Top 20 Most Innovative Gaming Products of 2006
by Andy Holtmann
Top 20 Most Innovative Gaming Products of 2006
Aristocrat, Bally, IGT, Shuffle Master and Progressive net multiple honors
Server-based gaming, wireless wagering, customer service enhancements and sports book technologies were key to the makeup of Casino Journal’s Top 20 Most Innovative Gaming Technology Products of 2006 competition. This year, there were 68 valid entries to the contest by gaming equipment and system manufacturers, and even a few casino companies—one of which you’ll find made the Top 20 cut.
Those who serve as judges for this contest often have their work cut out for them, having to sift through hundreds of pages of marketing and technical materials, then grading products in a series of categories and writing detailed comments. The work can be long and tedious, and for that, they deserve our sincere thanks.
This year’s judges were:
Glenn Bonner, director of 1Velocity.com and Skywiremedia.com, and former vice president and chief information officer of MGM Mirage
Steven Murphy, vice president and chief information officer, for the under-construction Cosmopolitan Resort Casino in Las Vegas
Jeanne-Marie Wilkins, vice president of business strategy for Trump Entertainment Resorts
David Paster, owner and consultant for Yarborough Planning LLC
Judges this year were very thorough in their critiques and did not tread lightly with any entry. In fact, judge’s opinions were about as spread across the board on each entry as possible and many judge’s comments showcased why there’s an ever-increasing demand for better and more innovative technologies. Some examples of the “not-so-nice” comments that you won’t read among the Top 20 (anonymously, of course):
—“Another way to confuse players…”
—“Poor effort—you can buy these at Radio Shack…”
—“This is simply a re-hash, like cold pizza reheated in the morning for breakfast…”
—“They are trying to make it easier, but it doesn’t come across…”
—“I just don’t see the innovation…”
—“This is way too confusing for the average slot player and does not seem like it would last through the first beer spilled on it or angry player smashing it…”
At this year’s Gaming Technology Summit, May 22-24 at the Green Valley Ranch Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, attendees will vote on their favorites of the Top 20. Those ballots will be tallied at the show and, based on voting, Platinum, Gold and Silver awards will be handed out for three of the featured products.
As we do every year, we want to give honorable mentions to a number of products that narrowly missed this year’s cut. Among them: Bally Technologies’ Bally Power Winners At-The-Table; Cadillac Jack’s Cadillac Cash wide-area progressive; Casino Data Imaging’s Casino Analysis Software; CyberArts Licensing’s CyberArts Foundation Gaming Software Platform; Cyberview Technology’s Remote Diagnostics Application with Software Distribution and Control and its Dynamic Game Library; International Game Technology’s Game King® AVP® Widescreen Multi-Level Progressives and Red Hot Jackpots Multi-Level Progressives; iView Systems’ iTrak; SAS Institute/Qualex Consulting’s SAS® Patron Value Optimization; Shuffle Master’s iShoe Intelligent Shoe; and TransAct Technologies’ Dual Port Technology. Each of these products missed the Top 20 by a mere 15 points or less.
The next five pages represent brief product descriptions and judges’ comments from this year’s Top 20. Many thanks to all who entered, and we look forward to next year’s competition.
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Top 20 Most Innovative Gaming Technology Products
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Aristocrat DL Technology
Through its DL Technology, Aristocrat Technologies is leveraging recent downloadable game advancements in the gaming industry into complete management package for casino operators. DL Technology helps operators ensure they have the most dynamic slot mix possible and enables increased operating efficiencies.
The DL Technology delivers quick access to an extensive library of Aristocrat’s MKVI games, as well as a wide array of software-based tools. With dozens of titles, all downloadable to a single machine, this platform allows operators to: change games, lines and/or denominations with a single mouse click; optimize slot floor revenue potential through yield management; access real time analysis of floor performance by area, bank, single game and more; and log game transactions for accurate slot floor performance and trend analysis.
The entire DL Technology software suite is also designed for maximum security and performance. Aristocrat recently began a field trial of the DL Technology at the Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula, Calif., and the company has said it expects to have the solution available for deployment in late-2007.
One judge said the best features of DL Technology were “its reporting abilities and yield management of the game.”
“This is the next big technology in the industry,” another judge noted. “Good concept.”
The OASIS SpeedMedia Director is part of Aristocrat’s SpeedMedia suite of products. It gives casino operators the ability to create, modify and customize project files that contain the images (static graphics and flash animation) and videos that will be displayed on the Sentinel III LCD player tracking panel (project files consist of one or more pre-existing images and videos that have been grouped into a timed image display).
