Slot players who once had to lug containers of coins around the gaming floor have seen their burden – even when winning megajackpots – reduced to less than an ounce, thanks to some of the latest technology available to casinos.
Account-based wagering systems represent a further evolution in the trend toward cashless gaming begun a decade ago with the introduction of ticket in/ticket out (TITO) technology.
The newest systems do to tickets what tickets did to tokens, as the cash remains on the card or the system itself. This makes it easier for patrons to move from machine to machine at will without the intermediary step of cashing in those slot tickets, or even having to feed those tickets into specially equipped machines. And some such systems make it easier for casinos to track player activity and monitor floor activity for accounting purposes.
One of the most mature of these products in operation is the Account-Based Wagering (ABW) solution that WMS Gaming has licensed and plans to commercialize as one of the four foundational technologies comprising its WAGE-NET (Wide Area Game Enhanced Network) solution.
“From a capabilities standpoint, our ABW system is extremely secure and transparent,” said Rob Bone, WMS vice president of marketing.
Unlike comparable systems, no money is kept on a smart card. Players are required to sign up for a card that is tied to a personal account, into which players load money and manage their account balance at their discretion. When inserted into a slot machine, the card accesses that respective player’s account housed in the casino operator’s casino management system. To begin play, the player enters his unique PIN (personal identification number) code to access the account. With each wager, the players account is debited or credited directly from the system depending on the outcome of the play – down if the player loses, up if he wins.
“Each and every transaction is captured in real time, and allows for easy reconciliation and management capabilities,” Bone said. “All play requires an individual player’s card and optimizes tracked play for 100 percent of all gaming activity. This provides casinos better knowledge of the customer’s worth and behavior, which can be used in individual marketing campaigns to enhance loyalty and increased frequency.”
That the money remains in the player’s account in the casino’s back system is an important security feature as it remains unchanged, should a slot game or the system go down, he added. And the funds, if left in the back system account, can be used by the player during his next visit.
According to Bone, ABW was developed at the Turning Stone Casino in upstate New York, operated by the Oneida Indian Nation, and WMS obtained the exclusive rights in 2006. Turning Stone Casinos OII account-based system has been in use at that casino since it opened, approximately 15 years ago.
The chip cash card marketed by Atronic/Spielo is centered on a smart card not unlike those issued by banks and credit institutions. Players load money onto the card at a cash desk or self-service terminal within the casino. When inserted into a slot machine, the money is transferred to a credit meter, and play can begin. This money is transferred back onto the card when the player presses the cash-out button, causing the card to be instantly ejected. To get the green back into their hands, players return to the cash desk or terminal and unload the card.
Players have a choice of two types of chip cash cards. There is a one-time card for casual visitors and a permanent card that doubles as the player’s loyalty card. The latter card can be personalized with data on the player for use in issuing loyalty rewards and can be used in slots at multiple locations of the same casino company. This, along with accounting, auditing and player tracking functions, can be performed through the Crystal Web Ethernet-to-machine link, which encrypts data for secure online movement of such information.
Chip cash, along with other casino functions, also will be moved through the Crystal.net networked casino floor system introduced in January.
Both Crystal Web and Crystal.net can be used with software modules for accounting, player tracking and jackpot management functions.
The PersonalBanker cashless solution from Aristocrat Technologies is an account-based system that operates through the company’s Oasis 360 system.
“With PersonalBanker, players can use their casino loyalty cards to transfer cash from a slot machine to their patron account established within the casino,” said Lael Berelowitz, Oasis product manager at Aristocrat. “Players can access these funds from the same machine or another by inputting a PIN number. Once the PIN is verified, cashable credits can be downloaded into the machine by the player.”
Casinos using Oasis 360 also can offer their customers the ability to convert loyalty points earned from established play into cashable or non-cashable credits at the slot machine using PersonalBanker through the Sentinel III touch screen in-game device, Berelowitz noted.
Bally Power Bank, which has been offered by Bally Technologies for several years, also is a player account system where players deposit funds at a cashier cage or kiosk that is attached to their player club card. Using a secure PIN, patrons can download this money in any slot and upload any winnings or leftover funds back into the account when they quit playing. And with the Bally Power Bonusing system, casinos can download rewards and loyalty bonuses into the accounts that players can use immediately.
But now Bally has taken the concept of the retail gift card and converted it into a tool that not only provides a secure place for players to store their gaming dollars for slots play but also markets the casino brand and captures new customers.
The new Bally Power Card is a stored-value card that can be used as an electronic wallet to store their funds instead of carrying cash. Players can purchase this card at a point-of-sale terminal, kiosk or even over the Internet; then download the card value directly into a machine for immediate slot play. But the Bally Power Card also can be used anywhere in the casino for other purchases in gift shops, restaurants or lounges.
The cards also can be used by individual or groups of casinos to increase loyalty, player retention and sales in their establishments by presenting them as part of promotions to good customers, said Tom Doyle, Bally vice president of systems product management. The cards can thus promote brand awareness for the casino. And they can be used as a co-branding marketing tool with other businesses, he said.
Customers also can purchase the cards to present as gifts to friends and relatives, not unlike retail gift cards or putting lottery tickets in holiday cards; kind of giving the gift of gaming.
At present, the Bally Power Card only downloads funds, though leftover funds can be uploaded into any existing Bally Power Bank account. But they could become two-way money transfer cards in the future, Doyle said.
IGT Network Systems is bringing to market this spring the EZ Pay Smart Card on which all cash values are stored on a microchip embedded in the card.
“When this card is plugged into a slot machine, the value is instantly altered with each play, deducting cash value with each loss and adding sums with each win,” explained Rich Rader, marketing manager for electronic funds products at IGT. “Values are moved with the card from machine to machine, and the card maintains the value even during power outages.
“A big advantage of the EZ Pay Smart Card is that it provides an extra level of security to players. With ordinary credit and debit cards, the magnetic numbers are transferred through an online link and can thus be intercepted and copied by anyone willing to invest in the technology. IGT’s Smart Card only moves funds in an offline link, so magnetic numbers are transferred only from card to game and back,” he added.
The Smart Card also has other applications within a casino’s property. It can be used to pay for meals and retail items, and double as a patron’s hotel room key, loyalty card and VIP parking access pass.
In bringing Smart Card to market, IGT conducted a pilot program last year at the Suncoast Casino in Durban, South Africa. Concluded last November, the pilot gave IGT a feel for how customers used the card, which resulted in the enhancement of several features, Rader said.
The EZ Pay Smart Card being brought to market can be connected with G2S and S2S games, he noted.
Admittedly, smart cards cost casinos more than mag-stripe cards to issue ($1.80 each compared to only pennies). However, for the added features they provide casinos – and the added security they provide players – the cost can be worth it, the marketing companies claim.
Something else that players enjoy is free money. Through the player tracking system of the KCMS (Konami Casino Management System) solution of Konami Gaming, casinos can download credits to patrons playing with their loyalty cards.
According to marketing manager Leah Steinhardt, these credits can represent $10 free play for reaching a certain level of established play, or merely a few dollars extra play on one’s birthday. But unlike some other systems, these credits cannot be cashed out from the card and must be played either in the machine where the credits were awarded or another machine on the casino’s slots floor.