RFID's Wave Reviews
by Steven Marlin
RFID’s Wave Reviews
Radio-frequency identification technology offers advantages to customer-centric gaming operations
Keeping track of guests—their likes and dislikes, buying behavior and other characteristics—is getting a lot easier as radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology is expanded into hotel and casino venues. RFID, which uses embedded microchips and readers, is being integrated by gaming product and point-of-sale system manufacturers to give casino operators new ways to measure player and transaction tracking. It’s also being used in hospitality areas such as hotels, restaurants, entertainment venues and even theme parks to see where guests are, what services they use, where they’re spending the most money and allocate staff in real time based on guest or operational needs and ensure more security.
RFID uses radio waves emitted by tags or chips and captured by readers to identify things automatically and in real time. Such a system also typically involves a software infrastructure to collect and manage data.
The ability of RFID-enabled property management systems to pinpoint customer tastes and preferences carries wide appeal for gaming operators. “RFID enables more sophisticated customer management, which will drive demand for the technology,” said Dave Hoffman, leisure and entertainment product manager at POS and hospitality system vendor Micros Systems.
The future can be glimpsed at theme parks and other venues where the technology has been deployed with success. That will raise the demand for RFID across the entire spectrum of the hospitality and entertainment industry, said Hoffman. He predicted that significant deployment in the gaming industry will begin in about 18-24 months.
More efficiency, happier guests
Micros installed its RFID system at Great Wolf Lodge in Niagara Falls, Canada last summer, and the system has enhanced both the guest experience and the ease of use with property-wide integrated RFID, which allows guests at the lodge to wear waterproof wrist bands that facilitate payment at any Micros POS workstation in the lodge’s food and beverage and retail locations. This allows guests at the 103,000-square-foot indoor water complex to make purchases without having to carry cash or other forms of payment.
Another example of a hotel utilizing RFID is the Holiday Inn Fort Rapids Indoor Water Park and Resort in Columbus, Ohio. Integrating cashless payment with guest location services, the system provides all guests of the hotel and fun park with a wristband enabling cashless payment throughout the property linked to their individual room folio.
The integration of Fort Rapids’ POS system from InfoGenesis and its RFID technology is accomplished by Microsoft’s BizTalk Server. Guests can be out at the waterpark and pay for things like a hot dog by just swiping their RFID bracelet at the point-of-sale terminal. All purchases and room nights can be rolled up into a single guest invoice. This property-wide purchasing convenience is enabling guests to enjoy their stay more, while at the same time increasing per guest spending at the resort.
Although RFID has been around for decades, it typically has been deployed by retailers and manufacturers for supply chain management. But advances in open standard technologies have created new opportunities in other applications, including hotel operations.
“RFID allows hotels to differentiate and significantly improve business fundamentals—reducing costs, maximizing revenue—to create a smarter guest experience, smarter operations, and smarter services,” said Matt Muta, hospitality industry manager at Microsoft.
By implementing a scalable RFID system of tags, readers and supporting software, hotels can better manage their assets. Risk to guests is also mitigated by RFID through more effective door control to limit property access to those authorized guests or personnel. A cashless RFID payment system enables guests to purchase high-margin items such as drinks, food, specialized services, and hotel merchandise. By knowing where employees and guests are, managers can quickly allocate resources to places where guests may be underserved.
More strategically, by deploying seamless and personalized RFID-based cards or bracelets, hoteliers can build superior customer experience to drive loyalty and repeat visits. For early adopters of RFID, this could prove to be a distinct competitive advantage.
For example, hotels will use near-field RFID technology to enable guests to unlock their room door automatically as they approach it. And as the guest enters the room, they will find their room amenities—such as lighting, window shades, room temperature, music, and TV—set to meet their preferences. Often called “building intelligence,” these capabilities deliver a much smarter guest experience.
That same hotel will also run smarter operations with RFID by using the technology to track data such as how long it takes the cleaning staff to clean rooms, quickly determining which rooms are ready for guests, what’s been taken from a mini-bar, and more. This knowledge can not only help managers make smarter immediate decisions around staffing, guest needs, and room re-supply, but over the long term the information can be aggregated to spot opportunities for greater productivity and more efficient operations.
One of the challenges to implementing RFID is the complexity of integrating RFID with existing systems. Many hotels operate legacy systems that may not be compatible with today’s RFID solutions. This problem will be reduced as more hospitality organizations embrace interoperative software and open architectures, said Microsoft’s Muta.
Meanwhile, the rollout of RFID gaming chips is accelerating as top chip manufacturers deploy new product lines and forge partnerships. Demand is brisk, especially in Asian markets like Macau.
By installing RFID readers on or near tables or behind the cage, casinos can follow payments, fills and credits, table drops, tips, and wins and losses per table at any time of the day. Player chips can also be tracked through player tracking hardware and software systems, enabling the casino to follow player bets, identify card counters, and rate players.
Cage readers provide an easy and efficient tool to eliminate human errors from the chip flow and cash flow control at the cage. When the chips are placed on the cage reader, additional information can be entered in the chip’s memory via the cashier’s keyboard such as player’s name and validation date.
VendingData Corp., through its acquisition of Australia-based Dolphin Advanced Technologies, is selling 13.56 MHz gaming chips, which offer dramatic improvements in speed and capacity over low-frequency (125 KHz) RFID technology. The high-frequency RFID chips are capable of processing data eight times faster than the low-frequency technology, and have memory capacities of over 10,000 bits, which is five times the capacity of the nearest low-frequency technology.
In another move, Progressive Gaming International has named Gaming Partners International as a manufacturer of 13.56 MHz RFID-based gaming chips and peripheral readers in the United States and overseas. The companies are integrating equipment and software incorporating Progressive Gaming’s 13.56 MHz RFID platform and are developing management and tracking systems to enable casinos to harness data provided by RFID embedded casino currency.
Separately, Progressive Gaming is developing cage readers and other peripheral readers incorporating 13.56 MHz RFID technology and software, and Gaming Partners has launched an RFID-based electronic chip surveillance system utilizing 125 KHz RFID tags which trigger an alarm when stolen chips are taken through electronic sensor gates.
For gaming companies that wish to incorporate RFID technology into their existing currency control systems, Cx3 Chip Verification Software sells chip verification software and 13.56 MHz RFID readers and antennas. This addresses one of the hurdles associated with RFID, namely the need to replace an entire currency control system just to upgrade to RFID, said Cx3 senior architect Ian Kostman.
Whether it’s gaming chips or customer information, RFID figures to play an increasingly prominent role in casino operations in the years to come.
Notable RFID players in the gaming industry
|Cx3 Chip Verification Software
6572 Bradford Lane
Las Vegas, Nev. 89108
Gaming Partners International
1700 Industrial Road
Las Vegas, Nev. 89102
1351 Holiday Hill Road
Santa Barbara, Calif. 93117
(800) 242.5434 x1477
7031 Columbia Gateway Drive
Columbia, Md. 21046
Progressive Gaming International
920 Pilot Road
Las Vegas, Nev. 89119
1120 N. Town Centre Dr.
Las Vegas, Nev. 89144