Keeping the slot floor fresh and exciting is a challenge for any slot manager, but now digital signage is providing new ways to do that by letting slot operators reach out to players and potential players in real time with engaging and appealing messages.

Ask Freddie Maatouk his opinion about digital signage in the casino environment, and you’re liable to get an earful. “I think we’re crazy in our industry if we don’t adopt this technology,” said Maatouk, corporate vice president of casino marketing for PlayLV Corp., The company operates several downtown casinos, including the Plaza Hotel & Casino.

Striding across the casino floor, Maatouk stops every now and then to point out recent installations of plasma and LCD screens in different parts of the downtown property - in a small bar right off the casino floor, in a nearby lounge, above a bank of slot machines, in the popular Dome bar and numerous other locations.

He estimated the casino company has added some 45 new screens in the last six months. “We’re buying them at the rate of six to 10 a month,” he said.

Maatouk has been exploring digital signage options with Reel Games on a digital signage plan and is excited by the potential. “I’m definitely pitching it very hard,” he said. “It’s casino environment friendly.”

Maatouk ticks off some of the benefits of using direct signage in the casino: reduced printing costs and direct mail costs, real-time messaging, content flexibility and scalability, and marketing effectiveness. For instance, a casino can showcase a wide variety of its offerings with a continuous loop of shows, promotions, restaurants and more, he said.

The Plaza’s digital sign in use on the casino-hotel’s exterior has proven very effective, Maatouk said. The real strength of digital signage, however, lies in its marketing power inside the casino, he said. “They’re just a captive audience. You’ve got them right there.”

Solution spreads

Just as it has become popular in other industries, digital signage is popping up all over the casino-hotel space, from the slot floor to the table games pit to the convention and retail space.

“Everybody is fighting the same battle, which is how to improve the customer experience and how to use these technologies to not only improve the customer experience but also the bottom line,” said Lawrence Dvorchik, event director for the Digital Signage Show and its sister event KioskCom Self Service Expo. The two shows are slated for April 16-17 at Mandalay Bay hotel-casino in Las Vegas.

Casinos are turning to digital signage to boost revenues and brand loyalty while enhancing the customer experience, he said. “It’s a much more effective method to get your message out.”

And not just get the message out but tailor messages to different audiences in various parts of the hotel-casino - at the slots, the tables, the hotel, the retail shops, the conference center and the entertainment venues. “You can send different messages and different offers to the different types of people that are there.”

Digital signage is experiencing phenomenal growth, said Nick Hogan, vice president of sales and business development for the Netherlands-based Gaming Support.

“The technology has spread to virtually every sector of every economy, covering retail, heavy industry, media, transportation, government, education, even religious organizations,” Hogan said. “It’s a very powerful and cost-effective means by which to transport content, and the application coverage is spreading like wildfire.”

Gaming Support has partnered with Edina, Minn.-based Alpha Video to deliver a gaming digital signage solution called JackpotJunction XL/CastNET.

JackpotJunction XL and CastNET allow gaming operators to drive game place and property marketing throughout their digital signage solution from one easy-to-use Web interface.

Hogan said the products are successful for three reasons. “One, the ability to better educate players as to the products and services on offer. Two, the ability to improve significantly player perceptions of luck, excitement and budgetary value; and three, the ability bolster floor-wide revenues by double-digit percentages.”

Casino patrons also benefit, Hogan said. “By better informing patrons regarding the services you provide and the use of your facilities, you put your guests at ease.”

One of the most important uses from a slot executive’s perspective is to reinforce the winning experience.

“By promoting gaming aggressively and making multimedia spectacles out of small, highly frequent jackpots, you leave players with the perception that Lady Luck is just around the corner,” Hogan said. “When you combine greater comfort and the euphoria of pending luck, players do two things…they remain seated and they spend. In turn, the gross wager goes up, as does the win.”

Brent Brown, vice president and chief information officer, Seattle-based International Business Systems, offers a similar view. The company, through its PATH 411 division, debuted a new product called Winners’ PlayList at the 2007 Global Gaming Expo. Winners PlayList provides a dynamic software application that makes it easy for casino personnel to take a digital photo, upload it, type in a winner’s basic information, and select the game logo. Within minutes, the new winner is posted on the sign, along with other recent winners.

“What this does is give the marketing department another way to say, ‘Look, there are people winning on these games,’” Brown said.

Two casinos in the Pacific Northwest already have installed the product, and more have ordered the product, he said.

“The reason we see a big market for us is we customize it for every casino. It’s their brand. It’s their image. It’s their colors. It’s property specific, which adds that credibility,” Brown said. “Digital signage technology allows winners to be alternated with custom content to unify winning with property brand.”

Over the past four years as LCD prices and the cost of deployment came down, casinos now can accomplish more with the same budget dollars.

“What it’s done is they’re able to take the static signs that they used to have to print, which required a long lead time to create and do the production and the printing. They’ve taken that cycle and cut it down to a very short period of time.”

