Hiding in plain sight - the best technology you’ve never seen



Of all the sights and sounds clamoring for the player’s attention on the slot floor, there is one element that is vital to the success of the whole experience, the bill acceptor, and it’s the one all casino operators absolutely don’t want their customers to notice.

It’s hardly glamorous, needless to say, but it is the player’s critical first point of contact with the game; indeed, it’s the device that propels them into the gamble, the thing that in a very real sense turns the game on. Nothing happens until the money goes in, right? The bill acceptor has to work. It has to work seamlessly, invisibly. And ideally it has to work every time. Because if anybody actually is forced to become aware of that sliver of light where all those precious bank notes and tickets are disappearing, millions upon millions of them, every second of every hour of every day of the year-whether it’s the player, the casino or the slot manufacturer-chances are there has been a problem.

And that means there has been no play.



The MEI Cashflow SC Advance

It’s a tremendous responsibility, acknowledged Eric Fisher, vice president of gaming for MEI. “We recognize that we’re a barrier to entry at the machine, and we never lose sight of that. The key for us is to not notice we’re there.”

The fact that people rarely do is a tribute to the technological proficiency achieved by the companies that make these workhorse devices-like West Chester, Pa.-based MEI, whose advanced cash-handling and payment systems process more than 2 billion transactions a week in more than 100 countries.

MEI’s flagship Cashflow SC series has proven invaluable to the global gaming industry, which depends for its daily lifeblood on mind-boggling volumes of cash of every type and size and state of wear. Developed over the course of four years of research and engineering, the SC employs state-of-the-art recognition algorithms to achieve acceptance rates of 98 percent and better at first pass-through. This includes those faded, frayed, torn, taped or otherwise bedraggled crumples of paper known pointedly in the trade as “street quality.” It stacks in three seconds. Its “wheeled” design, roller-driven rather than belt-driven, allows a bank note to be inserted at any angle, four ways, face up or down, along a path that is sealed and shortened to protects the SC’s inner workings against fluids and dust, two of the principal causes of jams. Security against counterfeiting is achieved by virtue of an innovative full-scan “light bar” that provides six wave lengths of light to detect more note surface.

The SC has a number of other big concerns covered, too-like durability and ease of use and maintenance. A front window shows the value of the last note stacked to ensure that disputes are resolved quickly and accurately. The lockable cash box, capable of storing a full 500 bank notes, has a welded plastic exterior that can stand up to the rigorous punishment of the busiest casino, and it’s ergonomically designed to be removed with one hand. Color-coded LEDs allow diagnostics to be performed at the machine, with a USB port located in front. The architecture is hot swappable, so components can easily be interchanged. Updates are easily added through a conveniently placed interface card.

“For us, we keep it pretty simple,” Fisher noted proudly. “We’re a bill acceptor company. That’s all we do.”



Easitrax Soft Count device from MEI

Actually, MEI does quite a bit more. For, as Fisher acknowledges, “What operators want is bigger, faster, stronger”-a demand the company has met with the new Cashflow SC Advance, which back-fits to the SC to provide an even faster stack speed, more memory and security and note-acceptance rates that are better by one-third. Add on the Easitrax Soft Count, which is working currently across some 70,000 slot machines, and operators also benefit from a software/hardware solution that integrates with the SC to enable faster, more efficient cash drops and a much greater ability to gather and evaluate critical data, from device to count room.

Both the SC Advance and Easitrax were on display at the 2011 Global Gaming Expo held back in October in Las Vegas, and “People were thrilled,” said Fisher. “It was very exciting, the reception we’ve had.”



The iVizion validator from JCM

TURN UP THE VOLUME

JCM’s new iVizion got to bask under a spotlight of its own a couple of weeks later at the opening of Resorts World Casino New York City, the giant slot house at Aqueduct racetrack in Queens. Resorts World’s initial complement of 2,485 VLTs, all of which are fitted with the iVizion, took in an amazing $14 million in revenue in their first 10 days of operation from the end of October to early November.

“Fourteen million in win!” exclaimed JCM’s Vice President of Global Marketing Tom Nieman. “That kind of volume for bill validators is very, very rare. What a test for iVizion.”

Another big test will occur when the iVizion debuts on the 4,750 slot machines and electronic table games opening in June at Maryland Live! Casino in Anne Arundel County just south of Baltimore.

“Every RFP we went after [in 2011], we won them all,” Nieman noted with pride.

The iVizion is fitted with two high-speed processors and JCM’s innovative Contact Image Sensor Technology, which captures the entire image of the bank note or ticket. It provides an 85 mm-wide bezel makes for easy entry and optically centers each bill automatically. The result, according to JCM, is a 99 percent first-time acceptance rate, which includes four-way bar code acceptance.

