New “ticket in-bonus out” (TIBO) technology from Acres Manufacturing (Acres) could change the casino industry for operators and players alike.
However, whether the shift is viewed as positive will likely depend on how the tech is deployed. In the meantime, responsible gambling advocates are urging regulation of the new slot technology to protect player health.
“Personalized marketing and targeting of gambling can be incredibly devastating if the gambler has a problem,” Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), told Bonus.
That technology, he said, in the hands of an irresponsible operator or vendor, has tremendous potential for harm. The same technology in the hands of a responsible operator could also target responsible gambling messages and interventions.
But we fear without strict regulation, this technology will be used in a crude way only to maximize revenue. And as a result, may well severely negatively impact people with gambling problems…
If someone’s going to use TIBO, or similar technology, to really personalize and target gamblers with offers designed to increase time on device or gambling revenue. They have an equal obligation to use all that same technology to try and detect and minimize risk for gambling problems.
“Ticket In-Bonus Out” An Evolution of TITO Technology
Essentially, Acres’ TIBO system is an update to the existing “ticket in-ticket out” (TITO) technology used today in modern casinos.
With TITO tech, instead of showering players with a waterfall of coins with every win, the machine prints a ticket with a barcode indicating its worth when the player cashes out. Players can then insert that ticket into another slot for further play or cash out for money.
The difference is that TITO machines print tickets only at the player’s request, via the press of a button. By contrast, TIBO machines can issue barcodes at any time, for any reason. This includes printing and delivering bonuses and incentives of any design or value to players while they gamble.
Acres principal Noah Acres, founder and inventor John Acres’ son, told Bonus via email that the innovation is possible thanks to proprietary hardware installed in the game that analyzes real-time gaming data.
TIBO then uses that data to “command the printer to format and print tickets outside the normal cashout button” prompt.
The more data the system has access to, the more personal the bonuses can be. For instance, if the player uses a loyalty card, the system can consider their entire history in deciding when to issue a bonus.
Conversely, if the player is not already a loyalty program member, TIBO can prompt them to join by printing a QR code linking to the sign-up page.
Acres Led Innovation in Casino Tech for Half-Century
The Acres name has been synonymous with casino industry technology for nearly 50 years. According to the company website, at least one piece of Acres-invented tech is in every casino in the world.
The elder Acres started his first company, Electronic Data Systems, in 1972, when he developed a system to track slot machine players using loyalty cards.
For a follow-up effort, Acres’ next venture, Mikohn, created the modern progressive jackpot system. Then, at Acres Gaming, he invented a slot system to award play-based instant bonuses. Acres sold that business in 2003 for $143 million.
Now, through Acres Manufacturing, the father-son duo are aiming to “reinvigorate” a casino industry that has (according to the company’s website) “been at a technological standstill ever since.”
The goal, said Noah Acres, is to deliver slot machine revenue growth through new player incentives.
Like any business, casinos want to produce loyal repeat customer relationships that last for years. These relationships are earned by providing fulfilling, value-driven entertainment experiences. TIBO is designed to help players receive higher-value gaming experiences.
TIBO, he added, improves the casino slot experience for both players and the casino.
A casino player may expect their $100 gaming budget to last them one hour. If the real-time data is showing the player is on pace to lose it all within 15 minutes, which makes them less likely to return for a future visit, TIBO can modify the experience by printing a bonus ticket in the player’s time of need. If the net result is the player still spends $100, but now it takes closer to an hour than to 15 minutes, both the player and casino are satisfied with the result.
Regulation Needed to Level the Playing Field
However, the idea of TIBO is not to persuade players to spend money they don’t have, said Acres.
Instead, it’s about using real-time data to determine the experience that most satisfies the player and then helping them realize it through bonus and promotional tickets delivered at critical moments. The key is that each player is different, and TIBO works to determine the best path forward for each.
Acres says the system can print responsible gambling messages as easily as bonuses.
Real-time data is the key path to delivering crafted player experiences. If we determine a player is demonstrating unhealthy behavior—such as losing more than their historic average or playing longer than usual—TIBO could print a message to help the player step away.
Since most don’t like being told what to do, he added that operators could employ more subtle ways of helping their players to regain perspective. For instance, a machine could print a voucher for a free coffee or meal that’s instantly redeemable, to encourage the player to step away for a time.
However, Whyte says that he gets little comfort from a manufacturer suggesting potential responsible gambling applications for its technology.
“What we’ve seen time and time, again, is operators refusing to use those responsible gaming applications.”
The critical part about regulation, Whyte added, is that it sets a level playing field for operators and vendors using the technology. It also creates a standard expectation for players.
In our current environment, while Casino X might use this really, really responsibly and balance both the costs and benefits, Casino Z, their competitor, may only have it tuned to maximize revenue or maximize time on device. Or try and prevent someone who’s who’s tried to stop from stopping.
