Focus on Passport Technology: DataStream is an ATM processor built for the gaming environment

March 5, 2024 8:00 AM
  • Mark Keast, CDC Gaming Reports
March 5, 2024 8:00 AM
  • Mark Keast, CDC Gaming Reports

Speed and security are everything when it comes to cash transactions at casinos. In the end, that’s a huge contributor to a positive customer experience. That operational efficiency is felt particularly during peak hours when the casinos see higher foot traffic. Theft and fraud are ongoing security threats – a focus on cash handling procedures, surveillance systems and other technologies to detect and prevent fraudulent activities is paramount for business.

The trust and reputation of the casino is of course founded on the speed and security of these transactions. Plus of course casinos are subject to regulatory compliance in this area.

The people at Passport Technology Inc., the fast-growing provider of payment technology to the global gaming industry, know all this. DataStream, Passport’s proprietary ATM Management and Access Solution, is now live at casinos across the United States and Canada, with expansion into the United Kingdom.

Launched in 2003 in the United States (they started providing their processing services to casinos in 2008), DataStream has become one of North America’s fastest-growing, bank-sponsored, proprietary ATM processors, facilitating ATM, POS and Value-Add transaction processing to retail and gaming-based clientele.

In 2020, DataStream pioneered an innovative, fully cloud-based processing architecture to provide processing clients with unmatched levels of reliability, automated redundancies, uptime, and processing security not available in traditionally hosted environments.

CDC Gaming Reports caught up with John Steely, Chief Customer and Chief Information Officer and Kent Cain, Senior Vice President, Platform Operations, about the beginnings of DataStream, and how the company’s technology is well-suited and wholly adaptable in a gaming industry that is rapidly growing and evolving.

According to the American Gaming Association there are 1,011 casinos in the U.S., with an economic impact of $328.6 billion.

An ATM processor is what connects you to your bank. Most ATMs are owned by financial institutions.

“There’s a couple of independent processors out there,” Steely said. “We happen to have our own. What’s unique about us is we built our own processing switch that we use to facilitate our own transactions.”

They are physical ATM machines as well as multi-function kiosks, cage systems, back-office systems; they all connect in to do the processing and send the transactions through the switch.

“Our in-house architecture for the switch itself is connected upstream to get those transactions to the network and facilitate those transactions quickly back to the gaming environment, so that the guests can access their cash,” Cain added.

That’s the advantage Passport Technology Inc., and DataStream, has: It’s a switch and an architecture that’s built to facilitate specific cash access transactions unique to the gaming environment.

“The first is that we have to secure the transaction in a very unique way,” Cain said. “So from a compliance and fraud management position, we have special features within our switch that then help protect the gaming environments at a deeper level than normal retail ATM processing would.

“The second would be redundancy. So gaming environments thrive on 100 per cent up time. It’s imperative from the switch level that the cash access systems remain operable and available to the casino 100 per cent of the time. So it’s a matter of creating these automated failover redundancies that don’t exist in other switches, but service the gaming environments very specifically.”

For their casino clients, the biggest “ask” is always, “Will you be available for me?” It’s uptime, what are your redundancies, how are you providing the casino access to cash any time, all the time. And how can DataStream make the casino’s cash transactions look different and better than other casino’s cash transactions?

“That’s one of the other greatest advantages to DataStream today,” Cain added. “DataStream and Passport Technology, who’s actually the creator of the kiosks and the software that facilitates the transactions, work seamlessly together to create a flow from variable customized types of transactions on the floor all the way through to the processing networks and authorization and back to the terminals themselves.

“That gives us a very unique ability to customize functionality and transactions and create new types of transactions and branch off transactions that serve as guests and clients and can even drive additional revenue for the casinos.”

Conversely, if a mid-size casino working with a larger processor wants to change the flow of the transaction, with withdrawals for example, or to have a report look a certain way, Passport can make that change for him. So operational adaptational changes on the run, for casinos dealing with expanding foot traffic numbers, is key. With mid-sized casinos working with one of the big processors, they won’t change the flow for that casino because it doesn’t make economic sense for them.

“They’ve got hundreds of thousands if not millions of transactions and they are not going to do a flow change for a midsize casino,” Steely said. “It’s just too much development, too much time. It’s just not worth it for them. But for us, because that’s our customer, it is worth it for us. So, we’ll make that change for them. We do this all the time.”

Being nimble and able to customize on the fly – that’s the difference –maker in a competitive industry, Steely added.

“Almost every single one of our customers asks for something unique and we deliver every time,” he said.

One of the advantages they have is their entire technology footprint – so all of their applications, all of the processing and network environments – sits in cloud-based architecture. That’s a rarity.

“It speaks again to that redundancy where the cloud itself has very large-scale built-in security systems and fraud monitoring systems,” Cain said. “But at the same time, it also automatically fails over in a number of different ways that terrestrial environments don’t, again speaking to uptime for the providers.”

Questions about security are evolving, where years ago the casinos were asking if the provider was going to securer their cardholder’s information, so it’s not taken from the casino environment, to what they are asking more these days – is the ATM provider compliant within the PCI (payment card industry) scope of things – from the floor to the switch to the network. The casino operators know what that is, and the depth of it, and know what it means for the security of their guests’ information.

Company growth? Passport Technology Inc. is focusing on the U.S., Canada and the UK equally, rapidly improving and evolving to meet a changing casino landscape.

“From the technology standpoint is how versatile can I make this technology?” Cain said. “How can I make this so that we’re constantly changing to meet the changing landscape with the transaction and the technology? What we have to do is create that modular sort of architecture so that we can constantly be updating and plugging in new points.

“Compliance is rapidly changing. And if you’re a switch that is stuck in what they call a stack architecture or even a terrestrial stack architecture, you’re not going to be able to implement the new changes that are required to remain compliant.

“Same thing can be said for the new transaction sets, wallet-based, up-points based, loyalty-based; all those products need to be plugged in in a way that can be quick versatile, easy. So, creating the right architecture so that things can be moved, adjusted and updated without creating a legacy that is slow in rising to the technology needs of where these transactions are going is key.”