Built on Microsoft’s .NET technology, the SpeedMedia Director electronically delivers media directly to the EGM through OASIS. By delivering high-powered graphics, animation, video and sound directly to the game console, operators can distribute customized, targeted messages to key points on the casino floor, while adding entertainment to the player’s gaming experience. The system is easy for operators to install and use, and can ultimately help achieve better efficiencies both on the casino floor and the marketing department.
“This is a great tool that will help operators realize the full potential of the new player tracking system displays,” one judge said. “It gives operators the ability to easily control the message and drive interesting and exciting content to the (casino) floor.”
“I’d definitely purchase this,” another judge added. “It’s a great concept.”
OASIS FloorLogix is a comprehensive solution to managing a casino’s networked gaming environment. This solution includes firmware, hardware and software, which provide a seamless communication flow of activity and information.
Using N-Tier architecture built on Microsoft’s .NET technology, the OASIS FloorLogix Manager’s monitoring and scheduling application displays EGM activity, meter information and current status. Flash updates can be scheduled for automatic updates and are digitally secured using TCP/IP protocols.
For existing OASIS customers, FloorLogix provides the ability to simultaneously run both Sentinel II (serial network) and Sentinel III (Ethernet) devices, leveraging the existing infrastructure while providing options for network expansion and upgrades. Additionally, as the primary delivery mechanism for Aristocrat’s SpeedMedia product series, FloorLogix not only impacts casino operations, but delivers additional excitement and entertainment value to casino players.
“I would purchase this product,” one judge said. “It offers a viable migration path from the prevalent casino floor network architecture in place today to the casino floor of the future. This product will practically and systematically enable operators and regulators to manage the impending evolution of the traditional gaming floor network to a richer, more robust environment.”
“This seems like a very comprehensive floor management option,” another judge added.
ALPHA Elite series of video and reel spinning slots
The Alpha Elite series is a new generation of modular and reel-spinning slots running on the advanced ALPHA OS. Five distinct cabinet styles (V20; V20/20; V32; S9C and S9E) offer multiple configurations and easy conversion from reel-spinner to video slot and back again with minimal cost and minimal downtime.
Standardized interchangeable parts provide flexibility, easy serviceability and quick manufacturing turnaround. In what Bally touts as an industry first, modular video monitors can be swapped out for electromechanical reel spinner modules for additional flexibility. Operators can also order multi-denomination/multi-percentage configurations running ALPHA OS and utilizing Bally’s deep library of reel spinning game titles.
Among key feature of the Alpha Elite games are dynamic top box configurations, including widescreen and high definition; LCD touchscreens and player tracking panels; premium sound packages; and cabinet designs that are both ergonomic to the player and easy to maintain for the casino operator.
“It’s a good product—saving time and money through easy reconfigurations,” one judge said.
“I’d recommend it. Easy conversion is enormously valuable to the operation,” another judge added. “It’s what you look for in a new product: increased efficiency and greater flexibility.”
Bally LIVE Rewards server-based gaming
Bally LIVE server-based gaming (SBG) brings flexibility and control to casino gaming for both players and operators. Under this technology, slot machines can be connected to servers to host potentially hundreds of games, bringing about significant operational efficiencies by reducing time and manpower devoted to machine maintenance. Likewise, casino loyalty and bonusing programs can be used in more sophisticated, player-centric ways.
Bally Live Rewards is a configurable suite of bonusing solutions that is an integral component of the Bally Live SBG system. It allows casino operators to offer extra entertainment and bonusing opportunities through the use of Bally iVIEW technology. This gives players the option of playing a variety of secondary bonus games on the iVIEW screen located just above the button deck. These games can be customized to individual player’s wagering patterns based on their players club profile.
Bally Live will operate under the Gaming Standards Association’s System-to-System (S2S) and Game-to-System (G2S) protocols, enabling gaming and non-gaming devices to be linked together and provide robust interfaces between gaming machines and the host system.
“Excellent product—this has the potential of lowering the ‘churn’ of new machines on the slot floor, plus on-demand gives players what they want,” one judge said.
“This should have a major impact on the gaming industry,” another judge noted.
CasinoVision remote gaming
The CasinoVision Gaming System is a new product that allows a customer to play video slot machines on any existing television on a hotel property. The system connects up to any hotel video-on-demand (VOD) movie system and allows a person to use a television remote to press buttons on the machine.
The CasinoVision Gaming System not only plays real money, but would also allow promotional credit play. This would let a casino set up promotional play in hotel rooms, poolside, lounges and other locations with television screens. The machines used in this system are the same video slot machines found on casino floors throughout the world. It takes these systems and uses a patent-pending proprietary technology to allow the VOD system to communicate with them.
