Slot tournaments have been part of the casino promotions tool kit for decades. My first was at the beginning of the 1990s, the "Magnificent Sevens" event that ran daily at the Las Vegas Sands. From early morning till the finals after 10 each night, slot players plunked down their 10 bucks for a chance to win $1,000 - something I actually did the first time I played the tournament.

The tournament was played on a couple of dozen Magnificent Sevens slots, equipped with tournament chips so that big winners showed up a lot more often than they would in a machine set up for cash play. Machines were shut down overnight, when the tournament wasn't in session.

Technology marches on, and on networked slot floors there's no need to maintain special games reserved for ongoing tournaments, or to block off machines to change game chips and set up shorter events. Systems are available that allow casinos to run instant tournaments, and to link games throughout the slot floor.

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Bally Technologies has been strutting its stuff of late, showing off just what I can do with its iVIEW Display Manager and Elite Bonusing Suite. Under the watchful eyes of Guinness Book of World Records representatives, Bally partnered with Mohegan Sun in Connecticut in April to set records for World's Largest Slot Tournament and Most Slot Machines Running the Same Game Simultaneously. Then, they followed up in April with a record for Largest Virtual Race, using the Virtual Racing NASCAR application of the suite.

In the April 27 tournament, 3,001 players competed for a $100,000 prize pool, with $50,000 going to the winner. Then on May 11, networked machines ran the Virtual Racing app, and this time 588 players were in it for the $100,000 prize pool. Using the touchscreen on Bally iVIEW and iVIEW DM interfaces on slot or video poker machines, players were asked to select among eight drivers under Bally's license with NASCAR.

In the virtual race, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the winner in a field that included Clint Bowyer, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Mark Martin and Martin Truex Jr. Each player who selected Earnhardt won $170 in free play.

The technology allows any machine with the technology installed to be instantly turned into a tournament game. As long as the Bally system is in place, games with different themes, from different manufacturers, and placed in different parts of the casino can all run the tournament game and graphics at once. After the tournament is over, all can go instantly back to normal play.

It's a far technological cry from the old days of tournament conversion. I once watched at the Tropicana in Las Vegas as they roped off an area to convert machines. On the roped-off games, glass was removed and reel strips were replaced so that all had the same Double Jackpot game. The chip holding the random number generator also had to be replaced. I didn't actually see the chip exchange, but it had to be done to generate all those big winners that make tournament play fun.

It was a time-consuming process, one that had to be done in reverse to convert everything back so the machines could go back to cash play, making money for the casino.

Today, the conversion can be scheduled and made by a click of the mouse or a touch of a mobile device. The down time of old is no longer necessary. And avoiding down time will provide an incentive for any operator to look at the technology.

Gambling author and columnist John Grochowski's weekly newspaper column began at the Chicago Sun-Times and is now syndicated nationally. He also regularly makes TV and radio appearances about gambling. His column appears weekly.


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