The command boomed over a loudspeaker Friday afternoon: “Gentlemen, start your engines!”

Suddenly, Glenn Souchuck found himself watching a NASCAR race at Daytona International Speedway. His favorite driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., flew around the track at breakneck speed, weaving in and out of traffic while pushing for the lead.

But another NASCAR star, Kevin Harvick, would win this race.

“Earnhardt was fourth. Just out of the money,” Souchuck exclaimed.

Truth be told, Souchuck was nowhere near Daytona International Speedway on Friday. He was at the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City.

The racing action unfolded on a slot machine that represents some of the latest technology in the casino industry. Golden Nugget is the first Atlantic City casino to offer “virtual racing” on an interactive slot machine — one that puts players right in the middle of the action.

“It’s pretty neat,” said Souchuck, 52, of Frackville, Pa. “It’s fun. It’s cool.”

These days, slot machines feature sophisticated computer software, touch-screen technology, vivid graphics, video streaming and high-end sound systems. Adding to the excitement are bonus features and betting options that allow gamblers to win big jackpots. This continues the evolution of slot machines from crude devices controlled by mechanical reels to multimedia marvels that help casinos keep pace with the demands of the fickle gambling public.

The NASCAR-themed slot machine, developed by Bally Technologies Inc., lets players choose their favorite driver and cheer him across the finish line. Sophisticated animation gives the impression that players are watching a real race in real time. Adding to the realism is race audio done by Eli Gold, the famed NASCAR announcer and host of “NASCAR Live.”

“It’s like nothing else that’s available,” Bally Technologies spokesman Mike Trask said of the NASCAR slots. “Every person at every single slot machine experiences the same thing. It adds a level of excitement that is unparalleled in the casino world.”

The virtual racing action can take place on every slot machine at Golden Nugget, even if they aren’t the new NASCAR-themed games. The race is displayed in a small window that opens on the bottom righthand side of the slot machine screen. That way, the race can run without interrupting the action on the rest of the slot machine.

A message flashes on the slot machine to let gamblers know whether they are eligible to play. The simulated race takes about five minutes to complete.

“There’s a chance for crashes. There’s a chance for photo finishes. This gets people really motivated,” Trask said. “It’s another way to get them into the casino.”

Golden Nugget’s virtual racing essentially is a game within a game. Players get to pick one of eight famous NASCAR drivers. If their driver wins, $50 in free slot play is loaded onto their customer-loyalty card. They get $20 in free slot play if their driver finishes second and $10 for third place.

Tom Pohlman, Golden Nugget’s general manager, characterized this type of interactive play as the wave of the future in slot machine technology. He also believes it gives Golden Nugget a competitive advantage over other casinos in town.

The benefit is twofold: Gamblers have more fun while playing the slot machines and Golden Nugget gets more business, Pohlman explained.

“It allows us to create more excitement on the casino floor while you’re here. And, hopefully, it gives us the ability to extend the amount of time you play,” he said.

Golden Nugget runs the NASCAR virtual racing promotion at 2 p.m., 5 p.m., 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Fridays. Qualified players who pick the winners will split a guaranteed prize pool of $50,000 in slot credits. There is a similar Golden Nugget promotion that features virtual horseracing on slot machines.

Contact Donald Wittkowski:

609-272-7258