The Ubiquitous MEI

MEI is the world heavyweight of unattended payment systems. Each week, in more than 100 nations, MEI products process more than 2 billion transactions. Yes, that’s billion with a “b.” If you work, play or even pass through the gaming industry, you have used an MEI product.

This dominance and ubiquity is not accidental. Whether it is gaming, vending, amusement, transportation, retail or any of a number of other markets, MEI has carved its reputation by assuring that its products operate with infallibility in real-world situations that allow for zero mistakes. Headquartered in West Chester, Penn., MEI’s scope is global, with its U.S. base augmented by offices in Canada, Mexico, the U.K., France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Japan, Macau, China and Australia.

But as everyone knows, staying on top is no walk in the park. This is especially true in the hyper-competitive gaming systems solutions business, where new developments and technologies aren’t just desired—they’re demanded. MEI’s Vice President Eric Fisher told CEM about MEI’s robust line of products, what sets them apart and what the brand plans to deliver in the near future.

The first thing we learned about MEI is that the brand has pretty sweet beginnings. Literally.
MEI’s roots go back to the heady days of 1969, when candy behemoth Mars Inc. was looking for a way to increase its candy sales. With these roots in the nation’s sweet tooth, MEI started as the marketplace’s first electronic coin mechanism, and since then its scope has grown to electronic non-contact bill validators and, more recently, credit card and vending management solutions software.

Today, in the U.S., MEI claims more than a 90 percent share of new casino openings and more than an 85 percent share of upgrades and expansions. Fisher says this is a direct result of making operators more profitable. “The industry understands the importance of acceptance rate, security, jam performance and cost of operation,” he said. “There’s an awareness of how those benefits impact profitability, as measured by cash in the cashbox, asset productivity and maintenance expense.”

Evidence of Fisher’s claim? Last year WMS named MEI its default supplier for bill validators, making MEI the default unit for a global cadre of industry leaders including Bally, Aristocrat and Novomatic.

And that is just the U.S. market. MEI continues to grow in Europe at an impressive rate. Successful value-added trials of products have resulted in several casinos installing CASHFLOW® SC units, including properties in Austria, Czech Republic, Greece, Monaco, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Spain. In South America, more than 80 percent of Argentina’s Rosario Casino, the largest in the region, boasts MEI products. Half of Chile’s market is MEI. Thousands of miles away, the brand has been specified in both of Singapore’s landmark casinos. In nearby Manila and the Philippines, MEI now claims 80 percent market share. MEI’s impressive Macau presence is the exclamation point on its position in Asia.

The MEI staple of unattended payment systems that have secured MEI’s global success includes electronic bill acceptors, coin mechanisms and other transaction systems. Many readers are likely familiar with several of these products. Yet, the Conlux CCM5G, the Sodeco BNA and the CASHFLOW lineup have so much to offer that it’s likely most are unaware of just how vast their features spectrums are. Here, MEI introduces us to some important new product details.

CASHFLOW SC
Of course, any discussion of MEI’s product line should begin and end with its CASHFLOW SC unit. For years now, manufacturers and properties have identified the acceptance rates and security benefits of the CASHFLOW SC, making the product the jewel in MEI’s crown. Bundled with EASITRAX® Soft Count, the unit is a gaming duo of unmatched effectiveness, with the latter system allowing operators to make informed decisions with pre-programmed instant reports covering acceptance rate, currency counts, drop status, jams, bill rejection reasons and software versioning. Since its introduction in 2002, more than 700,000 CASHFLOW SC units have been delivered to market.

The CASHFLOW SC is the specified unit in all slots at Singapore’s groundbreaking two properties. And in one week last December alone, CityCenter (ARIA) in Las Vegas, Boot Hill Casino in Dodge City, and Parx Casino in Bensalem all opened having specified CASHFLOW SC and EASITRAX Soft Count as their system of choice. It was this kind of popularity that led CASHFLOW SC to a banner year in 2009.

Then, in February, MEI announced what will define the next generation of the CASHFLOW SC. These attractive enhancements include improved recognition, providing proactive security by utilizing transmissive sensors to “see through” notes in multiple wavelengths; bill-to-bill speed increase, upgrading the player experience and speeds transactions to expand throughput; expanded memory, recognizing more notes in a specific release of firmware, which limits part numbers and submissions; comprehensive barcode recognition, processing barcode coupons in all four directions, improving acceptance on multi-width currencies; and a USB 2.0 upgrade, speeding communication with the host machine, adding expanded functionality.

Clients who have invested in, and have come to love, their older CASHFLOW SC products need not worry about integration issues. Built-in intelligent support tools recognize product versions and provide appropriate software, making this latest product fully compatible with all CASHFLOW SC units. It was important to MEI to reward past investment in CASHFLOW SC products. With this new release, the focus was on adding value by lowering our operational costs, helping customers maximize precious capital—the general point being that CASHFLOW SC has not strayed from its winning formula.