IBS is a 3M digital signage dealer and recommends 3M to its clients because it allows management of multiple digital signage networks for multiple properties from a single location. Central management of content is a key to the success of digital signage for multiple locations,” Brown said.

Many of today’s casinos use digital signage throughout the property. It is being used in hotel lobbies to scroll the day’s events or in convention areas to advertise not only convention events but also gaming offers, entertainment and other amenities in the hotel or casino. On the casino floor itself, digital signage can inform and entertain or both.

Using digital signage technology correctly reinforces marketing strategies already in use - furthering the reach of branding and enhancing a customer’s experience to build loyalty, Brown said.

Progressive Gaming has found success with its Casinolink Media multimedia display system, which combines state-of-the-art media display capabilities and unique gaming applications such as real-time progressive jackpot displays with odometer in plasma and LCD functionality.

“Digital signage is obviously well understood as a marketing tool. In addition, it’s a key ingredient to promoting things that are going on in the floor,” said Bob Parente, executive vice president, sales and marketing, Progressive Gaming.

“We have to make sure that player understands someone’s wining, and more importantly, how to win,” Parente said. “You can have the greatest bonusing system, but if no one knows people are winning, it doesn’t make any sense.”

Progressive’s hottest selling product is its Casinolink Jackpot System in conjunction with the scalable media options.

“Whether it’s one casino, one bank of machines or hundreds of casinos, this system is completely flexible,” he said.

At Three Rivers Casino in Florence, Ore., Progressive Gaming’s digital signage display technology has helped Shawn McDaniel, director of casino operations, enhance and showcase offerings at the new permanent casino.

“The digital signage display allows us to communicate with the player and let them know what’s going on,” he said, noting the casino operates some 45 to 50 LCD displays. “We can change it instantaneously. It’s easy to use and it’s not that expensive.”

McDaniel said he’s saved on sign production costs, and uses the digital display technology to highlight everything from slot denominations, upcoming food specials, in-house promotions, entertainment and more.

For example, the casino’s upcoming entertainment includes performances by .38 Special and The Monkees. In the past, the casino would have printing costs and labor costs for posting the signs.

With digital display technology, he said, those costs go away. “It’s just a change on the computer screen in someone’s office,” in terms of scheduling concert promotions, McDaniel said.

One of the most effective uses of the digital display technology is enhancing the IGT Advantage bonusing technology Three Rivers Casino already employs on its floor.

“We use it to push Flash Cash [what the casino calls the Lucky Coin bonus reward offered on IGT’s Advantage system],” McDaniel said.

The product has helped educate customers to the bonusing offers, he said. When the Flash Cash bonus goes off, so does the Progressive Gaming-powered overhead imaging and coordinated audio with a car racing theme, McDaniel said. The signage showcases the winning amount and the winning machine, and highlights the fact that the big winner receives $25,000 and everyone else with a card in wins $25.

“It’s done very well,” McDaniel said. “The guests know it’s there. They know they have to have their card in to win.”

Illinois-based Paltronics also has made significant strides with such solutions across the casino property. Its One Link wide-area media network is an end-to-end narrowcast system that connects all media to deliver gaming excitement and custom messaging. The product is in action at some 75 casino properties, including Red Rock and Texas Station hotel-casinos in Las Vegas, the Borgata hotel-casino in Atlantic City and MGM Detroit.

As casinos continue to generate more and more revenue from venues beyond the gaming floor, they’re looking to solutions that embrace and address that trend, said Terri Cooper, Paltronics’ chief financial officer.

“Casinos are interested in technologies that promote that ‘across the property connection’ with their patron no matter where the player chooses to spend their dollars,” Cooper said. “Creating an experience that guides the patron from the slot floor throughout the venues of the property such as the new executive chef, or the headliner show is a must in today’s visit to the casino.”

In addition, digital signage technology provides the efficiency and flexibility that today’s casinos need.

“Marketing programs can change by the hour based on the changing demographics, holidays, local events and more,” she said.

Ultimately, the operator is focused on creating loyalty for that return visit. Digital signage is a vehicle or touchpoint for the patron that can grab the attention, provide entertainment, advertise new property programs and showcase the venue of products throughout the enterprise.

“Digital signage is the only medium that can maneuver the customer during their experience while on the floor,” she said. “Consider the direct mailer - it is hit or miss what the patron will notice. Once the patron is within property, utilizing digital signage, the operator has the opportunity to tailor the player’s visit to maximize the total experience and drive revenue to all arenas within the enterprise.”

The gaming industry will continue to implement digital signage as a way to target its messages to consumers at the right place and at the right time, said Tony Turiello, group manager, Panasonic Systems Integration Group.

“Digital signage can bring increased sales, more visibility and higher brand loyalty,” he said. “By offering a constant stream of images, clips and information tailored to the venue, digital signage helps to keep visitors on the casino floor where management wants them to be.”

