For a couple of decades, the technological revolution that has transformed slot floors has closely paralleled the rise of gaming in Native America. In that time, tribal casinos have earned reputations as early adopters, first in line to give advanced solutions a try.
That early-adopter status comes right down to server-based products, including not only game downloads and configuration, but tournament systems and other applications through casino management systems that allow operators to interact with their guests via a server that carries information and features to slot machines.
“In some cases it’s based on that they’ve always been innovative,” said Tom Doyle, vice president for product management at Bally Technologies. “Sometimes they can afford to take a little bit more chance on the technology because their win per day is higher because they have an advantageous situation relative to where they’re located.
“I just think that they’ve really taken a look at the stuff and said, ‘Look, let’s do everything we can so that we can maximize the entertainment experience for the customers,’” Doyle added. “They just look at things a little bit differently. We have regular partners who also are very aggressive, but historically [tribal operators] come from the background of having to be pioneers to even get their operations up and running.”
Michael Ratner, director of product management-systems at Konami Gaming also sees a willingness among tribal operators to be early adopters. “I think in general terms, most progressive tribal nations are looking for ways to differentiate themselves and make themselves more competitive,” he said. “We have some tribal nations that are very progressive, and they are early adopters. We enjoy working with them because they’re eager to take these new systems.”
The tribes that have installed server-based solutions are located from coast to coast. Knute Knudson, vice president, global development for International Game Technology (IGT), noted that Barona Valley Ranch Resort and Casino near San Diego, Calif., was the first operation to install IGT’s server-based system and machines. Ratner pointed to 22 Konami installations in Oklahoma, along with Sandia in New Mexico and a major installation in progress in New York.
At Bally, Doyle said, “Pechanga is very innovative and works great with us. The Seminole tribe [at their Hard Rock casinos in Florida] are just superior operators. Both Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun are extremely good to work with. This will be our second year in a row doing our user conference in June in Mohegan Sun. They’re great innovators. We work very well with Mystic Lake. The list is pretty extensive of tribal customers that move forward.”
Doyle added that another key factor as to why tribal facilities are ahead of the curve when it comes to server-based systems and applications is the need for high-speed floors to operate server systems. “If you’re trying to do a per-handle pull rating for customers or for a Bally Enterprise Progressive System, every handle pull has to go back to the system,” he said. “We really have to have high-speed transmissions to get all the transactions back up to the systems. Operations that came around after 2000, most of those would have high-speed floors installed. So they have an advantage over the older casinos that may not have had high-speed floors, have to tear up their floors, their carpeting and all that to put in new cabling.
“High-speed floors are something many Native American casinos already have, because they were built at a time when high-speed floors were more an automatic part of the construction,” Doyle added.
Tribal preparedness for an acceptance of sever-based gaming has had the way paved by operators’ experiences with Class II bingo-style games as well. Central determination of results and strict regulation required tribal casinos using Class II games to install central servers long before “server-based” became a buzz word through the commercial casino industry.
Multimedia Games knows that side of the market well, with the continuing success of its Class II slot games and systems, as well as its networked TournEvent tournament product.
“We have long-standing relationships in bingo and lottery markets and maintain a large and growing footprint of server-based/server-assisted products,” said Keith Riggs, vice president-linked gaming at Multimedia. “To help nurture those markets, we have placed a great deal of emphasis on ensuring that our award-winning TournEvent slot tournament system, as well as progressive systems and games, work with server-based game solutions, so that all markets and jurisdictions can take full advantage of the unique and exciting games we create. The next versions of these products will offer the same unique and innovative features to traditional slot floors, as well as server-based slot systems employing the Gaming Standard Association’s Game to System protocols.”
Riggs said server-based solutions are the cornerstone in providing bingo and lottery games to tribal operators.
“Tribal lottery system operators in Washington State require a server-based solution to adhere to strict regulations, while tribal operators who choose to leverage our server-based bingo solutions can optimize revenue streams and ensure constant operations via a large network of linked systems and games throughout North America,” he said. “After all, it takes more than one person to play bingo, and it takes an advanced infrastructure to seamlessly bring those players together.”
X MARKS THE SPOT
IGT also services in the Class II market, as well as Class III, through its sbX server-based product. Knudson said that in April, IGT will be releasing the first three of 12 game themes available only in Class II. “Not only will it provide casinos with unique product to differentiate Class II from Class III, but these themes are based on player-favorite math models like Wild Wolf, Wolf Run, Lotus Flower and Triple Fortune Dragon,” he said. “IGT will release a mix of Class II video and MLD/Stepper through September of 2014.”
Knudson said server-based and server-supported solutions can be divided into game content distribution systems and player content distributions. On the game content category, he said, “IGT Floor Manager provides a theme and game management distribution platform that many tribal operators are using to dynamically manage their slot offering to maximize ROI on game hardware investments, while keeping their product mix fresh and exciting for their players. Additionally, the tools may be used to manage cabinet and theme configurations without having to actually physically touch the cabinets. This allows operators to streamline their approach to floor asset management and realize the full technological potential of their cabinet investments.
“That said, probably the most important aspect of system-supported game management is the depth of information provided to operators on the back end. All game play data and theme configuration data is stored within the system allowing a level of business intelligence that is unprecedented in the casino industry.”
