Mike Volkert, vice president of slot marketing and operations, Aria Resort & Casino, Las Vegas, Nev.:
The key for SB is going to be when we get critical mass on marketing applications for server-based. Right now, we’re using it to mainly download content and use the service window obviously as our kind of an interface with our customers. But for the near future, the plan is, working with IGT, to start rolling out additional applications. We’re going to start marketing at the game, using real-time triggers to market to customers based on the individual – what their characteristics are, that sort of thing.
I think once you start getting a suite of marketing products, then it will become much more of a compelling story. You know, the iPhone became cool once you had the Apps Store. [What has to happen is] they have to create this open universe where everyone can kind of play together and then you’ll start to see a lot of creativity and a lot of applications that can layer on top of the game to create a lot of value for the customer. [One of the apps that Aria designed for the Service Window] was what we branded as Quick Pay. That allows us to pay automated jackpots in high-limit areas [eliminating the time-consuming paperwork for tax purposes]. Our system will aggregate all your jackpots assuming you sign up for it. It’s a pretty cool process. Once you hit a jackpot, if you’ve already enrolled, you can select Quick Pay and you accept it, and it immediately downloads your credits. You don’t need an employee. You don’t need anything. You can just keep going. Customers really love that feature. That’s an application we designed. [Asked if content will be coming from designers outside the mainstream gaming industry,] he said, “We have some other folks we’re working with on kind of a longer-term strategy there. Our company’s position is that server-based should be open-sourced. IGT does have an SDK, software development kit, out there so I think in a few years you’ll start to see more compelling applications.
If you build a new casino, [putting in server-based gaming] is a no-brainer. You’re going to do it because it doesn’t cost you any more to do, but to retrofit a property, the story’s not quite there yet, but I think it will be.
First off, you’ve got to have a business model that works for the casino operator. The business model today just does not pencil for the operator. It’s just not a hot push right now. At the end of the day, server-based gaming is going to be great. Where the big value is going to be the marketing, and being able to communicate with the player in real time. [But Fennel said he doesn’t believe the business model is there to share intellectual property among manufacturers to permits optimal deployment of these applications.] Everybody hasn’t really learned how to play nice together. Until we start seeing business models that work and things that have more marketing value, it’s going to be tough. I don’t see anybody operating a whole property with server-based gaming unless they’re opening something new [and mostly likely in a thriving, growth market such as Macau.].
I think there are two things holding it back. The operators don’t want to spend the money right now. I truly don’t think that any of the operators have truly learned what server based gaming is and how to use it, and I don’t think there’s a manufacturer that really knows how to tell them to do it. They haven’t delivered anything. There are a lot of theories, but it’s truly not what server-based should be. There really isn’t anybody really designing for it. The manufacturers aren’t going to spend a lot of money developing something that there isn’t anybody willing to buy today.
One of the problems is they have not made it true server-based gaming. It’s truly only a slave operating other slaves. There really is no master computer. If they ever make it a central determination system where the outcome is coming from the server and not from the machine and that you could operate several machines or your whole floor or your whole group of machines, then I think they have something.
[Right now] it’s nothing more than a glorified player tracking system. That part’s fine. I think that’s a good thing. If you’re building a new casino, it makes sense. It’s a no-brainer. You’re buying a marketing system that has some nice things. It has some other capabilities that make life easy from a maintenance and marketing standpoint so it’s worth the extra money upfront. You’re going to wire your floor anyway. SM