Beyond Bill Breaking
As Duff Taylor anticipated the August opening of the Buffalo Thunder casino resort in New Mexico, he reflected on the ways kiosks have become an essential part of the casino industry. He ticked off ticket redemption, jackpot dispensing, promotions and interfaces with digital signage as a few examples.
“At the end of the day,” said Taylor, executive director of gaming operations at the joint project between the Pueblo of Pojoaque and Hilton Hotels Corp., “kiosks give you quicker speed of service, more convenience, less queuing and save significant labor.”
And customers like them, said Steve Zanella, vice president of slots and entertainment a MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
“Our biggest benefit is the customer service on ticket redemption,” Zanella said. “We have 28 on our floor here at the MGM Grand and they were strategically placed so people didn’t have to walk a long way to get service. With a centralized booth cashier, you had to get up and find where this area was and stand up and get in line. Here we have kiosks spread throughout the floor. That’s been the biggest service. It makes customers a lot happier.”
That self-service is a popular concept is something that Cummins-Allison has known at least from the early 1990s, when it took its Jet Sort coin counting machines that were prevalent in casino cages and put them in kiosks on casino floors, said Curtis Hallowell, company vice president for product development.
“In the early ’90s, we were working with many casinos to help them automate the token redemption,” Hallowell said. “On busy nights, they could have 10 cashier windows open, and have lines 15, 20 deep of people just holding their buckets of coins. Guess what? That means money that’s not going back into the slot machines.”
The same need for speed in getting money to players has driven modern kiosks, with ticket redemption, bill breaking and ATM functions as basics.
Cummins-Allison has long been a major presence in the back office with its soft count and hard count equipment. It’s up to date with equipment for guests, too, with its Cummins Casino Transaction kiosk for ticket redemption and bill breaking.
And the company has found a new use for its Jet Sort technology in the Money Machine coin redemption kiosk, playing off the self-service coin counters Cummins-Allison manufactures for grocery stores and banks. “Why would a casino patron have to stop off at the local grocery store to redeem their coin for cash on their way to the casino?” Hallowell said in explaining the impetus behind the Money Machine. “In an attempt to continue to offer services we had found that local players, platinum and gold players were coming into the casinos with jars of coins, bags of coin, rolls of coin and handing it over to the cashier like they used to, and we’ve had some casinos flat-out tell customers, “We no longer have any equipment to run coin.”
Western Money Systems, a casino industry cash handling specialist since its incorporation in Nevada in 1982, has seen needs evolve from processing coin to tickets, along with the need for speed in getting cash into the hands of the customers.
“It’s all about customer service,” said Mark Sutherlin, director of XChange product sales for Western Money Systems. “Customers will often want to redeem their tickets and get right back into play. A lot of times when they redeem their tickets, they might not have enough money to get back into play…[Kiosks] give them an opportunity to access their cash through ATM or cash advance, and the more kiosks they have on the floor, it means customers don’t have to walk too far away from their favorite slot machines. It’s an automated society and people like to take care of themselves.”
To that end, Western Money offers its CX2 kiosk, with ATM function on one side, and ticket redemption and bill breaking on the other.
“We also offer player rewards functionality if the kiosk has the Aristocrat Oasis [system] so that customers can access their player rewards accounts and redeem their player rewards points for cash,” Sutherlin said.
And for employee use, there’s Jackpot XChange, “a jackpot redemption kiosk that enables employees to access cash to pay jackpots,” Sutherlin explained. “The system uses bidirectional communication with the slot system with the cooperation of the slot system engineers. It also can perform what we call a pouch pay, or a wallet fill, so that a casino employee coming on shift can access the amount of money that the casino wants them to have in their wallet from the kiosk.”
Boink Systems has strived to add functionality with its GX-7 kiosk, with ticket sales to events such as shows, restaurant reservations, facility maps, player rewards club information, points redemptions and promotions, all possible on a 19-inch screen.
“I had one casino manager tell me that he wanted the machine because he felt it would add a star or two to his rating,” said Parrish Graumann, vice president of business development at Boink. A forefather of the spread of kiosks was the ATM, with ticket-in, ticket-out payouts on slot machines providing a big boost, said Ray Deffner, an NRT Technology executive vice president.
