A broadening revenue base has led to new demands on cash services within the casino industry. With more than half of Las Vegas Strip revenue coming from non-gaming attractions and increasing shares in other locales coming from hotels, restaurants, shows, spas and other amenities, there is a demand for cash beyond the gaming floor.
Not only that, the types of transactions expected at kiosks are more varied than they once were. Cash access to checking accounts is a given, along with credit card advances, point of sale debit card transactions, bar-coded ticket redemption, bill breaking and in some locations, player rewards redemption.
“The hospitality side is growing,” said Curtis Hallowell, vice president of product management at Cummins Allison, which provides cash handling solutions for casino operators (see sidebar). “One gaming property has three Starbucks. The amount of cash from different channels is increasing. Not only is the foot print and the number of machines increasing, we have to gear toward changing needs.”
It’s a changing environment, but ATM manufacturers say the basics remain the same. Operators demand reliability, accuracy and speed of transactions.
“In the coming years it may be possible to offer alternatives to the traditional ATM, and U.S. Bank is well positioned to play in that field,” said Paul Nielson, vice president of U.S. Bank Gaming Services. “But today, consumers still want and demand a machine that delivers convenience, speed, and reliability, in order to have access to cash. So our goal, in that regard, is to be the best.”
Still, the technology is evolving to meet modern needs. ATMs are becoming marketing tools, as with the option for either two or three 22-inch screens on Global Cash Access’ CXC 40 full-service kiosk. They’re meeting the need to avoid data collision in ever-increasing message flow over the Web, as in U.S. Bank’s ATM. And they’re providing operator configurable reports with instant notification of kiosks that need attention, as with Glory (U.S.A.) Inc.’s SK-100A multi-function kiosk.
“Over recent years we have seen a trend evolve where many casinos are more equipped and more willing to participate in the operation of the ATM program,” Nielsen added. “In this way we have helped many of our casino customers to reduce cost. It touches the bottom line directly, and significantly. For example, we offer our ATM transaction processing solution in connection with all of the top three TITO redemption kiosk suppliers. Or, casinos can service our traditional ATMs themselves, by selecting from a range of participation options. They can leverage their own cash, their own personnel quite effectively, to eliminate high costs of couriers and reduce cash balances.”
TECH TIMEThose areas of functionality have become the prime battleground as manufacturers seek to differentiate their products in the marketplace. At Glory (U.S.A.) Inc., Vice President of Marketing and Strategy Tina Tuccillo said the company thought it was ahead of the curve when it introduced its SK-100A self-service casino kiosk.
“Others are catching up, but what makes ours stand out among casino floor operators is the intelligence built into the machine that identifies an error should one occur, and then provides step-by-step instructions for the operator to resolve the issue and return to the machine to full operation,” Tuccillo said. “If a currency note is the cause of the error it will also tell the operator if the note should be returned to the casino patron or kept in the machine, thus insuring balance of the machine inventory at all times. It has the lowest industry manual pay, which saves the casino costs. Later this year we will introduce an ADA compliant version of this kiosk. And of course it does the expected ticket redemption, bill breaking and ATM functions.”
The unit can contain five cassettes, each holding up to 3,000 bills. It’s a multifunction, self-service kiosk for ATM withdrawals, ticket transactions and bill breaking. The 15-inch LED screen can be set for English, Spanish or Chinese language displays, and can be configured to display promotional messages while the customer is waiting, turning the kiosk into a marketing tool.
Recent advances in technology are apparent in operator functions. Transactions are recorded and stored in a local database at the kiosk, so customer transactions can continue even if there’s a server interruption. Employees with access privileges can log on to monitor the status of all connected kiosks. Reports can be configured for gaming and non-gaming functions, and either exported to Excel files or output in CSV format. And status information on all networked kiosks can be automatically emailed to a set address. When an ATM cassette is empty, an automatic email can alert employees.
At U.S. Bank, Nielsen points to its ATMs’ high authorization rate.
“Concentrating on the fundamentals, ensuring the highest possible ATM transaction authorization rate, and the best ATM uptime, is the fastest ticket to guest satisfaction and cash to the floor,” he said. “Over the past six years consecutively, U.S. Bank has been chosen by Visa for its Award for Highest Authorization Rate among its peers. We achieve a higher authorization rate-a lower decline rate-by customizing our processing platform. And it translates to more cash to the floor and measurably higher casino gaming income.”
Authorization rate is a technology problem, too, one that U.S. Bank says it meets in part by installing a large number of data links to avoid data collision. When inbound messages containing approvals of transactions by major providers collide, the message can be lost. That results in a local denial of authorization. At the same time, extra links for outgoing requests to providers such as the credit card companies assure that if a link fails, the request can be rerouted through a different link. Again, the message is not lost, eliminating a possible cause of a transaction decline.
