"The focus has always been on replicating, and not on creating something new. And now that we have a lot of competition and see that the player base is aging, we’re not really creating new players the way we used to," Noah Acres of Acres Manufacturing Company (AMC) tells Yogonet about the gaming industry. His take on the way casinos have embraced technology is a critical one -"I could go to virtually any casino on the Strip and if they open their machines, I would see hardware that was designed in the 1990s," he says- but he's not here to complain. Rather than that, his company has ideas - and they might be just what casinos have been waiting for all along.
Earlier this year, Acres Manufacturing made two key announcements for its Foundation casino management system: the launch of the Foundation app store, which allows developers to provide applications for games deploying the CMS; and the debut of Precision Bonusing, a highly-adaptable bonusing system Acres believes could give casinos the ability to differentiate from the competence. "It’s just a really customizable experience where the casino gets to say 'Hey, this is the player experience I want to provide to my guests,'" Noah explains.
In this exclusive video interview with Yogonet, Noah Acres, son of founder and pioneer John Acres, discusses these two new products in detail, as well as the company's participation this week at the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA)'s Indian Gaming Tradeshow & Convention in Anaheim, California between April 19-22. But also importantly, the expert discusses the casino industry at large, detailing how casinos might take advantage of new tech developments, explaining the company's "moral" approach to development and what to expect going forward.
Acres launched its new app store in February, which allows developers to provide applications for any slot machine or table game deploying the Foundation CMS. Could you explain how this app store works?
What Foundation does is that when we install our hardware into a game, it’s able to extract all of the real-time data from that game, and it’s also able to implement credit meter changes so it can add or remove credits from the credit meter. Early on in the process of designing Foundation, we knew that it was a very big problem in the industry that operators could not interface their games and their systems to the types of applications that they wanted to. So we made the decision that through our architecture we were going to create and support a robust system of APIs to do exactly what you described, which is the app store.
What the app store is is an opportunity for third-party developers to come in and create and deploy their own applications on the Foundation platform, and it’s a great ability for them just to get their product to market. They’ll be able to digest all of the real-time data that Foundation provides.
We think it’s a great service to not only the third-party developers and to the casinos but the industry as a whole because over the past 20 years or so there’s been a lot of really great people and ideas that have been shut out by this closed ecosystem that legacy system vendors have implemented.
With Foundation’s app store, casinos are only to pay for the cost of the application and not for the interface. How does this help casinos?
When we designed Foundation, we created that robust standard set of APIs and I think that’s something that legacy system vendors either don’t have or can’t do just because of the age of the technology. But we’re able to create a standard, where every API is essentially the same.
Let’s say that one application requires more information from the second application - we can tailor our API to only provide the data that that consumer requires. That’s just something that we’ve done to facilitate good ideas coming forward in the industry.
The store allows any app, whether or not it competes with Acres’ products, while typically fees are charged by legacy systems. Why was this decision ultimately made?
It’s definitely not the norm, but it should be. It is in other industries, but for some reason, it isn’t in gaming. First of all, we made the decision to provide the APIs because it’s one that we think is morally correct to do. If I’m selling the casino a system that collects and gathers their data, who am I to tell them that you can only access it in certain ways and that you can only share it under specific circumstances with certain people, and that every time you do it you have to pay me a little? I think that’s an immoral proposition to make.
So here we are doing something about it. We do not have a monopoly on good ideas: there are a lot of other smart people that are out there that can make some really good products, and sometimes there are products that are better than others. I might make what I consider the best analytics tool, but to the casino maybe I missed on the price point. Maybe it’s just not for them, and so I think that by opening the doors to allowing casinos to integrate whatever it is that they want, we’re able to fulfill more needs and become a better business partner.
When the app store made its debut in February, it launched with 17 developers and applications. What has the reception been like so far and what are your expectations in terms of more apps reaching the store?
The reception’s been really good. We’ve had a lot of casinos approach us about getting products in, and some casinos have learned about new products specifically from our app store. We’ve also had a ton of third-party developers approach us and now they’re going through our onboarding process to become a part of the app store.
If anybody wants to become a part of the app store, what we do is integrate them into our testbed here at Acres, we verify that their product works, and essentially we provide a certification. We put them on the website and advertise to the world that the product is indeed compatible and working with Foundation.
In terms of my expectations, I think that we’re gonna see hundreds and hundreds of apps on the store going forward, and I think that there’s gonna be a ton of creative ideas from people that we’ve never heard of before because they’ve never been able to contribute.
I know in my mind the types of products that I think of when I visualize how we can round out Foundation. I always think about bonusing and cashless and analytics, but there are people that are gonna focus on areas that I haven’t even dreamed of, and I’m really excited to see all the new ideas that come forth.
I think it’s gonna make a big change in the industry, because for 20-plus years we’ve shut out all new ideas unless that new idea comes from Scientific Games, IGT, Konami, Aristocrat, etc. Those ideas are not allowed to come into the gaming ecosystem, and so now here we are, a new system that provides literally a thousand times more data than casinos have ever had the ability to process before.
I think that we’re going to really see the velocity of new ideas increase and it’s going to drive new revenues and new players to the casinos going forward.
Moving to a different product, the company has also recently announced the Precision Bonusing platform, which is compatible with any slot machine connected to Foundation. What are some of its main features?
