TECHNOLOGY/OPERATIONS: Popular MECHANICS
Keep your slot players happy and engaged, and they’ll reward you with repeated visits and increased revenues.
Sounds simple enough, but the reality is nothing is ever quite that simple or easy. Still, the growth of networked gaming is providing more ways than ever to fulfill that seemingly simple goal, and today’s casino operators are increasingly taking advantage of those applications.
“We have a lot of advantages on our floor now, with the different promotions that come through Konami [and its system called KCMS],” said Tim Rambo, general manager of the Casablanca hotel-casino and director of casino operations at the Virgin River hotel-casino, both in Mesquite, Nev.
Konami’s solution, he said, has been highly effective in rewarding players and driving play through its system-driven bonusing apps. One in particular, a lottery-style floor-wide promotion called LotAbucks has been a go-to app since the casinos first deployed it in January 2011.
“The coolest thing about LotAbucks is every day [that it’s deployed] we’re going to have hundreds of winners,” Rambo said. “Basically everyone who stays and plays long enough [is] going to win something.”
The proof is in the results. “We’re seeing increased carded play, and we’re getting more visits from people overall,” he said. “We’re seeing growth year over year. I’m not sure if it’s all due to the Konami system, but what we’re seeing is good positive flow.”
Rambo said the promotion pays off in other ways. “It’s really helped us find out who our customers are and to be able to market to them more effectively,” he said.
“What we’re seeing is operators are looking for these types of added bonuses to create more excitement and more reasons to come back to their casino,” Warren said.
The system delivers multiple types of bonusing applications either individually or across the slot floor in entertaining formats, said Michael Ratner, director of product management, systems, for Konami.
For example, a casino operator could use the Konami system to award all new players who sign up for a player card on a given day a $10 free-play bonus to the machine. But instead of merely giving the player the bonus play amount, the system delivers the reward through a 30-to 45-second game that’s “more entertaining and a little more interactive to the player.”
Konami also offers floor-wide bonusing for qualified players who have their card in and are actively playing. “A networked game is delivered across the floor to all players regardless of manufacturer, and players will get to play a community-style game” funded through marketing and promotions funds, not through the game itself.
REAL-TIME ADVANTAGESKonami is just one of many manufacturers upping the ante with new applications to make the slot floor more entertaining for players, and more efficient and profitable for operators.
Joe Sigrist, vice president of product management for International Game Technology (IGT), said networked gaming gives operators the ability to leverage their gaming floors in new ways, giving them access to real-time information to reward players and enhance their gaming experience in a more personalized fashion.
“One of the obvious benefits is to provide offers to the player based on who they are,” Sigrist said. “You could, across the board, offer everybody who’s currently playing an offer, say, a free drink,” or, he added, “you could specifically target them a special offer based on their status as a player.”
Casinos using IGT’s sbX can use the Service Window display to market to players right at the machine, offer suggestions based on their previous play for new games to experience, or give them the capability to purchase things with their player club points.
Javier Saenz, director of product development for IGT, said the company has focused on developing applications that deliver value and service to players and increase efficiency and profitability to the casino. These include applications allowing players to order a drink, check on their room or restaurant reservation, take part in virtual drawings, contact their casino host, reserve a game in the high-limit slot area, or even check sport scores or weather reports. Another application automates the process of handling taxable jackpots.
Saenz said IGT also offers intelligent bonuses, such as the Random Riches, in which players achieve a certain level of play and are then eligible to receive certain bonus rewards.
IGT’s newest network apps are Auction Action and Team Challenge. With Auction Action, coming out later this summer, operators can choose to put up for bid anything they have in their inventory, such as rooms, free play offers, restaurant meals or show tickets. Through the Service Window, “players can actually bid on items with their player points,” giving the players a rewarding experience while reducing the casino’s point liability, often through expiring inventory.
The Team Challenge application allows a casino operator to divide its slot floor into teams to play a side-action bonus game, with themes such as popping balloons or slicing watermelons. It will be deployed for the first time at MotorCity Casino in Detroit.
TOURNEY TIMEOne of the most spectacular displays of networked gaming occurred this past February at Pechanga Resort & Casino, as the Temecula, Calif., casino and Bally Technologies landed in the record books by holding the world’s largest slot machine tournament.
Some 1,100 machines from five different manufacturers on the casino floor used Bally’s network gaming technology to turn them into tournament machines and allow hundreds of players to compete at the same time.
The event electrified the casino floor, said Buddy Frank, Pechanga vice president of slot operations.
The tournament demonstrated the ability of networked gaming technology to convert the machines into tournament slots and then turn them back into regular games immediately afterward, Frank said. “We had one of our best days ever. It rivaled New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day,” he said, noting the tournament actually equaled New Year’s Eve’s coin-in and surpassed New Year’s Day’s win. “It was spectacular.”
Another eye-opening moment for Frank was watching the heightened energy and excitement levels carry over throughout the casino hours after the tournament was over.
Over the tournament’s three rounds, 2,885 patrons participated in the record-setting event, made possible through use of Bally’s networked gaming technology, such as iVIEW Display Manager (DM), Elite Bonusing Suite and DM Tournaments.
People were so enthusiastic about the event that they started lining up in the early morning to try to secure their places in the tournament.
