Slot games need good results to stick around casino floor

May 10, 2011 6:07 AM

Let’s face it; some games are just more fun to play than others. Whether you’re talking about video keno, video poker or slot machines, there are certain variations of each that gamblers find themselves attracted to for a variety of reasons.

Perhaps it’s the payback or the super fun bonus rounds or the possibility of hitting a huge progressive jackpot. For some players, there’s nothing more fun than getting a chance to spin the wheel. Maybe it’s just that you’ve had good luck playing the game in the past and so you want to play it again next time you make the trip out to the casino. Whatever the reason, we all get excited when we find our favorite game.

I’ve received a couple of "why doesn’t this casino have this game" letters since I started writing for GT, and as a player I know how frustrating it is to finally find a game you really like at a casino far away and then not be able to find the same game close to home. Worse yet is when you find a great game at your local casino just to have them pull it off the floor a week or two later.

Rest assured the casinos aren’t trying to annoy their players by removing certain games or not carrying them. Every successful casino on the planet does whatever it can to keep their games fresh, new and exciting. This means older machines that aren’t getting played must make way for the next big thing. All machines have a shelf life so to speak, and some of them are pretty short. Others seem to last forever.

One important factor is regulatory approval. Each state has its own rules and regulations, so a machine that is legal in Nevada might not be legal to operate in your home state, or vice versa. Even different types of casinos within the same state might be restricted differently when it comes to machines, as in the case of a riverboat casino compared to one operating on tribal land.

Casinos also like to make deals, and some games are just plain more attractive than others from a numbers standpoint. One way to get a new machine is to outright buy it from the manufacturer. This can be costly up-front because they are usually bought several at a time. With new machines being upwards of $20,000 each in most cases, the costs add up pretty quickly. Once the deal is made and the machines are bought though, the profit is all property of the casino.

Another way to get machines is to enter into what is called a participation agreement with the manufacturer. In this case, the manufacturer provides the machine free of charge and simply takes a percentage of the profit off the top. Read between the lines here and you can see how this can sometimes be used as a reason for the casino to set a participation game one or two steps tighter than owned games. Unfortunately, there’s no way for a player to tell if a game is part of a participation agreement or not.

These participation deals are often times the only way for smaller or cash-strapped casinos to get the newest machines available onto their floors. The problem is participation deals are usually only offered on the newest and best performing games. If the games are too popular for too long, it’s entirely possible for the casino to end up paying many times what they would have had they just bought it in the first place.

If a participation game bombs, the casino can be even worse off. Participation deals often have a minimum amount due to the manufacturer, usually around $15-$25 per machine per day, just in case the games don’t go over well. This can quickly add up to thousands of dollars per month on multiple machines, so if they’re not getting played enough the casino can really take a bath on the deal.

The final say on what games are offered (among those approved for use in their jurisdiction) lies with the casino itself. Manufacturers provide an astounding amount of data on every machine being considered so the casino can make an informed decision. They hammer out a deal, be it purchase or participation, and if the numbers look good, the paperwork is signed and the game is on its way.

Some games are an instant success, others are just a flash in the pan, and still others never really make it off of the ground. It’s the job of casino management to decide which is which and act accordingly. Even with all of the information manufacturers provide, there’s no sure-fire way to tell if a machine will be successful in a particular casino. What works in one location does not necessarily work as well in the next.

As a player there are a couple of things you can do to get into action on your favorite game. For one, check the manufacturer website. IGT, Bally and a few other big names offer game locators online so players can find out where to play their latest and most popular offerings.

Also, talk to the management at your favorite casino and tell them what you want to play, perhaps especially if they don’t have your favorite game. After all, some casinos are just run better than others, and the better run ones usually listen to their players. Just keep in mind how many factors are involved in putting a certain game on the floor. Even though machine changes happen fairly often, it isn’t a simple process at all.

(Editor’s Note: Brad Fredella is general manager of Stetson’s Saloon and Casino in Henderson, Nevada.)