What will the history books have to say about the events that took place in 2016?  One thing is for certain, the year is likely to go down as one of the most tumultuous in recent times,  thanks to an election cycle that was, to say the least, full of shock and awe.

But for the gaming industry, 2016 was nowhere near as volatile; in fact, the past 12 months marked something of a return to normalcy for operators and suppliers after a rather prolonged period of stagnant business results and financial uncertainty. Indeed, as the year comes to a close, a number of regional gaming markets across the U.S. are posting positive revenue numbers; thanks in large part to an improving economy that is finally starting to boost consumer wallets, confidence and, thankfully, spending. Now President Donald Trump has his hands on the economic dice so to speak—here’s hoping he can keep the hot streak going.

Whatever the immediate future may hold for the gaming industry, one thing is certain—the market will continue to evolve, especially as the great generational shift from Baby Boomers to Millennials continues to gather steam and wagering establishments are forced to adjust to changing customer tastes and desires. As always, it will be up to the supplier community to provide the innovative products, systems and technologies that will help operators adapt to this brave new world; and more often than not, these evolutionary, next-generation devices come from smaller, more nimble entities. What follows is an alphabetical rundown of some of the nascent gaming companies that made news by taking a leap forward in 2016 and bear watching in the upcoming year.

ACS PLAYON

When most people think of a table game, they likely envision a group of people gathered around a dealer who are betting, socializing and otherwise enjoying a classic game of blackjack, roulette, poker or craps. What likely doesn’t spring to mind is advanced technology—after all, part of the appeal of a table game is its timeless simplicity.

However, this doesn’t mean technology can’t be integrated into the table game in such a way that it preserves the flow of the game. Indeed, the proper enhancement in the right place can boost player enjoyment while making the game more streamlined, efficient and profitable for the operator. One company looking to provide such technology to the table game pit is Automated Cash Systems (ACS), a Reno, Nev.-based supplier of PlayOn, a solution that allows players to access commercial transactions and payment options through point-of-sale, PIN-secured debit payments at the point-of-play in gaming environments.

PlayOn technology allows patrons to access their own money by securely utilizing their own debit card, without ever having to leave a table. At the gaming position, a patron may swipe their debit card at the PlayOn terminal, request an amount, enter his/her corresponding PIN and, upon approval, a voucher is produced and converted to chips at the table.

Earlier this year, the company announced that it has signed its fourth property for PlayOn. Pala Casino Resort and Spa in Pala, Calif., will roll out PlayOn on its tables. Pala Casino Resort and Spa joins Thunder Valley Casino Resort in Lincoln, Calif.; River Rock Casino in Geyersville, Calif.; and Santa Ana Star Casino in Santa Ana Pueblo, N.M., in implementing the table game technology. Additional properties across the country will also soon unveil the PlayOn product on tables in the coming months.

“Players are embracing the convenience of PlayOn and casino/operators are experiencing the benefits of keeping players engaged at the tables, primarily through creating stronger holding power that equates to increased revenue,” said Steve Warner, founder and COO of ACS. “PlayOn is a win-win for the entire casino landscape and the properties we’ve worked with thus far have learned that firsthand. We look forward to reaching out and introducing PlayOn to more casinos and players in the months ahead.”

ACS’ patented PlayOn technology has been tested by GLI and complies with regulations for table games in California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New Mexico and other jurisdictions. The Reno-based company also recently submitted its licensing application for approval in Nevada.

ARB LABS

ARB Labs has been a pioneer in the field of gesture recognition software, systems and products, and would like to add the gaming industry to its growing list of clients. To that end, the company has developed an automatic and scalable Bet Recognition and Hand Count System that provides casino operators with the most technologically-advanced table wager management system, according to press materials. By using state-of-the-art proprietary hardware and software solutions, the system generates slot-like analytics for popular casino table games like blackjack and baccarat. These capabilities include:

  • Live Bet Recognition—The system detects each round of play, the value of every player’s bet, and records the relevant data for reporting at the end of each round;
  • Dealer Performance Tools—The system monitors dealer performance to assist casino management in dealer scheduling and evaluation; and
  • Analytics and Trends Reporting—The system generates accurate trends in the amounts wagered by a player, opening new possibilities for incentivizing players.

