 3 and 4.)

The preference ratio is a little dangerous, as the denominator is quite small in some cases. It does, however, tell a strong story. In essence, it shows that there are some games (such as Atronic games) where the majority of the play comes from the millennials group.

Deeper analysis is needed. Casino operators need to query their data and investigate the following questions:
1) What drives millennials to show such a strong preference to (in this example) Atronic?
2) Is it game innovation or something else that categorizes their attention?
3) Is it the state of being a millennial that drives this preference, or is there a stronger underlying preference (found via the Market Basket Analysis that has often appeared in this column in past articles)?

We present a brief example of such an analysis, using Market Basket Analysis to measure game preference for millennials vs. baby boomers. As before, the data has been anonymized and is indicative only. In addition, we have anonymized the names of the slot machines themes (see Figure 5).

Figure 5
Millennial Top 5 Machine Themes Preferred
SIZZZLER 777S 1L/3C
DRAGON DOA 243W/500C
WILD BEAT 100L/250C (1CR/2L)
ZOMBIE DEAD 4096W/300C PROGRESSIVE
HOT SHOT PROGRESSIVE

Figure 6: Millennial Game Location Preference
Figure 6: Millennial Game Location Preference
In the preference report in Figure 5, we see that millennials surprisingly prefer a 1-line, 3-coin game. This belies our assumption that “innovation” is the key to millennials. However, the next four games fit within our expectations: video touch screens with multiple ways to win and extended bonus rounds. Looking at game location, we see that millennials prefer smaller banks where every game is an end cap (see Figure 6).

Now let’s contrast this to boomers. Figure 7 shows their preferences.

Figure 7
Baby Boomer Top 5
Machine Themes Preferred
CRAZY PANDA
WHALE OF MONEY
CHINA SANDS
AZTEC TREASURE
WILD WOLF

Figure 8: Baby Boomer Game Location Preference
Figure 8: Baby Boomer Game Location Preference
In this case, we see that the older demographic prefers 0.01 denom and multidenom video reel games. In addition, boomers are less focused on the configuration of the bank, but are very driven by the location of their game on the bank, with a clear preference for end caps (see Figure 8).

Bringing It All Together
The millennials are a very different group of potential casino customers. They have a very different demographic profile than our traditional customer base, and data analytics show they have quite different product preferences as well. This fascinating study shows that when you take the time to tease out the player preference and look deep into game choice, the volume hides the opportunity. The opportunity in this case is to build a product for the future…a future where we hope that the millennials, like the generations before them, find gaming entertainment exciting and worthwhile.

Note: Not analyzed in this article is the impact of regional differences on the analysis of millennials vs. boomers. As with many aspects of gaming, different regions can often lead to different results. Consider, for example, the simple act of determining the most popular video slot machine at a given casino. In many parts of the country, Buffalo reigns supreme. However, anyone who has visited Florida can tell you that Stinkin Rich and Bombay are far more popular than Buffalo. So it is with millennials—if you want to truly understand your millennials you must look to your data.

Footnotes
1 This quote from Socrates is from http://www.bartleby.com/73/195.html. According to the quote investigator (http://quoteinvestigator.com/2010/05/01/misbehaving-children-in-ancient-…) this entertaining quote despite its common use was created by Kenneth John Freeman in 1907 as a collection of statements attributed to ancient times.
2 www.pewsocialtrends.org/2015/03/19/comparing-millennials-to-other-genera…, Data extracted on April 2015.
3 www.pewsocialtrends.org/2015/03/19/comparing-millennials-to-other-genera…, Data extracted April 2015.
4 www.statista.com/statistics/271587/casino-gaming-market-in-latin-america/, Data extracted April 2015# Growth in gaming.
5 www.casinoenterprisemanagement.com/articles/august-2014/where-money-part…, Data Extracted April 2015.
6 www.pewsocialtrends.org/2014/03/07/millennials-in-adulthood/, extracted April 2015.

