Matt Wilson began his role as chief executive for Scientific Games Gaming Group on March 1.
Thirteen days later, Illinois ordered its riverboat casinos closed due to the spreading coronavirus pandemic. By the end of the month, the entire U.S. casino industry – nearly 1,000 casinos in 43 states – had shut down indefinitely because of COVID-19, taking with it the gaming equipment provider’s customer base.
Rather than lament the halted gaming equipment sales, Wilson and his team saw an opportunity to speed up the company’s previously planned roll-out of cashless gaming technology.
The company’s mobile wallet, which allows players to fund slot machine play and table game action through a smartphone app, is now on field trial with the Seminole Tribe’s casinos in Florida.
Scientific Games previewed the mobile wallet at the Global Gaming Expo last fall. Wilson said the technology predates the company; Bally Technologies has had the intellectual property rights going back to 2005. Scientific Games acquired the technology in 2015 through its $5.1 billion acquisition of Bally.
“We were thinking about this in 2005, but it takes a global pandemic to put it on the table,” Wilson said last week during an interview at Scientific Games’ Las Vegas headquarters.
Wilson said he polled casino floor managers from 20 of Scientific Games’ top customers after the closure to get a sense of what they would like to see the company bring to the floor over the next 18 months.
“Everybody said cashless is the future,” Wilson said. “I think if you had asked that question a year ago, maybe 20 percent would have said cashless. Now, it’s unanimous.”
Scientific’s competition will be fierce; Everi Holdings and International Game Technology are also developing mobile wallets.
Wilson said the mobile wallet product, called Unified Wallet, eliminates lines at ATMs to withdraw cash or at kiosks to redeem tickets. Money from the gaming session transfers between the wallet and the machine via Bluetooth technology. He said casinos will see a reduction in maintenance costs for bill validators, ticket printers, and ticket redemption kiosks.
Timing on the mobile wallet’s roll-out depends on the regulatory approval process, which is different in every state.
The primary concern for Scientific Games, initially, is helping casino operators implement their reopening plans under health and safety guidelines that include social distancing mandates and stringent cleaning and sanitation protocols.
As of Friday, more than 220 casinos had reopened in 19 states. On Monday, five more states are allowing casinos to reopen, with Nevada scheduled to relaunch the nation’s largest gaming market on Thursday.
To help in the process, Wilson said Scientific Games has developed a module for its slot management system that ensures slot players have space between games while helping to schedule immediate cleaning and sanitation. The feature is easily added through an update to the system’s programming at the casino.
“It is now more critical than ever to develop solutions that help our partners address and adapt to the new normal,” Wilson said.
Through the programming, once a player either inserts a rewards card or simply begins playing a particular slot machine, all games within close proximity are disabled. Once the player ends their gaming session, the machine is shut down for cleaning and the other games are returned to play.
The automated system immediately identifies games requiring sanitization. Casino operators can also use the system to schedule sanitizing at regular intervals.
The module also allows casino operators to upload a list of games that should remain enabled on the casino floors.
“The casinos have players coming back and they are looking forward to playing their favorite game,” Wilson said. “This way, the games are always available on the casino floor.”
Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.