The Bet Recognition and Hand Count System easily installs on any table game and works with any kind of chips. It doesn’t change any dealer procedures; in fact, it allows dealers to easily and automatically sign-in players.

The Bet Recognition product was shown for the first time at last September’s G2E show, where it attracted interest from a number of gaming clients. 

BANYAN GAMING

Mac and Jason Seelig are no strangers to the gaming industry, and are perhaps best known as the guiding hands behind the long-running AC Coin & Slot gaming machine franchise. Today, both are involved with Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Banyan Gaming, a company they formed in 2012 with the philosophy of bringing the best business practices from global gaming distribution to the regulated casino market in the United States.

To meet that goal, Banyan has developed a different way to play; with a gaming delivery system that gives operators the ability to maximize revenue opportunities while providing a unique player journey to customers, according to the company’s website. Through the use of proprietary tools like content management, scorecard analytics and a multi-level mystery bonus system, casino operators can target market their customers, learn about their playing habits and build customer profiles. Just like the Banyan tree that is the logo for the company, information is transmitted from gaming systems to the casino, providing powerful customer insights, efficiency and increased revenue.

Currently, Banyan Gaming slot machines are currently operating at casinos in California, Michigan and Oklahoma, with expansion to several more states expected.  The three-year-old company has become an industry leader in “distributed gaming technology,” which involves a central system communicating with casino slot machines. Distributed gaming technology encourages real-time interaction and intervention with players through rich-media messaging and bonusing to the machines. It also allows for the  instant reprogramming of a slot machine, so casino operators can ensure the best configurations are available at all times, encouraging players to spend more time and have more fun at the machines.

It is the secret behind the extreme adaptability of Banyan gaming products, according to company executives. “The innovative Banyan Gaming system comes with a massive toolkit of programmable options, which gives casino operators the ability to adapt our box to the personalities of the market,” said Jason Seelig, president of Banyan Gaming.

Banyan closed out 2016 on a high note, announcing a slot machine placement at Coachella, Calif.-based Spotlight29 Casino. The new slot machines feature a variety of interchangeable titles, including Wheel of Wealth, Asian Pearls, Serenity and Thunderstruck II.  They also feature the Jewel Fever mystery bonus system, which can be set up for value-based payouts or time-based payouts, an innovation that can literally create a “slot machine happy hour” for players, according to a press release.  Jewel Fever can be configured for multiple casinos, multiple banks in one casino or standalone.

COUNTR GMBH

Every time a casino player has to convert cash to gambling credit and gambling credit into cash, it creates an operational challenge for the casino operator. This is true today and likely will remain so going forward into 2017 and beyond.

CountR GmbH, a leading developer of cash handling and cash management solutions for casinos that’s headquartered in the Technic-Innovation-Science Parc close to Berlin, has already been helping to smooth the casino cash-credit conversion process for over a decade via its CashIO (Cash It Out) kiosk.

CashIO is the smallest footprint kiosk in the market, according to CountR CEO Rainer Seyer, and offers a versatile, flexible system with all the features needed to support casino operators at every level—right up to cashless gaming. It even allows the simultaneous use of banknotes, coins and cashless media such as TITO tickets and cards.

What truly sets CountR apart and makes it an emerging casino cash processing provider with a bright future is its latest innovation—a device that can redeem tickets at table games. Dubbed TITA (tickets at table games), it’s a micro ticket redemption and issuing device for table games which, when used in conjunction with CashIO, marries the convenience of the payment kiosk process with the seamlessness of ticket-in, ticket-out play. “With the help of TITA, traffic between slot and table gaming will increase, thereby growing revenue while reducing cost,” states the company. And true to CountR’s ability to place technically robust solutions in small packages, TITA’s compact size allows it to fit neatly on even the most cramped gaming tables.

