Faces of Gaming: Noah Acres – Shaking up the industry one player record at a time

April 27, 2024 2:43 PM
  • Tom Osiecki — CDC Gaming Reports and Raving Partner
April 27, 2024 2:43 PM
  • Tom Osiecki — CDC Gaming Reports and Raving Partner

Noah Acres grew up with casino engineering and loyalty marketing in his blood. His father, John Acres, is renowned as the Thomas Edison of the gaming industry.

Story continues below

Today Noah finds himself working at Acres Manufacturing selling concepts that constantly challenge the established norms of the gaming industry.

Wearing a t-shirt and baseball cap, Acres’ laid-back look is in opposition to the concepts that Acres Manufacturing pushes out every day. Acres casually states that the casino world is technologically stuck in the 1990s, that free play offers to many should be replaced with personalized one-to-one incentives, that Theo is an outdated measurement of player worth, that casinos are behind the loyalty curve compared to the rest of the world, and that casinos are not offering gaming experiences that will replace older slot players with a new generation.

According to Noah Acres, Acres Manufacturing has the products that can answer the call to those challenges.

A love for gaming

Acres has twenty years’ experience in the gaming industry as a supplier and an operator, including VP of Slots and Marketing at the Riviera in Las Vegas. He joined Acres Manufacturing in 2014 leading its sales effort and has been a  speaker/panelist at multiple industry forums and events. Acres has been named one of Global Gaming Business’s “Twenty-Five People to Watch” in 2024.

I asked Acres what it was like growing up with a father like John Acres and if that had any influence on his career choice.

“I grew up in an environment where there was really no such thing as a 9-to-5 job. My dad is a pure entrepreneur. I think that really rubbed off on me.

“My dad’s an engineer and he loves technology. He started as an engineer in the Air Force at Nellis AFB and picked up a second job working as a casino tech in the 1970s. He was one of the first people to understand how technology could benefit the player and loyalty experience and became a pioneer in developing things like systems and progressive jackpots. I’m not an engineer, but I have a true passion for gaming and have always wanted to be involved in the industry,” Acres stated.

From lasers to the Riviera

Acres said his father showed him a green laser pen when he was 21 years old and he set off to become an entrepreneur.

“I found a supplier in Taiwan and started selling them on eBay and then I made my own website to sell them. One day, a guy who bought a laser from my website was arrested on federal terrorism charges because he pointed his laser at a police helicopter.

“This was not long after 9/11 and the concern for air safety was intense. The New York Times and Associated Press linked my website in their stories and I was sold out for probably two years after that. I was in my early 20s, making in the mid-six figures just on these stupid laser pens. The media stories gave a giant headstart, but I worked on marketing, developing loyalty programs and fulfillment systems to maximize profit for several years,” Acres recalled.

Acres acquired casino operations experience, eventually running slots and marketing for the Riviera in Las Vegas. I asked him if there was anything he learned dealing directly with the public that he carried to his position at Acres Manufacturing.

“At the time, the Riveria was definitely on its last legs. As dingy as it was, we had good players. There was a particular guy, his name was Brad. He would come from Chicago almost every week. He probably had a budget between $50,000 and $100,000. He could have gone to the Wynn or the Bellagio and received world-class treatment and I always wondered why he was so loyal to the Riviera.

“One day I watched him walk through the casino. Every employee said hi to him and knew his name. They were his friends! It is kind of like Cheers, right? Everybody wants to go where somebody knows their name. People want personalized experience. I think purchase decisions, including gambling, are driven by self-esteem.

“How do I feel about myself? How do I want others to perceive me when they watch me betting tens of thousands of dollars? For whatever reason, this guy got that feeling at the Riviera. He didn’t need to go to the Bellagio to get that.

“Our goal at Acres is to create that feeling of belonging and appreciation for all players, including uncarded and unhosted players. We want to use technology to personalize the experience for players and make them feel wanted and appreciated so that they continue to return,” Acres said.

Bedrock convictions

Tasked with selling Acres Manufacturing’s products and services, Acres takes on some of the biggest bedrock convictions in the gaming industry.

“I think Acres Manufacturing plays a critical role in the industry in terms of challenging conventional wisdom and the traditional way things are done. Because our industry is so highly regulated, outsiders are kept out and entrenched suppliers are protected from disruptive technology and ideas. The focus isn’t on developing new ideas but on maximizing longevity of products that are decades old.

“Of course I’m biased, but I think we play a key role in the industry because without a disruptor like Acres, what would ever change?” Acres asked.

