What budding technology pushed the gaming industry forward in 2021?
Cath Burns: Contactless, cashless and assurance are the budding emerging technologies of 2021. Covid-19 as the catalyst created the demand in the post-pandemic era. Operators and regulators re-evaluated guest engagement to ensure safety, and cashless was the answer to cleanliness and contactless needs of the industry. Regulators were quick to accelerate the review, approval and adoption of contactless, cashless, and assurance solutions for guests.
Rachel Barber: Without a doubt, cashless technologies have pushed the gaming industry forward in 2021. IGT had been introducing cashless solutions prior to Covid-19, but the pandemic certainly accelerated the need for this innovation and brought it to where it is today. Over the last 20 months or so, we have refined our cashless offering to create the industry’s only fully integrated, turnkey cashless solution: IGT Resort Wallet with IGTPay.
As modules of the IGT ADVANTAGE casino management system, Resort Wallet enables operators to offer “carded cashless” or “cardless cashless'' gaming, and in combination with IGTPay, provides players access to external funding sources such as bank and debit cards and e-wallets. We formed several strategic partnerships to deploy our cashless solutions throughout the US in 2021 and look forward to expanding this technology further in 2022.
Andrew Burke: The widespread adoption of online gaming has clearly been a catalyst. I think we are just on the forefront of innovation here. In the US, as more states come online, there will be more opportunities to innovate and to tie the terrestrial experience with the online gaming experience. I know that over at Bluberi our minds are whirling with possibilities on how to take advantage of the opportunity. There are truly exciting ways that we can engage players both online and then again at the casino with the adoption of online gaming.
Rukku Rupanagudi: The pandemic accelerated the demand for contactless payments. Cashless solutions with Mobile apps and BLE/NFC helped for contactless card-in and payments, pushing the gaming industry. Cashless also aided the conversion of brick-and-mortar customers to online wagering.
Casey Clark: 2021 was gaming’s omnichannel turning point. Motivated by a pandemic-driven shift in player behavior, there was an industry-wide push to deliver a true integrated experience enabling players to engage how, where and when they want to. The introduction of sophisticated player wallets with integrated digital payments provided the technology needed to create a convenient, streamlined experience for our customers. This new technology supports customer loyalty, taking a player from the Las Vegas strip to a sports betting or iGaming app at home. Beyond the technology, what’s most impressive is the collaboration between suppliers, regulators and operators that enabled this innovation. We saw competitors form partnerships to reduce friction points, regulators introduce flexible rules that will adapt with new technology, and operators embrace mobile as complementary to retail.
Conversely, what traditional gaming tech do you believe could soon be replaced?
Cath Burns: Traditional high-contact players club and cage systems may need to evolve as regulators consider adoption of remote registration, ‘Know your Customer’ (KYC), and wagering account activation possibilities. These innovative mobile technologies will continue to innovate and displace legacy systems as operators work to protect guests from emerging Covid variant threats while delivering world-class brand engagement. One of the new approaches that will drive guest engagement is the singular player account, the mobile transformation of legacy progressive, bonusing and offer management. Consolidation of these traditionally land-based promotional features will benefit the guest regardless of whether they are on or off the property. The combination of these exciting features with the continued adoption of contactless, cashless, and assurance will catapult adoption by creating a convenient, seamless mobile experience for casino guests.
Rachel Barber: I don’t necessarily think any technology will soon be replaced, but rather that there is a gaming evolution taking place. New technologies and types of gaming are emerging to accommodate a variety of players and gain new ones along the way. Cashless is a strong example of this, along with sports betting. Legal sports betting is still a relatively new concept for many states looking to boost revenue by allowing sports fans to place wagers. In less than four years, that experience has progressed significantly through platform technology, self-service kiosks, risk management, etc. At G2E 2021, the IGT PlaySports team debuted our new CrystalFlex and PeakBarTop Flex cabinets and multigame software offer. This type of cross-channel gaming is essential for future innovations in the industry as it offers entertainment for many different players.
Andrew Burke: I don’t think we will see something be replaced. I think we are more likely to see things change and converge. Pundits have predicted the downfall of slot machines since the internet was first invented; however, if you look around the world many technologies and industries are able to survive in both formats and in hybrid formats. Look at retail and restaurants – you can order food online and pick it up, or, if you prefer, you can go sit in the restaurant and have that experience. You can order items to pick up from Target or Walmart or you can go to the store and browse the shelves. In both of these scenarios, the advent of the online shopping or ordering experience has enhanced the overall consumer experience. I think that is the golden opportunity in front of us in gaming.
Rukku Rupanagudi: I believe that cardless and cashless solutions will develop further, pushing traditional card readers, printers, ATMs, TITO to be replaced with the mobile apps, BLE, NFC and Wallet.
Casey Clark: Gaming is known for continually innovating to keep our customers engaged and excited – adopting new technology to enhance the experience. This constant innovation is a hallmark of our industry. This is evident in the industry’s efforts on payments modernization. Digital payments aren’t going to replace cash on the casino floor. Rather, we’re enhancing the experience to provide customers flexibility and introducing the same payments options our customers are accustomed to in every other aspect of their life.
How can cashless change gaming for both operators and suppliers?
