Evolving the System Frank Legato, CDC Gaming Reports · April 9, 2020 at 10:13 am The evolution of the player’s club has seen several milestones. Most have involved John Acres. John Acres was inducted into the AGA’s Gaming Hall of Fame in 2016 because he changed the industry. More than once. In 1981, Acres invented electronic player tracking and began providing casinos a new accounting and marketing tool through the company he founded, Electronic Data Technologies. In 1985, at his second company, Mikohn, he invented the progressive jackpot systems that are ubiquitous today. In 1992, his invention was slot bonusing, provided through Acres Gaming. These days, Acres 4.0 – so named because it is the fourth company founded by the industry pioneer – is changing the face of player tracking with a suite of products called CyberMax. Designed to work alongside player tracking systems, CyberMax drills down into the real-time data generated by every play at every slot machine in a property. Utilizing this data allows casinos to implement real-time intervention, to greet a loyal player when he arrives, and to offer bonuses and rewards while the player is still sitting at the machine. The heart of CyberMax is a data collection system called the Foundation, which works in concert with an artificial intelligence app called Kai to alert casino personnel when human intervention will be beneficial in retaining and rewarding players. Acres says he developed CyberMax because when it comes to tracking systems, casinos are deploying technology that is 20 years old, or more. “The old systems were really designed to determine who the big spenders were, to focus direct mail pieces for them,” Acres said. “So the immediacy of data didn’t really matter. In today’s world, we need to know what you’re doing right now, how it’s going for you, and when to make interventions immediately. Our system is designed to literally collect a thousand times more information per player session than current systems do.” Player loyalty awards in traditional systems, says Acres, are too often inefficient, with hit-or-miss actions. “Right now, we’re as likely to send a mailer for a $20 bonus to a player who won $1,000 as we are to a player who lost $1,000,” Acres said. “The kinds of incentives it takes (to be effective) depend on exactly what’s happened. In today’s world, you can’t wait a month to make an adjustment with your player relationship.” Personal Touch At the heart of CyberMax is a return to personalized service. The Foundation system collects data in real time and turns it over to Kai, which sends alerts to employees who can then personally intervene with players. “What we’re finding above all is that players are hungry for personal attention,” Acres said. “During the era of expansion, we made the play experience pretty anonymous. And then during the recession, we needed to cut costs as much as we could, so we removed as many human interactions as we could. And now the play experience is not that joyful.” The Kai app, introduced in 2014, showed the immediate benefits of returning personalized service to the slot floor. Using data not only from stored information but a history of actual transactions, the casino can begin improving a customer’s experience as soon as he or she arrives. “One of the early things we did was when you arrive, we’ll send someone over to greet you,” Acres explained. “It’s not only knowing your name; we keep a database of every interaction between every player and every employee. So we can say, ‘John, go greet Frank at machine 1287. You last talked to Frank two weeks ago, Thursday. His wife’s name is Doris and his dog’s name is Spot.’ “That greeting is first level. What we’ve found in our studies is that players really understand that they’re going to lose money by being at the casino. What they’re really there for is to feel like a winner, to be recognized, to be taken care of. And the simple act of a meaningful greeting— I know your name; I can remember when I last talked to you—increases revenue by 7 percent. Your spend goes up by 7 percent, for nothing but saying ‘Hello, Frank. How’s Doris?’” Consistent Improvement Acres says he and his team began developing the CyberMax system 10 years ago, and have made consistent improvements and additions during the ensuing time. “We now have 113 issued U.S. patents on the system, and we’re finally to the point of really being able to start taking advantage of all this data and analysis,” he said. “We can watch a player’s behavior to determine at what threshold they become frustrated and disengaged, and inject a bonus of a meaningful amount for that player at that time—or a meaningful intervention for that player at that time.” The forms those interventions take have multiplied through a few strategic partnerships. One is with TransAct, which produces printers that churn out not only TITO tickets, but promotional coupons. Another partnership with fintech company Global Technologies, Inc. automates the process of getting more credits on the meter of a slot machine. “We can put the money right to the game’s credit meter,” Acres said. “We can send an employee over with money, because sometimes it has greater emotional impact if someone walks over with $20 bill. Using our interface with TransAct, we can print a coupon for you that you can hold. You can even get coupons printed that say, ‘Congratulations, Frank. You just hit a $200 jackpot at the Isle of Capri, November 12, 2020. There are lots of things we can do to give people recognition and mementos to keep, to remember what they’ve accomplished.” How it Works The lighting-fast data collection portion of the system works via an SAS port on each machine that puts out all the data for each game. According to Acres, that includes data never considered by traditional systems. “When we designed the first bonusing system, in the mid 1990s at Acres Gaming, a byte of data literally cost 10,000 times more to transport and store than it does today,” Acres explained. “So we made a lot of decisions to exclude a lot of data. When a card gets inserted on a typical system today, we read the coin-in and the coin-out and the games-played meters, and say, OK, that’s your starting values. When that card is removed, we read those values again, subtract one from the other, and that’s your total play for the session. “But we don’t know what happened to you, the roller coaster ride you went on during that session. We don’t know if you put in money repeatedly. So, what we’re doing is instead of throwing away all that interim data, we report it after every single play. Instead of there just being three meters, we literally collect a hundred meters.” Acres says the biggest advantage of instant access to data is the ability to take that immediate action. “If we know exactly what the player’s credit balance is at the moment, and we know they’ve been losing the last few minutes, we can inject bonuses or greetings and and human interactions.” That involves not only rewarding players for loyal play, but intervening when the player experience is not so good. Acres offers a practical example: “What the casino needs to know now is that Player A put in $200, two $100 bills, and started off wagering 50 cents a game. He got the wager up to $2, and lost a 32 times in a row. Now he’s down by $150. He’s spending more time between game spins. So we need to think about what we can do to rescue his confidence in us right now. “The idea is to be able to provide that information on a play-by-play basis—an occurrence that’s no more than maybe a half a second behind the reality of that occurring. And that’s what CyberMax does. It literally collects a thousand times more bytes than existing systems and stores them for each player. And that data gives us the resolution to know more about what you are experiencing and what you like and don’t like.” According to Acres, he designed the system to work alongside any legacy player tracking system because of the age of the hardware now in place at casinos. “In the course of all of the mergers and acquisitions that happened several years ago, a lot of the people who knew how those old systems work left, so the ability of existing manufacturers to make adjustments to their systems has been limited,” he explained. “Their hardware is literally 20 years old. If I go into Mandalay Bay today, I would see exactly the same system that we installed at Acres Gaming in 1998. If I go to the Wynn, I would see the exact system that was installed on opening day. “Those systems can’t just be updated. That’s why we made Foundation a system that can collect the data and coexist alongside the existing systems.” So far, the Kai app is used by 38 casinos worldwide, and the complete system with the Foundation data collection is in various stages at five casinos. Acres says that absent the current industry shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, he was estimating CyberMax wood have been on a total of 15,000 machines by the end of April. “That’s all on hold now,” he said. “We’re in uncharted territory. We have customers ready to deploy the technology; I just don’t know when that’s going to happen.” After that, he says, it’s a matter of educating operators on its benefits. Says Acres, “When we came up with the idea of player tracking, people said, you’ll never get customers to carry a card and use it in the machine; that’s stupid. It’s pretty common now. When we started to do the first round of bonusing, we were told this is too expensive. But operators like Station have thrived with bonusing. “I think that this is by far the most powerful system I’ve ever come up with.” For John Acres, that’s saying something.