Technology has become increasingly important to all gaming enterprises, but from your perspective as head of IT for a locals casino operator, is there more of less of a need for technology innovation from your end?

Technology innovation is nothing new to Station Casinos, and it will continue to be a critical part of the company’s strategy as we look for other long-term competitive advantages in the coming years. One of our best examples was when we developed and rolled out the Boarding Pass Player Rewards system back in 1999. Our success on the technology front begins with our executive management team which provides the direction, sets priorities and then provides the support and commitment to allow us to bring innovative initiatives to the guest and to our team members. Our management team understands that technology is a critical part of the company’s strategy.

Station Casinos has been very active with beta testing, becoming almost a proving ground for new games and innovations on the casino floor. Is there a key factor as to why Station properties are valuable in this regard?

Our executive management believes in and supports the investment in technology to help drive business initiatives. They have shown their willingness to assume risk on new and innovative concepts in order to achieve sustainable competitive advantage. Good working relationships with our key vendors and suppliers and a centralized approach has ensured a common direction and enabled our speed to market and ability to be a beta site for several projects. Being a multi-property environment allows us to be a good candidate for a beta test site. There are, of course, other advantages of being “early adopters” to new technology such as financial advantages and incentives.

Let's talk about some of the fresh technology approaches you and your company are taking. You have some new developments with sports betting, correct?

We undertook a very challenging project a few years ago, developing our own race and sports system based on Microsoft.Net technology. Having our own system would allow us to better market to our guests, while, at the same time, provide an infrastructure for future betting opportunities -  kiosk betting, remote sports betting from home PCs and phone via secure intranet. It would also give us the ability to add new features and functions to the system to help drive additional revenue. We are currently in field trial and hope to fully deploy this summer.

You've also undertaken adding additional CRM functionality with kiosks...

We are currently looking into improving our marketing techniques and providing more efficient and effective ways to understand our guests’ preferences as well as provide real-time value based on their profiles. Several other companies have undertaken these initiatives, many with mixed results. We built an advisory team of key senior management from every area of our operation. We are moving forward with a phased implementation approach which will provide deliverables and benefits at each stage of development. In addition, we are increasing our ability to communicate with our guests via kiosk and Internet and provide them the opportunity to receive products and services without having to stand in long lines at a food outlet or promotion centers.

Server-based gaming is the new technology buzz word in the gaming industry. Newer Station properties like Red Rock were built with server-based in mind, but what are you doing to prepare the rest of the company's properties for this imminent change?

We are working closely with our key slot vendors to understand the features and benefits of server-based gaming and what it will provide to the company. Again, being a multi-property environment with centralized control gives us the advantage being a good early adopter of the new and exciting technology. We are trying to understand the status of server-based gaming development, product deliver timelines and the changes needed to our existing technical environment - networking, server hardware, redundancy and security. At the same time, a critical part will be the integration into our key systems such as player tracking, table games and our casino system. There will be a lot of technical meetings and time spent in our quality assurance lab in the initial stages of this project.

There are advancements off the casino floor as well. Explain what you're doing with front desk operations and hotel reservation systems.

Due to our current growth and future planned expansions, we have recently implemented a central call center for our hotel reservations. There are plans to enhance the benefits of the call center for better guest services and ability to do more cross selling and promotions throughout our entire enterprise. This will continue to be a “work in progress” over the next few years.

How important is it for you to stay ahead of the technology curve?

I serve on the Microsoft Hospitality Advisory Board as well as the advisory council for (several trade magazines). This gives me exposure and insight into what’s new and on the horizon for products and services which can be applicable to our industry. The challenge is to understand the benefits which can be realized from new technology, and the costs to implement. Which new technology provides real value is what everyone should be asking. I recently had the opportunity to visit Microsoft Campus in Redmond, Wash. and saw its new development labs. There are several products which will be made available in the next few years which will definitely have an impact on our industry.

What are the key mistakes casino operators make when it comes to new technology?

There are several opportunities for mistakes when selecting and implementing new technology. A company should ask some key initial questions, such as: What are the benefits to the company? How will it fit into both your technical environment and company culture? And lastly, how do I select the right vendor? We also require all vendors to run their products through our quality assurance lab to help minimize risk before going into live production.

What are some of the potential technologies coming down the pipeline that have you excited? And what areas of the resort-casino are in need of better technologies today?

I see several technologies available today or within the next five years which I feel will have a dramatic impact in the gaming and hospitality industries. The first is server-based gaming. The ability to download games and communicate to and from the guest at the slot machine has very strong benefits. eWallet, or the ability to go entirely cashless across the gaming floor, as well as in retail outlets and restaurants, has strong possibilities and applications.  Wireless communications will improve for remote betting, reservations and guest information channels. The fact that our industry spans across gaming, hospitality, entertainment, retail and food and beverage leaves the door open for all the technology available to these specific industries. The key to success will be what we decide to implement to enhance the guest experience, and our guests will be the final judge of which technology is successful.

Marshall Andrew is vice president of IT and chief information officer for Station Casinos. In his positions with the Las Vegas-based locals casino operator, he has been on the forefront of many new technology and innovation initiatives for the company. Andrew has a degree in engineering from Purdue University and started his professional career as a cost engineer with Crown Zellerbach, a Fortune 500 paper company. He was responsible for computerizing the cost estimating process through manufacturing there. “So you might say this was my introduction to computers as a systems analyst and project manager,” he said. Andrew’s career took him into a variety of industries and gave him the exposure to many facets of both business and technology. Some of his career stops include: manufacturing and retail at Esprit de Corp in Germany; software development with INGRES, a relational database company; and hospitality with Hotel Information Systems. As vice president of engineering at Hotel Information Systems, one of his responsibilities was to link to Las Vegas and the gaming/hospitality industries. Eventually, he found his way to Station Casinos in 1994, about one week after the opening of Boulder Station. “The growth of the company since then and its ability to make contributions through development and implementation of technology has been a most rewarding experience,” he said. Andrew recently spoke with Casino Journal Editor Andy Holtmann about some of the unique things he’s doing with Station properties today.