Slot groupies!

Nov 28, 2006 12:57 AM

Slot machine makers, always looking for a new way to market their "one-armed bandits," are trying to increase the collective popularity of slots by linking up machines so players can share payouts and the thrill of winning.
The pace of U.S. slot machine sales has slowed in the last few years, after a period of strong growth when most casinos switched from older coin-based slots to machines ticket-in, ticket-out games.
In Nevada alone, slot machines generate about $8 billion in annual revenue for machine makers.
"I think the whole industry has to look at ways of making the industry more interactive," Paul Oneile, chief executive of Aristocrat Technologies Inc., said at the gambling industry’s annual trade show in Las Vegas last week. "I think there will be much more communal playing — it adds to the overall excitement."
The trend began last year with the latest edition of the popular Wheel of Fortune slot game from IGT.

Wheel of Fortune slot game from IGT (International Game Technology), which allows as many as nine players to sit around a large spinning wheel and share in the winnings.

"The interest was incredible," said Ed Rogich, vice president of marketing at Reno-based International Game. "The spectator value really makes it a fun draw."

Slot machine manufacturers are moving toward "technology that will allow operators to reward customers more easily and increase the communal nature of slots," Goldman Sachs analyst Steven Kent said in a research note.

IGT now offers an "Indiana Jones" themed multiplayer game, Rogich said, and rival WMS Industries is marketing its Monopoly Big Event communal slot product.

"A powerful and developing trend over the next two years will be the movement toward multi-station, communal-play gaming devices," Merrill Lynch & Co. analyst David Anders said in a research note.

Oneile of Las Vegas-based Aristocrat said multiplayer slots could eventually integrate into a network environment, known as server-based gaming, which is heralded as the next big advance in gambling technology and would enable casinos to download the latest games from a central server onto individual machines.

"Server-based gaming will expand the potential of these types of games," Rogich said, although he noted that the technology was still being tested in casinos.

IGT Chief Executive T.J. Matthews called server-based technology an "ongoing question."

J.P. Morgan analyst Harry Curtis said its adoption was inevitable but would not begin in earnest for three to five years, "or until operators are more comfortable with the return-on-investment proposition."