Precision Bonusing is an application, or a series of applications, that take advantage of the open APIs that we have in Foundation, so by monitoring all the real-time gaming events and by having the ability to change the credit meter on command, we can make a rule set that says: “Hey, when X happens, pay Y to the machine.” And we can also put a step in the middle, which says “When X happens, play this animation, or this sound or do this player communication feature.”
The real key difference between Precision Bonusing and other bonusing systems is the level of configurability. First of all, we do have some standard bonuses that are included in this suite, so among them are a multi-level progressive and a wheel bonus. But the operator can easily adjust the theme to be one that surrounds their brand instead of just the general theme that we come up with.
Today, if you go out you see casinos all having the same bonus, and I don’t think that’s what they want. Casinos are spending millions and millions of dollars on their branding campaigns for sportsbook acquisitions and iGaming. But then you go into the casino, and what do you see? Every one of them looks pretty much the same as the next.
Casinos have the same slot machines, the same table games. Through Precision Bonusing, we’re giving casinos the ability to differentiate, and it’s not only limited to their brand. Through the rules that trigger the bonuses casinos can easily customize what causes the bonus to trigger - is it something based on coin in? Or a minimum level that I’ve won or lost, or time on device?
We can make it so that people win more on their birthdays, for instance. It’s just a really customizable experience where the casino gets to say “Hey, this is the player experience I want to provide to my guests.” And through that process, they can really differentiate themselves and serve their customers to the best of their abilities.
As you say, many casinos are now similar once you enter them. Do you see them changing their approach and embracing a solution like this one given the current scenario?
I think that virtually every casino operator of a certain magnitude has seen Foundation or has it in their test lab, evaluating the cashless system, evaluating the data feed and Precision Bonusing. We’re definitely down the road with pretty much everybody.
We think that the consumers are going to embrace this new content. Going back to sports, look at the amount of money that’s spent by Caesars on their tremendous advertising campaign. I don’t think that they want to bring people to the casino and lose that connection to the brand.
I think that they want to expand that presence within the walls of their properties. I believe that’s what all casinos want to do: if I have a business, I obviously want it to be different from my competition.
You have been very critical of the way the bonusing concept has evolved in casinos, and said that many of them rely on decades-old systems. What explains, in your opinion, this situation, and how does it affect the industry?
If you look at the broader technology industry, like how the smartphone came out in 2007 or so and the dramatic growth that companies that embrace this technology have seen, it’s just not the same for casinos. I mean mobile, big data, personalized options - casinos do not have the ability to do that because their slot machines and table games are linked together by systems that were literally designed in the 1990s. I could go to virtually any casino on the Strip and if they open their machines, I would see hardware that was designed in the 1990s.
Back in the ‘90s, you couldn’t process data as fast as quickly as you can today. So what happens is they only pick up about 15 or 20 rows of SAS data, when there are 120 rows available. They only compare meters across distant intervals, so casinos only get an update on players every 15 to 20 minutes; typically once per session.
Now that we are bringing Foundation, we do everything live in real-time. We can do a lot of the same tactics that are used by the mobile gaming industry, and different gaming platforms that give people the ability to personalize the experience, and just have that real-time connectivity.
In terms of why that’s happened, there just hasn’t been the reinvestment in the systems and the loyalty that we’ve seen in other industries. Part of that has to do with regulation: it’s very difficult to get a gaming product regulated across a multitude of jurisdictions. And then, secondly, it’s just that the way to make money in the casino business over the past 20 years has been to open another casino.
Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, it was only Vegas and Atlantic City. But when native American gaming and other jurisdictions opened up, all they did was take what was working in Vegas and do the exact same thing there. And all of a sudden, you have a thousand casinos in the US. The focus has always been on replicating, and not on creating something new. And now that we have a lot of competition and see that the player base is aging, we’re not really creating new players the way we used to. We really have to start embracing that mobile personalization and real-time elements that you get through the mobile phone.
Acres is participating in the NIGA tradeshow. What should attendees expect from the company at this event and what are Acres’ main goals for the show?
We are very excited to demonstrate Precision Bonusing. It is something that casinos can implement either floor-wide or just on individual machines or banks of machines, so even if you don’t want to do the floor-wide cashless system with Foundation, casinos can just implement the bonuses on certain sections of the floor very easily.
We are very excited to debut Orange Blast, which is a custom theme that we’ve created for NIGA, and is the first mobile app that encompasses cashless, loyalty and bonusing all in one. We are inviting people to download the app, either in the Apple app store or the Google play store, prior to coming to NIGA. They will register for the app and then they’ll be given some free play in the app.
We have different balance categories in our wallet. There’s cash, there’s free play, we have an integration with Marker Trax, which is a casino marker provider. And we have bonusing built-in. So what happens is the players download this app, and when they get to NIGA they go to our booth and they start playing, and they’re earning rewards in real-time as they play.
There’s a bonus game that populates on the actual app, and they tap the app to reveal the prize. Really first-of-its-kind in our industry, and we’re really excited. I think that this is going to be a giant technological leap going forward. I think this is the future of player loyalty: everything is on the mobile device.
Watch the full video interview with Noah Acres on our YouTube channel.