Imaging System Deals Tropicana a Winning Hand

Signature verification is just the beginning for an imaging system recently installed at the casino and resort hotel

Gambling, by definition, involves taking risks. But one thing for sure—if you’re a patron at a casino, you expect the dealer to play by the rules, and you expect the casino to pay up if you win. Likewise, if you say you’re good for a couple of grand, the casino expects you to mean it. But just to be on the safe side, they make you sign for it. And, they have ways to make sure that this signature is, in fact, yours, that the money you say you have, you really do have, and that if you lose, that they get paid. The mastermind behind the technology used to accomplish these kinds of tasks? The casino’s IT manager.

Take, for example, the Tropicana Casino and Resort. A subsidiary of Aztar Corp., the Tropicana is the biggest hotel in New Jersey with 1,624 rooms and suites, and a 124,000 square foot casino. Although it is the primary convention hotel in Atlantic City, with the facilities to host large meetings and exhibits, the casino is Tropicana’s primary business unit.

In the summer of 1999, Tropicana replaced its IT systems, migrating core applications from a non-Y2K compliant IBM mainframe to an AS/400 Model 640 2239, running OS/400 V4R3. Among the mainframe applications that had to be replaced on the AS/400 was a signature display function, a limited, single-purpose imaging system used for verifying the signatures of casino patrons on casino credit applications, or markers.

“In 1998, we considered various alternatives,” says Don Kneisel, executive director of IT. “We could have gone with a very specific solution that would have been a one-to-one replacement for the old signature display, but I didn’t want something so narrowly focused. We were rebuilding IT from the ground up. I wanted to buy a product that would last into the future, so I went looking for an imaging system.”

With Y2K approaching, Kneisel was under some hard deadlines. After examining available products that were proven to work in the casino industry, he came up with a short list of candidates. For its hotel business, Tropicana had already acquired the Lodging Management System, a hospitality management product from Inter-American Data (Lawrenceville, Ga.), with computer output laser disk (COLD) technology for optical storage. Kneisel found that Inter-American also had a sister product, an imaging system called e.FileClerk Web.

The e.FileClerk Web product offered several advantages. First, the product was less expensive than its competitors. Second, Kneisel saw a benefit in going with one vendor. And third, the product offered flexibility, such as the ability to add workflow functionality. Although the product is not currently being used for Web access, it has that capability if Tropicana chooses to move toward e-business.

“I wanted a product I could grow with,” Kneisel says. “I bought it for one particular application, signature verification. But, in addition to that one application, I will have the ability to use it in many other areas, like human resources or typical accounting applications.”

Its current use as a signature verification system is simple. Casino customers can apply for a line of credit from Tropicana, which for some customers avoids the necessity of bringing a large amount of cash to the casino. In the casino credit office, off the gaming room floor, a customer fills out credit application forms. There, the customer’s driver’s license with signature is scanned into the system.

When the customer wants to withdraw money against his account he goes to a pit clerk on the floor and requests the funds. An AS/400-based application completes the transaction and prints the marker that the customer signs. His signature is looked up on e.FileClerk, which displays the customer’s signature, driver’s license and credit application on a monitor at the pit clerk’s station, and, once verified, the customer gets his money. If the customer is lucky, he can pay off the marker the same night. If not, the funds are withdrawn from his bank account.

Kneisel sees uses for e.FileClerk that go beyond signature verification, but his plans have been delayed by the migration from the mainframe. “Now it’s almost a wash,” he says. “I replaced something I had with something new, one-for-one. But the value lies in the future, with its potential to do much more. We haven’t been able to do more yet because of the workload we’ve had.”

Kneisel is still in the process of moving reports from an online report viewing system that was on the mainframe, from mainframe DASD to the COLD Lodging Management System to be stored on optical disk. The optical storage system will be shared by both the Lodging Management and the imaging systems and will eventually total 13 2.5GB platters, or 52.5GB. “Compared to the mainframe, I’ll use a lot less disk space to store reports,” he says.

Once the migration off the mainframe is complete, Kneisel plans to use e.FileClerk to replace a microfilm archiving system that has been used to satisfy a requirement by the State of New Jersey that Tropicana save an image or photograph of all checks before they are deposited in the company’s accounts. A natural application for imaging, e.FileClerk will be used to scan checks and save the images to optical disk. Integration with the human resources and accounting applications in the core Lodging Management system is also planned.

According to Kneisel, by eliminating paperwork and centralizing storage, accuracy and the ability to share information will improve. Tropicana will have the ability to add applications as the business evolves without changing its infrastructure or adding staff, all of which promise to add up to significant dollar savings.

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