“I don’t see organizations addressing the challenges quickly. I think it is woefully slow,” says Debono. “Consumers have changed to want what they want, anywhere, anytime and on whatever device is convenient to them. And this is not restricted to the under-50 age group. The older demographic is using computers and tablet because they are easy, cheap and social to use. They’re playing games, doing crossword puzzles and communicating with family and friends on them. Oh, and sometimes, they’re gambling.”
Debono believes that charitable gaming has long existed as a vehicle for empowerment at a grassroots level by taking the proceeds from charitable gaming activities and funneling them into the local community. But, he says, this is a model that was created when there were no mobile phones or tablet applications and that charitable gaming’s relevance may even be put to question.
“If charitable gaming does not adapt to delivering products the way customers want them, its relevance diminishes to the point of non-existence. My solution is that the charitable gaming industry adopt an anywhere-anytime approach. Whatever products are integrated inside of the (bingo) halls, those same products need to be able to reach out to players when they leave that destination. This is not to compete with the halls but to extend the relationship with the consumer beyond the halls.”
Despite the challenges, however, Debono says technology is also creating opportunities that need to be explored and that charitable gaming has much to gain from a more proactive approach to technological change.
“I think there is a huge opportunity for social connection. The online social community allows for a superior experience and relevancy for the charitable gaming sector. It allows for customer acquisition. It allows the halls and charities to tell the stories of why charitable gaming is valuable because it raises x-amount of dollars for such-and-such specific causes. You need to look at having games that have strong social impact, social networking opportunities and allow people the opportunity to play in the hall and away from the hall. If the process of answering the challenges is not as fast as the speed of change, we are going to fall further and further behind.”
For all the advantages in terms of social connectivity, marketing opportunities and enhanced game play that technology offers to both players and operators, it also shines a light on the need to adopt such technology with equal attention paid to responsible gambling initiatives.
Jon Kelly, CEO of the Responsible Gambling Council, says that much of the technology and innovation that goes into developing online games already addresses the issue of responsible gambling. Whether it is a built-in self-limiting function on an i-gaming app or an ability to manage self-exclusion programs, Kelly believes i-gaming is much easier to address from a responsible gambling angle than many land-based operations.
“From a very concrete perspective, the technology behind i-gaming, as well as more and more gaming machines, makes several solid contributions to responsible gambling programs,” says Kelly. “When players can set spending or time limits, they have powerful tools to control their play. Managing self-exclusion in i-gaming is another obvious example, not only because it’s easier for people to do, but because when people self-exclude, it is much more difficult to breach the agreement than in venues.
“On the venue side, technological advancements don’t seem to have had as dramatic an impact because the gaming floor is not as controllable as the gaming site. RG on the gaming floor remains more reliant on staff observations and interactions with patrons.”
Challenges and Opportunities
Like most areas within the gaming industry, technology creates both challenges and opportunities for responsible gambling programs. With a demographic shift towards younger players both on and offline, Kelly believes the key to whether or not technology becomes a hindrance or a help depends largely on the ability of players to self-monitor their activity.
“The biggest emerging challenge to RG is only indirectly associated with technology and more associated with the users of the technologies,” says Kelly. “As the gaming market, particularly the electronic gaming market, shifts to younger players, the risk of those players having gambling problems increases. Young people are more likely to take risks and are less likely to have built-in controls. That’s why it’s so important to promote the value of using safeguards like limit setting.”
Allows for Feedback
According to Kelly, one of the biggest overlooked areas of the technology/RG intersection is the potential for much better feedback directly to the player.
“As play analytics become more sophisticated, it is increasingly possible to spot play patterns which could lead to problems. This information could be fed back to players in order to help them manage their gambling. These kinds of opportunities for better informed decision-making are invaluable, no matter what the form of gambling or platform used.”
Ultimately, however, responsible gambling advocates like Kelly believe that technology can also be viewed as an invaluable aid to promoting awareness of responsible gambling, in addition to being a medium for entertainment.
“Technology’s usefulness to RG depends on how it is implemented and managed—which means it depends on the people who design it and what they do with its output,” says Kelly. “In other words, it’s not about finding the latest gadget, it’s about building responsible gambling principles into the fabric of the organization.”