Operators also like iVizion’s modular design-the head and transport are separate pieces so they need only change out the head-and OEMs appreciate the back-to-front-stacking cash box because it means more bill storage can be added on without disturbing the surface alignment of the games.



JCM’s iPro-RC will be showcased at ICE.

The ICB 2.5 Intelligent Cash Box is itself one of the most technologically advanced in the business: RFID-enabled to capture, analyze and report more data than ever before, and all of it is accessible remotely via the Web or on a mobile device.

Another innovative feature is the new Sentry 2.0 Bezel, which is fitted with a two-color LCD display that is programmable to deliver customized messages in any of four languages (English, Spanish, French and Simplified Chinese) directly to the player or the technician.

As Nieman said, it’s all about using technology to solve problems.

JCM’s new iPro-RC, which will debut this month at ICE 2012 in London, is a good example. The iPro is the latest iteration of the company’s popular UBA-RC-the “RC” standing for “recycling,” a critical function in the arcade/club markets of Europe, where coins outnumber bills in smaller denominations and payouts in kind can quickly deplete a hopper and shut down a game for long stretches until a route technician shows up to replenish it. The UBA-RC overcomes the problem by storing inserted bills for payouts, recycling them, in essence. The iPro provides improved sensor capability and added recycling capability and is retrofitted to the UBA-RC. Only the transport mechanism needs to be installed to complete the upgrade.



CashCode One is a front loading bill acceptor.

EUROPEAN TOUCH

The ability to overcome hopper depletion also is a specialty of Concord, Ontario-based CashCode, which counts among its customers some of the biggest names in European gaming-Orion, Unidesa, Alfastreet, Gold Club and Ritzio Entertainment Group among them.

The company’s workhorse B2B 60, the first 60-bill recycler designed specifically for the AWP market, was spotlighted at G2E, where CashCode exhibited under the “Cash Handling Made Easy” banner of parent, Crane Payment Solutions.

The TITO- and bar-code compatible B2B 60 accepts bills in denominations from €5 to €50 and pays back in €10 and €20 notes. It boasts a first-pass acceptance rate of 98 percent and is user-friendly from top to bottom, with a recycling cassette that is easily managed via “load” and “unload” service buttons. A two-digit external display indicates the bill count to the operator. A BlueChip sim card is all that’s required to change configurations or update firmware.

The front-loading CashCode One, another highlight of the show, reads and validates the currencies of more than 60 nations, and transcends borders in more ways than that. Like its counterparts from MEI and JCM, it works with most industry-standard protocols, freeing OEMs and operators from having to stock different models, it’s USB compatible, and it supports a wide variety of bezels, including gaming-specific ones. It features four-way bill (or barcode) acceptance across note widths ranging from 63 mm to 85 mm, state-of-the-art sensor technology (98 percent on first insertion, whether bill or ticket), an optional lockable, drop-proof cassette capable of storing up to 1,000 notes, and a “clamshell” design for easy access to the bill path. An LED indicator simplifies the diagnostic process, and software updates are easily made with a Smart Stick.

CashCode’s reputation for performance and reliability is one reason that Crane has sold more than 2 million validators to date. Money Controls is another. Based in the UK, its acquisition by Crane in 2010 brought into the fold a company with 50 years’ experience as a leader in innovative and reliable cash-handling for the gaming, amusement, transportation, retail and kiosk markets. And with that came the redoubtable Ardac Elite, a validator developed with the high-volume requirements of the casino industry specifically in mind.

Since its introduction in 2006, the Ardac Elite has been embraced by all the major OEMs and can be found in thousands of venues. A pioneer in art-imaging capability, it scans the full bill for extra security and delivers four-way acceptance of new or “street” grade notes in virtually any state, at just about any angle, at a speed of 3.5 seconds. It also features innovative “last bill” technology for resolving disputes. You need only plug a PDA into the USB port to bring up the last 10 bills entered. That same USB connectivity enables fast and easy software integration through a single API. Diagnostics are made simple with an LED indication system and a comprehensive package of support tools. And, of course, it’s TITO-compatible. It’s also modular in design, so it’s easy to maintain, and it’s available with a high-capacity, 1,000-note cash box (the Ardac CB1000), and comes available in a rear-access model and an “upstack” model, with the cash box located above the acceptor for added flexibility.

As casino thrills go, the bill validator may hardly trip the meter, but it is representative of yeoman technology at its finest and most flawless, not to mention that without it the industry as we know it would not exist. So count on it only getting better.

“The amount of cash has actually increased the last three years,” noted Fisher. “Which is what happens in a down economy: people use more cash. Debit cards are replacing checks, they’re not replacing cash. Cash isn’t going anywhere in the casino for many years to come.”