Slot player tracking systems evolve to better meet the changing needs of both operators and players

Bally’s Elite Bonusing system running its Virtual Horse Racing game.


Player tracking long has been about determining a player’s value to the casino, tracking the amount played in order to offer the biggest comps, perks, free play and cash back to the players who mean the most to the bottom line.

In the modern technological world, player tracking is reaching beyond the basics. Today’s player tracking systems allow for two-way communication with players and allow them to conduct transactions or participate in bonusing events right at the slot machine or other electronic gaming device. Player tracking has become not only a tool to identify and reward the most valuable players, but to offer them real-time incentives to stay at the games.

“I think that player tracking has definitely evolved,” said Kelly Shaw, vice president of system sales and marketing for Aristocrat Technologies, which includes bonusing and the Media Window for two-way communications in the current version of its Oasis 360 tracking system. “The Oasis system has been in place for almost 20 years. We originated it as a slot accounting system, and today I would have to tell you that people are buying our system solutions based on marketing, loyalty program offerings, services and amenities that we can really drive to retain that player loyalty in properties.”

Major slot management systems manufacturers including Aristocrat, Bally Technologies, International Game Technology and Konami Gaming all are putting their spins on how to use player tracking in new creative ways to give operators more options in building player loyalty. One key is gathering detailed enough data to know both the value and preferences of each player.



The LotABucks promotion runs on Konami-enabled slot systems.

“We have very granular data, so we know what games the players are playing,” said Tom Doyle, Bally Technologies vice president of product management, in explaining Bally’s Slot Management and Casino Management systems. “So, for example, if you wanted to award the customer a different percentage [of rewards such as cash back or free play] based upon video poker vs. a video reel game, you can do that.”

The data can include players’ restaurant and drink preferences, other activities and where else they spend their money at the resort.

That’s important, said Tom Soukup, vice president of systems research and development at Konami Gaming, which has a strong systems presence with its Ethernet-based Konami Casino Management System and its Oracle database.

“Casino operators are starting to realize that total player worth-a combination of both gaming and non-gaming spend-is becoming a more important factor to understand the value of their players rather than relying solely on the traditional slot or table worth metrics,” Soukup said. “Some casino management systems like KCMS have sophisticated modules that mine against the traditional slot and table spend data as well as the POS, hotel and retail data.”



System technology that allows Bally Technologies to track slot play also allows for various other consumer-facing features, such as iVIEW Display Manager pictured here.

BEING SERVED

At Aristocrat, Shaw said some of the biggest initiatives within Oasis 360 relate to Aristocrat’s Media Window products and applications. The Media Window can take over the main screen on video gaming devices to check player rewards points, make reservations, order drinks and play bonusing events. “We provide players with an opportunity to not have to get out of their seats to go to a kiosk, for example, to be able to facilitate any transactions they need through that Media Window,” she said.

International Game Technology (IGT) has made its Service Window a major point of emphasis in its sbX server-based slot system. That includes putting the player tracking display on the screen rather than on separate hardware. Players can check their points by touching the screen to open the Service Window. Conversely, operators can make special offers to the player by opening the Service Window remotely. The game reels narrow while the service window opens beside them for two-way interactions.

“We are very focused on developing applications for the Service Window that can truly extend the player experience into the main game screen, in real-time,” said Joe Sigrist, IGT vice president of product management. “These range from service automation, such as automated tournaments, ordering drinks, and automating tax accruals on jackpots to informational applications that display sports scores, weather or traffic, as well as loyalty drivers that reward players for specific behaviors based on operator-configurable criteria.”

Putting those functions on screen also helps cut costs, Sigrist said. “One of the most expensive components of a traditional CMS is the in-game hardware; specifically, the player tracking display unit. IGT has developed the AVP and sbX system so this device is no longer required, saving casinos approximately $2,500 per game connected to the system.”

Konami’s Soukup pointed to customer service extra in being able to communicate directly with tracked players or groups.

“KCMS player tracking enables marketers to queue messages to a single-player or specific group of players enabling them to send messages directly to the individual player or group of players within a minute,” he said. “The targeted messages, such as notifying a specific player that their reservation is ready or a group of players that their bus will leave in 15 minutes, are displayed directly on the True Time LCD display.”



"We provide players with an opportunity to not have to get out of their seats to go to a kiosk… to be able to facilitate any transactions they need through that Media Window."
-Kelly Shaw, vice president of system sales and marketing, Aristocrat Technologies


BONUS SITUATION

Slot tracking vendors are also upgrading the bonusing capabilities of their systems, to make them both more efficient for the operator and more enticing to the player. For example, Shaw said Aristocrat’s award-winning Enrich bonusing solution allows for player-driven competition. “It’s almost like a self-competition. You’ll see a thermometer pop up and it’ll say ‘Play a little longer till you hit your next award,’ and then you’ll get a series of awards that the property would like to provide. All these things are customizable by what the property would like to give away. It could be a hotel room, it could be something like dinner at a great restaurants.”