Doubling Down: Interblock Focused on Strategic Growth

Rob Bone, Interblock president, North America, and Interblock founder and Chairman Joc Pečečnik are enthusiastic about the company’s prospects in 2015 and beyond. Photo by Wayne Wallace
Rob Bone, Interblock president, North America, and Interblock founder and Chairman Joc Pečečnik are enthusiastic about the company’s prospects in 2015 and beyond. Photo by Wayne Wallace
With a portfolio of sleek and successful electronic tables games, a strong leadership team in place and a focused plan for the future, Slovenia-based Interblock is doubling down on its market-leading status to grow its footprint in North America and beyond.

“Our vision is to be a leading supplier of electronic table games (ETGs) within the gaming sector, while providing our customers with the highest level of innovation, service, technology and products, which will enable them to remain competitive within an ever-changing market,” said John Connelly, global chief executive officer for Interblock. “In 2015 Interblock will spend more on R&D and acquisitions than in any other period of our company’s history. We strongly believe that the electronic table game segment is perfectly positioned to address a new demographic of casino player, while reducing the operating expenses of our casino customers.”

Interblock is fortunate to hold a market-leading position in this area and will concentrate much of this year on releasing the next generation of ETG products for the gaming industry, Connelly said.
“We are in effect doubling down and raising the stakes,” said Rob Bone, president of Interblock North America.

“The company’s had an unbelievable amount of success, but now we’ve got to add process and a lot of different business viewpoints to getting this company from where it is now to being the dominant market share provider going forward,” he said. “You can have a certain amount of success by having great product, but the way you service your customers, the way you have very transparent product roadmaps, the way that you adhere to business process, that’s where we’re going to be going forward so we can be the provider of choice.”

Bone, a former longtime WMS Gaming executive who joined Interblock in late March, and Connelly, who took the CEO helm in January after spending the bulk of his career with Bally Technologies, are among the newest additions to the Interblock team. Colleen McKenna, formerly with Symantec, rounds out the newest team members as vice president of marketing.

Going forward, the company is strategically focusing on new jurisdictions and new markets, “and being very purposeful when we go into those markets to get critical mass,” Bone said. “There’s no legal market globally that we won’t look at, but again it’s what’s prudent, which ones will be most impactful.”

While larger gaming suppliers may have 350 gaming licenses, Interblock has about 130, giving the company plenty of opportunity for growth. “2015 will be spent building an infrastructure of virtual highways around the world with some of the best employees to help maintain and operate them. This will then position Interblock with the infrastructure necessary to deliver additional products through this network in 2016 and 2017,” Connelly said. “Our goal is to combine our R&D efforts with new market expansions, so as to maximize our growth rate in the coming years.”

Interblock’s Diamond Roulette
Interblock’s Diamond Roulette
Right now, Bone noted, the company has 3,000 units in North America and approximately 30,000 worldwide.

Bone said he and Connelly will focus on extending that footprint. “What makes it a great partnership with me working for John is his forte is largely new market openings internationally whereas my history and experience is largely in the United States and Canada,” Bone said.

The timing is right for the company to capture a larger market share, particularly in the United States, said Joc Pečečnik, the company’s founder and chairman.

“Operators now are looking for new challenges. They are asking for the new products because they know that they need to bring something new and fresh onto the floor,” he said. “Unfortunately changing the slot floor every three months is not the way to go from a financial perspective and from the players’ perspective. Now is the time to move, and we’re ready like never before.”

Pečečnik estimates the U.S. gaming market offers about 1 million electronic gaming positions. Just 1 percent of that market would represent 10,000 player stations and 3 percent would equal about 30,000, he said, noting that in Europe the average percentage of electronic table games is about 8 percent. “And those are numbers which can really explode if we will be able to manage our product segmentation the proper way,” he said.

Interblock has already taken important steps to move the company forward, Pečečnik said, by bringing experienced gaming executives such as Connelly and Bone on board and by fostering a team that believes in the company’s business vision and opportunity.

Interblock has built a following with its line of luxury electronic multiplayer table games that include the popular Organic Roulette and Mini Star Roulette, as well as electronic blackjack, craps and baccarat products.

But in some ways the company’s success has created issues of its own. As demand for the company’s games has grown stronger, it has underscored the company’s need to grow infrastructure and its customer service and sales staff, Bone said. Plans are already underway to hire new personnel to augment its current staff. “We’re going to increase our touches, not only for new jurisdictions but also for existing jurisdictions,” he said.

