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May 07 Businessexcellence 63 The Lac de Flambeau, in the Tribal Lands of North Wisconsin, was named such by French hunters and trappers, who watched how the indigenous Ojibway people hunted for the lake’s walleye fish after dark. They canoed out onto the waters and used flaming torches to attract fish to the surface, where they could be speared and hauled aboard. The English translation is the name of the Lake of the Torches Resort Casino, which is helping to boost the local economy and bring the area out of the poverty and deprivation that has dogged it for a century or more. The Lake of the Torches has to be the most picturesque casino in the country. Its setting, on the lakeside, in a small rural community and surrounded by woods and countryside, is far removed from the garish Las Vegas Strip or the gaming palaces of New Jersey. This is something very different but no less a valuable asset. Revenues from the relatively small, 101 room, hotel and 8500 sq ft gaming floor topped $50 million in 2006. The facility employs 450 people, which, in a tribal community with membership of around 3400, makes it the major employer in the area. The area is beautiful and unspoiled but this isn’t some kind of backwoods, Hicksville enterprise; the management of the Lake of the Torches is using technology to leverage its resources and enable it to punch well above its weight. According to Bill Guelcher, CEO of Lake of the Torches Resort Casino, there are 850 slot machines on the gaming floor, which is supervised by eight people. The key to that very efficient ratio is the coinless ticket in/ticket out system it has embraced. The front-end—the games machines themselves and their data collection—are produced by a partnership of Bally’s and IGT; Aristocrat Technology’s OASIS system houses the data centrally. The system isn’t cashless: it takes coins in. The difference is in payouts. Historically, the sound of coins clinking into the tray was attractive but they add transactions and are inconvenient. When a customer wanted to cash out, the coins came tumbling out and had to be loaded into a coin bucket. The customer would get their hands dirty and, when they went to their next game, they had to feed the coins back in, one by one. Or they had to carry their tub to the cashier and exchange the coins for notes. Coin also restricts the amount that can be paid out on the spot. A $1000 jackpot, for example, would require a wheelbarrow to shift it, and the machines themselves wouldn’t have hoppers big enough to handle $1000 in quarters or dimes. An attendant would have to come over, the customer would get a proportion in coin and the balance would have to be handed over in bills. Not at Lake of the Torches—it has something much better. Winners get a bar-coded ticket, with the exact monetary value printed on it and contained in the code. It arrives in two to three seconds, which dramatically reduces the time taken for payout. The customer can take the ticket to any other game on the floor, eliminating the need for cumbersome coin transportation. They can go from a quarter game, to a nickel, a dime, or other denominations, from $1 through to $50. Or they can take the ticket to the cashier for cash and, if the payout is $1200 or more, the IRS certificate of taxable winnings. The system greatly improves security, too. When the barcode prints, the information is electronically recorded on the accounting system. If the guest forgets to take the ticket out, or loses it, the casino can put a ‘stop pay’ and prevent it being redeemed—once it has confirmed there’s no scam involved. In conventional coin operations, if a guest loses their winnings or forgets to pick them up, there’s nothing anyone can do. With this system, they can still get their money. Instead of running around like headless chickens, sorting out routine enquiries and dealing with coin transactions, the staff can focus on customer service—teaching customers to use the games, interacting with queries of exception and acting more as hosts, asking how they are, offering a drink and answering questions. The casino is able to service the floor with, typically, 15-20 fewer people, Guelcher told me, which means it can also offer better payouts to guests. Lake of the Torches is not the only casino in the area and guests have to drive past a few, on their way from Duluth (three hours’ drive), the Twin Cities (four hours), The Lake of the Torches

Businessexcellence May 07 64 Madison (three hours) or Milwaukee (fi ve hours). The setting is gorgeous but it needs something a little extra to encourage them to make the trip. So it sets the fl oor a bit more favorably. Management wants guests to have a winning experience, to encourage them to come back. As they return over the next few years, they will fi nd Lake of the Torches’ technology and return on capital is being leveraged towards progressive improvements and wider experiences. The resort has laid the foundation for more aggressive growth, believes Guelcher. It will be expanding the property, with more food and beverage locations, doubling the hotel size and offering a fuller range of gaming. Lake of the Torches is currently in discussion with the Wisconsin authorities for more card games, so it will be able to expand its gaming machines and introduce even better coinless operations. Lake of the Torches sees its role being to enhance the economy of the Lac de Flambeau band of Lake Superior Ojibway people. It hands over 100 percent of its bottom line to the tribal government and they return what is needed to invest in and run the casino. Technology is being used to leverage its resources and build a better future. “If the guest forgets to take the ticket out, or loses it, the casino can put a ‘stop pay’ and prevent it being redeemed—once it has confi rmed there’s no scam involved” The Lake of the Torches