Placing Smart Bets | Straight Talk

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The head of technology operations at the world’s largest end-to-end gaming provider wagers on the future of gamblers’ tastes and gaming technology.

By Patrick Kamm, Vice President of Technology Operations, IGT (International Game Technology) 

IGT manages regional, state and national lotteries around the world and builds the systems, terminals, operating software and games that run those lotteries; develops and prints Instant tickets and boasts the industry’s largest printing press; produces slot machines and other gambling devices; and creates gaming entertainment technology for casinos and online digital gaming concerns – all of these devoted to delivering an outstanding player experience.

Our business involves managing some fairly advanced and complex technology. But like those who use our products, the real challenge is placing the right bets – in our case, on the future of the gaming industry and the technology that will define it.

What will gamblers want?

The reach of the products we create and the systems we manage is broad. For example, if you add up our annual transaction volume for the lotteries for whom we provide services, including Mega Millions and Power Ball, we process more transactions than the top four credit card companies combined. To manage the risks associated with complex systems, we have tri- and even quad-redundancy within our server architecture, all running on a secure private network. With billions at stake, we take no chances. When anomalies present themselves, we are ready to handle them quickly and securely without interruption to service.

A focus for the industry today figuring out just what gaming experiences people will want in five or ten years? What capabilities will we need to meet their expectations?

Networked systems already give us real-time views of the players. In casinos around the world, property managers want to understand what their players are doing: what games they are playing real time, how they are performing, where they are on the casino floors.  In a casino, when a player sits down at a table to play a hand, they will generally swipe their loyalty card identifying who they are, the game they are playing and their position on the floor, so that the property knows exactly where they are and how they are doing. If they are on a hot streak, the management can see that and offer congratulations by granting, for example, a free stay or a free dinner, maybe at a restaurant known as a player’s favorite based on previous purchases. 

Now, however, our efforts to get to know the customer are going much deeper than that. There is research that has tracked where players are focusing their eyes on any given monitor or screen. That helps us to understand what is most attractive to them. Is it a color, is it a burst, is it the size of the play field, or is it where we have ads running? Now we’re using such insights to create new and exciting games better tailored to the demand.    

Who will the gamblers be?

We’re also trying to get to know our next generation of players. This is a challenge, as we are trying to figure out both who they are and how to create an enjoyable gaming experience online for people who are spending greater amounts of time on their mobile devices. 

Gaming in the virtual world is a different dynamic than in a casino. In the casino, where you sit down and put your drink and coin purse to the side, you’ve dedicated yourself to spending some amount of time on a machine. Online, on the other hand, it’s one click and you’re off to another machine – or gone altogether. This is why one focus of gaming analytics is on how long players spend on a screen, or thinking about a bet before they place one. 

My personal feeling is that the future of lottery and gaming is social. I think that virtual reality will play a part in the future of gaming, too. We have some products out there today for casinos that offer a 3-D experience when you’re in front of a machine. Rather than pressing a button or a roller ball or touching a screen, you’re actually virtually moving things around in the air. We are also testing some products where you actually put on a VR headset. I’ve played a couple of those games, and it’s a whole new and immersive experience. 

Navigating the gaming ecosystem

A second set of external challenges involves changes in the gaming ecosystem. Many lottery directors are looking to learn more about open architecture, with the goal of being able to integrate multiple system or component providers rather than being limited to only the product suite of a single provider. While seemingly positive for the business, it introduces greater complexity to system providers with SLAs for uptime and security.  To that end, IGT systems today have an open architecture and standard APIs allowing the integration of 3rd party systems.  It is a new era in gaming and the ability to reach more players with new and exciting content across a multitude of platforms requires this level of flexibility, while not losing sight of transaction security, system performance and player privacy.