“Basically our products center around cash management, and our kiosk solution is really a modified ATM that we developed to initially handle jackpot redemption,” Deffner said. “That grew into a ticket redemption, bill breaking, currency conversion and points redemption system when the ticketing started taking off in 2003 and 2004. But initially it was developed for the slot attendants to pay jackpots in a timely manner,” he said.
Today, NRT, with more than 2,800 kiosks installed worldwide, offers the QuickJack 2 kiosk for casino patrons, and the QuickJack jackpot dispensing system for use by casino employees. QuickJack 2, as part of its cash handling functions, can be set up for multiple currencies so that a U.S. patron playing in Canada, for example, can redeem tickets for American dollars before heading home.
Beyond bill breakingBeyond cash handling, kiosks are showing value in use for touch-screen promotions, said Joey Whitacre, corporate vice president of casino marketing for Cannery Casino Resorts. At the company’s Rampart Casino in the Summerlin area of Las Vegas, kiosks with promotional games on the casino floor have used software from Micro Gaming Technologies. Going forward, and at the new Cannery East, promotional games will be used from Aristocrat Technologies’ Tech Results CRM package.
“We actually started out very simple, just to get them acclimated to the programs,” Whitacre said. “We did that for a number of reasons, but mainly to educate the guests on how these work and where they’re at on the casino floor.”
The reaction has been very good, he said. “Guests were little bit reluctant at first, as I think everyone is with change or new technology, but we made it so simple and we had our staff well-versed. They were watching on the floor and whenever anybody interacted with the kiosk, they would at least go by and see if there was any frustration or any questions. The response has been really, really good.”
Micro Gaming Technologies is gaining more traction in casinos because of the added marketing power it brings to the casino.
“The software is a bidirectional interface with the casino’s current player tracking system and a touch-screen kiosk,” said Mark Bryant, Micro Gaming Technologies president. “Basically, MGT turns a kiosk into an employee. Designing a promotion with the MGT software is like using an electronic spreadsheet. The user [casino operator] creates the promotion and the kiosk delivers the promotion like an employee. The player can get the promotional offer by pushing a button and taking a bar-coded coupon to the retail outlet for redemption. If the prize does not require a coupon, such as comp dollars, bonus points, bonus point multipliers, bonus drawing entries, bonus drawing entry multipliers, or bonus slot credits, then the MGT software will automatically post back an adjustment to the player’s account in real time to the player tracking system.”
And, he said, all promotional offers are tracked and reports are available in real time for management.
Promotions, of course, are the name of the game for SCA Promotions, and that includes on-screen promotions such as an onscreen dice game.
“Our list of Swipe2Win games is endless, and as technology advances, we continue to design more flash-driven, interactive, and entertaining games,” said SCA vice president Bob Brian. “We’ve also worked with casinos who work in conjunction with slot manufacturers to promote their slot machines.”
And SCA’s big-prize games, he said, bring in customers.
“We create an offer so enticing (generally involving a life-changing prize) that players previously not inclined are motivated to acquire and utilize the club card. This offer also drives new traffic and subsequent enrollment.”
Retaining that personal touchThe question remains open as to how many functions operators want to put on a single kiosk. While the technology exists to put player and employee functions on one kiosk, or to put promotions and player rewards functions on the same kiosk as basic cash handling, some think there’s a breaking point.
“If I have several hundred dollars in tickets in my hand, and I’m standing in line, and somebody in front of me is doing balance inquiries for the player points for three, four, five minutes, I’m getting a little agitated,” said Cummins-Allison’s Hallowell. “Now the nice thing is I can go to another machine, but I may go to another machine and find the same thing. You know the philosophy of the player: ‘Now I’m mad, give me my cash, I’m going across the street.’ Which casinos want to avoid.”
And no operator wants to entirely automate the floor.
“You still want your floor and your environment,” said MGM’s Zanella. “You don’t want just an automated environment. You still want to take advantage of certain touch points with the guests so that they feel the warmth of our employees and the hospitality they provide.”
But whether the end solution is to place large numbers of functions on the same kiosk, or having multiple kiosks with fewer functions, all agree that there remains growth in the business.
“They give you the ease and convenience of not having to wait in a line, of not necessarily having to deal with a person, which some people are not very good at,” Cannery’s Whitacre said. “They can go up to this machine. They can push their buttons, and they have what they want and they can move on.”