Although the influence of technological innovation is most obvious in the world of mobile apps and i-gaming, traditional casino-based games such as blackjack, roulette and slots, along with a growing number of lottery offerings, are also experiencing significant change as a result of technology. From the use of proximity-based technologies for both marketing and player engagement purposes to creating a gaming environment the next generation of players is sure to love, operators and manufacturers are finding an increase in both challenge and opportunity.
“For not only the casino operators but also for the suppliers, the biggest question is how do you attract the Millenials and what is the technology or gaming experience that can be created to bring them to the casino floor?” says Brad Broderick, COO Americas, of table game manufacturer TCSJohnHuxley. “Historically, the Millenial generation has shown that they don’t like to stay put very long and are constantly on the go. Additionally, they are a very social generation. The key is to create a marriage of table games and technology to provide a fast-paced, skill-based and social gaming experience.”
As a good example of the merging of social experience with gaming technology, Broderick points to Loto-Quebec’s recent launch of The Zone II at Casino de Montreal. Described as a casino-with-a-casino, the Zone II is a multi-game space where live “hosts” (instead of dealers) interact with the players and drive the pace within the Zone environment with lights, music, drinks, and continuous game play. There are some 80 interactive game terminals with a unique gaming offering of not just live but also automated games such as blackjack, roulette and a suite of slot titles, all playable on a single terminal.
“That, to me, is the future of gaming,” says Broderick. “Now, it isn’t just sitting at a machine but more of a social gaming experience. I can come in with a friend, we can sit down at a terminal next to each other and play any number of games. If my buddy likes blackjack and I like roulette, well, he can play blackjack and I can play roulette. It no longer means we have to sit at separate gaming tables.”
While the Zone is one instance of an operator bringing the social networking experience onto the casino floor, the other predominant approach is to take the casino into the online social networks through mobile and i-gaming technology. Slot machines, for example, don’t appear to have as much appeal to a younger demographic as with previous generations. But thanks to technology, operators are now able to start bridging the gap.
“In many cases, Millenials are not compelled by the design or gaming content offered in traditional slots,” says Rob Bone, Executive Vice President, Marketing, of MultiMedia Games. “Slot machine suppliers should be looking at new types of platforms that share the same benefits of tablets or mobile devices, and also at new forms of content that may have a perceived level of skill, competition, or social game play mechanics.”
Bone says that, typically, the technologies that have the biggest impact on slot machines are those that enhance the player experience.
“For example, the credit meter, the top box wheel, the bill validator and most recently, ticket-in, ticket-out, all enabled new forms of gaming experience that directly benefitted the players.”
For lottery gaming suppliers such as Scientific Games, some of the most important advances in technology are occurring in the area of geo-location and recognition-based software. However, with its inherent marketing potential, this type of technology creates not only tremendous opportunity for the operators in terms of customer acquisition and retention, but also creates some potential privacy and regulatory concerns.
“There are emerging technologies that will enable services based on player proximity and location, and through facial recognition,” explains Steve Beason, Enterprise Chief Technology Officer of Scientific Games. “These emotion- and gender-based technologies are being looked at, prototyped and demonstrated in the field.”
Beason cautions, however, that advancements in technology don’t come without their caveats.
“Whenever you embrace new technology, you have to be very concerned about your customer’s willingness to participate,” says Beason. “You can’t just have technologists developing things that they think are cool. They have to be something that people can use comfortably in a regulated environment. Of course, one of the biggest safeguards is that you opt in and have the ability to opt out. We need to make that very easy.”
Above all, making the gaming experience fun and engaging, particularly with a generation weaned on video games such as the Millenials, seems to be a common refrain among gaming suppliers.
“The gaming experience needs to be a fun escape that will allow socializing and entertainment, all within an area of the gaming floor,” says Broderick. “I don’t think we’re ever going to get away from live gaming — people still want to be able to touch and feel the chips, for example. But being able to offer a fast-paced game, because the Millenials get bored easily and are used to technology and decisions being made quicker, I think that is the key, along with managing all of that together to make it a fun, social experience.”