Interblock’s Organic 8 Craps
Interblock’s Organic 8 Craps
The company’s creativity is at a high level, led by Pečečnik and a strong engineering and R&D team, and continues to move forward, Connelly noted.

“As a market leader within this area, Interblock has long been known as the innovator for ETGs. We will continue to bring new products, play actions, features and functionality to this sector in the coming months,” Connelly said. “Initial indications from our customers are that they want more products, not less, and see ETGs as a means by which to help transition their casino floors toward the next generation of players.”

Right now, the company is focusing efforts on its current product portfolio, which includes its popular roulette products as well as enhancements to blackjack, craps and baccarat. “There’s a lot of low-hanging fruit,” Bone noted, and inroads made in the U.S. and Canada showcase the revenue-producing power of the games.

Just Who is the ETG Player?
One way the company plans to build for the future will be to embark on research examining the demographics of the electronic table game player today.

“I think it’s important to understand who the ETG player is because that’s probably where we start to take risks in evolving them into something more,” through new segmentation strategies, Bone said. “Right now I think the market’s grown enough to where it needs to be segmented and profiled.”

With a clearer understanding of the player profiles, new gaming bonus features, perhaps a pick ’em slot-style bonus for the traditional slot player or an experience appealing to the traditional table player, can be offered where appropriate.

The research also may provide insight into an increasingly important question to the gaming industry—what can the industry do to attract millennials and other younger players to the casino floor to help deal with the aging core player population?

“Everyone’s trying to crack the strategy of what’s going to bring the millennials in,” Bone said. “Clearly it’s nongaming amenities so you’re looking at nightclubs, day clubs and certain restaurants, but I also think the gaming experiences we’re offering are not compelling to them, and so we have to find new platforms, new types of content that are interesting to them.”

Electronic multiplayer table games clearly are seen as part of the answer, because they bring a communal gaming aspect to the experience, Bone said, noting millennials tend to enjoy sharing group experiences. Already casinos are also starting to group electronic table games in branded areas to create fresh, exciting atmospheres.

Interblock’s products are pulling in younger demographics at a fast clip. “The rate of play for an ETG helps provide an instant gratification type of environment, which is very conducive to this player group,” Connelly said. “The Interblock product is also seen as the sexiest ETG in the market, which helps attract a certain type of player to our machines. We will be introducing additional products before the end of 2015, which will be much more targeted to this specific demographic.”

Both Bone and Connelly point to electronic table games’ ability to reach casino customers who might otherwise walk past the slot floor or table games pit.

“We want to profile this ETG player because we feel it very much is incremental play to the casino floor,” whether it’s a slot or table player trying something different or a millennial drawn to the game, Bone said.

Players of tomorrow will have less free time, require a greater sense of instant gratification and demand technology that is associated to their everyday lives, Connelly said, adding that the company continuously conducts market research on other forms of competitive products attractive to Interblock’s players, as well as the level of technology, graphics and user interfaces players are accustomed to using in their day-to-day lives.

“When considering these factors, you quickly realize that with Apple, Google, Samsung, Facebook and many other channels, the next generation of players are going to expect more. Either you invest and create competitive alternatives or the casino industry will have a difficult time evolving,” he said.

Interblock’s Diamond Blackjack
Interblock’s Diamond Blackjack
The Look of Luxe
One attractive aspect of the products is the design of the games, which have a sleek and sexy feel and feature components that often took many months or even years to get just right.

“It really is a premium brand. There’s a sense of panache with our electronic table games,” Bone said. “You look at the design elements of our games versus that of our competition, there’s so much thought that goes into creating a sense of esteem and prestige, and that is a compelling element to electronic table games.”

It also sets the company apart from its competitors. “If you look at our competition, especially with the consolidation that’s taken place, these are slot companies that happen to make table games,” unlike Interblock, which is laser-focused on electronic table games, Bone said. “We want to lead the trends as opposed to react to trends.”

In the past casino executives sometimes have balked at the large footprint of some multiplayer games. Today, many casino operators are more focused on optimizing the yield of their floor, rather than unit footprint, Bone said. “Some of our executions may require more space, but if [our product] earns and if it provides the associated ROI, then I think customers are more apt to embrace it.” Still, Interblock is cognizant of and responsive to concerns of some operators, he said, noting it has developed more compact designs, such as its Mini Star G5 product.