When a customer checks into the hotel-casino, they create a unique PIN at the CasinoVision Point of Sale, which will then allow access to the system. An account is opened, allowing play on the television.
PINs are secure to customers and cannot be used by anyone else. At check-out, the customer enters the PIN at the point of sale, closing the account and paying out any funds left.
“This would extend the gaming experience outside the bounds of the casino floor. A good idea,” one judge said.
“It’s a great concept,” said another judge noting his approval of linking the system to on demand movie systems.
Cash Systems Inc.
Cash Systems Inc.’s powercash is its newest product for cash access. powercash is a joint development product between Cash Systems, Scotch Twist LLC and Bally Technologies. Patent protected, powercash will change the way casino’s gaming patrons access funds from their credit, debit and personal checking accounts.
Once players have enrolled in both the casino’s players club and added Cash Systems cashclub feature, players can then access funds from their desired credit, debit or checking accounts while sitting at the gaming device. Funds are requested by the player from their selected account and then, upon authorization, the funds are transferred into their casino players club wagering account. Once the funds are transferred into their player club wagering account, the player can then select the amount they wish to transfer down to the gaming device and the amount goes directly to the credit meter.
All transactions are secure and require a personal identification number (PIN). Cash Systems Inc. touts powercash as the only product that transforms the casino floor into a truly cashless environment.
“It’s about time,” one judge said of the powercash product. “Excellent.”
“It’s a good idea and works in the right environment,” another judge said. “I’d need more information on it to evaluate it for my company.”
GEN2 Universal Ticket Printer with ProMatrix Coupon Solution
Developed with design feedback from global gaming OEMs and casinos, the GEN2 Universal printer integrates cashless functions with player tracking, accounting and management infrastructure to help casinos streamline business systems.
The GEN2 Universal printers are designed to provide a migration path to the next generation of downloadable games. The printer supports all existing and emerging game types via one of the three communication ports: RS232 (backward compatible); NetPlex (backward compatible); and USB 2.0 Full Speed (future GSA and IGT compliant).
The printers are available in both horizontal and vertical footprints and feature Intelligent Ticket Handling (complete printing of tickets before they are accessible), support for over 20 languages and 50 percent larger paper capacity than other printers.
The GEN2 Universal also features PromoPort, which supports FutureLogic’s ProMatrix customizable coupon solution. ProMatrix allows casino marketers to create a variety of graphic templates for offers that can be triggered by date, time, length of play and other parameters. The GEN2 Universal can store thousands of coupon permutations to support any promotional campaign and reduce traffic on the system.
“This seems like a sturdy slot machine component” one judge opined, noting the increased capacity and special printing features to prevent fraud.
“I’d purchase this product,” another judge said.
Game-to-System (G2S) protocol
Gaming Standards Association
The Game-to-System protocol, or G2S, is a standardized communication protocol that enables secure communications between gaming devices and gaming systems. The G2S protocol integrates the Gaming Standards Association’s previous Best of Breed (BOB) and International Game Technology’s SuperSAS protocols.
G2S is not being developed by a single company, but rather is the result of years of collaborative work between worldwide gaming manufacturers, suppliers, operators and regulators—all of whom are part of the Gaming Standards Association. The new protocol features important elements that existed neither in BOB or in SuperSAS.
The G2S protocol is based on proven computer industry standard technologies, such as Ethernet, TCP/IP and XML, which will allow the industry to migrate to downloadable games and other new technology, such as client/server games and intranet and Internet environments, while still maintaining the games of today, well into the future.
The Gaming Standards Association has also developed, or is developing toolkits for G2S and other open-industry technology protocols to help implement them quickly and successfully.
“Open communication protocols benefit operators, manufacturers, regulators and the gaming public,” one judge said. “It will drive the delivery of innovative and exciting new products to the market at an ever-increasing pace.”
“This is an excellent effort by the vendors to move gaming into the future,” another judge added.
sb Service Window
International Game Technology
With the sb Service Window, players receive individualized services and awards while maximizing profitability across a property’s entire enterprise—not just at the slot machine.
The biggest innovation that IGT touts with the sb Service Window is “no more one size fits all” rewards for players. The flexibility of the sb Service Window allows operators to tailor benefits and services to as many levels and types of players club members they desire. Enhanced menu options allow player-oriented functions to be tailored to operators’ needs or preferences.
The sb Service Window would allow operators to offer customized offers or rewards for things like dinner, show tickets or rounds of golf. These offers can be used to increase customer spend at other areas of the casino or offer direct comps to maximize patron loyalty. At the slot machine, the sb Service Window allows players to find their favorite games without having to hunt for open machines. Upon inserting a players club card, a list of a patron’s favorite games automatically displays on the sb Service Window. Those lists can be altered or changed over time depending on tracked play.
