Gaming on the go
Gaming on the go
Thanks to innovative technology, gamblers can now take their bets with them
Here's a possible gambling scenario in the near future: You're in your favorite casino and head over to the coffee shop for a late breakfast: two eggs over easy, hash browns well done, a side of tomatoes and a poppy bagel. While waiting for your meal, you pull out your handheld wireless gaming device to bet on the Mets to beat Dodgers later that night. As your bet is made, you switch over to play some blackjack when the waitress walks over to refill your coffee cup. You ask her for another "schmear" for your bagel and play another round of blackjack, having just won your last two hands.
The ever-changing casino floor is about to expand into restaurants, the hotel lobby, pool, bars, retail shops and other public areas. This soon-to-be expansion came about after the Nevada Legislature approved a wireless gaming bill that was later adopted by the Nevada Gaming Commission.
Behind all this was Cantor Gaming. In September 2003 the company launched their real-time mobile wagering application-the first anywhere in the world-within their gaming business in the United Kingdom. That success led them to Nevada regulators two years ago with the concept of wireless gaming.
"The regulators saw the evolution of gaming within this technology, but said it was a public policy matter," said Joe Asher, managing director of Cantor Gaming, an affiliate of New York-based financial services company Cantor Fitzgerald. "So we drafted a bill with input from the Gaming Control Board and went before the legislature. The bill passed in both the Assembly and Senate, and the governor invited me to the signing ceremony last June. As the ensuing regulatory process continues, we'll remain active."
Asher said the Nevada Gaming Commission adopted the final regulation at the end of March, thus making the state the first to approve wireless gaming. The next step is for the Gaming Control Board to refine policy and begin field testing the technology.
The rules governing the use of these devices, similar to personal digital assistants, have yet to be determined. What is known is that hotel rooms or anywhere off property is not a "public area" and that subject will be carefully and specifically defined.
A bright future
That being said, the future for wireless gaming remains so bright that many operators and wireless gaming manufacturers are wearing sunglasses. Kirsten Clark, director of marketing for Shuffle Master, said her company has partnered with New York-based Sona Mobile and foresees unlimited potential in implementing wireless gaming.
"Depending on each casino and its customer base," Clark said, "operators will determine the importance of wireless gaming in their casino. But let's think about a really busy weekend for the sports book. Customers can be handed a wireless device that will give them the ability to place their wager, check their wager and watch the sporting event in real time from another area of the casino. It really opens up the possibilities of what can happen within a major property. Now think about hotels with large convention areas and all those public meeting rooms. If none of those rooms are being used, casino management could turn that space into a wireless lounge and make it quite comfortable with sofas and chairs and even a food and beverage outlet."
At Progressive Gaming International, Jeff Harms, product manager, said his company's product line-which includes server-based applications from slots to sports wagering to peer-to-peer poker-lends itself extremely well to wireless gaming.
"Since we have all the baseline architecture, software technology and platforms, we're looking forward once the legislation and its regulations are approved," he said. "We expect our first introduction to be Rapid Bet Live and other games will follow." Rapid Bet Live will allow players to play all day without being confined to one place-a benefit especially for sports.
Rapid Bet Live is a real-time betting module that allows customers various betting options that run throughout an entire sporting event. This can range from betting on the opening drive during an NFL game, which team will make the next three-pointer during March Madness, or what will happen during the next at bat of the World Series.
The next step
Cantor's Asher believes wireless gaming is the next step in the gaming evolution process. He pointed to the first rudimentary slot machines that over time became so sophisticated that there are no longer any arms or reels, just buttons and electronic screens. Even coins have been replaced by ticket-in/ticket-out technology. "This is the next step in the evolution process," he said.
Paired with the advanced tech-nology is the player who will have to accept the mobile gaming device, and Asher said this won't be a problem.
"We have entire generations who have grown up with mobile devices such as cell phones, their Blackberry, Game Boy and PlayStation. These individuals are very adept and comfortable with mobile devices. Besides, this is a group used to getting what they want when they want it. Twenty years ago, if you wanted the news, you watched it on evening television or read the newspaper. Now you get it instantaneously on your laptop or via your cell phone. Sociologists are calling this generation the 'I want what I want when I want it culture,' and that generation is conducive to wireless gaming. If someone is relaxing by the pool, why should he or she have to get up and walk into the casino? The ability to gamble is sitting right next to their cell phone."
David Loflin, CEO of Diamond I Inc. of Baton Rouge, La., said his company is producing a mobile device that will catch on with the younger gambler. A "soft agreement" has been reached with the Palms Hotel-Casino to install its handheld device.
"The age of the average gambler is getting younger and younger," he said, "and I believe wireless gaming will catch on with the younger, hipper gambler. It will be a successful method for casinos to capture gaming dollars, particularly when gamers are not in the casino. We view our device as a lucrative casino marketing opportunity."
PGI's Harms said the country has become more computer literate and does not believe there will be any limitations to wireless gaming.
"Today," he said, "wireless lends itself to slots and sports wagering and peer-to-peer poker. However, there are some people who might be hesitant to play a roulette game without actually seeing the ball spinning. But there are no real limitations. Only time will tell."
Not gender specific
Clark, at Shuffle Master, said wireless gaming is not gender specific because integrated technology has "become part of our daily lives. I do believe that it will be more attractive to a young demographic who might be more willing to try something new. It would be a natural for their gaming experience. And keep in mind that this is not going to change the casino floor as much as augment it. We see it as an additional content delivery system."
And that system will be secure. Clark said the wireless platforms that have been developed for mobile gaming are secure to the point of featuring military-grade encryption that is greater than what is required by state gaming regulations.
As strong as the sentiment is for wireless gaming, there remains a view that customers may not gravitate to the new form of gambling. For them, gambling is about slot machines that offer the unique sensory experience of lights, bells and whistles, colorful graphics and even the music of Sinatra and Elvis, and table games that present live dealers, the feel of chips, community and camaraderie, and the opportunity to tell tall tales about a specific gaming experience.
At Boyd Gaming, Chris Gibase, senior vice president of operations, does not believe wireless gaming will ever take the place of the social interaction that occurs on a gaming floor.
"I see wireless gaming as an amenity," he said. "It's an added feature for unique situations or unique people. I don't believe it will be exclusive to any one market segment, though it could become more successful in true tourist hotels. On the other hand, it might be applicable to locals who are always interested in what's new on the gaming floor. Whatever does happen, it will not be the center of gaming, nor will it be a solution to a casino floor."
Gibase still has many questions about wireless gaming and will be watching its introduction to determine the type of players who gravitate to this style of play.
"It's going to take a significant amount of time to figure it all out," he said.
Asher understands this and knows that mobile gaming will not be a substitute for the traditional gaming floor. However, he believes wireless gaming will succeed and predicts slot manufacturers, in the future, will develop content specifically for the smaller mobile device screen.
"The real attraction," he said, "is going to major resorts that have a lot of public space. The legislation requires that wireless gaming only be allowed in casinos with at least 100 slot machines and one table game. So if it succeeds in Las Vegas, that success will make a dramatic statement to other gaming venues around the country."
This is one time where "what happens in Las Vegas" might not stay in Las Vegas.