Survey: Hi-tech fuels change in gaming choices

Jul 21, 2009 5:10 PM
by David Stratton |

Middle-aged gamblers still form the core of active casino players, but the advent of new technology and the evolving Generation X and Y populations will re-shape gaming entertainment of the future.

Those are among the conclusions drawn from WMS Gaming’s inaugural Active Gambler Profile, a study designed to identify the behavior and preferences of the active gambling population in the U.S.

WMS Gaming is an Illinois-based manufacturer of slot machines and other gaming devices.

The survey was based on a national sample of over 2,000 respondents, according to WMS vice president of marketing Rob Bone. "The results provided views of the full, active gambling population," Bone said.

Bone added that the sample was broken into three subgroups based on their frequency of casino visits: Active casuals made one to three casino trips a year, active frequents, four to nine trips a year; and active avids, 10 or more trips per year.

The survey revealed several trends, which Bone said will impact how casino operators and gaming manufacturers shape their entertainment offerings.

The first trend is the shrinkage of "personal time," which means gamblers will have less free time to devote to gaming than in the past.

"Gamblers are actually more ‘time impoverished’ than the average American," Bone said. "We simply have fewer opportunities for personal time, based on our frenetic lifestyle."

Another trend is the changing demographic of active gamblers: the population is growing more diverse, and preferences of younger players (so-called Generation X and Y) will require new gaming entertainment options.

"Studies show that in the U.S. someone turns 50 years old every nine seconds," Bone said. "While this bodes well for the gaming industry, we must also recognize that the younger Generation X and Y groups may have different interests that require new entertainment options."

Those changing interests include a more customized gaming experience, as well as communal interactions with other players, Bone said.

"Gaming is no longer a private, solitary activity," he said.

Gaming preferences have also been heavily influenced by modern technology, notably the Internet and wireless, mobile devices.

"Studies show that 92 percent of active gamblers have access to the Internet, versus 70 percent of the general population," Bone said. "Active gamblers spend hours online, and new devices such as mobile I-phones allow gamblers to engage the Internet on demand."

Bone said that addressing these trends means that slot machines of the future must be "adaptive," taking into account the preferences of the person playing them; "communal," allowing players to compete against each other; and "immersive," meaning the game will appeal to several senses.

The bottom line: it won’t be enough to simply drop a coin into the slot, pull the handle or hit a button and wait for an outcome.

Several WMS games are already tailored to these newfound preferences.

For instance, its Star Trek slot machine lets players advance through different levels or "episodes" of play, all the while interacting with recognizable icons such as Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and photon torpedoes.

As players advance, more game episodes are unlocked, and along with them, more opportunities to win. Players can even quit a session and return later to pick up where they left off, even at another casino.

The notion of communal gaming is offered in the company’s Reel ‘Em In slot, which features a large leader board, on which scores of competing players are posted.

Scores are even networked so that a player who hits it big in Las Vegas could also be listed on a leader board in Atlantic City.

Bone acknowledges that many of the newest games are more complex than slot machines of the past, but believes players will be up to the task of figuring them out and, hopefully, embracing them.

"There’s a misconception about gamblers … that they’re laggards when it comes to adapting to technology, and that’s just not the case," Bone told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "Actually, they like to figure things out, they want to know how a game works, how they get paid, and then be able to explain it to others."

Nonetheless, there is a danger that slot machines may become so cryptic or complex that they will defy understanding, and thus go unplayed.

"There’s definitely a balance between the art and the science that keeps me awake at night," he said.

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: David Stratton