Cal tribe tests new IGT slots

Apr 25, 2006 4:42 AM

The Barona Band of Mission Indians’ Barona Valley Ranch casino near San Diego is the test ground for a new slot machine developed by International Game Technology. The server-based machines — also called "downloadable slots" — have the potential to allow customers to change or tailor their own games.

The 20 machines currently installed are just the first version that is being tested. They allow casino managers to change a game’s features or wagering denomination from a central server.

A future version will have pull-down menus of different games, denominations, wagering limits and payouts. Makers of the downloadable technology say server-based systems could completely change casino floors over the next ten years.

IGT chose Barona as its test casino because of its history of interest in progressive technology. "They have very progressive management and their customers understand new casino technology," said an IGT spokesman.

Treasure Island Casino in Las Vegas is also testing the new machines.

While customers may have some freedom to select from a variety of games and denominations, the casino will hold most of the cards by being able to add or subtract various groups of games from the machine’s menu, as well as alter the payback percentages of games.

The ability to do the latter has consumer advocates concerned. The ability to change the pay schedule wreaks of Big Brother, some say, and puts the player at a tremendous disadvantage.

The power, however, will be tempered by a regulation that forces the casinos to wait a specified time period (approximately five minutes) before being able to alter a slot machine’s payback percentage.

FINGER POINTING

A full year of negotiations between the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and Gov. Mike Easley of North Carolina ended abruptly last week, the Asheville Citizen-Times reported.

For the past year, the tribe and the governor’s office have been discussing a change to the state gaming compact. Current law allows video gaming machines and video card games. The tribe was hoping to add live poker and black jack dealers to the mix at the Harrah’s Cherokee Casino. They also wanted approval to build a second casino.

A deal had been reached at the end of March, then the governor asked that $10 million of profits be directed to state mental health services. The tribe agreed, but wanted the money to flow through the tribal foundation, since federal law prohibits the tribe from paying the state directly. It was at this point that the talks ended.

In a statement, Principal Chief Michell Hicks called the governor’s termination of negotiations "the most economically significant decision of his tenure." Hicks said, "The governor’s decision seems particularly unfair to Western North Carolina in light of the hundreds of millions of dollars provided to out-of-state companies for projects of much smaller economic impact in other regions of the state."

The governor’s office stated that there were "significant issues that must be addressed" and that Hicks had refused to do so.

It’s estimated that a second casino could have provided the state with $35 million in tax revenue and an annual payroll of $100 million.

PLAYING FAIR

It appears that Wyoming, on the other hand, has mastered the fine art of negotiation. Gov. Dave Freudenthal announced that the state and the Eastern Shoshone Tribe will sign a compact next week allowing the tribe to operate a casino on the Wind River Indian Reservation. The compact will allow slot machines, blackjack, craps, roulette, wagering games and electronic versions of games of chance.

The Eastern Shoshone tribe is reaping the benefits of a lengthy battle between the state and the Northern Arapaho. The governor’s opposition to gaming was brushed aside when, last fall, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the state had failed to negotiate in good faith with the Arapaho, and that the tribe was entitled to a full casino gaming operation regulated by the federal government.

Now Freudenthal has no choice but to be fair with the Eastern Shoshone. He told the Associated Press, "It was vitally important that both tribes seeking gambling ventures on the Wind River Indian Reservation be treated equally."