Also in the suite is operator-configurable Speed Bonusing, triggered by tracked play. Operators can configure their own trigger symbols and awards within the Speed products Ricochet Rewards and Splashdown Countdown “On Ricochet Rewards,” Shaw explained, “when a player meets a trigger threshold, they’ll get a message that’ll say keep playing because you’ve entered this really exciting bonus round, and if you keep playing a little more you’ll get this great prize. Then it’ll randomly award what the property chooses to configure with free play or other incentives”

In Bally’s Elite Bonusing Suite, there are eight applications, including a tournament function that Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temucula, Calif., used in February as it entered the Guinness Book of World Records for the world’s largest slot tournament. More than 2,800 players participated on the more than 1,100 machines that were linked by the system. The system can take over the main screens on different games and run the tournament game.

Elite Bonusing applications can be configured so that players who use their rewards cards can find themselves invited to play in an instant tournament, or qualified for Virtual Horse Racing with a bonus animated horserace.

A Flex Rewards Application enables casinos to deal with the old problem of what to do with a player who has a run of particularly bad luck. “Let’s say you wager $1,000, and if the casino has an 8 percent hold, you expect to lose about $80,” Doyle said. “But let’s say you’re really unlucky. You could set up criteria in the system where it says ‘OK, you’ve bet $1,000, but you’ve lost $400.’ The customers really frustrated because the money went way too fast. Flex Rewards looks for that, and says, ‘This guy bet $1,000 and lost $400, let’s give him $50 in free play.’

“He may not even know why they got the reward, but they feel that, ‘Wow, I’m having a rough day, but the casino’s taking good care of me.’”

Sigrist said one of the latest applications for the Service Window is the Auction Action application. “That allows players to bid on operator-selected items using their player’s club points,” he said, while also mentioning instant tournament capability through the Service Window.

At Konami, KCMS offers a bonusing promotion called Random Free Play where marketers configure the minimum, maximum and average free play award amounts. The Random Free Play awards can be delivered through BonuStream, an interactive display of the bonus celebration delivered directly to the True Time LCD display. BonuStream mini-games are played at the machine when the player achieves pre-determined targeted incentive criteria.

Although WMS Gaming doesn’t produce slot management or tracking systems, the company has been extremely active in creating innovative slot bonusing features for linked slot floors. For example, 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.

WMS has also pushed slot bonusing into the online space with 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. The company has also launched Lucky Cruise, an online social casino that incorporates content from WMS’ popular casino games. Lucky Cruise was co-created with Large Animal Games and is being distributed on Facebook by 6Waves/LOLApps.

“We joined forces with Large Animal Games almost a year ago as part of our initiatives to prove how WMS slot content can be ‘socialized’ to attract new audiences for WMS slot content at our land-based customers’ casinos and to partner with casino operators seeking to enter the social casino space,” said Orrin J. Edidin, president of WMS, in a prepared statement when the game was launched in February. “By working with Large Animal Games, a world-class social games company, to develop the Lucky Cruise social casino, we are introducing entirely new audiences to the casino gaming experience, thereby demonstrating our ability to adapt our proven slot content to the social gaming space, which we believe will be an important driver in further engaging our land-based customers’ current players and in attracting new players to their facilities.”



"[The customer] may not even know why they got the [Flex Reward], but they feel that, ‘Wow, I’m having a rough day, but the casino’s taking good care of me.’"
-Tom Doyle, vice president of product management, Bally Technologies

SPINNING A WEB

WMS is not alone when it comes to developing slot applications for the Web. Indeed, time on computers and mobile devices is a fact of modern life, and evolving player tracking solutions now extend to the online world.

“We’re taking our base casino management system and we’re integrating into the world of online virtual casinos,” said Aristocrat’s Shaw. “We’ve signed three agreements with Oasis clients and leveraging their bricks and mortar database against what kind of play they can drive in an online free-play environment. Our platform for a free-play virtual casino has great Aristocrat content, has table games, has skill-based games has third party offerings. The idea with our clients who have signed is to say ‘OK, I want to drive my customers who play online back into my bricks and mortar facility. How do I do that in a way that retains loyalty from that player, but potentially drives a new demographic too?”

Bally also has taken tracking to the online arena, Doyle said. “We’ve acquired the company MacroView, which is now known as Bally Mobile, so we can integrate to a player’s handheld device. Once they’ve downloaded, the player would be able to look at their account, look at what promotions are being offered, type of events and activities are going on at the casinos, concerts, drawings, tournaments, etc.”

In the casino, the new systems and applications are designed to enable players to stay at the games instead of heading for a kiosk or players club booth. Online, the applications are designed to keep the player interacting with the casino, and coming back for more. It all starts with the gathering of data. Then it’s about putting that data to work.

“Ultimately, with the improved marketing and loyalty capabilities combined with real-time rewards to players at games, we see this combination of applications and system functionality coming together to drive the ultimate personalized player experience,” IGT’s Sigrist said. “This improved experience can drive increased casino visits and revenues for operators.”

John Grochowski is an Illinois-based gaming reporter whose syndicated casino column appears weekly in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Gary Post-Tribune, the Press of Atlantic City, and the Casino City Times.