As for the player content distribution category, he said, “IGT Media Manager is a revolutionary platform for player communication, allowing tribal operators to better serve their players through personal experiences, exciting bonusing opportunities and property brand awareness. IGT Media Manager’s real-time system-to-player communication, when coupled with an on-screen player portal, allows operators to automatically deploy content to the right player, at the right time. This allows operators to dynamically differentiate player experiences and provide a new level of player engagement.”
The combination is a big boost to tribal operators, Knudson added. “The latest IGT systems improve customer service and reduce operational costs,” he said. “Leveraging the advanced EGM management features of IGT Floor Manager, the game product mix can be modified based on expected player demographic and at a much lower cost than physically managing cabinets on a live floor. The system also provides extensive floor audit capabilities, making it easier for tribal regulators to have full visibility of both the changes and monetary results. Lastly, provided with the analytical data of IGT Analytics, operators can quickly see the results of floor changes and improve the yield of the floor while providing the best player experience possible.”
Konami’s focus is on content that can be delivered throughout slot floors, such as instant tournaments, through its SYNKROS management system. Ratner sees growth of game delivery and configuration as slow going, with separate servers required to deliver each manufacturer’s new slot games.
“The question with server-based gaming is, are you going to have an ubiquitous experience across the floor?” he said. “We are able to deliver tournament games across the entire floor to any machine manufacturer’s games using the windowing technology where the window takes over the game screen. It doesn’t matter whose machine it is, the CMS takes over the screen and delivers a tournament game. At the end of the tournament game, the game is released by the CMS, and the game is put back into normal revenue generating mode.
“Those are the server-based applications that we’re concentrating on because we believe the player experience is going to be the same across the floor. Some operators may choose to install IGT sbX on 30, 40, 50, 60 machines on their floor, but the rest of the 1,800 games are regular slot machines.”
IN THE BONUS
Doyle said Bally’s server-based platform “allows us to do all kinds of things at the gaming device level. We have created the ability to run promotions that are connected back into our Elite Bonusing Suite (EBS) server. We also do all the standard things that some casinos refer to as server-based gaming. We can do game downloads and configurations. We download the content to our iView Display Manager product, we do all kinds of real-time progressives.
“We manage the whole slot floor with our server that we call Bally Command Center. Our real server-based gaming solutions are more along the lines of being able to run promotional events and do exciting things for the customer at the gaming device.”
That includes operating tournaments on as large a scale as the entire casino floor, as when Bally partnered with Mohegan Sun to enter theGuinness Book of World Recordsfor the world’s largest slot tournament last year. It also means using the server to take kiosk functionality, such as allowing players to change their address, e-mail or redeem points for comps, and moving it directly to the slot machine.
The variety and versatility of server-based products is due in large part to customers, Doyle said, with tribal customers often eager to innovate.
“Bally can be given a lot of credit for innovation, but our innovations a lot of times are driven by our customer base,” he said. “What Bally does in a lot of cases is that we’re doing innovation that the customer has requested. They tell us, ‘Look, we’d like to do this, this and this.’ We go back, we develop it, we get a strong development team and engineering team, and then in a lot of cases we’ll offer it to the rest of our customers. Our customers really are driving our innovation.”
However Bally develops its new floorwide bonusing and sever-based adjunct offerings, these products continue to produce fans in the tribal gaming realm.
“Bally’s EBS applications will bring extra excitement to our casino floor,” said Pam Gallegos, general manager for New Mexico-based Isleta Hotel & Casino shortly after the property installed Bally EBS and its Virtual Racing NASCAR game. “We are especially excited about Virtual Racing NASCAR. Our players will be thrilled to be racing along with their favorite drivers, while having another way to win at the casino. These kinds of bonusing solutions help set us apart from the competition and give our loyal guests another reason to choose the newly banded Isleta Hotel & Casino. We’re also excited to be the first casino in Albuquerque to take advantage of the latest technology Bally has to offer.”
The desire to supply better bonus solutions to customers also led California-based Tachi Palace Hotel and Casino to undergo a major serial-to-Ethernet upgrade for its Oasis 360 casino management system provided by Aristocrat Technologies.
According to company press materials, the upgrade conversion empowers Tachi Palace to deliver even better and more advanced customer service and bonusing options to its customers, and with power of Ethernet behind driving the casino floor, Tachi Palace purchased several new Oasis 360 modules and technologies that will deliver more bonusing to players and business intelligence to the property. The new modules and technologies include nCompass Lite and Media Windows for 2,010 EGMs, Marketing Manager, Quick Funds, Playersoft and 4 Winds Interactive interfaces, SpeedMedia, nRich, Ricochet Rewards, Splashdown Countdown, Play n Win and Jackpot Announcer, SpeedGames, SpeedSkins and nVision.
“California is a very competitive marketplace, and our existing Oasis 360 system has been very good for us,” said Willie Barrios, general manager for Tachi Palace last fall. “Now we wanted to upgrade our floor to Ethernet for two reasons. First, the upgrade provides even more excitement on the floor with the bonusing engines that Ethernet powers. Next, it gives us the business intelligence and behind-the-scenes technology to reward our players in a very personal way.”