Like many other tried and true casino products, the first decades of the new century are proving to be a transitional time for kiosk hardware, software and technology.
Long ubiquitous on the casino floor and throughout resort facilities, kiosks tended to perform one task and perform it well, whether it was providing general information about a property, spitting out cash as an ATM, accepting and printing tickets, or breaking bills and redeeming coins. But improvements in technology and demands for increased functionality from casino patrons and operators have forced kiosks to evolve. The single-purpose stand is becoming a thing of the past, replaced by network-compliant machines that can support and offer multiple capabilities in one unit.
“There is definitely a very strong trend to move toward a machine that combines the three traditional kiosk cash handling functions-ATM, ticket-in/ ticket-out (TITO) and bill breaking-in one unit,” said Rick Friese, senior vice president for Glory U.S.A., a West Caldwell, N.J.-based company that specializes in cash handling and management equipment and software. “Three-in-one devices save money through efficiency-you do not need to have as much funds on the floor, which saves in day-to-day operational costs.”
Glory U.S.A. already produces just such a product, the SK-100A, an easy-to-operate kiosk that provides customers with fast and accurate cash dispensing, TITO, bill-breaking and ATM functionality. With five currency cassettes with 3,000 note capacity and Web browser-based accounting, administration and monitoring capacities, the SK-100A offers casino management the opportunity to reduce errors and cost while improving productivity.
The SK-100A has proven to be Glory U.S.A.’s most popular casino kiosk, finding placements in major gaming chains and in a host of smaller independent and tribal properties. This popularity is not an accident, according to Friese; the SK-100A and its sister product, the SK-100, were engineered and designed with casino operators wants and needs specifically in mind.
“Pretty much all the competitive product in the marketplace right now has a dispensing product based on an ATM platform,” Friese said. “We took a different approach. Being a manufacturer involved in gaming for many years, we went out and worked with the floor people that administer the kiosks, as well as the cage people who also have to interact with the stands from a reporting standpoint, and we really developed a new machine from the ground up. We based it more on floor operation management as opposed to just taking a standard ATM platform and adding to it.”
The ability to develop and design kiosk products in-house also ensures Glory U.S.A. will be on top of the latest technological trends sweeping the industry such as greater network connectivity, social media, wireless communication, the continuing digitalization of the money stream-anything that impacts the handling and management of cash. There is one area of kiosk development that the company approaches with caution, however: marketing functionality.
“According to studies, something like 50 percent of the funds on the casino floor come from cash access services,” Friese said. “The objective of a three-in-one machine is for patrons to quickly cash their tickets or access funds and get back to gambling. When you integrate marketing-type functions into kiosks, you detract from this original goal and purpose. That said, we are always listening to our customers and will do as they request. But we will remain more focused on providing enhancements to core financial functionalities.”
Another company sticking to the kiosk technology it knows best is Mt. Prospect, Ill.-based Cummins-Allison Corp., a manufacturer of coin and currency processing equipment for the banking, gaming and retail industries. Its Money Machine is a self-service coin-processing kiosk that has the industry’s fastest running speed and most accurate count, according to company literature. Machine attendants can monitor machine status, including coin intake, fees withheld, number of transactions, collection bag capacity and a host of other data by using the equipment’s touch screen.
The Money Machine touch screen is extraordinarily consumer friendly and on-screen graphics can be modified to suit each establishment’s particular needs. The screen also prompts the user regarding the machine’s use and informs him/her up front about the percentage that will be withheld as a processing fee.
Eye catching graphics are not the only reason customers gravitate toward Money Machine kiosks. “What we do that is different is we actually have a currency and coin dispenser that is integrated into our device, so it puts cash right back into the hands of the patrons,” said Curtis Hallowell, vice president of product management for Cummins-Allison. “We found that the patrons didn’t like taking a paper receipt, which sometimes you find in the retail machines, and taking it up and standing in the line. They might as well just bring their loose coins to the cage.”
Operators are attracted to the devices, in part, because of the company’s unique business model. “We allow our customers to purchase our equipment,” Hallowell said. “That provides several advantages, such as owning any and all fees that can be derived from the machine. They can also set their own fees, creating different fee levels for loyal and non-card holding customers.
The main selling point to the Money Machine product however remains its ability to streamline a cumbersome currency process while generating direct income to the casino.
“People would come to our cashier cage with full bags of coin,” said Eddie Montes, cash operations manager for Morongo Casino, Resort and Spa in Cabazon, Calif., which is utilizing the Money Machine kiosks. “Processing it was an operational disruption that also produced customer relations problems. Solving those problems was a must. Being able to make money as a result was an added bonus.”
Of course, there are many different ways to solve problems and generate money in the kiosk space. While some companies are content to perform these tasks using existing products, others are casting an eye toward the networked casino of the future and its potential kiosk needs, where the next phase of this evolution appears to be the melding of kiosk functionality and services onto the slot machine. Indeed, Bally Technologies with its iVIEW Display Manager and IGT with Service Window are already offering enhanced kiosk-like services at their slot machines.
Another company looking to bring kiosk-like amenities to the slot is Reel TV, a Nevada-based associated equipment manufacturer that creates products and systems that allow advertising to run on slot machines. The company’s Slot Concierge product resides on the machine’s service window. A “double-tap” will open up Slot Concierge, which will offer an array of customer services - the ability to order drinks from the bar, make dinner reservation at a restaurant, order show tickets, contact valet parking, access Facebook and other social media and more. It also produces bar-coded coupons through slot machine ticket printers, a feature that allows properties to create and target effective promotions. The platform is also agnostic, capable of operating on any slot, no matter the manufacturer.
“Kiosk services available directly at the slot helps casinos primarily in two ways,” said Keith Atkinson, principal, Reel TV. “It keeps the player at the machine longer. Products like Slot Concierge also allow bonusing to be more accurate and occur real-time at the slot. The helps build and maintain customer loyalty.”
Slot Concierge is currently being tested and is contracted to go into a Las Vegas-based casino operator with multiple properties.
Reel TV technology shows such promise that Micro Gaming Technologies (MGT), a Las Vegas-based marketing software provider for kiosks, is in the process of negotiating a partnership deal with the company.
“The next big thing for us is having our marketing software directly on the gaming device,” said Mark Bryant, president of MGT. “We have been in negotiations with a lot of third-party companies. The most exciting thing right now is that relationship with Keith Atkinson and Reel TV because we are moving forward with using his technology as an additional platform to run our software on. The combination of our two companies is going to yield an extremely powerful alternative for casinos as far as a solution for delivering this kind of enhanced technology right to the machine.”
Micro Gaming Technology software uses real-time business intelligence and complex formulas to start evaluating players as soon as they swipe a card at a kiosk. The player is than offered the appropriate promotion depending on factors such as their level and rate of play. “Our whole goal and objective with the software was to automate casino promotions and make them part of that self-service process for the player,” Bryant said.
For that reason, MGT is not married to any particular platform to deliver its product, which is probably a good thing going forward, since the lines separating various electronic entertainment, information and services devices at casinos are likely to blur and merge.
“There is a dramatic shift coming to the gaming industry because traditional gaming in a casino environment just doesn’t appeal to the younger generation,” Bryant said. “To attract this generation to casinos, I think you are going to see gaming machines that we would have hard time traditionally defining as slots.”