Joc Pečečnik, chairman and founder
Joc Pečečnik, chairman and founder
John Connelly, global chief executive officer
John Connelly, global chief executive officer
Rob Bone, president, North America
Rob Bone, president, North America
Operator Insights
Count Judd Boyer, director of slot operations at Parx Casino, and Ron Wong, director of gaming operations at Resorts World New York City, as Interblock product fans.

Boyer has seen firsthand how Interblock’s Organic Roulette has enhanced the Bensalem, Pa., casino’s gaming floor over the last two and a half years. “It doesn’t matter what time of the day, it is usually pretty busy,” Boyer said. “Depending on the month we usually do two and a half or three times house average on coin in,” on each of the game’s eight player stations.

Boyer said the game attracts play from both slot machine players and traditional table players.

Electronic tables are more and more viewed as an amenity to traditional tables, Boyer said. “It allows your average slot player who’s a little bit intimidated by tables a chance to test them out,” without fear of annoying an experienced table games player on a live table. Boyer also has seen traditional table players move to the electronic games to manage their gaming budgets or just to try something different. “Typically, that table is a lot less to cover than your live roulette table,” he said, noting the electronic game is $5 versus $15 for the live table.

Players also are drawn to Interblock’s attractive games. “People think it’s a really cool design. I really think that it helps bring the younger player over,” Boyer said, noting the sleek, modern form factor is more in line with what millennials are used to and that the lower price to play the game versus a table game is also appealing.

Customers also enjoy the spirited play that the communal games engender. “You definitely see people interact and have fun and high-five each other. It definitely creates a really fun environment,” Boyer said.

Players also have told him that they like the personal space afforded by the electronic table game. “It’s more of a comfortable feel. You have your own seat, your own unit, so if you’re a person who likes their own personal space, it’s the way to go,” he said.

Boyer is looking to add at least one more bank of the games at Parx.

The longevity of the game and its error-free play also has been impressive. “It’s really had some good legs. It’s a great little unit that helps bring crossover play both ways,” he said. “I think they did a really good job; I’d like to see more from them.”

Interblock’s Big Six game
Interblock’s Big Six game
At Resorts World New York City, electronic table games bring vibrancy and variety to the gaming floor, where they make up about 20 percent of the floor, according to Wong.

“Being electronic, they provide a consistent exciting game pace, as well as eliminating many of the factors that detract from an excellent customer experience,” he said. Staff members are able to focus their time interacting with customers and meeting their expectations. “Our customers delight in the fact that they can focus on their gaming, and, at the same time, share in communal excitement with the large number of positions that are provided with each game.”

Wong noted that the electronic baccarat games brought the casino an untapped incremental Asian demographic almost immediately. “And the Asian baccarat customer segment also brought with it incremental Asian slot play.”

The casino then brought in roulette, which has built up a solid base and has not cannibalized baccarat or slots.

The games are not only pleasing traditional casino players but also drawing younger players as well. “Both current players and new, younger demographics are finding electronic entertainment, video gaming and social media ubiquitous,” Wong said. “ETG acceptance is quick, especially for those new to gaming. The entry to gaming for new, younger patrons is less intimidating without the pressure of being a ‘Newbie,’ and our staff [members] are there to help them to ‘level up.’”

Wong praised Interblock for being very entrepreneurial in its relationship with Resorts World. “More of a ‘start-up’ mentality than a ‘big company’ culture, they’ve been responsive to our needs and requests, and have reached out to us to see how they can better serve our needs. We hope that they don’t lose that spirit as they get more successful and larger,” he said, noting that the company’s competitors also are knocking at the door. “Interblock will need to stay competitive by continuing to focus on their customers for product development and by delivering service responsiveness.”

Interblock, with its two decades of experience and a commitment to customer service and innovation, is up to the challenge, Connelly said. “To be a leader, you must take calculated risks and continue to push the envelope for the future. Having this foundation and team to build from, we are able to create some of the most innovative, reliable and successful products within the gaming industry.