With technology advancing faster than ever, currency validator manufacturers are racing to upgrade their wares to keep pace with slot machines and gaming devices that have become more advanced and capable of handling greater volumes of play.
The state of the bill validator market is starting to see a shift. New trends have emerged and issues, including a struggling economy, are affecting demand. That said, manufacturers remain optimistic about the future of the market; they are embracing new technologies and finding new opportunities to expand business while concentrating on their commitment to the gaming industry.
“There is no doubt that the market continues to increase the value associated with the bill validator,” said Eric Fisher, president of gaming for Crane Payment Innovations (CPI). “To reference American football, the bill validator is like the offensive line of the casino—it is vitally important to success, but only gets noticed when something is wrong. What has been interesting has been the expansion of its role in the casino. The bill validator is no longer just a component in the EGM. Now, more than ever, it is the heart of a cash management system that links the slot floor to the soft count room.”
Manufacturers agree that currency validators will remain part of the gaming industry now and in the immediate future even as cashless technologies advance, since paper money transactions currently dominate the worldwide casino marketplace. “Cashless and electronic payment systems certainly provide some benefits to operators,” Fisher said. “However, eliminating the option to pay with cash comes with its own set of risks. The use of credit and debit cards presents a problem for responsible gaming. And cards that need to be loaded and replenished with cash, could force players to leave the machine, causing unneeded frustration.”
Fisher also said that with cash usage actually increasing, he does not expect a tremendous impact on note validation technology. If anything, he expects to see the number of payment options at casinos to increase to handle the influx.
One such payment channel bill validator vendors are watching closely is mobile technology, which already offers consumer payment options and is constantly innovating. It is too soon to determine the ultimate impact of mobile payment systems will have on the casino environment, but manufacturers agree that if it becomes popular among players and operators, they will have to adapt their systems to it.
“We’re not seeing a great deal of [mobile technology] actually implemented in the casino,” said Tom Nieman, senior vice president worldwide marketing at JCM Global. “We’re seeing a lot of it being experimental or in the lab. Can it be accomplished? Absolutely. If we feel that it can be accomplished, we need to meet all the security requirements. That’s one of the chief concerns of consumers.”
Even with current bill acceptors products, security ranks high among user concerns. Fortunately, as technology acts to condense processing functionality, it also imparts improved security on modern bill acceptor devices. “With today’s all-inclusive currency processing solutions, casinos can not only prepare their deposits quickly and easily, but they can also archive and manage their check images, process currency and even process and image tickets—all on one machine,” said Bob Gibson, vice president of branch operations for Cummins Alison.
Indeed, the chief concern among bill validator suppliers is not keeping up with technology, but expanding business in current repressed economic gaming environment. “[Growth in the bill validator market] relates to the slot machine population,” Nieman said. “As far as product in demand, what drives it are new [casino] openings, new markets, major expansions and the normal replacement cycle.”
Fisher agrees with Nieman, explaining why 2014 was such a challenging market for them as manufacturers. “Economic concerns cast doubt on new openings,” he said. “Macau has slowed. Several U.S. casinos closed and the industry continues to determine how to entice younger generations to play slot machines. All of those factors negatively impact demand for EGMs, which is the lifeline of the bill validator market. However, there is hope.”
This hope Fisher refers to is that now the value of bill validators is higher than it’s ever been, due to two factors—operators are specifying bill validators based on the value they provide, as opposed to the lowest price, and the industry is looking for technology to drive efficiencies to improve the bottom line.
Here are some product updates from leading bill validator suppliers:
CRANE PAYMENT INNOVATIONS
CPI has focused their technology development on evolving from a component supplier to a cash management systems expert and expanding its portfolio of note recycling products. For example, its EASITRAX Soft Count is an integrated solution that extends the security and acceptance offered by MEI CASHFLOW SC and SC Advance into a casino soft count room, according to CPI’s press materials. Information collected in the bill validator can be easily accessed in a database and networked to multiple locations and be accessed to analyze slot performance.
“EASITRAX Soft Count is the base within gaming, for the expansion into cash management,” Fisher said. “It has revolutionized the processes that govern cash drops. But the application of the data collected within the process could have much more applicability. CPI is focusing resources to expand this into further maintenance and operational functionality.”
Meanwhile, CPI’s SCR Note Recycler is the latest extension of CPI’s reliable SC product line and follows the same winning formula as the CASHFLOW SC and SC Advance note acceptors, according to company press materials.
