Hundreds of new or improved gaming related products were unveiled in 2005. Here are some that deserve recognition
Each year, hundreds, if not thousands, of new or improved products are made available for the casino floor-everything from new slot machine concepts to advanced ticket printers. 2005 was no exception, and new introductions included comprehensive table play tracking systems, server-based gaming technology and casino management networks, just to name a few. Here are some of the items from the past year, organized by category, that caught the eyes of Casino Journal editors at gaming properties and on trade show floors.
Slot Enhancements & Peripherals
Atronic Americas LLC
HDStream and DATAStream (formerly known as NAMB II)
Usually, a slot tournament takes weeks, if not months, of planning to be successful-the event needs to be marketed, players need to be gathered, prizes and rules established, machines set aside for the contest, and so on. For these reasons, casinos can only throw a few such contests a year.
Now, imagine if this whole process handled almost automatic-ally by technology that attached directly to the slot system. That is the concept behind Tournamania, a slot tournament system developed by Atronic Americas.
Tournamania accomplishes this task in a number of ways. To start, the technology runs on standard game software, eliminating the need for setting aside specialized slots for tournaments. Operators can use the system to easily program the scope and duration of the contest. A central server runs the tournament, which occurs while the players continue to play the connected games, just as they would without a tournament using their own money. The system comes with plasma or video display options so properties can advertise or display tournament information and action to players and patrons. Finally, the casino decides whether Tournamania winners will be determined based either on credits wagered or on winnings.
Thanks to Tournamania, "operators can run tournaments as often or as seldom as they like," and even on machines on different parts of the casino floor, according Atronic Marketing Director Katie Stage. "People love it, they cheer the players on."
As with Tournamania, Konami Gaming pushed a product designed to keep patrons playing at the slots longer. HDStream interface with DATAStream combines Konami's next generation TCP/IP player tracking hardware with a color touch screen LCD display and speaker system. The end result: a multi-media and streaming video application within the slot machine that is available to customers as they play.
With HDStream and DATAStream, properties can display targeted graphics or streaming video to market customers while they play at the machine. In addition, the technology can be programmed to display live sporting events, so patrons can continue to play while watching a game. The system also provides customers with real-time access to services such as drink ordering, funds transfers, point redemption, etc.
"This can be used to improve guest services and provide better bonusing at slot machines," said one casino operator of the product.
Other slot peripheral products of note in 2005: Touchscreens from Immersion Corp have technology that give people the sensation they're pushing real buttons. The technology impressed 3M to the point that they signed an agreement with the company…JCM American's Universal Bill Acceptor continued to draw praise from numerous casino operations…FutureLogic's GEN2 and GEN2 VST ticket printers continue to make inroads in the casino space…JCM America decided to curtail its printer business and instead signed a distribution agreement with TransAct Technologies to market its Ithaca Epic 950 printer.
Hand-held wireless wagering devices
Cantor Gaming & Wagering
The domestic fortunes of Cantor Gaming & Wagering took a turn toward the stratospheric when the state of Nevada approved limited on-premises mobile gaming, and then selected the company to produce and deploy the technology to make the law possible.
As a division of New York-based financial services giant Cantor Fitzgerald, Cantor G&W has carved a niche for itself in the European mobile marketplace by offering real-time trading systems that operate over cell phones and Blackberries, and in the remote gaming sphere by offering white-label online casino sites that have the ability to exclude players from the United States and other jurisdictions where Internet wagering is illegal.
Indeed, expertise in these two areas makes Cantor G&W a natural solution provider for Nevada mobile gaming since the law, as it currently stands, will only allow the wagering to take place in specific areas of the resort where it can be monitored, such as by the pool or in restaurants.
"I think hotel rooms are going to be prohibited by law because of the danger of the devices falling into the hands of minors. But certainly by the pool, or in breakfast lines, or in restaurants with fixed screens or mobile devices that people can bring into those areas...those are the opportunities for us," said Kevin Burman, Cantor G&W's casino technology development director.
Although still in development, Cantor G&W outlined a potential system at this year's Global Gaming Expo that would be server-based utilizing WiFi technology and existing hardware such as tablet PCs and PDAs. Utilizing the company's wireless tracking systems, the wagering devices would only work in certain "gaming-designated" areas of the resort, automatically shutting-off when taken outside of these zones.
"We believe we have more experience than anyone else in the world in executing real-time wagering transactions on mobile devices," said Joseph M. Asher, managing director of Cantor G&W.
Here's hoping this expertise will usher American casinos into the lucrative world of remote gaming.
Electronic Game Cards
Electronic Game Card Inc.
Sometimes great things can come in small packages. At least, that is what the good folks at Electronic Game Card believe and they had
better, since their bread-and-butter product is, literally, the size of a credit card.
But don't let the product's diminutive size fool you. Thanks to a small imbedded battery and computer chip, Electronic Game cards can be programmed for a host of functions, including casino and lottery-like gaming experiences.
