The future of slots is now at Ameristar Casino

Mar 25, 2009 7:17 PM
by David Stratton |

Casino customers can get a glimpse of the future of slots in St. Charles, Missouri as Ameristar Casino has gone live with its server-based slot system manufactured by IGT (International Game Technology).

The installation of IGT’s server-based slot floor or sbX Tier One Package, is a prelude to other commercial installations expected to take place over the next few months. The largest application of the cutting-edge technology will be at MGM’s CityCenter casino in Las Vegas, which is scheduled to open in December.

(IGT’s server-based slot system allows players

 to choose from a menu of games.)

In partnership with Ameristar, IGT has now completed testing and validation of the industry’s first server-based slot floor.

"We were impressed with the professionalism and flexibility of both IGT and the Missouri Gaming Commission during our recent sbX Tier One Package installation," said Bob Forister, vice president of casino operations at Ameristar Casino. "Thanks to their high level of preparedness, the entire installation process ran very smoothly. We’re … already seeing some of the benefits this technology delivers."

Server-based slot systems allow players to change games without changing machines – they have the ability to access dozens if not hundreds of games from a "generic" slot machine.

The central server technology also gives the casino an expanded communications portal to the slot-playing customer, allowing the casino to cross-promote everything from gaming promotions to dining outlets and entertainment venues.

The casino would also control a game’s payback percentage as well as nearly every aspect of a game with the flip of a switch.

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At the Ameristar Casino, the server-based system is live on 62 of IGT’s most advanced slot machines, including ones that feature Multi-Layer Display or 3-D technology. So far, the casino has more than 50 game themes to choose from in the IGT game library.

The number of server slots as well as the number of games from which to choose is expected to increase over the next few months, as the remaining 1,800 "standard" machines are switched out.

Increasing the number of games in the server library is key to the systems success, according to experts in the field.

"Game content is still king," said Todd Elsasser, technical compliance director for Cyberview Technology, adding that the server network offers just a handful of games, while the casino floor includes hundreds of traditional slot games.

Other concerns that need to be reconciled before server-based systems can become universal include:

• Pricing: Manufacturers of systems as well as the games themselves haven’t yet developed a pricing system that would be uniform throughout various jurisdictions. "They still don’t really know what to charge," Elsasser said.

• Regulatory approval: Regulators in some jurisdictions are finding it difficult to reconcile server gaming with existing regulations, which, according to one expert, are often written specifically to outlaw network systems. "Some regulators may actually have to rewrite a portion of their regulations in order to accommodate server-based gaming," said a former member of the Missouri Casino Commission.

• Standardization: Although the industry has made strides in making differing systems compatible with each other, manufacturers are still trying to develop a "universal protocol" that would allow every company’s software and network system to function together, on the same slot floor.

While many proponents of server-based gaming predict large-scale roll-outs by the end of the year, the consensus of experts is that the time frame could be much longer.

The industry will find out in December, when MGM Mirage opens its massive CityCenter property on the Las Vegas Strip. CityCenter is supposed to open with a completely server-based slot floor.

Whether that happens or not, should be enough to indicate whether the cutting-edge technology has found a permanent home.