by James J. Hodl
Recent developments with player tracking panels are boosting casino marketing and player data collection, while providing players with more options for fun and entertainment
As game device technology continues to advance, manufacturers are awakening to the additional opportunities presented by equipping slot machines with more sophisticated, technologically innovative player tracking panels.
Such panels establish a direct line of communication between casinos and individual players, through which casinos can offer incentives, special offers and rewards. In return, casinos receive more detailed information of players’ habits, needs and desires on which to base marketing campaigns.
“With player tracking panels, casinos can finally do as good if not a better job in marketing their entertainment, dining and other features while the player is still in the casino rather than after he leaves and is reachable only by direct mail and e-mail,” said Javier Saenz, vice president of strategy with the IGT Mariposa Network Systems Group. “Without having to target part of the pitch to getting players to revisit, one can aim robust marketing messages and get near instant responses. And through these panels, valued players can be instantly rewarded, thus giving them an additional incentive for wanting to visit again at their next opportunity.”
The technology used in existing player tracking panels varies broadly. Some offer messages in only alpha-numeric text while others provide complex animations and streaming video. To bring many of the most advanced features to players, an on-premises Ethernet is required. There are, however, no current plans to move to these panels promotional and player information by a wireless system, mostly due to regulatory concerns.
Where such panels are in use, casinos are still experimenting with what they can do with them. Some casinos seek immediate feedback on offers for freebies like mugs or discount restaurant coupons, requiring players to press a pad to secure them. One casino is even adding a sandwich menu so patrons can dine while continuing to play.
The iView player tracking system from Las Vegas-based Bally Technologies offers an interactive touchscreen display that enables players to perform many useful functions without climbing from the comfortable chair before their favorite slot machine.
“Using the touch keyboard, players can save lots of time for other activities. For instance, they can download credit from their player accounts into the machines as needed and upload their winnings later,” said Tom Doyle, vice president of product management at Bally. “Casinos can also enable these panels for players to order cocktails, make dinner reservations, acquire show tickets, even request that the valet get their car—all through this 3-inch by 8-inch Hitachi panel that affixes next to nearly all types of slots. And panels can provide instructive information to players in English, Spanish or French.”
Casinos can likewise use iView to send general and tailored messages to these panels, such as recognize an individual player on his birthday with a greeting. Panels can display the current jackpot size for the individual machine or for a bank of machines. Players can learn how many bonus points they’ve earned (on a football field graphic), and be informed by name of a player on the floor who have won a large jackpot. With Bally LIVE Rewards, players can play bonus games in addition to the slot game, earning credits or bingo balls toward a special prize. And when competing in a slots tournament, the panel can present a score card showing the player how he rates with his opponents for the tournament prize.
Casinos also can use the panels for assorted marketing and promotional activities. And not just as two lines of text but in “glorious full graphics,” Doyle explained. There is even a feature that encourages players to act immediately on a promotion, such as accepting an offer for a free t-shirt.
In the near future, Bally hopes to expand its system to enable streaming video of live sports events on the panel. Already available in the United Kingdom, this feature kept many a player at the slots during the World Cup soccer tournament, Doyle noted.
Providing information and entertainment
Aristocrat Technologies designed its Sentinel III player tracking system’s display screen to function as an information highway between casino and player, and as a source of additional entertainment to players, said Kelly Shaw, vice president of system sales at the Las Vegas-based company.
“With Sentinel III, casinos can better promote their floor, calling attention to new games, tournaments and other special gaming activities in color displays and graphics on the system’s touchscreen. Casinos also can send players promotions for in-house restaurants, concerts and other media ads,” she noted.
“But the panel also provides players with the abilities to download and upload credits to player card-related accounts, using secure lines that cannot be accessed without entering the player’s special PIN number. And the panels add excitement by suddenly calling up a player-specific bonus round when a certain level of wagering—preset by the casino—is reached,” Shaw said.
These bonus games are played right on the player tracking screen.