Much like U.S. Bank, Automated Currency Instruments (ACI) cash processing and dispensing products also place emphasize on problem-free operation and transaction speed. According to the company Web site, ACI’s integrated cash access solutions rapidly and efficiently put cash into players’ hands to keep them playing longer. The company’s sleek and state-of - the-art multifunctional equipment provides all standard cash access services including ticket redemption, ATM, credit card cash advance, check cashing, and bill break; all while preserving floor space, enhancing customer recognition and improving the player experience.
In addition, ACI’s innovative hardware and software solutions offer new and exciting options that streamline casino operations and enhance all player/casino interactions. These functionalities include:
• Flex Fee-Dynamically sets ATM fees to reward and incentivize player club enrollment, participation and to drive interest in special events.
• Coinless Ticket Redemption Solution-Reduces operational overhead of the ticket redemption solution by removing coin from the system and drives play by paying only in playable denominations.
• Fast Feed Feature-Automatically allows player to redeem multiple tickets at once while eliminating the risk of user error, reducing player wait time and getting players back on the floor.
• Jackpot Processing-Dramatically improves jackpot processing using handheld devices and automated systems to administer jackpot payout and tax compliance, while rapidly returning both the machine and player to play.
GLOBAL REACHGlobal Cash Access (GCA) is another cash handling provider that constantly looks to upgrade its product line. Indeed, its Casino Cash Plus ATM in its CXC 4.0 full-service kiosk adds a solution for the problem of unsuccessful ATM withdrawals with its patented 3-in-1 Rollover function. The 3-in-1 Rollover allows the customer to convert unsuccessful cash withdrawals into POS debit card transactions or into credit card cash advances. According to GCA, financial institutions turn down 30 percent of standard ATM transactions, so the rollover capability gives operators flexibility in getting cash onto their floors quickly.
“Our expertise and creativity in driving ATM’s ensures we continually evolve.” GCA president and CEO Scott Betts said. “The next generation of full-service kiosks, the CXC 4.0, delivers an interactive experience with 22-inch LCD touch screens, providing casinos a unique opportunity to push customized messaging with the patron’s full attention.”
The CXC 4.0 provides cash-handling flexibility with ticket and multi-ticket redemption, bill breaking, along with the ATM, credit card and POS debit transactions. There’s flexibility in how withdrawals are dispensed, too. Through its Quik Ticket function, the CXC 4.0 allows withdrawals to be dispensed either as cash or as TITO tickets.
Operators can choose four, six or eight pockets for flexibility to provide different currency denominations, with options to contain up to 18,000 bills to reduce fill times. Options include the mix of bills dispensed; breaking down some transactions to reduce the need for additional bill breaking that can keep a customer at the kiosk and away from the gaming floor.
That’s all integrated into the GCA’s cash handling and accounting solutions for operators, JackpotXchange and Xchange Explorer Plus. Among the solutions with Explorer Plus are a reporting tool that includes a floor map and performance statistics, a visual heat map turns yellow and red to indicate devices that need attention such as for empty canisters, and simplified balancing and reconciliation.
It’s part of a world where the ATM has become a touchstone with customers, as well as a window to casino cash management tools. But it still all starts with getting cash into the hands of the players quickly, accurately and reliably.
SIDEBAR: Cummins Allison cashes in on casino changeGetting cash out to customers is only one side of the equation for casino operators. It has to be balanced by sorting and counting in an era where the soft count process has to include bar-coded tickets as well as cash and checks.
That side of the equation is the focus for Cummins Allison, with an array of solutions that now includes the JetScan iFX i400 Multi-Pocket sorter, which reads and processes notes at 1,000 per minute. It’s a technological response to changing casino needs, one that can be configured from three to nine pockets in a footprint only one quarter the size of older eight- or nine-pocket sorters.
“Prior to the introduction of the iFX i400, you could buy a device with one or two pockets, or jump to eight or nine, with nothing in between,” said Curtis Hallowell, Cummins Allison vice president of product management. “Now you can start with a three pack and grow to nine, with no increase in the footprint.”
Technologies old and new are filling other casino needs, with a line of JetScan products that can capture full ticket and check images along with currency processing. Hallowell sees potential in the new capability to capture serial numbers on currency.
“We can extract data not able to extract in the past,” he said. “We can capture the serial numbers of currency. An operator could track it through casino. It’s all multiplatform, and includes sensors not only for currency, but checks and tickets. Customers are telling it’s not solely about cash anymore.”
And, he said, after largely eliminating coins in favor of tickets, some casinos are finding new value in offering Cummins Allison’s Money Machine self-service coin redemption counter.
“Now you find them in the lobby of banks, at grocery stores,” he said. “Customers redeem the coins from their piggy bank, the bottom of a water jug, maybe an ashtray. Casinos are saying ‘Why not us?’ People are treating change as money for good times, fun money, vacation money. Maybe it can be a casino jar. Bringing back self-service coin redemption to casinos has had some good success. Casinos can charge a fee for revenue, or offer it for free to generate traffic.”