“It was just amazing. It looked like Black Friday at Best Buy,” said Bruce Rowe, Bally senior vice president, Strategy and Customer Consulting. “There are just not a lot of events that can generate that kind of excitement in the casino.”
Rowe noted such events are potent reminders of the power of networked gaming technologies, and may speed the rate of adoption of such technologies.
Bally’s focus continues to be using the networked floor to enhance casino marketing capabilities and to allow casinos to differentiate themselves using Bally’s networked gaming tools, such as the Elite Bonusing Suite. One of the suite’s newer applications is Flex Rewards, Rowe said. “That allows the operator to use marketing money that for years has been used in the mailbox and be able to give that to the customers at the appropriate time and through the appropriate channel, at the game, mobile or through direct mail. We can look at their behavioral patterns and market to them in the most effective way.”
Austin, Texas-based Multimedia Games also has made inroads with its networked gaming slot tournament product called TournEvent.
The company recently launched a first-of-its-kind statewide slot tournament at 11 California casinos. The competition brought together slot players from participating properties, and a final championship round is slated for May 7 onboard Celebrity Cruises’ Millennium Wine Tour Cruise.
In a news release, Jay Duarte, vice president of slot operations at Thunder Valley Casino Resort near Sacramento, praised the event. “The air of anticipation leading up to our qualifying event, the players’ excitement during play and the celebration for the winner created an entirely new and unique experience for a slot tournament compared to similar events we have held before,” he said.
Multimedia Games’ TournEvent slot tournament system is installed at 62 casinos across the country. With TournEvent, casino operators can switch networked slot machines from in-revenue live status to out-of-revenue tournament status at the touch of a button. TournEvent 3.0 enhances the player’s tournament experience and gives operators more options to personalize their tournaments -including a player dashboard that displays real-time picture-in-picture video of the top five players, the player’s name and position in the tournament and the time remaining; the interactive Pop-N-Win feature; and an automated emcee, The Money Man.
“In terms of our product, I think the player has always been interested in tournaments,” said Mick Roemer, senior vice president of sales, Multimedia Games. TournEvent takes that product players already like and improves upon it, he said.
“Playing the game is much more exciting. What we see is players jumping up and down, screaming and doing the feel-good dance when they win.”
TournEvent also raises the energy level in the casinos where it is deployed, Roemer said. “What we’re hearing is when they hold these tournaments, the play in their casino goes up, not just on the tournament games, but on all the games,” he said.
Multimedia is planning to add even more game features to TournEvent, including a worst-to-first feature, Roemer said.
WEAVING A NEW WEBWaukegan, Ill.-based WMS Gaming has been at the forefront of networked gaming, but early on the company took the position that casinos would likely institute networked gaming on a bank-by-bank and product-by-product basis, said Mark Pace, vice president of Network Gaming & Operations Engineering for WMS.
WMS focuses on networked gaming as an enabler that allows the company to deliver more excitement, more ways to win, and more entertaining and personalized gaming concepts.
WMS has been credited with pioneering some of the industry’s most interactive, networked-gaming-enabled concepts, including the community gaming product Monopoly Big Event and Star Trek, which offered Adaptive Gaming features that allow players to save their progress through game themes by creating a player account. It also created Players Life, an environment where players could log on to the Internet, play casual games and unlock bonuses that could be used when players went back to the casino and logged into that game at the casino.
One of WMS’s most exciting new gaming products is its Metascreen Portal Family, which has debuted with Pirate Battle, a two-by-two competitive community gaming theme available in banks of four BLUEBIRD xD cabinets with 32-inch overhead monitors. The screens join to form a massive, singular screen on which a bonus cannon battle randomly occurs, in which red and blue teams, denoted by emotive lighting at the EGM level, compete for credit and jackpot awards.
Pechanga’s Frank said he is excited to see how his players react to Pirate Battle, which is being deployed at his property. “It’s essentially a network application that sits on top of a standard game and gives a shared community bonus,” he said.
WMS’s Portal Application Suite creates value for operators by allowing them to mix and match the company’s portfolio of video and mechanical reel base games with secondary integrated bonus applications. The Portal Application solutions, such as its Ultra Hit Progressive family including Jackpot Xplosion and Piggy Bankin’, allow operators to keep base game themes fresh, boost games’ performance, and provide new ways for a casino to differentiate their floor.
Game performance on base games is much higher when they’re deployed with the Ultra Hit Progressive, a mystery-triggered, multi-level progressive architecture.
In Jackpot Xplosion, players’ reels and top boxes fill with lava as coin-in builds and jackpot levels increase until finally the volcano dramatically erupts, awarding one lucky player one of four progressive awards.
Piggy Bankin’ features coins that pile into the a piggy bank, making it grow bigger and bigger as it shakes and then cracks, ultimately reaching critical mass as the bank explodes and awards one lucky player one of the progressive levels.
Another Portal Application Family called Winner’s Share adds a secondary, randomly awarded bonus opportunity on top of many WMS video or mechanical game themes.
Its first theme is Peng-Wins, which features a randomly triggered bonus where one lucky player experiences an exciting progressive game with a penguin sliding, bouncing and slipping through an interactive environment, collecting credit awards until stopping on a platform to win from 1 percent to 200 percent of the progressive jackpot.
“From a networked gaming perspective, we continue to look to develop different portal applications that give the operators the ability to mix and match these portal applications with base games that work for them,” Pace said.