"We design and manufacture all sorts of games," said EGC CEO John Bently. "We're not specifically a slot machine. We're not specifically a
lottery ticket. We are not specifically your child's fun game either. We're just makers of electronic game cards and we design our games to suit the market and the customer."
That said, ECG has made a splash in the gaming industry. Although the card designed to be played while people are in their hotel room, having dinner, or by the pool, in order to claim their prize, they have to come back into the casino floor. EGC is working on marketing the cards to commercial casinos, which can use them as a sales promotion device for customer acquisitions or re-acquisitions by using them with a direct mail piece or direct marketing campaign. EGC products are also being used by the Iowa and Kansas State Lotteries.
The company is also working on a product line that can be used at tribal casinos, and has secured a Class II gaming designation from the National Indian Gaming Commission, according to EGC Senior Vice President Daniel Kane.
"That allows the tribes to offer the product for sale inside their casinos alongside bingo," Kane said. "That means they can sell the product for $20 or $25...it's a brand new revenue source for the tribes."
International Game Technology
It's no secret that both slot operators and manufacturers have long been enamored with the potential of server-based gaming. Indeed, from the casino side, operators love the technology's potential to update and reconfigure games in a more real-time fashion. Casinos potentially could change game content, denomination and even hold percentage in minutes.
Meanwhile, slot manufacturers openly admire the flexibility of the technology, and view it as the wave of the future, especially when it comes to enhancing the player experience.
"In a server-based application, you'd have the wherewithal to chance games based on the demand of the players," said Ed Rogich, vice president of marketing for International Game Technology. "That kind of function-ality in managing the floor makes this huge."
What has kept the technology largely on the sidelines is the lack of jurisdictions in which it can be used. But the technology got a big boost recently when Nevada announced it will permit use of server-based gaming systems. (As of this writing, gaming regulators have drafted technical standards for server-based gaming. The agency is accepting comments on the standards in preparation for drafting regulations to govern the systems.)
Nevada's announcement led to a slew of interest in the latest in server-based games at September's Global Gaming Expo. The attendees Casino Journal spoke to on the show floor gave high marks to numerous server-based game producers such as Aristocrat, WMS, Bally Gaming, GTECH, Cyberview Technology and Progressive Gaming.
But the sb line of products from International Game Technology generated the most interest. IGT featured its new sb products for server-based gaming applications including the sb system and sb machines that allow a casino to download entire games and configure game themes on any of its gaming machines.
Rogich added that the sb line also aids in the basic management of the slot floor from an operational standpoint, since the system can also upgrade/control other slot-related functions such as bill validators, progressive games and signage. "It's such a strong management tool that [eventually] it will really take floor management for slots to a new level."
Non-Gaming Technology & Products
Revelation and Rendezvous
point of sales systems
As casino resorts increasingly rely on entertainment, food and beverage and other non-gaming enterprises to spark revenue, more and more properties are turning to technology that help them increase and better manage these businesses. Two such products that gained in use across the gaming space in 2005 were Revelation and Rendezvous point of sales systems, produced by Santa Barbara, Calif.-based InfoGenesis.
InfoGenesis' Revelation point-of-sale system allows operational, audit-based and customer-centric reporting, allowing gaming resorts to get a critical look at exactly how their F&B departments are operating. The system allows users to generate customized reports of all F&B operations. The company's Rendezvous software allows casinos to further streamline operations, as well as conduct detailed analyses of customer patterns and preferences.
Casino operators that use InfoGenesis POS products spoke about the technology in glowing terms, lauding its ease-of-use and easy integration into other management systems.
"It provides a clean and easy way to feed POS data into our revenue management system," said Carol Pride, chief information officer for Caesars Entertainment in an article on InfoGenesis that ran in the June issue of Casino Journal. "For us, understanding the total value of the customer is paramount. InfoGenesis aligns well with our customer marketing and customer service objectives."
"It's a system that's designed to give managers the tools they need to do their jobs," added David Farlin, vice president of information technology for the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa. "It does not become an IT-owned system. It puts a lot of control in their hands."
And InfoGenesis is not done improving its product lines. Recently, the company acquired e-Touch, a provider of Web self-service and kiosk food ordering systems. "e-Touch is the perfect complement to our point-of-sale solution, reinforces our position as the leader in food and beverage POS, and represents an important step in realizing our vision of guest experience management," said Terry Cunningham, chief executive officer of InfoGenesis, in a prepared statement.
Best of Breed (BOB)
Gaming Standards Association
International Game Technology
Although not strictly speaking a product, any review of machine innovation in 2005 would be remiss without a mention of gaming industry technology protocols. Indeed, for future generations of slot builders and casino systems designers, 2005 will likely be remembered as a watershed year.
The reason: the Gaming Standards Association and International Game Technology agreed to combine GSA's Best of Breed (BOB) and IGT's SuperSAS protocols to create an open, global industry standard designed to drive innovation. Now, instead of dual protocols vying for market dominance, the game development industry can get behind a single set of rules.