Panasonic recently worked with Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas to develop the environment inside and outside of the casino and hotel property. On the exterior of the casino, facing the Las Vegas Strip, five large-screen LED boards draw the attention of passersby from the sidewalks and street. The boards feature promotions for shows and events taking place in the casino, entice visitors to restaurants and provide visually stimulating imagery.

In addition to installing plasmas in Planet Hollywood’s guest rooms, 32 65-inch plasmas are installed in the resort’s Heart Bar. More than 200 plasmas adorn the casino, registration lobby, Planet Dailies restaurant and other common areas, such as elevators. All of these systems use Panasonic’s NM Stage to manage content and scheduling.

Florida-based Harris Corp., a veteran company in providing end-to-end digital signage solutions incorporating high-quality broadcast video technology, has made some recent major inroads into the gaming industry. The company’s InfoCaster Digital Signage solutions have been deployed in several high-profile casinos.

InfoCaster Digital Signage solutions integrate with existing infrastructure systems and enable easy acquisition, creation, scheduling and synchronizing of content from multiple sources to multiple locations.

For casinos and resorts, content is customized to enhance the guest experience at various venues such as food and beverage areas, convention spaces and lobbies, retail shops and gaming areas. Advanced management and monitoring tools give users flexibility and control over the entire network, according to the company.

“It’s easy. It’s attractive, and it’s useful,” said Don Hewitt of Harris Corp.

Harris has installed its products in the Venetian Macao and the Sands Macao, in areas such as the property exterior, the gaming floor, the convention center and retail. Such signage is effective, said Hewitt, digital signage product manager. “If a jackpot hits in one area, it will draw a crowd. It can move people that way.”

The Venetian Macao also features large displays in and around the gaming area.

“They might be showing images of upcoming shows, images of people having fun. It keeps them engaged and not wanting to venture out,” Hewitt said.

That’s one of the main interests casinos have in deploying such technology. “Part of what we have been doing behind the scenes is creating a whole host of additional products, management services to easily schedule or build campaigns.”

Touching the customer

Interactive elements of digital signage are another hot trend.

Tyco Electronics’ Elo TouchSystems is focused on delivering products that help facilitate today’s digital signage solutions.

Elo TouchSystems recently showcased new products that combine high-performance LCD panels with touch technologies to create a new family of large-screen, wide-aspect open-frame LCD touch monitors.

The company debuted the monitors, ranging in size from 20 inches through 32 inches, are designed for use in public venues, such as gaming/amusement, point-of-information kiosks, interactive digital-signage displays and retail self-service. The large-screen, wide-aspect displays include a choice of Elo TouchSystems’ touch technologies, such as IntelliTouch surface acoustic wave, surface capacitive and the Acoustic Pulse Recognition.

“Elo TouchSystems open-frame touch monitors have earned a reputation for high quality and performance,” said Brian Shannon, product manager for Elo TouchSystems.

3M has a division devoted to Interactive Digital Signage.

“As self-service applications across the board become more acceptable, we see rapid growth in digital signage,” said Dave Henry, marketing manager for 3M Interactive Digital Signage. “The interactive portion is now becoming more important, the interface with potential customers.”

In the casino, for instance, wayfinding signs could be enabled as interactive devices “where you can really enhance the customer experience by providing multiple levels of detail,” he said.

“You’re allowing the customers to almost customize the message they’re seeing,” Henry said, noting the customer could potentially locate a favorite slot game, pull up a specific restaurant menu, or reserve a seat at a poker table, to name a few potential enhancements.

On the slot floor, 3M also offers end cap solutions that employ durable screens designed to withstand the rigors of a casino environment.

Infrastucture and IT

To deploy digital signage solutions effective takes some significant investment in hardware, software, content and services, Hogan said. “However, if the vendor has significant experience within the gaming vertical and has the interface library and install base to prove it, you can’t go wrong. You’ll have your ROI in a quarter, if not sooner,” he said.

Casino operators need to understand that there are ongoing commitments to such technology, said Gregg Solomon, chief executive officer, Detroit Entertainment LLC, operator of MotorCity Casino in downtown Detroit.

MotorCity has invested heavily in technology that incorporates digital signage, audio and lighting in an integrated way on the casino floor and throughout the property. “It’s absolutely an asset but it’s a mixed blessing,” Solomon said.

“We wanted to lead the pack,” and the casino has invested to provide the ongoing content support and management. But, he said, casinos need to know where they’re heading. “It takes some thinking as to how far you’re going to take it in order to develop the proper infrastructure.”

Signs of the times

So once a casino decides to make the significant investment in digital signage, what does that mean for the traditional signs on the slot floor?

At MotorCity, the casino also its fair share of traditional signage, which Solomon said helps maintaining the right look and feel in the casino. “A mixture of both seems to be the sweet spot.”

Traditional signage will remain important to setting the structure of the casino environment and its general theme, Parente said.

And both he and Solomon noted that there can be too much of a good thing - an overload of technology can be a distraction to players. “There has to be a careful balance,” Parente said. “When a player’s playing the slot machine, you want the focus to be on playing the slot machine.”