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Bits, Bytes and Bets

Casinos are going high-tech converting cache into cash
Michael Kaplan
From the Print Edition:
Matthew McConaughey, March/April 2011

(continued from page 2)

The subtext of Fezzik's point is that Midas can't gauge intangibles as well as Fezzik can. Nevertheless, Amaitis is confident enough that he is willing to put his brain up against the smartest brains in gambling. Underscoring that fact, he welcomes gamblers to create their own programs. "We have no problem with people bringing computers in here," says Amaitis. "You want to have your computer going up against our computer? That's fine."

Fezzik does not bring a computer to the casino, but he does bring plenty of money. He expects to have what he calls "a hedged portfolio" during March Madness and to be all in, over the course of a given game, with tens of thousands of dollars at risk. "You wait for the one situation out of five where Midas's line is off," he advises. "But you don't have long to get in your bet. I get mine in because I type a lot faster than the average person."

In a sprawling office at the Bellagio, Bill Hornbuckle, chief marketing officer of MGM Resorts International, holds a small plastic card in his hand. Logoed across it are the words M Life. He maintains that this is a technological game-changer for MGM Resorts, the company that owns much of Las Vegas, including CityCenter, Mirage, Bellagio, and, of course, MGM Grand.

While the company has obviously been adept at acquiring prime Vegas real estate, Hornbuckle admits that it has been less successful at communicating with its customers in real time. Gamble high at an MGM property and the old players club system would get back to you after the fact with offers that you may or may not want. M Life, the new program which runs off of a system that's based on predictive modeling, is more proactive and tailored to the specific wants of individual players.

So if past activities paint you as a fan of '70s music who's ambivalent about sports, you'll get flown in for Eric Clapton and not bothered with a pitch for the Super Bowl. "Beyond that," says Hornbuckle, "the goal is to make this live all the time. If the system sees that you just bought your second Cirque du Soleil ticket of the week, it might offer you a third one for free."

Plus there is a facet of the new system that takes the mystery out of comping policies. "It allows you to understand, at any given moment, how many comp dollars you have," says Hornbuckle. "And then you can spend them accordingly." He points out that comp dollars can buy you anything from breakfast at the buffet to dinner for two right at the edge of the Bellagio's famous dancing water show. If you are an exceptional client, Bellagio will make sure that the water dances are scored to your favorite tunes.

The new program also converts cash-spends into comp dollars. If you don't gamble but you blow lots of money on meals and amenities, you'll be made to feel like a high roller. Plus, it turns players into de facto hosts. "Book a trip and contact 50 friends through a social link [provided by MGM] and you'll get a benefit [based on the number of friends who join you]," says Hornbuckle. "All of this is about making sure that customers are ultimately satisfied with the company."

For those who gamble at Aria, MGM's newest property, players may find themselves satisfied at the slot machines. There and at the newly opened Cosmopolitan, a system called "server based gaming" has all the machines running through a single computer.

This means that the games can be changed and updated with a few taps of the keyboard as opposed to having to be physically altered. "If a bunch of people love Siberian Storm, we can add 10 of those machines in 10 minutes, rather than waiting days and days for new hardware to be shipped and installed," says Jacob Lanning, Cosmopolitan's vice president of slots. "We do it off of a disk while most other casinos have to physically swap machines in and out."

They can also be used to communicate directly with specific customers. Information gets conveyed via video on the gaming machine screens. "We'd rather show you the steak dinner we want to give you than tell you about it," says Aria president/COO Bill McBeath.

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