Mick Ingersoll

Leveraging Data Protecting Peo

Traditionally, the casino is an all cash business with the exception These are exciting times. We live in an era where we take for granted things and situations and insights that couldn’t have been dreamed up until recently. Technology is the most powerful driver of these changes. Without a doubt, this is our time and WE ARE the technological revolution. That’s empowering, and just a tiny bit daunting. With excitement, wonder and magic comes fear, ignorance and responsibility. In the gaming industry, we can and do amass loads of data using technology, but how do we know what to collect and moreover, how can we leverage it to create a better guest experience and grow revenue?

In business, we encounter many buzzwords. We are guilty of propagating these terms without giving them as much thought as we should. “Big data” is one such term. What is it exactly? Big data refers to huge amounts of data that, if used correctly, can provide insight into behavioral patterns and trends that can be used to inform a decision, formulate a plan or tell a story. Companies are obsessed with capturing as much data as possible because it holds the keys to understanding what’s happening in the business. Unfortunately, if you’re only thinking about big data, you’ve already fallen behind. Your focus now should be thick data combined with big data. Thick data is the element of big data where we currently make guesses. Thick data incorporates all the qualitative pieces of information that we know exist in our business. Thick data doesn’t generalize information in order to be usable the way big data does. Thick data watches the story unfold and accounts for the peculiar behaviors that humans inexplicably exhibit.

In 2010, former Google and Alphabet Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt announced that we are generating as much information in the form of data every two days as we did between the beginning of civilization and 2003. He then said, “I spend most of my time assuming the world is not ready for the technology revolution that will be happening to them soon.” Allow me to remind you he said these things in 2010. We haven’t slowed down; the pace of change has only accelerated.

It is estimated that the human brain processes information at a speed of 38 petaflops––an amount incomprehensible by today’s manufactured processing power, but still not powerful enough to digest all of the data being compiled. Gone are the days when we could interpret only what we could put in a spreadsheet. Data analytics is one of the fastest moving fields because technologists have accelerated our ability to interpret and make sense of mass quantities of data using complex algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI). There are academics and companies dedicated to visualizing data into easily understood graphics that allow users to drill into different parts to dive deeper into the data trend being displayed. Exciting…but how does it help? If we can digitally convert data and understand data points on a small and large scale through intelligent machines, that allows more time for humans to play and experiment with the findings. For the time being, we humans remain relevant to the process of data interpretation. For the whole picture, however, elements of thick data must be included.

With access to so much data, it’s difficult to determine where the focus should be. The answer to this question is liquid and ever changing. Allow me to share a couple of examples from my background as a Player Development professional. As most other Las Vegas residents, I closely followed the news about the October 2017 mass shooting, especially after learning that the shooter was an avid gambler. One interview in particular led me to reexamine the relationship between a casino host and a VIP. Hosts tend to know nearly everything about a player, including how they play, what comps they like, who they’re dating and details of their professional lives. In addition to being taught to manage this relationship, hosts are trained to identify the signs of compulsive gambling, addiction and intoxication to promote responsible gaming in good faith. In the interview, it was implied that the killer’s casino host, who knew him well, should have seen the signs. As both a former host and as a private citizen who enjoys gambling on occasion, I’m aghast at the thought that a host would be required to input into some sophisticated software program a series of player characteristics and have an algorithm determine the player’s likelihood of compulsive gambling, mental health issues or possible violent behavior? I’m not sure that software program exists, but if it did, I would anticipate real outrage at the privacy implications.

Thick data incorporates all the qualitative pieces of information that we know exist in our business. Thick data doesn’t generalize information in order to be usable the way big data does.

Courtesy of iStock

Courtesy of iStock

Thick data incorporates all the qualitative pieces of information that we know exist in our business. Thick data doesn’t generalize information in order to be usable the way big data does.

That said, I remember knowing to be concerned about a VIP I hosted with Parkinson’s disease. Often patients with Parkinson’s get prescribed a drug that affects the release of dopamine. Our brains love patterns, and they especially love getting a reward when they haven’t necessarily solved a pattern and it seems like a random award. Consider how a slot machine and a jackpot could trigger a dopamine-like response in the brain. Studies have shown a connection between gambling addiction and the dopamine boost that occurs when a person taking Parkinson’s medication wins at slots. This raises questions about what information we should hold about our players and how we should use that information. Holding this information isn’t illegal nor is it seen as aiding and abetting a gambler as far as I know, but I wouldn’t want to field questions from the media as the host of a player who exhibited dangerous or criminal behavior in public.

Each component of the business will have unique dilemmas, not just player development. As we make progress with AI and look toward Artificial General Intelligence (AGI, which more closely mimics human intelligence) and ultimately toward Artificial Super Intelligence (ASI, beyond human minds), we must consider the application of this science. It entertains your wildest imaginations. Picture a casino so smart that it can generate offers triggered by upcoming weather predictions. Before inclement weather hit, the casino sends an offer to players who frequent a quieter portion of the casino floor, based on the assumption that they like to play there when it’s slower and quieter––during snowy weather perhaps. Imagine games so sophisticated that they adapt in real time to create a desired customer experience using eye movement and facial expression tracking to determine what happens next in the game. Remember I mentioned our responsibilities earlier? How would you feel about a slot machine that “listens” to conversations to understand if the player plans to leave soon? As a Director of Marketing, wouldn’t you want to use this knowledge to deliver a just-in-time offer to extend playing time? No matter your answer to this question, we all still have to be responsible and help decide where to draw the line about what type of data to collect and how it should be used.

Inevitably, we will be entering into many new societal contracts featuring government-imposed restrictions related to accumulating and utilizing data. We must work closely with our technology teams to ensure all protections are in place and restrict access when it’s unwarranted. And finally, we need to use basic common sense and take ownership of the responsibility and the inherent significant risk we accept when we agree to record and use data about others.

With 14 years of Player Development and VIP Marketing experience, including nine years at Penn National Gaming, Mick Ingersoll joined VizExplorer as an Industry Specialist in 2015. In this role, he developed and manages Best Practices Training for hostViz™, greetViz™ and is VizExplorer’s primary Player Development Consultant. Recently, he has been named Director of International Customer Success and is focusing on growing VizExplorer’s footprint around the world. An early adopter of new technology, Mick aims to apply technology advancements from other industries to Player Development and to transform Hosting from a Customer Service position into a Hospitality Sales and Account Management function. Mick resides in Las Vegas, but escapes the desert heat to pursue his passion for skiing, which he has now done in 17 countries (and counting).