Chasing Technology

Are you operating your property with the best technology available, or are you still using products that were introduced in the 1980s? Many facilities across the country are still using decades-old technologies as the cornerstone of their communications and casino infrastructure.

If you lived through the 1980s, then you likely remember it as an amazing time for technology. Throughout the decade we were immersed in new forms of technology that revolutionized the way our society communicated, worked and played. While some of these technologies continued to evolve into products we use today, others were relegated to the engineering scrap heap as a result of technological Darwinism.

It was in the 1980s when the first fully electronic slot machines were introduced to the Las Vegas Strip. These original electronic machines, produced by IGT, used a modified 19-inch Sony Trinitron color receiver for the display and logic boards for all slot machine functions. This huge step forward to fully electronic gaming platforms marked the migration from the very limiting electromechanical slots of the past to the machines we know so well and use today.

Can you imagine your floor without machines that offer a second-screen bonus? In the ’80s these weren’t yet conceived, let alone available. The first American video slot machine to offer a second-screen bonus round was Reel ’Em In, developed by WMS in 1996. In this type of machine, the display changes to provide a different game where an additional payout may be won or accumulated. While you can still find a Reel ’Em In game on many floors, the machine manufacturers have leapt forward yet again by incorporating motion sensing technologies, as well as interactive and downloadable games.

Why is it that while our industry clearly understood that embracing emerging technology for gaming devices was necessary to prosper, we have done little to embrace the widely available technology that would make the same positive impact on our facilities in both customer service and administrative support capacities?

Let’s take a look at several casino products and determine if there is still merit to utilizing them as we have for the past 30 years.

Key Cards
Prior to the introduction of key cards, every large hotel employed a “key clerk” who sorted through thousands of keys a day in order to make rooms available and secure for their patrons. When keys were lost or stolen, a locksmith employed by the hotel would change them out.

In the early 1980s the key card lock was introduced, greatly simplifying the process of room security and access while removing the laborious process of sorting and maintaining physical keys. A key card is a flat, rectangular plastic card that stores a physical or digital signature that the door mechanism must accept before disengaging the lock.

Since their introduction, key cards have continued to evolve. RFID key cards and locks promise to overcome the problems many hotels are experiencing with the mag-stripe cards and locks they currently employ. Mag-stripe key cards make up approximately 99 percent of hotel room locks, but they don’t always work, either because the card isn’t inserted properly or the reading head needs maintenance.

RFID locks will support the near-field communication standard (NFC), allowing customers to use NFC-enabled phones to enter their hotel rooms. If you could allow your hotel staff to send a text message to a guest’s mobile phone containing the RFID for the room’s key, your customers could spend more of their time spending money in your facility instead of standing in line waiting for their key.

Before built-in music players, cameras and multitouch screens, telephones were wired communication devices that made phone calls. In the ’80s, cell phones made their introduction. They were big, bulky and expensive. Back then cell phones just made calls, but the technology allowed a mobility that was wholly extraordinary. No longer were we out of touch when we left work, went to the store or rode in a car or train. Personal productivity soared, and important information was now immediately accessible to casino executives regardless of where they might be.

These days, smartphones don’t just make calls; they are an electronic extension of our lives, keeping us connected, prepared and entertained. The issue they present in our casino isn’t their use, but how to best leverage their amazing capabilities.

Many casinos still use non-smart phones for their shift managers, citing data plan costs as a reason to limit staff access. This requires managers to log in to a PC in an office to read and respond to their e-mail, manage their schedule and rate their staff rather than spend time on the floor building guest relations. If we look at the cost associated with the extra time and effort this takes, the price of the data plan pales in comparison. During an age of almost unlimited access to information and ideas, we leave the most important staff members who directly deal with the patrons in the dark.

The introduction of the IBM 5150 officially marked the beginning of a new era: personal computing. These amazing machines, and those that followed, allowed the average business or family the ability to both electronically store and process information in their own homes. As they evolved, PCs forever changed the way we studied and played, connecting us to the world through the use of the Internet and a wired modem.

Again, however liberating the PC movement was, it was tempered by mobility limitations. In a similar fashion, personal data assistants, or PDAs, allowed us to organize our phone numbers, business contacts and calendars but had too many limitations to be truly practical.

Today, computers are very powerful and highly mobile. Laptops, tablets and smart phones have given us the connections we require and the mobility we craved. No longer do we need to excuse ourselves from our customers to look up their ratings or award a comp.

The mobile device is so powerful, we have found a hundred different uses for it on our casino floor, much to the consternation of the staff members who must lug around a different device for each use. To truly leverage the mobile applications to our advantage, we must settle on a single device for our staff and use products that are compatible with that device.

Video Tapes
VHS cassettes literally transformed the way we perform our casino safety and security. This technology allowed us the ability to stop time and review the past. Prior to recording the events on our floor, we relied mainly on first person observation, watching events live and making assumptionsbased on a single memory. As amazing as this technology was, it was difficult to look up individual events without having to review large amounts of unnecessary tape.

Today, digital recording is available that allows us to instantly recall a specific section of the recording simply by entering the date and time the event happened. The difference between analog and digital data can be illustrated as the difference between a VHS tape and DVD—both are methods for watching a film, but the VHS is an analog method of playback, and the DVD is digital. Storage is greatly simplified, as a number of tapes do not need to be housed or replaced.

As quick and efficient as digital recording is, many U.S. casinos believe that the analog system they have operated forever is still up to the task. In an age when criminals are becoming far more efficient and technologically proficient, we are handcuffing our greatest detection abilities to 30-year-old products.

The backbone of communications in the most modern of our casinos is the transreceiver radio that was introduced to casinos in the 1980s. Prior to their use, a customer would have to flag down an employee who would have to physically locate the correct employee to service the customer needs. While this device greatly increased the responsiveness of the staff and customer satisfaction, it is now outdated, antiquated and ill-suited to respond to the growing need for mobile services on our floors.

It’s amazing in this day and age to see a facility that utilizes mobile gaming, hand-held ticket scanning and mobile sign-ups, saddling their staff with expensive old-school radios. We need to leverage Wi-Fi communications and mobile devices to incorporate point-to-point communications in an easy-to-use, inexpensive application.

As an industry we routinely employ astonishing technology on our gaming floors, but support it with outdated and obsolete infrastructure. Our habits and behaviors that are common practice industrywide are the equivalent to operating a state-of-the-art locomotive on an old rickety track. Sooner or later there is going to be a problem. Do you really want to be the engineer on a train you know for certain is going to derail?

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