It was a natural step for CountR to develop TITA. “Since we were already supplying kiosks, we already have the interface with the online systems from the major slot machine manufacturers,” Seyer said. “So for us it’s a small step to move over to table games and to use the interfaces we have and redeem the tickets. So we said we had to come up with a small solution for tickets at table games and that’s how we created the TITA device.”

The bundle acceptor came later, allowing the acceptance of tickets as well as banknotes. “So the player comes with banknotes to the table, the dealer enters the notes into the device, it’s counted and he can immediately hand the chips to the customer and there’s no possibility of fraud anymore, no fake banknotes,” Seyer said. “Casinos are still fighting an issue where they have counterfeit money at tables. With a bill validator that’s really not possible.”

Another big advantage of TITA, according to Seyer, “the chips are not leaving the tables anymore, because when the player finishes playing he returns the chips to the dealer, the dealer counts them and enters the amount and prints a ticket and hands it to the player, and that ticket can be taken to any of our kiosks and can be redeemed for cash.” The obvious advantages of that from the casinos’ point of view—players are no longer carrying chips to cashiers and they don’t have to replenish the tables with chips.

Editor’s note: This article was excerpted from a recent edition of Inside Asian Gaming magazine.

DR GAMING TECHNOLOGY

DR Gaming Technology (DRGT) has established itself as a major systems provider for casinos in Europe and elsewhere around the world. Now, the Belgium-based company is looking to expand its reach in the U.S. casino marketplace.

“We live and breathe systems,” said Jurgen De Munck, CEO and co-founder of DRGT, in a prepared statement. “We provide the full A-Z service. We understand that each operator has different system needs and so we focus on making them modular and flexible to cater to the individual requirements of each of our customers.”

At G2E, the company displayed and demoed its full line systems products designed to help manage a myriad of casino functions. This list of products includes drAccounting, drBonusing, drCage, drCashless, drJackpots, drPlayerTracking, drReports, drScreen, drSign, drTable, drTournament, drInteractive and drWideArea. The modular engineering of these systems insures each system will work in harmony with other DRGT systems as they are added to the enterprise.

In addition to its systems products, DGTR also offers a range of progressive and mystery jackpot side bets for table games, which takes advantage of the company’s advanced drSensor; allowing players to know exactly where to place their side bets and operators to easily manage them. Just like with the slot jackpot systems DRGT offers, these table side bets can be connected between tables or link different venues. All are configurable by the operator to meet their needs and heighten the player’s excitement.

“Our side-bet games are altering the way players see traditional games,” De Munck said. “Players are placing as much importance on these bets as they are with the game itself, which is enhancing the entertainment value. They give a competitive advantage to operators who offer our table jackpot system, helping them increase the excitement and draw in more players.”

ENGAGED NATION

Engaged Nation is a Las Vegas-based full-service, digital marketing agency that combines gameology science technologies with content marketing and social interaction strategies to provide gaming companies with a new way to engage customers. The company took a major technological step forward this year with the 5.0 version release of its digital suite of interactive products, the patent-pending webCREDIT R.E.A.C.H (revenue-generating, engagement, activation, conversion hub) platform. This enhanced system is the first to utilize gameology science to provide gaming companies with a new way to engage existing customers, increase loyalty, drive new customer acquisition and generate bottom-line revenue, according to company press materials.

The new REACH gameology platform is built on the core principals of behavior modification and incentive psychology, creating a system proven to convert online traffic into revenue-generating property visits. Central to the system’s success is the scientifically proven value of consumers “earning or winning” awards through fun, interactive activities, which leads to increased on-property redemption rates and long-term property engagement. Engaged Nation’s new system is now broadly available to gaming companies, offering casinos an unmatched digital customer experience and marketing advantage.

