By Tom Nightingale
For gaming industry suppliers in North America, like so many companies in so many industries, the situation has arguably never been quite the same as it is in 2020. Though the path charted by gaming this year hasn’t been entirely similar in every province, the general tests have been the same: COVID-19 struck in March, emergency declarations across the province led to land-based games largely being shut down in the spring, before an electronics-led relaunch over the summer.
In some provinces, like Alberta, land-based games have been able to reopen in casinos – albeit with capacity restrictions and enhanced safety measures in place – in recent weeks. Meanwhile, in other regions like Ontario’s infection hotspots of Toronto, Peel Region, and Ottawa, things have been rolled back, heavier restrictions have returned, and casinos have been one of numerous casualties, forced shut again.
One thing that is a commonality, though, across Canada, North America, and the world, is that the ballgame has changed. Suppliers have not only had to pivot their services and offerings to consumers and operators, but they’ve also noticed changing demands and usage as the pandemic has altered the landscape.
Canadian Gaming Business recently spoke to gaming supplier giants JCM Global, Gaming Laboratories International (GLI), and International Game Technology (IGT) about how they’ve been coping with the evolving challenges of this unprecedented year.
An increasingly cashless world
One thing that all three industry giants agree upon is that a leading trend right now is the transition towards cashless and contactless payments and gaming. While land-based gaming was out of the question in some places for a while and many operators faced a rush to get their electronic offerings up to speed, the demand and desire for gaming never went away. But now, there’s understandably a new concern from both operators and the general public about exposure.
Luckily, suppliers came prepared.
Virtual currency and contactless payments may be a hot topic right now, but they are nothing new, says JCM’s SVP of Sales, Marketing & Operations, Dave Kubajak. He notes JCM has been offering cashless technologies for nearly 10 years and has nearly a decade of R&D and advanced research in the field. In particular, its iTITO module in the FUZION system uses ticket-in, ticket-out (TITO) software as a base and also employs near-field communication (NFC), the type of which is often utilized on cell phones. These are technologies that gaming regulators, banks, and FinTech companies worldwide are comfortable with, notes Kubajak, which gives security and comfort on the operational side.
GLI has also been proactive on the cashless side, explains Salim Adatia, GLI’s VP of Client Services – North America. Adatia describes how GLI has helped, as part of the Canadian Gaming Association’s Regulatory Innovation Committee, develop a Cashless Wagering Standard. That standard, published in June, aims to ensure fairness, security, and properly regulated implementation of cashless wagering. Adatia notes that GLI will carry that work with it in Canada and globally and update its “GLI-16 Cashless Systems in Casinos” offerings in response to the increasing demand for touchless solutions.
Meanwhile, IGT also already offers its own cashless solution, the Resort Wallet. David Flinn, IGT’s VP for South America & Canada, notes that product provides three distinct options for cashless gaming, Carded Cashless, Cardless Cashless, and IGTPay, which utilize existing casino player cards, cell phones, or external funding, respectively, as solutions.
As Kubajak puts it, virtual payments, mobile wallets, and similar offerings really come down simply to giving consumers additional options and convenience. Things are different now, and continuing along the same lines as in the pre-COVID-19 world has become virtually impossible.
Pivoting has never been more important
Cashless technology is just one facet of the solutions that are taking on increasing importance.
Adatia acknowledges companies have seen a spike in digital gaming and sports betting activity as the demand for gaming remained high while traditional options were closed off during the pandemic, and suppliers pivoted to respond to that by offering previously-unavailable online or mobile product options.
Another new focus has been in cybersecurity as the vast increase in working and gaming from home saw a dramatic uptick in phishing attempts which may not have got past standard gatekeepers installed on companies’ office networks. GLI has also knuckled down when it comes to automation and increasing efficiency. One example has been the company’s Remote Test Bed technology, recently named as one of the Top 20 Most Innovative Gaming Technology Products Awards for 2020.
Similarly, IGT is offering new streamlined assistance on casino floors, with a renewed emphasis in the industry now being placed on cleaning and disinfecting. Its Mobile Responder system provides alerts to casino floor staff for quicker and more efficient assistance to players, and also sends service calls indicating when a player leaves an electronic machine and it needs to be sanitized.
Overall, though, Kubajak says the golden rule for gaming industry suppliers in times like these is to be reachable, available, and able to offer support assisting their customers with the challenges they have around their reopening process. After all, as the industry has reiterated from corner to corner in recent months, we’re all in this together as the gaming landscape shifts, perhaps permanently.