"This convergence is truly a milestone in the evolution of gaming machines and systems," said Lyle Bell, GSA chairman, at the time the deal was announced in August.
"I truly believe that this combined effort will be a great thing for all gaming interests going forward," added TJ Matthews, IGT chairman. "This is a pivotal accomplishment for the future success of new products and systems that will shape the future of gaming worldwide."
Marc Falcone, a gaming industry analyst for Deutsche Bank, agreed that the announcement was something of a milestone for the casino industry. "We believe this agreement represents a breakthrough, as the equipment manufacturers will now be able to design their respective server-based gaming systems for just one protocol," Falcone wrote in an investment report shortly after the arrangement was announced.
"We believe that the BOB/SuperSAS combination will do for centralized gaming systems what the cable modem has done for home Internet connectivity-taking the technology to the next level and ushering in a new world of opportunities."
Slots as a theater concept
As with every year, the lineup of new slot concepts and game themes introduced at this year's Global Gaming Expo was truly expansive and impressive. In the opinion of Casino Journal editors however, two of these trends stood out among the crowd.
The first was the ongoing integration between gaming machines and home theater elements such as large, better-definition screens, acoustically sophisticated sound systems and more ergonomic seating. The end result of this combination of products and technologies is a slot gaming experience that is exciting, interactive, comfortable and immersive-akin to having a movie-theater experience all to yourself.
The game that perhaps best personified this trend at G2E was WMS Gaming's Top Gun. Based on the 1986 film with Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer, the slot version features 3-D graphics and a Bose FreeField II directed audio system with speakers in the chair back as well as in the machine. A bonus round has players in the pilot's seat of a jet fighter, soaring, turning hard left, hard right and doing barrel rolls in search of big bonuses flying through the air.
"You don't need to worry about the noise bothering other players," guides told potential customers as they moved around the game. "From behind, you can only hear the speaker from the front of the machine."
In the chair it was another matter, with the player surrounded by jet fighter sounds and by music from the movie. The round gives the player the feel of control, although this is not a game of skill.
WMS was not the only machine producer showcasing an immersive slot experience. The iVIEW series from Bally Gaming also puts these elements together to create a true "slots as theatre" experience.
Meanwhile, slot manufacturers across the board displayed new machines aimed at taking advantage of the hottest current casino game: Texas Hold'em Poker. For example, IGT showcased WPT Hold'em, playing off its license from the World Poker Tour. The game was devised by Leading Edge Design, which has made a big splash with its Multi Strike Poker. WMS is also aiming for some hold 'em-video poker crossover with its World Series of Poker brand. The first game in the series, a regular five-card draw poker game, had already been released.
Bally Gaming also featured two new poker products, Ace on the Deal (Double Double Bonus version) and Royal Draw. This list of new poker concepts is truly endless.
"I think operators and obviously players are looking for new and unique poker offerings that provide a fair bet and a new and entertaining twist," said Marcus Prater, senior vice president of marketing for Bally Gaming.
Other slot trends of note in 2005: Community games such as Bally Gaming's Auction Fever and IGT with Wheel of Fortune Super Spin continued to make inroads into the casino space…The penny slot trend continues with a host of manufacturers offering new low-denomination products and themes including Hot Shot progressives Bally Gaming, Hot Hot Pennies from WMS and Penny Megabucks from IGT…Multi-tiered progressive games also continued to garner interest at G2E, led by Aristocrat Technologies' Hyperlink and Millioni$er links and IGT's Fort Knox system…New slot license themes were also alive and well, and included among their rank George Lopez from Aristocrat, Morgan Fairchild from IGT and the Miami Vice crew from Atronic…Another licensed theme that garnered attention at G2E was the Powerball multi-tiered progressives on display from WMS.
Casino Management Systems
Oasis Casino Management System
Now that their systems are well established in casinos throughout the United States and the world, casino management system providers largely spent 2005 adding new functionality to their various product lines.
A leader in this area during 2005 was Aristocrat Technologies, which announced approval by Nevada for Oasis PRIME, a version of the company's Oasis Casino Management System that is compliant with Technical Standard 3, which will be mandatory by May 2006.
"I think we're the only vendor that has a compliant product on the floor today," said Ron Jeffrey, Aristocrat's vice president for gaming systems during G2E.
A key feature of the new Nevada standard, he said, involves accounting for multigame slots. Aristocrat's new product, called Multi-Game Analyzer PRIME, enables an analysis of each game and denomination within a multigame slot. Before this product was developed, Jeffrey said, the data from multigame machines was aggregated without specific statistics by game and denomination.
"If an operator is trying to maximize yield, the ability to see individual game performance by theme and denomination is a great tool to deal with multigame performance issues," he said.
Other manufacturers also used G2E to showcase the latest iterations of their casino management packages, including IGT with its Advantage Casino System, Bally Gaming's SDS casino management and accounting system, Konami Gaming's Konami Casino Management System and Atronic and its GALAXIS suite of