“Through our enhanced product suite, we are addressing a major challenge every casino faces to engage consumers online, and then leverage that engagement into property visits and bottom-line revenue,” said Bill Paulos, co-founder of Engaged Nation. “In my years in casino management, I have seen too many companies over promise and under deliver. After many years of developing, testing and proving our R.E.A.C.H. system, we’ve found that it provides measurable results, and we’re now ready to exceed expectations with our latest platform.”

Engaged Nation currently works with The Meadows Racetrack & Casino in Washington, Pa., the Cannery Casino and Resort and the Eastside Cannery in Las Vegas along with the Silver Reef Hotel Casino Spa in Ferndale, Wash., with more clients likely on the way.

GAMECO

If skill-based slot machine games are the future for casino floors, there are fewer companies are better set-up for this reality than New York City-based GameCo. The company created a sensation at this year’s Global gaming Expo (G2E), where its skill-centric Tri-PodVideo Game Gambling Machine (VGM) was displayed at the Integrated Resort Experience and Suzo-Happ booths.

According to press materials, GameCo’s proprietary VGM is an arcade-style video game cabinet and controller. Each VGM features a single-player game, generally 60-90 seconds to play, adapted from top console, PC and mobile developers. The patented VGM gambling platform allows a player’s skill in popular video games to determine the payout and winnings, while maintaining the same casino economics as slot machines.

GameCo also demoed its premier game, Danger Arena, at the Quixant booth and at Downtown Grand Hotel & Casino’s eSports lounge in Las Vegas. Danger Arena is a first-person action video game in which player skill determines the payout, and recently debuted at three Caesars Entertainment properties in Atlantic City.

 “The debut of our VGM on casino floors will be an historic first step in the evolution of slot gaming, an industry that is adapting for a new generation of players,” said Blaine Graboyes, CEO and co-founder of GameCo in a prepared statement.

Showing its commitment to skill-based games and the casino space, GameCo recently opened a second office in Las Vegas. The company also announced a licensing deal with Paramount Pictures, which will lead to the development of games for its video game gambling machine (VGM) based on mainstream theatrical film brands.

According to a press release, GameCo is in the process of developing a racing game based on the popular Mission: Impossible franchise; a hidden object game themed to Paranormal Activity; and a platformer experience adapted from the cult classic comedy Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

JOSEPH EVE CPAS

Founded in 1983, Montana-based JOSEPH EVE, CPAs is a team of more than 60 certified public accountants, certified fraud examiners and experienced team members providing a wide range of services for clients in more than 28 states. The firm’s services include external and internal audit, financial management software, Title 31/AML assessments, finance process optimization, accounting assistance, fraud investigations and controller/CFO advisory services. Additionally, the company consults on information technology, PCI compliance, accounting system implementation, tax services, business advisory and conducts national seminars.

It has been a very busy 2016 for JOSEPH EVE. Early in the year, the firm won a contract to conduct external auditing services for Casino Pauma in Southern California. It also has expanded its accounting services to the Pawnee Development Corporation of Oklahoma and its three casinos—StoneWolf Casino & Grill, Tee Pee Casino and Trading Post Casino. More recently, JOSEPH EVE secured a major contract to conduct a Title 31 risk assessment for a four-site casino operator in Oklahoma as well as properties in California, Oregon and St. Croix.

“As commercial and tribal gaming continues to grow, so does the frequency with which the operations are targeted by criminals for money laundering,” Glen Galt, senior gaming manager for JOSEPH EVE, said in a press release. “The criminals’ diligence must be exceeded by the casino’s diligence in adhering to Title 31 requirements and shoring up their defenses against nefarious activities. A Title 31 Risk Assessment is a positive step in the right direction.”

JOSEPH EVE has also had a rather successful year on the product front, which included acquiring the online NWJE University Title 31 Course from Everi, essentially creating a single source for the operation and management of client online learning needs.

Along with the purchase came the decision to rebrand the online training to JE University and serve as the single source for content creation, operation and account management for the training site.