The foundation of Foundation

Acres’ Foundation is Acres Manufacturing’s, well, foundational system that has the unique ability to track every action in every slot machine in real time.

“Foundation was created because of another product, called Kai, which dispatches employees to service issues on the casino floor.

“Once we got really good at directing the right employees to respond to specific events, next we wanted to do bonuses and special offers making things really personalized to make the guests happy and want to come back more often.

“We were trying to do things with data to help generate incremental spend and loyalty from players.

“But the legacy system hardware providers started to discourage casinos from working with Acres, which was infuriating at the time, but in retrospect was a great opportunity because we always knew the data available from these systems wasn’t granular or real-time like we needed it to be in order to accomplish our vision.

“This is where my dad’s genius really comes through. He doesn’t get frustrated. He doesn’t waste energy on emotions. He’s always focused on the next solution.

“I remember him coming in one day and he’s got a soldering iron and he’s making the first version of our Foundation hardware, the system that we have today. Now we have a device that gets us a real-time data stream from any slot machine we connect. And it can also modify the credit meter, so it can do things like cashless and bonusing. So, it really fulfills what we want to do with gaming,” Acres said.

“None of this would have happened if the legacy systems providers didn’t try to torpedo Kai.”

Acres Foundation

Acres Foundation is a system that uses revolutionary in-game hardware to deliver real-time data from every single slot machine, enabling innovations around the player experience.

This innovative system enhances player experiences and optimizes casino operations by utilizing an advanced combination of hardware and software to monitor player behavior and game performance with predictive analytics and real-time operational visibility.

The Acres Foundation system has the ability to offer apps that enhance the capabilities of the system. According to Acres, Acres Foundation is currently operating on 40,000 games.

Acres Foundation apps include:

  • Cashless Casino, which is currently operating at Penn National properties
  • Foundation HQ, a casino management system that is currently rolling out in the market
  • TIBO, a ticketing system that delivers data-driven bonus to players at the slot machine
  • Video Poker Analyzer, a system that identifies advantage video poker players, and
  • Player Budget, a new casino industry metric that aims to replace Theo by clearly identifying each player’s specific gambling budget.

“We designed, built, and manufactured Foundation all ourselves. Then we got regulatory approvals and built an amazing support team to install and provide service in the field. We also created a really disruptive feature called SAS sharing, which allows casinos to install Foundation without removing the old system hardware. These are all difficult challenges, but we have a team of about 50 people who have built a truly exceptional product in Foundation,” Acres declared.

Legacy differentials

Acres Foundation differs from legacy systems because it can record every transaction for every slot machine in real time.

“The slot machine has meters like an odometer. Anytime one of those meters changes, we report the value change. We see everything in real time.

“Legacy systems provide session-based reports that compare meter levels at the beginning and end of a play session. If you can’t get real-time data, you can’t provide personalized, real-time marketing, which is what the modern consumer wants,” Acres explained.

Foundation HQ

The Acres Manufacturing website states that “The guiding principle behind the design and capabilities of Acres Foundation HQ CMS loyalty program is simple: Players want to win, not earn.”

Foundation HQ offers an embedded screen in each slot machine that can issue real-time incentives for players to enhance their playing experience. It can also interface with TIBO, a proprietary Acres Manufacturing hard ticketing system that can distribute incentives directly into the hands of players at the slot machine in real time.

“With Foundation HQ, we have the little screen on the game that can display real-time offers, or they can have a QR code that a player can scan and instantly enroll in the players club. You shouldn’t have to walk to the players club and spend 10 minutes waiting in line to get to get a physical loyalty card that’s been abandoned by every other industry,” Acres said.

Making Theo obsolete

In February 2024, Acres posted a press release on its new Player Budget product that states it will make the time-honored Theo system of measuring player worth obsolete.

“Acres Manufacturing Company today announced the release of a new customer rating system – Player Budget – that identifies each player’s individual budget and spend habits. Player Budget’s understanding of these habits enables casino operators to dramatically improve their direct marketing strategies by prioritizing players with deeper pockets and higher profit potential while also offering new real-time protections for problem gamblers.”

Noah Acres said, “Casinos in the United States spend over $25 billion each year to market to slot players; and until now have only been able to approximate player value using flawed ‘Theoretical’ ratings systems. Our Player Budget ratings system sets a new standard by identifying precisely how much each player is willing to spend, then recommending to the operator a strategic course of action to maximize the value of every player relationship.”

