Integrating Systems at Casinos

The slot machine long ago shed its one-armed-bandit image. Soon, your thumbprint will be the only thing the device needs to tap all sorts of information about you.

Future casinos will know your favourite games and when you are most likely to play them. It will recall your favourite meals and what designer labels you prefer in casino clothing shops. And it will track the car you arrived in and whether you're staying overnight.

Such technology isn't too far away. A completely wired casino, where various computers talk to one another to monitor a customer's every move, represents the next wave in the high-tech world of casino gambling.

Some think casinos may be privy to too much information.

"The public authorities that regulate casinos should scrutinize the content, and the actual data, that is being collected on players," said William Thompson, who teaches courses on gambling at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. "There is an invasion of privacy, even if the information is given voluntarily."

At the forefront of this brave new world is the bank of slot machines that makes up the majority of revenue -- 73 per cent of last year's $4.5 billion gaming industry in Atlantic City.

Soon, player tracking cards -- introduced more than 20 years ago to record every customer's gaming habits and preferences -- will become obsolete. The machine will recognize you by your thumbprint. Industry experts say the technology is available in other industries now and could be applied to the gaming industry in five years.

"Certainly, the industry is exploring that kind of technology for game play and security application," said Ed Rogich, of International Game Technology, a leading manufacturer of gaming devices and software systems, with 70 per cent of the U.S. market.

The $1.1 billion Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa is at the forefront of this new frontier as Atlantic City's most technologically advanced casino. Its $50 million technology infrastructure has forced the other gambling houses to play catch-up.

The casino is completely wired, to track everything from hotel occupancy to wardrobe inventory, using chips sewn into dealers' uniforms.

The casino won the Larry Cole award at the Gaming & Technology conference, named for one of the founders of coinless ticketing. The Borgata opened in July 2003, with all 3,600 slot machines using ticketing technology -- a precedent for this seaside gambling resort.

With a coinless machine, a bar-coded ticket with credits prints out. The ticket can be used on a different machine, cashed out at a cashier's cage or used on another visit.

For casinos, the coinless technology means less downtime on the machines, resulting in more revenue. It also means lower labour costs by eliminating the need for someone to fill coin hoppers and count the coins.

The systems provide managers real-time data every two hours on customer volume.

The hotel offers promotional slot dollars for coming on certain days, or times of the day.

"This gives us the ability to offer incentives customers to come during the hours that we want them to come, and when they're most likely to come," Farlin said.

The Borgata is the first casino in Atlantic City to highly automate valet parking. A computerized system takes down a customer's name and licence-plate number, snaps pictures of the vehicle and assigns a space closest to the next car to be picked up. It re-enters the information automatically, using licence-plate recognition, whenever the customer returns.

"The casino is going to be able to anticipate and fulfill your desires before you even think of them," said Thomas Platt, director of William Ryan Group Inc., a developer of gaming software.