Casino on a winning streak

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A casino operator should be able to weigh up the odds, and when Laguna Development Corporation, based in New Mexico, took a punt on converging its business applications using internet protocol (IP), it thought it was on to a winner.

Laguna, which employs 1,000 people but has an IT headcount of just six, runs casinos, petrol stations, shops, restaurants, and a Wi-Fi-covered caravan park, with several of its businesses being less than four years old.

The corporation is owned by the Laguna Pueblo tribe of Native Americans, whose reservation is near Albuquerque, and it runs entertainment complexes at two sites, mainly targeted at gamblers and long-distance truck drivers.

One of the greatest gains from the network built around the IP infrastructure has been the ability to enhance the casinos’ Players Club loyalty scheme, which gives customers credits that can be redeemed for prizes such as show tickets or used to pay for purchases at Laguna’s restaurants, shops or petrol stations.

When a Players Club member begins to play a game or a slot machine, they slide a card through a reader. This allows back-end systems to collect marketing and accounting data such as money won or lost, average bets and hands played per hour.

The information can enhance the customer relationship by enabling more personalised service. “Staff can address players by name and since real-time data is being fed in, they can know if they’re having a good day or a bad day,” says Edward Khader, Laguna’s CIO.

Such service is essential to Laguna’s business, he says: “The customer base is not growing so all of the casinos are fighting for the same customers. It’s very competitive.” Today, Laguna has 100,000 names registered in its Players Club database.

The company decided several years ago to use IP to converge its security, gaming, sales point, client management and telephone systems at its two sites.

The move seems to have paid off as the company has managed its rapid growth and diversification while keeping down IT costs and headcount.

Laguna has been aggressive in converging applications on to a single IP infrastructure. The company now uses its data network to run its surveillance cameras and access control system, its point of sale payment infrastructure, its telephone system, and to manage its 2,000 slot machines.

Using a common infrastructure means everything can be managed centrally from its Route 66 casino by a team of six. “It is technology that has allowed us to do this; it’s a real labour reducer,” says Mr Khader.

Converged infrastructure also enables network services to be tied into central business management systems. For instance, slot machines feed revenue data directly into a central accounting application. The access control system taps into the company’s human resource management software, particularly important for a company that has quadrupled its headcount over the past four years and that has high employee turnover.

The cost to add new buildings and services is similarly reduced by IP networking. “I don’t have to buy separate phone or access system servers for each building, I just add new endpoints. It is so much a cost saving,” explains Mr Khader.

Other than the gaming server, all systems at its other casino, the remote Dancing Eagle, are run via a wireless link from the Route 66 casino 32 miles away.

Laguna’s CIO believes that the investment in Cisco IP kit has paid for itself “many, many times over”. But as is often the case in smaller businesses, he has not had the time to measure returns on his investment.

Laguna will continue to leverage its data network for introducing new services and applications. Currently, the IT team is evaluating means to tie surveillance cameras to cash tills and slot machines so that any suspicious activity automatically directs cameras to the location.

Mr Khader is also interested in using Wi-Fi to give casino staff mobile terminals so that players can cash out directly on the floor. When Laguna builds its new hotel, he plans to use IP telephones with colour touch screens to deliver in-room services as well as for advertising.

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