January 25, 2023 8:00 AM
It’s a few weeks past the time for resolutions, but there are still almost 12 months to hope some wishes will come true in 2023 that could make life a little better in the casino world.
- Hackers will go away. I might as well start with something as unrealistic as my “daily exercise” resolution was for 2022. Sadly, data theft and ransomware in the casino world are probably here to stay. Last September I urged readers to check out Nicole Perlroth’s frightening book, “This is How They Tell Me the World Ends.” It will make you painfully aware that if nation-states can’t stop hackers, neither can you. But the good news is that you can make it harder for them to succeed by improving your cyber security and increasing your training. The old saying that you don’t need to outrun the bear, you just need to run faster than the person next to you applies. Make sure your defenses are better than most. Seek experienced outside advice and, most importantly, spend a concentrated effort on developing recovery strategies before you are hit. This should be priority #1 for 2023. However, be forewarned that hackers are also evolving. Axios reported last week that “Criminal gangs are using a new method to guarantee a ransomware payout: They’re ditching the part where they lock up a target firm’s systems by encrypting them and are skipping straight to holding the company’s precious data for ransom.” Just like health records and banking data, a public release of casino records could be costly and embarrassing to customers … most of whom will hate you post-hack. Despite this new battle tactic, Axios echoed my advice above: “Companies that have solid endpoint security tools and firewalls, along with constant monitoring and security plans that limit employees access to internal files, are the ones that will best be able to foil most varieties of ransomware attack.”
- Raise the IRS Jackpot reporting threshold. The current, archaic $1,200 IRS reporting limit was seemingly set during the last Ice Age (that would be 1977). Congressional representatives Dina Titus (D-Nevada) and Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pennsylvania) introduced bi-partisan legislation in early 2022 that would raise it to $5,000 and provide a mechanism for future increases based on inflation. The measure has been strongly supported by the lobbying efforts of the AGA as well. So far, no movement; but hopefully ‘23 could be the year.
- Don’t raise the Jackpot reporting limit – until we’ve solved the “tipping” issue. The rationale for raising the reporting limit in the first place is to provide better guest service and speed jackpot payouts. For high denomination players, $1,200 hits occur every few minutes. Each one results in a mandatory slot machine “lockup” which prevents further play, until the tax paperwork and other requirements are met. This is not only a guest irritant, it has a strong negative impact on revenues to both the casino and the taxing authority. However, on the plus side, these lockups generate the majority of the “tip” opportunities for the casino floor/service staff. Guests who’ve just won a jackpot almost always tip the attendants or cashiers who pay them. Studies have shown that most slot machine jackpots today (85% or higher) are in the $1,200 to $5,000 range. Eliminating all these tip opportunities could drastically reduce the incomes of our most important guest service providers. I wish the AGEM (Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers), operators and others will work together to find a solution to this problem ASAP.
- Commit to more training. Everyone knows that the worst slot system in the industry is “the one you own.” Contrary to popular opinion, I believe that all of the major providers have excellent systems. The single biggest problem with each of them is … (wait for it) … the users. Before you stop reading or send an angry email, let me explain. These systems are incredibly complex, and they do have occasional shortcomings and/or security flaws. But the most common source of problems are self-inflicted: 1 – Failure to keep current by installing the latest updates; 2 – Requesting custom features rather than using the basic system; 3 – Weak hardware; 4 – Not seeking additional training! As a consultant, I often find that users are unaware of many of the existing features in their own system. They just never learned, nor asked the vendor if the feature was available and how to use it. Likewise, the initial training you received during an install years ago has probably been long forgotten. For many, their in-house super-user retired or left months ago and a replacement was never sought. I wish everyone would get more training. It is an investment that will pay for itself many times over.
- Practice consistent analytics. There have been some incredibly powerful analytical tools developed in the last few years (like QCI, Tableau, Gaming Analytics.ai, SAS and others) that take advantage of new database technologies, artificial intelligence, visualizations and improved computer hardware. But for them to work correctly, you have to use them, keep them up to date, and implement their findings. Some all-too-common errors are: out-of-date floor maps, shared revenue machines that are weak performers, too many diverse (and low-performing) machines, and naming conventions that give different descriptions to the same slot types. Training, as mentioned above, is also a key to better analytics. A major part of this wish is that I hope that everyone has committed to a minimum of a “formal” (and extensive) monthly review of all performance statistics. If you do this even more frequently, good for you. But make “monthly” your default. Those who don’t are truly “leaving money on the floor.”
- Everyone needs to be respected. Last month I wrote about the practice of operators treating vendors with disrespect. They should stop. But that is also a two-way street. A common complaint (one that was heard quite a bit during the recent Christmas and New Year’s holidays) is that during these busy and important revenue-generating periods, operators can’t make contact with, or get service from, their suppliers. When glitches occur or systems are off-line, it is extremely frustrating to learn that all the vendors have given their staff the holidays off. Casinos issue “blackout” periods for their teams restricting vacations, call outs and EOs to ensure good floor service during the holidays. I wish vendors would do the same.
- Restore some of your loss-leaders. Casino patrons love buffets, bingo halls, keno lounges and poker rooms. So why did so many of you eliminate these features and use the pandemic as your excuse? Granted, none of these items generate high levels of profitability when considered in isolation. Maybe they were even losing money. But isn’t it worth some expense to keep something your customers love? Many noted that when they reopened post-pandemic, it didn’t hurt business at all keeping these facilities closed. Some even claimed it helped! They seemed to discount the impact of pent-up demand and the related stimulus payments. The record revenues won’t last. I wish everyone who hasn’t would consider bringing back these popular amenities before it’s too late. Pretty please.
- Work smarter, be happy. In her 2019 book “The Five Regrets of Dying,” palliative nurse Bonnie Ware surveyed her patients in their last few days of their life about what they would have changed. “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard” was one of the top responses. The author says, “This came from every male patient that I nursed. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners.” Before accusing me of being two-faced since some of my “wishes” above would require even more up-front work, they can still contribute to a better work/life balance. More training requires time and effort, but the end result is fewer hours and less frustration. Preparation for cyber warfare is better than rebuilding after destruction; the emotional roller coaster created by short-term profit goals is far more stressful than implementing stable long-term strategies; etc. There are dozens and dozens of business books about increasing your productivity and many are worth a read. Last year Kate Northrup wrote in the Harvard Business Review, “Give Yourself Permission to Dial It Back.” She didn’t mean to goof off, but rather to focus on priorities that have the best outcomes. She summarized, “You can give the most time and energy to the things that matter” and you can dial back the rest. Leadership writer Stephen Covey phrased it as “Put First Things First.” So, my last wish is that you give this topic some serious consideration. There are actually some hard facts behind the cliches like “Work smarter, not harder” and “Only you can choose your attitude.” Laboratory research at the University of Warwick near Coventry, UK, found happiness made people around 12% more productive.
Being both happier and more productive is a wish we can all get behind for 2023.