Casinos have long been laboratories for the latest in technology, from Bellagio's popular dancing fountains to the slot machines that double as air conditioners inside CityCenter's Aria. So it was only a matter of time before technological form -- e.g., smartphones and other mobile devices -- met function: i.e., the power to book rooms, make reservations, even gamble in the palm of your hand.
M Resort was one of the first Strip properties to dive into mobile-based programming. When it opened in March, it was the first property in Las Vegas to offer in-running sports wagering (in which bettors can place wagers after a game starts) via a handheld device.
M Resort has also boosted customer loyalty through its M Call mobile marketing system. Unveiled in June, M Call informs rewards card customers of promotions via text message. Customers can call in, follow the directions and receive points or prizes. The system generates 5,000 calls a day, compared with 1,500 a day when it first started.
Casino in your pocket
What's followed has been a miniwave of mobile programming on the Strip. Over at the Palazzo, the new Pocketcasino device allows patrons to play games as they walk in other gaming-designated areas or in certain public spaces. Pocketcasino's unveiling follows the successful September launch of in-running sports wagering in the Venetian's race and sports book and Emeril Lagasse's Stadium at Palazzo.
"We were very eager to jump on in-running sports wagering because it's the newest technology," said Mark Goldman, director of the Venetian's race and sports book. "Since you have a mobile device, you're not glued to the sports book."
Pocketcasino hosts a variety of traditional casino games, such as blackjack, video poker and slots, as well as innovative games like XtraOdds Blackjack and XtraOdds Baccarat, offering extra propositional bets that calculate odds based on the cards dealt, giving guests extra opportunities to press or hedge their bets.
In a statement, Lee Amaitis, president and CEO of Cantor Gaming, which provides mobile gaming solutions, said as much.
"The inherent flexibility of the mobile platform provides a new type of social gaming experience, where a group of friends can sit together yet all be playing different games: blackjack, poker, slots or baccarat," he said.
Goldman said Pocketcasino is quickly catching on, with more guests signing up. Many are surprised at how easy the cellphone-size device is to use, he said.
"Once you sign up, it's your account," he said. "You can use it the length of the stay."
The iPhone of the beholder
Farther south on the Strip, the iPhone takes center stage at Caesars, whose mobile offerings are among the first in the casino industry with the ability to update the application content. Thanks to opt-in GPS capabilities, offers can be customized to venues located near the user.
Downloadable on the iTunes App Store, Caesars' free application features room descriptions, points of interest and maps of popular destinations as well as information on shopping, nightlife, golf and dining.
The iPhone's GPS capabilities lets guests receive location-specific marketing offers from other properties under the Harrah's umbrella. They'll be the first to know if the Flamingo is offering a special event or if Mon Ami Gabi in the Paris hotel-casino is changing its menu.
In addition to the resort-specific and GPS offerings, Caesars also offers Texpress, which lets guests check into their rooms before they leave home. The day before arrival, guests receive a text message that includes their confirmation number and directs them to reply "check in" to begin the check-in process. Upon arrival at the resort, guests bypass the front desk and proceed to the bell desk, where they present photo identification to pick up their room keys.
Texpress users also may opt to receive text message offers during their stay, including special pricing for spa treatments, cocktails, shows and more. Like the iPhone app, Texpress offers will be timed to coincide with the hotel stay and cease after checkout.
Katrina Lane, senior vice president and chief technology officer at Harrah's Entertainment, said Caesars' mobile programs represent an evolution of the company's approach to innovation and technology.
"When we asked what our customers needed in the areas of mobility, we started with text offers and SMS-based programs [short message service] because they covered the greatest population," she said. "The next thing was a [wireless application protocol] site to reach more customers. Our Total Rewards customers can track their points and even book rooms."
Caesars also offers other mobile applications. iSpin is free and functions just like a slot machine; users can customize the reels and background. Under development are a game based on Lady Luck and tutorials for table games, Lane said.