The firm’s cloud-based financial management system, CasinoEdge powered by Intacct, has had some notable hits of late, including installation at the Three Affiliated Tribes (MNA Nation) enterprises in North Dakota and at the Shoshone Rose casino in Wyoming. According to the company’s website, Three Affiliated Tribes’ will use the innovative and cloud-based Intacct system, which includes accounting, cash management, purchasing, human resource management, payroll management, vendor management, financial consolidation, revenue recognition, project accounting, fund accounting, inventory management and financial reporting applications.

SMARTPLAY

Table game operators across the country and around the world share a similar problem—how can they attract new customers to the pit and, once there, have them play longer. SmartPlay believes they have come up with a solution: a personal digital scorecard that keeps track of a player’s game stats, makes suggestions on bet placement, provides money management techniques and even lets players run “what-if” scenarios to evaluate their betting strategies and compare past outcomes for future play. The product is called SmartPlay’s PRM (player relationship management) solution, and they company believes they are the first with the concept.

According to press materials, SmartPlay was conceived on the casino floor by table game enthusiasts with over 25 years of experience in software and technology development. Their vision was to revolutionize casino table gaming by creating an exciting digital alternative to paper scorecards. SmartPlay’s PRM solution combines a patent-pending digital scorecard system for players and a casino performance dashboard system that immerses players into their favorite table games and drives casino revenue through real-time data collection.

By adding personal digital scorecards to table games, the player experience is elevated to a whole new level by tracking all gaming data, strategies and, ultimately, creating player profiles. SmartPlay’s performance Dashboards allow casino’s to gauge table game performance in real time to engage casino personnel in improving the efficiency and performance of table games. The goal is to give casino operators a tool to deliver the best customer experience possible.

Additionally, casinos can customize their individual installation of SmartPlay to meet their exact business operational requirements and even request additional performance features.

SYNECTICS

Thanks in part to the continuous evolution of communications technology, an intelligently integrated surveillance management solution has the power to optimize casino operations by improving situational awareness—delivering time, resource and cost savings that go beyond the traditional responsibilities and expectations of site security. It also has the power to simplify operator experience and support critical decision making.

This is the approach that has made Carpinteria, Calif.-based Synectics a rising star in the casino security and surveillance field. According to company literature, Synectics’ end-to-end integrated security and surveillance solutions now monitor and manage more than 100,000 channels in over 100 of the largest, busiest and most tightly regulated casinos in Asia, North America and Europe.

This year, the company has introduced a number of innovations to its Synergy controllers, workflow management and third party systems integration products. Synergy 3’s command and control platform is the centerpiece of Synectics’ Integrated Management System solution, and a recent upgrade to the system includes the EX300 Advanced Control Suite, Synergy 3’s new management interface. Comprising a touch screen tablet with optionally integrated jog shuttle, keyboard and joystick, the EX300 utilizes customizable, modular software to improve incident management and operational efficiency, by empowering users to quickly and easily identify, prioritize and execute the functions they use most within Synergy 3.

“A key benefit of Synergy 3 has always been enabling users to perform highly complex, repetitive queries, analysis and alarm management tasks with an intuitive and easy-to-use interface,” said John Katnic, vice president of global gaming for Synectics. “With the EX300, Synectics now offers a contemporary hardware/software solution for today’s surveillance operators that are more comfortable and productive using gesture based, touchscreen navigation like they have on their phones and tablets.”

Earlier this year, Synectics also announced a Synergy 3 update with enhanced incident management, workflow and resiliency features, as well as new metadata recording, statistical reporting and data mining tools, including quick viewing POS data—an important feature for the gaming sector.

Synectics’ commitment to integration and innovation have helped secure a number of high profile gaming contracts in 2016—all with Synergy 3 at their core—including a multi-million dollar 6,000-channel project in Manila, a 5,000 channel premier resort on the Las Vegas Strip and two next generation Asia-Pacific mega cruise ships.