IGT eyes wireless market

Aug 22, 2006 3:48 AM

The Nevada Gaming Commission is expected this week to approve International Game Technology (IGT) as an operator of mobile gaming systems.

IGT was recommended two weeks ago by the Gaming Control Board for licensing in the emerging market for handheld, mobile gaming devices.

If approved as expected, the Reno-based gaming giant will join Cantor Gaming as licensed manufacturers and distributors of wireless gaming devices. Cantor was approved in May.

The board recommended IGT’s licensing after Amy Monette, director for the company’s research laboratory, said market studies show a large number of customers are interested in something that won’t keep them "chained to a slot machine, so to speak."

Monette said that IGT research indicates about half of casino customers polled said they’d try a wireless gambling device. She added that there’s strong interest among some major casinos, while others are taking a wait-and-see approach.

Based on legislation approved last year, Nevada regulators approved regulations that would allow wireless gambling in any public area of a casino, such as restaurants, lounges, spas and poolside. Hotel or other "private" locations would be off-limits.

Nevada regulators are currently working with manufacturers such as IGT, Shuffle Master and others, as well as software designers, to draft a set of technical standards that would govern the use of wireless devices.

Once in place, wireless gaming will include electronic versions of casino games such as blackjack, roulette and Three Card Poker, as well as race and sports betting.

Race and sports could be the first application of wireless gaming, according to the CEO of Sona Mobile, a software manufacturer that is collaborating with Shuffle Master.

Even though the technical standards are still being written, regulators have expressed concern about the security of wireless devices, as well as misuse by underage gamblers.

Biometric fingerprint readers have been discussed as a way to ensure minors aren’t gambling, but IGT’s Monette said some of the surveyed players view the print readers as "an invasion of privacy."

Monette said other security systems are being studied that would ensure the devices are being used properly and to reduce player frustration that might stop them from gambling.

For instance, the wireless devices can be linked to a main casino server that verifies the gambler is the person who checked out the device in the casino. Players could establish betting limits in advance by depositing money on account.

The most likely market for wireless gaming is players in their 20s and 30s. So far, rules allow a range of games such as the ones previously mentioned, as well as slots, video poker and keno.

Like other manufacturers, IGT has produced prototypes that range from blackberry and other handheld units to full-size laptop devices.

Another manufacturer that has a highly-developed platform for wireless gaming is Shuffle Master, which plans to submit its technology this summer to GLI for review.

As noted, Shuffle Master is working with Sona Mobile, which announced two weeks ago that it has named Mike Fields of Action Gaming to its board of directors.

Fields is executive vice president of Action Gaming, the video poker manufacturer founded by Ernie Moody.

Action Gaming (and its CEO Ernie Moody) is credited with inventing Triple Play and Five Play video poker games, which fueled a second generation of video poker players.

Action Gaming also works with IGT as its exclusive manufacturing and distribution partner.