New slot machines unveiled last week at the Global Gaming Expo demonstrate that manufacturers are trying to inject more video-game technology into their products and increase their entertainment value.
One game that debuted at the Las Vegas expo featured clips from the popular television show “Family Guy.” Another took the NASCAR brand and created a slot machine based on the sights, sounds and superstars of that sport.
But whether those technological advances are enough for the casino industry to compete in light of the number of entertainment options available to consumers has become a debatable point among several in the industry.
“It’s like taking an old house and putting paint on it,” said John Acres, an Oregon-based casino technology pioneer who says the industry is not moving fast enough to develop games that appeal to consumers.
Acres, who spoke at last week’s trade show, said the average age of a casino patron has increased over the years, which he said means that the industry has not kept up with the times and is falling behind when it comes to attracting new audiences.
“The players don’t think they’re doing enough,” he said of casinos and slot machine manufacturers.
The industry is still working under the belief that designing slots starts with looking at the machine’s payoff when the first step should be creating entertainment, Acres said. If players think a game is entertaining, they will be willing to pay the money.
“There’s a belief that we’re entitled,” he said of the casino industry. “You’re not entitled to a consumer’s interest.”
Few in the industry would disagree with Acres’ assertion that slot machines must be about entertainment, but some said what they saw on the exhibit floor of the expo holds promise.
“It’s more and more like playing a video game,” said expo attendee Rob Fitzpatrick, regional vice president of American Racing and Entertainment and the Meadowlands Racetrack in New Jersey. “It’s just amazing.”
His company operates two casinos in New York, and the Meadowlands Racetrack in New Jersey has been lobbying to become the first property in the state outside Atlantic City to offer slot machines. Fitzpatrick attended the trade show to explore the newest in gambling technology.
Fitzpatrick said he was impressed with how interactive slot machines have become, citing memorable ones as those based on “Family Guy”; “Plants vs. Zombies,” a popular smartphone game; “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” and NASCAR.
Acres, who was instrumental in inventing the concept of mystery payouts on slot machines — which award bonus play time to players at random times and for no particular reason — said part of the problem with some of the current slot machine technology is that manufacturers seem too focused on jackpot payouts rather than the game.
“As long as we’re focused on jackpots, we’re toast,” Acres said.
Slot machines are required by regulators to return to the player in the form of winnings a certain percentage of the money put in to the machine over a long period of playing time. In New Jersey, the so-called theoretical return to player is 83 percent.
The math required in slot machine technology sometimes gets in the way of the entertainment, Acres said. In some cases, casinos and manufacturers are out of touch with the player, he said. To prove his point, during a talk he gave at the expo on the future of gaming, he asked how many in the crowded room — presumably people who work for slot machine manufacturers and casinos — played slot machines. Only two people raised their hand, he said.
At AC Coin & Slot in Pleasantville, Jerry Seelig and his family not only manufacture slot machines but play them and observe slot machine patrons as well. They said they have spent hours on the machines and watching others on them.
While video displays now dominate slot machines, Seelig said that based on his experience and those of casino managers, patrons still gravitate toward machines with mechanical reels rather than those with digital ones. But the reels of the past have limited space, providing enough room for only three choices.
As a solution, Seelig said the company elongated the reels into the shape of an oblong, allowing for five choices to be displayed per reel. Combining the mechanical reel with video technology, and giving players plenty of opportunities to win bonus time and choose how they receive those bonuses, has proved popular, Seelig said.
“It seems to work well,” he said.
Karate Pig, one of the company’s more popular games, starts off like a typical reel slot machine until the player hits a combination that moves the game into bonus time. That is when the play morphs into more of a video game, in which the pig karate chops blocks of ice to reveal bonus payouts.
Rewarding patrons with bonus play time has become an almost mandatory feature of new slot machines. Bonuses are seen as a way to keep players entertained and sitting at a machine, playing for longer. It is typically during this period that manufacturers show off the video quality of their displays.
Aruze Gaming, a Las Vegas manufacturer that makes games for several markets across the country, showcased its Ali Baba game at the expo. The machine features a so-called random video layer that results in a three-dimensional look to the display when cave panels open and close to reveal game action.
Still other manufacturers, such as Las Vegas-based IGT, which makes machines found in Atlantic City, have turned to popular brands for their newest models, such as the one featuring clips from “Family Guy.” IGT also is making a push for slot machines featuring country superstar Dolly Parton, who went into a sound studio to record some of the lines used in the game. Bonus rounds also feature a jukebox of 12 Parton songs for patrons to choose from.
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