Brave New World of slots

Sep 19, 2005 12:22 AM

The competition and demand for producing slot machines has never been greater, but so is the public’s understanding of what they want to play.

"Manufacturers are on the right track and we would like to see the focus on higher overall bet value," said Kathleen McLaughlin-Harris, Harrah’s corporate vice president of gaming, during a round table discussion of slot games at last week’s G2E.

"Players quickly pick up on models being copied due to past success," she continued. "We are currently testing two projects, but we’re waiting rather than leading. Harrah’s doesn’t want to use its customers as an experiment. If it takes three to five years, we’ll wait. Whatever is best for the customer."

Kent Young, vice president of marketing at Aristocrat, said the trend to produce low denomination machines is continuing.

"Most of our customers bet the 1-cent and 2-cent slots," he said. "We would like to see it go up to the nickel, but that’s tough when they play multi-line games."

Jason Stage, marketing manager for Atonic Americas, said the slot industry can improve in their offerings, suggesting that the games have to be interesting as well as lucrative for the consumer.

"The more that people are able to bet, the more they should be able to win," Stage said. "Free spins open players up to bonus rounds. There needs to be a way to make free spins an attractive option for our machines."

Free games or free spins are critical to attracting and keeping slot players, according to Marcus Prater, senior VP of marketing for Bally.

"G2E is here at a critical year between operators and regulators," Prater said. "When you tour the floor, 80 percent of our games will be used in casinos. This is not just fantasy material. We need to be more creative regarding free games."

Frank Neborsky, VP of slot operations at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, said that the notion of people getting tired of playing the same games and needing fresh concepts isn’t necessarily true.

"Strip properties don’t have repeat business every day, because so many customers are tourists," Neborsky said. "You never know about games unless you try different things. What works for us may not work elsewhere."

In addition to hundreds of new games and game configurations, G2E introduced the concept of downloadable slots or server-based slot systems to conventioneers.

However, even though the major manufacturers already have prototype downloadable systems on display, many casino operators expressed concern over whether downloadable slots would be embraced by customers.

John Newman, assistant VP of slots at Resorts Atlantic City, said he wasn’t convinced of the benefits from downloading games.

"It’s just not secure enough to satisfy me," he said. "We have created machines with 5-cent games like Wheel of Fortune. We need to place more incentive on making lower priced games go multi-line."

Downloadable slots would replace dedicated slot machines with "generic" computer terminals, on which a library of games could be downloaded — at the casino’s discretion.

Stage said the public could dictate how fast the industry moves in getting new games on the casino floor.

"We have a lot of superstitious players," he said. "They don’t like to change too fast once they find the right machine."

Even though several systems were on display at G2E, the operating systems aren’t expected to be implemented before 2007 because no U.S. gaming jurisdiction has as yet approved the technology.