Passive Approach to Responsible Gambling Inadequate
Self-regulation, said Whyte, works extremely poorly in these situations.
There are always competitors out there that are going to try and get an edge, they’re going to try and push boundaries. Or frankly, they don’t care about boundaries. And so it disincentivizes the responsible use…
There’s a real need to create a consistent set of standards, expectations, and guidelines, around the risks and responsibilities for this technology. Or your you’re going to see a race to the bottom. You’re probably going to see some really negative examples. And you may wind up with regulators using a hammer, and severely limiting or even, eliminating this sort of technology.
Unfortunately, said Whyte, rarely, if ever, is new tech developed, approved, and deployed with consideration of problem or responsible gambling implications.
He said the NCPG has strongly recommended that operators incorporate responsible gambling measures into their pilots and tests for decades. It also suggests they make that information publicly available (with confidential or proprietary details restricted).
“We believe strongly in the precautionary principle,” he added.
Where there is evidence that there may be increased risk, something should not be permitted until it’s been shown not to increase harm. What we do now is a new thing like this gets approved, and the commission and the operators and vendors all stand around and wait for someone to prove there’s harm.
If the vendors believed these products weren’t harmful, and the data showed as much, they should be eager to share that with the public and the regulator, continued Whyte.
“They should be shouting from the rooftops,” he said. The fact that they’re not out in front with the responsible gambling conversation is “troubling and very telling.”
It’s the most passive approach to responsible gambling. And quite frankly, in this modern era, that passive approach is inadequate.
Gambling Tech is Value-Neutral Until It’s Used
In the case of TIBO, the tech is tested and approved in Nevada, but only for printing promotional tickets when a player qualifies, said Acres. For instance, when a player earns a free drink voucher.
However, the company plans to undertake a second field test in Nevada sometime this fall to combine this with TITO functionality.
The upcoming field trial will see Acres managing the entire ticketing system. This functionality will add the “ticket in” part of the equation to TIBO.
Once approved, said Acres, TIBO will be able to print bonus tickets redeemable for cash or play value and promotional items like free drinks.
Timeline-wise, the field test at Gold Country Inn & Casino in Elko should wrap up within 90 days. But even with approval, Acres said he wouldn’t expect widespread deployment in Nevada until sometime in 2024. That delay is due to most casino environments’ long technology upgrade cycle.
In any case, if approved in Nevada, other states may follow suit.
For Whyte, the potential for companies to “weaponize” data collected against the player is a concern for both the player and the industry.
I hate to talk in crude, broad terms because I don’t think companies are good or evil. And I think all gambling and all gambling technology is value-neutral. It’s how you use it.
But when I think about some of the policy implications on a broad scale, and then I think about individual gamblers, who may start to perceive that these companies have this sort of Orwellian approach to collecting all this information. It may breed a lot of customer backlash.
Industry Should be Leading the Conversation
According to Whyte, this differs from a grocery or other loyalty program because the product is gambling.
While your grocer may push you towards choices, he said, no one has killed themselves because their store sent them an extra coupon for some Lucky Charms.
Conversely, many people have attempted suicide because of their gambling problems.
“They felt hopeless and targeted and unable to resist the urge to gamble,” he added.
And until now, many gambling offers involve relatively crude promotions.
Now we’re in a world where your urge to gamble might be driven literally by your own behavior. By everything you’ve ever done on the web and everything you’ve ever purchased.
Tuned poorly or not monitored? For some people, this could be life-threatening.
For that reason, said Whyte, we need good policy work on the front side to address new tech.
Whyte added the NCPG is eager to work with the industry to ensure responsible gambling is part of technology development.
“It seems like it would be in the best interest of the industry to lead the conversation, said Whyte.
NGCB to Hold Public Meeting on Gambling Tech
Notably, on Aug. 30, the Nevada Gaming Control Board (NGCB) announced an upcoming public workshop on the Nevada Gaming Technology Approval Process.
Bonus contacted the NGCP about the general technology approval process and TIBO.
However, because the NGCB has not yet approved TIBO for the field test, the Board (via email) declined to comment.
The product you have referenced has not been authorized for a field test at this time. Consequently, the Board is not in a position to provide any comment.
The purpose of the field trial is to verify new technology doesn’t cause customer disputes and continues to report revenues accurately for taxation purposes. There’d have to be a regulation against what the field trial aims to do in order for the field trial to be declined.
However, according to the NGCB notice, the workshop will “discuss and receive public input regarding, without limitation, Nevada gaming technology.”
Specifically, the agenda notes topics will include the modernization of the approval process and discussion of advanced technology. Considerations include its impact on gaming devices, related equipment, and cashless wagering.
Interested parties may present statements, arguments, or contentions in writing or in person. Written comments are due via email by 5 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 23, to [email protected].