Making money count
Making money count
Updated bills and new bill acceptors help protect casinos against counterfeit cash
The war on counterfeiting has taken a new turn with the introduction of the new $10 bill. Like the redesigned $20 and $50 bills that preceded it, the $10 bill incorporates state-of-the-art security features to combat counterfeiting, including color-shifting ink, a watermark and a security thread.
In order to stay ahead of crooks, the currency needs to be redesigned every seven to 10 years. That's nothing compared to other countries, however,
where there are few, if any, safeguards. In Macau, for example, currency is
issued by four different banks, each with its own security features.
The gaming industry, with its heavy dependence on cash, is a natural target for counterfeiters. Although the U.S. government estimates that fewer than one in 10,000 of all $10 notes are counterfeit, an increasing proportion of counterfeit notes are produced using digital equipment. Since 1995, digitally produced counterfeit notes have increased from less than 1 percent of all counterfeits detected in the United States to about 52 percent in 2005.
To thwart counterfeiters, casinos have established a perimeter defense of turbocharged bill validators and acceptors, which are about as similar to the devices used in vending machines as laser beams are to flashlights.
The big picture
At the high-end of the product spectrum are machines that can scan an entire bill, not just strips as vending machine devices do.
"Advances in technology allow us to capture the full format of a bill, and to read across the entire bill and determine if it's a counterfeit," said Tom Nugent, vice president of gaming at Mars, Inc.'s MEI subsidiary, which markets a line of bill acceptors and validators.
The Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City implemented MEI's CashFlow machine upon its opening in 2003. The machine has low rejection rates, interfaces with major slots systems and has high durability and reliability. The product enabled Borgata to vault ahead of competitors in creating a cashless slot floor said Paul Tjoumakaris, Borgata's slots manager.
Money Controls' newest machine, Ardac Elite, processes 32,000 data points on a bill, making it next to impossible to pass counterfeits. Through the use of high-resolution scanning, the machine can process a bill in just under three seconds, said Cliff Buckley, Money Control's director of sales.
The machines used in slot operations are capable of processing $100 bills, which-because of the higher risk factor-require top-of-the-line technology. Speed and reliability are paramount. "Casinos are looking for something that's maintenance-free and can reject fraudulent bills," Buckley said.
Such automation doesn't come cheap; a high-end machine can top $1,000. That's chump change, however, compared to the risk of a casino being hit by a counterfeiting ring. It also reduces the likelihood of a machine's rejecting a genuine bill that's worn or tattered, which adds to the player experience-always a factor when choosing equipment.
Unlike the gaming machines of old, which held hoppers filled with coins and tokens, today's machines use built-in thermal printers to print out a coupon, with a barcode containing security information. The coupons can be read by slot machines or redeemed at the gaming tables, restaurants or for hotel amenities.
With printing and bill recognition technologies joined at the hip, as it were, strategic alliances between manufacturers of each are beginning to take shape. JCM American, which claims an 80 percent market share in North America with 850,000 machines deployed, has linked up with TransAct Technologies, a printer manufacturer, in a joint marketing initiative under which JCM's sales force will offer TransAct's gaming thermal printers in combination with its bill acceptor and currency handling products. The companies will also work together to offer service and support for TransAct printers by utilizing JCM's network of sales and service centers. Under the agreement, JCM will phase out its TSP-02 printer.
The companies each had successful exclusive product placement at Wynn Las Vegas, where the gaming floor was equipped with JCM's UBA and Intelligent Plastic Cash Box products and TransAct's Epic 950 printer.
Another company that has made inroads in the gaming industry, with its wide selection of bill validating equipment, is Concord, Ontario-based CashCode. The company's latest models-the FrontLoad FLS and the Multi-width Frontload MFL-have an array of new features that enhance end-user convenience.
The FrontLoad FLS supports multiple interfaces (bidirectional, serial, pulse, opto-isolated and USB) and protocols (CCNET and other industry standards), as well as bezel options (standard, LED and digital display. The FLS also has both smart stick and network/downloadable memory options and capacity to stack up to 1,000 notes. The MFL like the FrontLoad model, verifies bills and stacks them into a lockable-removable cassette. Unlike the FrontLoad, the MFL features validation of multi-width bills or coupons via self-centering transport guides. Originally designed for slot machines, the Multi-width FrontLoad fits easily into most gaming machines.
CashCode's bill acceptors have new security features as well that meet casinos' ever-changing needs.
"We have added improved anti-stringing and counterfeit detection technologies," Mike Kameka, CashCode's director of business development gaming for North America told Casino Journal during last year's Global Gaming Expo. "(The FLS) now examines a bill five different ways for problems now that we have added UV scanning to the tests."