A special Sentinel III panel feature for casinos is the ease at which message content can be changed, Shaw explained. Using Aristocrat’s Speed Media Administrator, casino staffers can click and drag new content, including photos and videos, into place. And casinos can vary messages to specific slot machine locations, she added.
Aristocrat further allows casinos to add player tracking panels to slots at their own pace. They can add it to a few machines at first, then add more locations in assorted increments until all machines are paneled, Shaw said.
The Oracle-based Konami Casino Management System (KCMS) from Las Vegas-based Konami Gaming provides four channels of real-time streaming video through its LCD panel.
“The True-Time Entertainment Panel enables players to glance at live sporting events while playing their favorite slot machine,” said Mark Wiedemer, director of system sales at Konami. “During football season, the screen lets the player choose one of three video feeds of games in progress on which they may have a wager riding, and present it in real time as it unfolds. On the fourth channel, clips of whatever band or showbiz personality is currently performing at the casino can be run with a message encouraging the player to attend the full show.”
With KCMS, casinos also can secure player information not just down to the individual machine, but to the pay table level, Wiedemer added. This provides casinos with more detailed data on individual players that enables better classification of their actual worth to the casino, and sends this information up-line in real time as the player is making wagering decisions.
The NexGen sb System, scheduled to be introduced this fall by Reno-based IGT Systems, will bring player tracking technology into the era of server-based gaming, said IGT’s Saenz.
“This upgrade of our earlier NexGen systems is designed to operate over in-house Ethernet systems that provide enough bandwidth for true two-way communication between player and casino,” Saenz said. “This opens up opportunities to maximize each customer by offering instantaneous offers that not only increase patronage elsewhere in the casino, but makes customers feel valued and adds to their enjoyment.”
With an expandable memory, NexGen sb can present marketing and other information to player in a variety of formats including Flash animation and video. This can include streaming text along the bottom of the screen providing stock market data, sports scores, weather forecasts, and assorted promotions from slots tournaments to entertainment venues, he noted.
“The system’s touchscreen is designed so touch pads match average finger sizes to assure error-free entry of selections,” Saenz said. “Casinos can also alter the number of touch pad areas on this screen. For instance, a casino might enable the player at the touch of a pad bring up a drink menu with many more pad areas, from which a soda, beer or other beverage can be ordered for delivery by a server from the bar.”
NextGen sb display panels are even installed to provide the most convenient viewing.
“Our studies indicate that touchscreens can best attract attention when located where players can look down at them, as it requires less effort than looking up or to the side,” Saenz said. “On our TrimLine slots cabinets, the touchscreen is thus located between the game display and the buttons panel, assuring most provided information is read.”
NextGen sb, which can be retrofit in place of any existing NextGen system, also comes with tools enabling casinos to quickly and easily change the information appearing on the display screen.
A newer entry into today’s player tracking market, Iverson Gaming Systems of Bala Cynwid, Pa., has actually been around a while. Its Web-based SLOTMaster Pro slot accounting and player tracking system is currently used on Carnival, Princess and Holland America cruise ships. But in April, the system received Gaming Laboratories International certification for Standard 13—online monitoring and control systems.
SLOTMaster systems position on brackets to the side or atop of nearly all brand of slot machines a 4.5-inch by 1.5-inch display with keyboard and player card reader. The alpha-numeric–only screen displays marketing messages to players, but an improved version that can stream ads, movies and programming off over-air and cable television is in the works, said Millard Reeves, vice president of product development at Iverson.
The panel system also helps players transfer credits from player accounts to the machine and back, and to space sports bets, he added.
Initial test installations of SlotMaster Pro have been made at two South Dakota casinos. Iverson is willing to work with all size casinos to adopt the system for their use, said Joanne Iverson, company president.
There are other new player tracking panel developments on the horizon as well, one of which is expected to come from Waukegan, Ill.-based WMS Gaming. The company said it has licensed technology for building its own panel-augmented system, which could become available in time for the Global Gaming Expo later this year.