“After identifying the player’s largest in-session loss, Player Budget assigns a personal spend threshold to each player, allowing casino marketers to customize incentive offers to each player based on their precise profit potential.

“Player Budget is an application that identifies every player’s personal gambling budget. We do this by measuring real-time data and finding the lowest point that you’ve ever had in a gaming session. Let’s say that you play $300. Then you get down to your last 20 bucks and you cash out and walk away. We set your Player Budget to $280 because that’s the moment you showed resistance to spending more. We also have a similar analysis for time preferences. If casinos believe in personalized marketing, knowing how much time and money each player has available is a crucial part of the equation. We can use Foundation to specifically identify what every player is willing to risk gambling and that allows you to cater your marketing to the high-value players,” Acres stated.

Getting rid of the 1%

“Video Poker Analyzer measures every player’s skill level in video poker. For any hand that’s dealt in video poker, we compare the player’s chosen solution with the mathematically optimal solution. When the player demonstrates perfect play over a long period of time, we know they’re an advantage player that offers no profit opportunity to the casino. But on the other hand, there are many high-value players who don’t play perfectly and yet casinos are so afraid of the advantage players that they limit video poker marketing offers to all players, including high-margin recreational players.

“And if you make a mistake, if you deviate from the optimal strategy, that’s extra margin for the casino’s profit value. I want to identify all the players who have high margins and large player budgets so that casinos can market to them to come back more frequently. These are the players that, if I’m the operator, I want to target.

“We did a case study on Video Poker Analyzer at one casino where we found 1% of the player population to be Advantage Players. This small group contributed a huge chunk of video poker coin-in and were actually reliably profiting off of their play because of their skill and the rewards program that gave them additional free play. This tiny group inflicted a huge loss – about 26% of carded win. In other words, if the casino could have just fired this 1% of players, their profit would have grown significantly. With Video Poker Analyzer, we can identify those players and the casino can cut off all their marketing offers and instead spend the investment on high-margin players,” said Acres.

Gaming’s future

Acres takes a position that free play should be replaced with personalized incentives as guests play.

“If we don’t get away from free play, and if we don’t find things that excite existing players and recruit new and younger players, then the industry doesn’t really have a super bright future.

“We need to find a way to use technology to fit modern consumer desires. I think that the industry has a bright future; but it’s got to be mobile, it’s got to be connected, and most of all, it’s got to be personalized.

“People don’t want to have the same blanket offer as everybody else. A 30-year-old or a 40-year-old, even a 50-year-old today doesn’t want to go to the mailbox and get the same offer that 10,000 other people are getting.

“Walk into a casino and usually nobody talks to you unless you go stand in line or unless there’s something wrong. Now compare that to Amazon and Netflix. They’re always serving you personalized content, personalized offers in real time. That’s what modern consumers are used to and what casinos are competing against. Unfortunately, there are many recreational activities that require way less friction to engage. Casinos aren’t just competing against other casinos, they’re competing with a wide variety of entertainment options.

“That’s why the audience has really stagnated and the casino player base continues to age dramatically. I challenge you to find any other industry that still uses a physical loyalty card or is so heavily reliant on direct snail mail. Our industry can’t generate new players, because casinos are hamstrung by antiquated technology designed to send delayed snail mail offers.” Acres asserted.

Quality control from the heart

I asked Acres if he could explain what makes Acres Manufacturing successful. He said it is about the focus on innovation and disruption.

“There’s not a playbook for being a disruptor. It’s more like a lifestyle, and that attracts a certain kind of person who really thrives at our company. I see other companies where the culture revolves around things like outside charity or social justice initiatives and this is what gives their executives and team members a feeling of fulfillment. That’s great for mature businesses, but Acres is a startup and we attract hardcore innovators who want to create new products and solutions basically from scratch.

“Our team loves innovating and capturing market share to expand the Foundation footprint,” Acres said.

Defying conventions

Acres Manufacturing has a history of defying conventions through innovative products and services. Noah Acres finds himself at the point position where he is shaking up the casino industry by selling cutting-edge concepts. After all, his last name is Acres, and it is in his blood.

Entries in the Faces of Gaming series:

Tom Osiecki is a casino consultant who writes an occasional column for CDC Gaming Reports called Faces of Gaming, about interesting and engaging people in the gaming industry.

Tom Osiecki is a marketing and management consultant for Raving Consulting and can be reached for consulting engagements at 775-329-7864.

If you know of a fascinating personality in the gaming industry you would like to see profiled, please send Tom Osiecki an email at tosiecki@cdcgaming.com