Doing more with data
The bill acceptors in a gaming environment do a lot more than dispense paper, however. "All of the information that's digitized is transmitted to the game board, where up to a hundred different fields of data are populated," said Tom Nieman, JCM American's vice president of gaming solutions.
The information from the game board is in turn sent to back-end management systems, which monitor acceptations and failures, and such minutiae as which end of a bill is inserted. The data is eventually used to sharpen the player experience. "Operators can define their floor layouts based on bill denominations," Nieman said.
A preponderance of high denomination bills at a particular location might suggest a switch to placing larger jackpot slots there.
So reliable are today's bill machines that they're causing crooks to change their behavior patterns.
"Counterfeiters used to want to avoid passing bills to a live person, so they passed them at slots. Now security is so tight at the slots that counterfeit activity is migrating to the pits," Nieman said.
And once a bad bill has been passed, it won't get detected until much later, if at all. "If a dealer doesn't recognize a counterfeit and it makes it the soft count room, the casino has to eat that money," Nieman said.
Fortunately, technology is being implemented at the pits. Where once cash was dropped into a box, it's now beginning to be fed into a bill validator located beside the dealer. "Operators are continually looking for automation where they're counting the money," said MEI's Nugent.
JCM American's Trident Table Safe cash management system was developed by observing the dynamics of table play and customer behavior. The product provides for a rapid and trackable deposit system, including a 4-megabyte memory, self-feed bulk note acceptance, a lockable and removable cash box, 2,000-note capacity and barcode coupon reader.
The system provides an end-to-end tracking system from the table, to the pit, to the soft count room, and to the back office. At the table, it boosts efficiency by reducing drop frequency (through its bulk handling feature) and reducing the need for floor inspection prior to a drop.
At the pit, it provides real-time drop data and continuous table status. "An operator can look at a screen and determine at a glance the activity by shift, by game or by location," Nieman said.
At the soft count room, Trident offers secure asset tracking, complete audit by cash box, faster soft count results and reduced soft count variances. And at the back office it provides insights into operational trends, performance reporting and financial data.
The next plateau for gaming machines is credit card acceptance, long a sore point with regulators who fear that credit card fraud would easily eclipse paper bill counterfeiting as the scourge of casinos.
With the exception of a few Native American jurisdictions, credit cards are off limits on the gaming floor. But that's likely to change as manufacturers implement the same security levels for plastic as they have for paper.
"Will credit card devices become a standard?" Nieman queried, referring to the Native American jurisdictions. "Inevitably, yes. Once gaming regulators reach a comfort level, credit cards will quickly become commonplace."
Thus the trend toward a paperless society, so pronounced in the world at large, is taking hold in the gaming industry, one of the last strongholds of cash. In the meantime, casino operators and manufacturers are sparing no expense in deploying automation to reject fraud, accept good bills, speed the player experience and generate information to the count room and back-end systems.
The Borgata uses a new ticket-in/ticket-out system to please casino managers and customers
When Paul Tjoumakaris was hired as slots manager for Borgata Hotel Spa & Casino, a year and a half prior to its opening in 2003, one of his top priorities was to implement a 100 percent ticket-in/ticket-out system, meaning that players could redeem their coupons anywhere-at another slot machine, at the tables or at any other part of the establishment.
At the time, Bally's was the only casino in Atlantic City that had it, but it was only in use at about 25 percent of its slot machines, said Tjoumakaris. The ticket system in use at Bally's-IGT's EZ Pay-was a two-wire system, he said, meaning that the bill validator and slot machine didn't communicate directly. What he wanted was a single-wire system, and he found the necessary technology in MEI Global's CashFlow, a new bill validator system that could interface with all the slot systems that Borgata planned to use, including those from IGT, Bally Technologies and Aristocrat.
CashFlow's software also interfaces with the systems in the count room, making soft counts more effective. It's made of durable plastic, replacing the clunky metal cashboxes of old. And it has anti-jamming features that provide a higher bill acceptance rate-a big hit with customers.
By the time Borgata opened, Tjoumakaris had succeeded in getting CashFlow to be integrated with all of its slot machines, making it one of the first casinos to achieve a 100 percent cashless slot floor.
"We wanted to standardize on the best available technology," said Tjoumakaris, "one that would be accepted by customers."
Noted bill acceptor vendors
553 Basaltic Road
Concord, Ontario, Canada L4K 4W8
6672 Spencer St.
Las Vegas, Nev. 89119
1301 Wilson Drive
West Chester, Pa. 19380
925 Pilot Rd.
Las Vegas, Nev. 89119