Technology could
make ‘losing fun’

Nov 21, 2006 3:00 AM

The prevalent theme at last week’s G2E in Las Vegas was the imminent expansion of high technology into the casino, through downloadable slot systems, wireless and handheld gaming devices, RFID (radio frequency identification chips) and electronic, dealerless table games.

These advances will play a crucial role in the future success of the gaming industry, though it’s still up for debate how profound their impact will be, according to G2E’s annual Future Watch Series, a research survey conducted among top gaming executives.

The results of the survey and an expert panel’s reaction to the results were featured in a panel discussion moderated by American Gaming Association President and CEO Frank Fahrenkopf, Jr.

"This year’s Future Watch Survey confirms that technological innovations and advances will continue to change how casinos operate — both in how we interact with customers and in our back-of-the-house operations — in real and lasting ways," Fahrenkopf said.

Here are the highlights of the survey:

”¡ server-based gaming and downloadable slots will have the most impact in the casino within the next five years, while wireless gaming will have the least impact.

”¡ the primary goal of the new technologies should be to enhance the customer experience, with increasing casino profits and lowering expenses as secondary goals.

”¡ 81% of executives said technology over the past five years has been successful at enhancing the customers’ experience, although 19% said technology did not live up to expectations.

”¡ 88% of executives said RFID technology will allow casinos to track table game players as accurately as slot players, although 63% said tracking and monitoring customers raises "significant" privacy concerns.

Regardless of the kind of technology, panel members agreed that it is merely a means to an end — how to satisfy customers, how to get them to come back and how to generate new business.

"Technology will do that by being an opportunity to differentiate yourself from competitors," said Don Speer, chairman of the board for Venture Catalyst, Inc. "Going to a casino is not like going to a grocery store. When they’re betting their money there’s emotions involved. It’s not fun to lose; technology can help it be more fun."

Technology can also be a useful tool to help determine how to best interact with casino customers.

"The customer doesn’t always know what he or she wants," said Tim Stanley, senior vice president and CIO of Harrah’s Entertainment. "There are times when you are going to have to take a bet, and put something out there to help them decide."

With server-based gaming forecast as the next great casino breakthrough, experts agreed it was crucial that the casino not lose its personal, human interaction with customers.

The new technology will also feature much more than a downloadable library of hundreds of casino games in various denominations.

"The big thing about server-based gaming is its network, on which you can put value-added applications geared to the customer experience," said Rick Rowe, senior vice president of systems product development for IGT. "Downloadable games are just the tip of the iceberg. Other potential applications include offering package deals such as slot play for a hotel package, RFB considerations, special events, slot club packages, and point bonus offers, to name a few."

The RFID technology, which has already found its way into some jurisdictions, offered great potential, although applications such as fingerprinting and retinal scans could "be a creepy thing."

"It can be a tremendous source of information, but it has to be more than a parlor trick," Speer said. "The customer may or may not want everyone in the casino to know his name."

Finally, while there is a definite future for handheld, wireless devices in the casino’s future, it was unclear how they will be best utilized.

"We don’t believe handhelds will directly compete with table games or slot machines, but that they can augment traditional games and give players greater convenience," said Mark Gagner, director of advanced research and development for WMS Gaming. "Casino customers are not looking for a video Gameboy experience, they want a larger than life experience. The wireless and handheld technology is still looking for its ”˜killer’ app."

While experts couldn’t identify a "killer application," some of the potential uses for handheld gaming — beyond playing video poker while sitting at the pool — was for poker customers who like to bet sports while playing in the card room — or vice versa.

The devices would also be a big hit in venues such as Macau, where table game customers often must wait hours to get a seat to play.