And not only will the new CASHFLOW SC be compatible with legacy versions, it will also integrate with bill acceptor product extensions, such as EASITRAX Soft Count.

With production of the next generation CASHFLOW SC unit already well underway, MEI plans to begin delivering samples to OEMs this summer for testing. A wider rollout could come as soon as late autumn.
EASITRAX Soft Count, which was introduced in 2008, is now installed in 35 casinos globally. Notable U.S. openings that specified EASITRAX Soft Count are M Resort, Sands Bethlehem, The Rivers and ARIA. International installations have occurred in Macau, Manila, Morocco and Singapore. The total installed base has grown to 50,000 games in its first 18 months.

Properties and operators looking to extend the CASHFLOW SC’s capabilities and advantages into their respective soft count room might also be interested in MEI’s EASITRAX Soft Count as an integrated software/hardware solution. In addition to the security and acceptance rates expected from MEI, EASITRAX Soft Count offers easily accessibility in a database that can be networked to multiple locations for performance analysis. EASITRAX RFID technology links slot machine asset numbers to specific cashboxes, allowing operators to track scheduled drops of all cashboxes and validate revenue, ensuring more accurate collection processes. MEI has also developed simplified kits to ensure easy retrofitting to all existing CASHFLOW systems. “With EASITRAX Soft Count, accessing data has never been faster, allowing operators to base decisions on several instant reports programmed within the accompanying software,” Fisher noted. “Many financial executives of properties are now involved in the purchasing decision of a bill validation due to the operational efficiencies offered by EASITRAX Soft Count.”

Operators interested in beefed up security against counterfeit currency should definitely look into the CASHFLOW Sphinx. The specialized product owes its existence directly to a customer request, but MEI has now made the Sphinx’s custom technology available to the wider gaming industry. Specifically, the Sphinx utilizes CASHFLOW currency software to instantly validate currency in cages. The system also eliminates reliance on batteries and is easily updated as new currency releases are introduced. MEI had the casino’s image in mind, too, as the Sphinx is attractively designed.

Does your business have a bigger appetite for bills than average? While it’s a problem unlikely to cause sympathy amongst your peers, MEI has engineered a solution. MEI pointed us to the increased capacity version of its CASHFLOW SC product, CASHFLOW SCM. (We assume the “M” stands for “More Money.”) With 50 percent greater capacity than the CASHFLOW SC, the CASHFLOW SCM is fully compatible with CASHFLOW system boxes and, despite the bigger belly, gives up nothing in performance.

These individual functional details of MEI’s products aside, Fisher says that there is an underrated, lesser-known benefit of using MEI: the overall cost of ownership. Fisher explained: “Having the lowest jam rate in the industry results in reduced labor costs and increased machine up-time. The reliability allows operators to increase the player experience and reduce maintenance costs. Maintenance staff time can be optimized and spare parts inventory is reduced, decreasing the capital required and the storage space needed.” Put simply, lower ownership cost equals higher profit.

The Next Big Change
MEI is also focused on networked gaming. Fisher says MEI’s involvement in the Gaming Standards Association (GSA), and its resulting participation in open protocols, is a direct result of the brand’s dedication to eliminating protocol barriers. Fisher elaborated, “MEI was an early adopter of GDS and we have supported USB for over nine years. With open protocols, all note validators will speak the same language and will be evaluated on performance instead of accessibility to protocols. MEI recognizes that the conversion of slot floors to networked gaming will be a process. The key is flexibility. We created dual-port CASHFLOW SC, which speaks both GDS and legacy.”

Moving forward, MEI will continue to facilitate networked gaming in several ways. Specifically, Fisher said: “We are now introducing a tri-port unit that will enable future features. Ultimately, the single most important benefit of GSA is it is legacy free. Network gaming is the next big change in the gaming industry. And while we are waiting for the full adoption of the system, we know it is just around the corner.”

One thing few people associate with the gaming industry is environmentally aware production policies, but MEI passionately encourages and follows a mission of environmental stewardship. Aiming for its products to boast the lowest possible long-term environmental impact, the brand fine-tunes its design and production technologies to minimizing its environmental impact. To this end, MEI has formed a Global Green Team charged with developing and promoting environmentally conscious best-business practices for its products, processes and facilities. In 2008, MEI’s manufacturing facility in Mexico was awarded the Industria Limpia (Clean Industry) certification. Industria Limpia certification is the Mexican government’s highest level of recognition given companies that voluntarily exceed standards for environmental excellence.

Fisher wraps up by frankly explaining what really sets MEI apart: “Historically, we’re not the first to market. However, when MEI launches a product, its customers can be confident that the proper market knowledge and engineering was invested in the development so the product addresses industry needs. EASITRAX Soft Count was not the first slot tracking system implemented in casinos, but its operational efficiencies far outweigh the competition. MEI products are reliable, exceeding expectations on the core values that create value.”

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