Featuring a 600-note cashbox and two 60-note recycling drums, the SCR has the capacity to meet the needs of diverse applications within a small footprint. The product utilizes the same tested mechanics as other CPI products—the four-denomination BNR (bank note recycler) and one-denomination VNR (vending note recycler). From top to bottom, SCR’s architecture has been refreshed with several innovative features that offer a new level of security to the market: A removable anti-stringing module protects against mechanical manipulation; a combination of lockable transport doors and entrance/exit sensors offer traceability to help prevent theft; and “Door open” detection to ensure an accurate count of cash stored on the recyclers, even when SCR is in a powered-down state.
In games that traditionally pay jackpots in coins, SCR virtually eliminates hopper starvation by paying out higher value notes instead—using the same notes it accepts and stores on its recyclers from previous transactions. As a result, SCR requires less maintenance and can run for longer periods of time, lowering the overall cost of operation.
According to Gibson and company press materials, Cummins Alison’s JetScan iFX line offers casinos a full range of innovative and flexible currency handling systems designed to meet the ever-growing needs of the gaming industry. It utilizes imaging technology to sort and count currency, plus image and processes tickets and checks with accuracy, speed and efficiency. Therefore, combined with less stopping and easy-to-read touch-screen operation, the JetScan iFX line brings productivity to a new level.
The line is smaller, faster and more flexible than other sorters, offering desktop units with full ticket image capture, check image capture and currency processing on one machine, eliminating operational redundancy and bringing processing efficiencies to even the most compact areas of casinos. The product line includes a flexible, multi-pocket sorter that allows three to 17 pockets in vertical and horizontal orientations.
JCM’s primary product in the paper currency validation market remains its constantly evolving iVIZION Bill Acceptor.
“Since its introduction, it’s been a huge hit,” Nieman said, specifying it as JCM’s number one seller. “It’s displaced a ton of our older equipment… Its number one feature is that it has Contact Image Sensing (CIS) that allows you to capture a 100 percent image of the note. That allows you to not only process currency, but to also process checks and documentation.”
Nieman said that CIS technology is the primary feature of iVIZION and distinguishes the acceptor in the marketplace. According to company press materials, CIS Technology scans 75 times more data points than any competitive product. It optically centers banknotes and eliminates the need for mechanical centering, dramatically improving banknote-to-banknote-processing speed. Inside iVIZION is a combined optical and patented mechanical anti-stringing device that detects and prevents manipulation or mechanical cheating, or in other words, optimal security.
Meanwhile, the company’s iPRO validator is a secure and flexible way to increase profitability because it comes with a sophisticated sensing and anti-stringing package. Its modular design means it can quickly and easily replace an existing UBA head for instant improved performance. Highlights include a 100 percent compatible as UBA “plug-and-play” upgrade; seven wavelength optical and magnetic sensors; dual exit sensors with anti-stringing drum device; faster note-to-note speed; and the highest first time acceptance rate.
The future for bill validators and currency processing in the gaming industry remains bright despite issues such as the economy, new technologies and security. The new innovations from manufacturers like CPI, Cummins Alison and JCM strive to streamline the cash processing conundrum quickly, efficiently and securely.
Manufacturers are aware that operators are always pursuing the latest and greatest technologies to enhance their operations. “Casinos seeking to invest in high-efficiency currency and coin handling technology should look to partner with a vendor who can offer a wide variety of solutions that can handle multiple mediums concurrently,” Gibson said. “Rather than ‘pigeon holing’ casinos into one technology, they should be able perform multiple functions on one piece of equipment.”
However, Nieman warns that bill validators, especially previous generations, have lifespan issues. In order to get all the new security and processing bells and whistles, operators have to update their wares. “There’s always a demand to get bill validators to do certain things that only the latest technology can,” Nieman said. “If you relate it to a cell phone, it’s like the guy who is holding a flip or brick phone from decades ago complaining that he can’t send or receive texts. It wasn’t made for that.”
Overall, the currency processing manufacturers’ goals are to supply operators with the latest and greatest technologies, by expanding the value they can receive from enhanced efficiency and security in their new and upgraded wares.
“It’s critical that we really understand our obligation to the industry, which is to keep pushing the envelope, keep finding new technologies,” Nieman said. “We are the ones that validate the transaction that takes place, that’s the role we play.”