Cath Burns: Cashless will change gaming for both operators and suppliers similar to that of coinless adoption over a decade or so ago. The entire industry transformed overnight as both supplier and operator worked together to convert floors, and create efficiencies with a more elegant solution. Customer Experience (CX) solutions will deliver greater integration and collaboration between digital, land-based and contactless partners. This will continue to grow in 2022 and beyond.
Rachel Barber: The cashless model may be relatively new to the gaming industry, but consumers have been using cashless technologies for everyday purchases for a while now; through a variety of apps and digital wallets. I think that is important for operators to remember when thinking about adding cashless to their casinos. Additionally, cashless offers more operational efficiencies by reducing cash handling and the associated security risks or errors, lessens machine maintenance, and provides a cleaner and more convenient experience for the player. Additionally, operators are able to leverage funding data so they can offer improved promotions to players. On the supplier side, IGT views cashless technologies in the same way we viewed and led the Ticket-In, Ticket-Out (TITO) revolution over 20 years ago. That spirit and commitment to innovation is the reason we filed a patent early last year that enables players to transfer Bitcoin from their online wallets to their account at a gaming venue. While there is still much discussion to be had about cryptocurrency in the regulated gaming space, we are heavily invested in cashless gaming and will continue to work closely with operators, to provide them with the best cashless solution to fit their business.
Andrew Burke: Cashless is a good thing. Some markets such as Mexico have had cashless for years, and players understand the product and use it easily. There is still quite a bit of friction in the cashless process today. We are seeing too many steps to sign up, upload cash, and then transfer it to the right app. Over time, as the barriers lower, cashless will become the standard in our business. Whether that takes 12 months or 60+, in the end everyone will benefit from more widespread adoption of this technology.
Rukku Rupanagudi: Cashless is going to make it easier to track the wagering habits of customers, creating a system of easy exchange and promoting responsible gaming. Cryptocurrency will also become an additional aspect of the gaming industry with ashless. Not only is this a game changer for operators, but for suppliers as well, by bringing new technologies, IoT devices for payments, etc.
Casey Clark: Advancing digital payments is a win-win for not only the industry, but customers and regulators, too. Payments modernization enhances our already strong responsible gaming and anti-money laundering efforts, while providing deeper insight into customers. It’s also essential technology for expanding the omnichannel experience. For customers, digital payments give them the choice and convenience to pay the way they want to, while providing additional play management tools and the confidence that their payments are secure. Advancing payments modernization provides federal agencies and regulators with greater visibility into where funds are coming from, who is using them and how. This information enhances already strong anti-money laundering regimes, complements the industry’s Know Your Customer efforts, and furthers our position and partnership with FinCEN on BSA and AML.
What tech innovation do you see being central to the gaming industry in the coming years?
Cath Burns: 2022 will see more guest and employee-facing modules to help respond to guest demands for a more frictionless immersive experience when engaging with an operator's brand. The industry will see an acceleration in the deployment, adoption and engagement with guests, with digital and land-based operations blurring lines. The guest experience will become more immersive with online, digital and game convergence and the consolidation of mobile applications. The benefit of the Aristocrat digital cashless solution is that it allows operators to offer the same experience for a player whether they are at home, at the resort, or on the gaming floor.
Rachel Barber: With the continued growth of iGaming throughout the US, I’m expecting to see a big push for omnichannel content between land-based and digital – a concept IGT has already been acting on for years. IGaming allows us to take well-known brands, and top-performing land-based titles, and translate them into digital games that players can play from the convenience of their home or mobile device. In 2016, IGT launched Powerbucks in Canada, an omnichannel wide area progressive that connects its jackpot liquidity between land and online casinos. This has paid out nearly $39m since it debuted. When it goes live in New Jersey, IGT’s digital Wheel of Fortune® Gold Spin™ Triple Gold® game will be linked with all land-based Wheel of Fortune $1 wide area progressives. This type of omnichannel content gives players additional choice, and convenience, for when and where they enjoy their favorite games, which will continue to be important in the future.
Andrew Burke: I believe we need regulatory innovation more than a traditional gaming innovation at this point. Consistent standards across jurisdictions would give gaming manufacturers the best chance of building great products for all consumers. The more streamlined the regulations, the more time and effort companies like ours can spend on the consumer experience, rather than trying to get our tech to work across a multitude of jurisdictions with different requirements.
Rukku Rupanagudi: In the coming years, IoB (Internet of Behaviors) will become essential to the gaming industry. With the help of IoB, operators are going to be able to improve the employee efficiency and quality of services and products to guests. According to a global research by Gartner, it is expected that 40% of the global population will be tracked digitally using IoB by 2023. OPTX is heavily investing on IoB to take this innovation in the hands of casino operators.
Casey Clark: Thinking back to G2E 2021, the innovations on display drive toward an immersive player environment. We are creating an entertainment experience that combines visuals, sound and content in a new and compelling way that speaks to the next generation of customers. The industry’s future lies in coupling this immersive experience with omnichannel strategies, providing a seamless experience between the brick-and-mortar casino and online environment. This type of innovation puts customers first, meets players’ demands and drives engagement both online and in-person. No matter the channel, importantly, our offerings prioritize responsible gaming and offer player protections that don’t exist in the illegal market.