“Good product,” one judge said.
“It’s a great example of the server-based and server-supported gaming applications under development that will allow operators to tailor the gaming experience to fit the taste of their customers,” another judge noted.
Guaranteed Play Poker
International Game Technology
Guaranteed Play Poker repackages the way video poker is bought and sold by creating gaming discounts and other advantages that appeal to players, along with new promotional opportunities casino operators can use to pre-sell gambling and other amenities of the property. Much like a movie or sporting event, gaming can now become a ticketed event.
Utilizing IGT’s EZ Pay® Purchase Ticket feature, the Guaranteed Play Poker game enables players to buy a “session,” or fixed amount of max-bet poker hands at a cost that is less than buying hands individually. The screen displays the number of games purchased and the credit balance. By buying a guaranteed amount of play, players know just how much entertainment they’ll get for their money. Credits can even run negative without stopping play.
Players can also elect to receive bonus hands by choosing certain games with low-volatility paytables. From the player perspective, Guaranteed Play allows play on favorite paytables and with each play being a max-bet, more shots at a full-pay, 4,000-coin royal flush. Even with the special discounting, casinos make roughly the same amount from Guaranteed Play as selling play one hand at a time.
“It’s a good twist on the poker game—packaging the game as entertainment,” one judge said.
“This is innovation, the proverbial better mouse trap,” another judge said.
The Price is Right® Cliff Hangers Multi-Station
International Game Technology
The Price is Right® Cliff Hangers Multi Station product is the first IGT MegaJackpots® three-reel Advanced Video Platform (AVP®) product. It uses three AVP® slant-top cabinets with an interactive mechanical bonus device. The product serves the higher denomination play with multiple payline configurations (two, three and five paylines) and a choice of 25-cent and dollar configurations.
Features of The Price is Right® Cliff Hangers product include: multi-monitor support and ultra high-resolution LCD displays in standard and widescreen formats; advanced 3D hardware-accelerated graphics for more dynamic game play; lower emissions, better reliability and flicker-free images; and a high performance, multi-channel digital audio sound system.
A mass storage hard drive is also standard on the product—80-plus gigabytes of storage—enough space for the most demanding games. It comes with a standard DVD-ROM drive for simple software installation and general maintenance utilities.
“It’s an interesting offering, if not a cutting-edge innovation,” one judge opined. “I might try this on a limited trial-basis.”
“The bonus feature simply looks like it would be fun to play. The game has old school elements enhanced by new school technology,” another judge noted.
Table iD system
International Game Technology, Progressive Gaming and Shuffle Master
This tri-party table management system eliminates manual tasks associated with table operations and accurately tracks every aspect of a player’s table game play. This allows operators to precisely comp and reward their highest-tier player and provide them with the best, most individualized customer service while maximizing their profitability.
There are three modules to Table iD. Table Manager, provided by IGT, automates table game tracking and eliminates “pencil to paper” tasks. Using pit or table mounted touchscreens, employees can enter and edit player ratings, perform openers, closers and shift changes; and track chip inventory.
Chip Manager, provided by Progressive Gaming, utilizes RFID tags embedded in chips to capture true game handle, reveals betting patterns and summarizes exact dealer activity and player decisions by the hour. Casinos can use this to provide better comps and offers to patrons and better manage table operations.
Game Manager, provided by Shuffle Master, gathers information such as player analysis and skill level and detects any deviation in betting patterns. A key component is Shuffle Master’s IShoe, which communicates data and images as cards are pulled from the shoe. An optical unit can recognize cards on the table. This adds extra security layers to the table games.
Table iD also has advanced bonusing and promotional functionality.
“This brings technology to the table area where it has been lacking,” one judge said.
“I’d definitely consider Table iD on a short list of competitors,” another added. “A very good solution.”
Las Vegas Gaming Inc.
PortalVision is a proprietary multimedia system from Las Vegas Gaming Inc. that brings new content—including live horse racing, sports wagering, advertising and promotions—to existing slot machines.
This family of integrated solutions consists of AdVision, SlottoVision, WagerVision and PromoVision. PortalVision provides players with additional content at the slot machine, and is an easy way for operators to generate additional revenue. Using the concept of “picture-in-picture” technology, PortalVision unlocks the gaming screen and enables operators to send a variety of interactive offers directly to the player.
Content can be delivered across all properties, to all gaming devices on a floor, by a machine bank or type, or to a specific machine IP. Touchscreen activated, PortalVision makes it easy for players to choose to place race and sports wagers, access additional game content, play lottery tickets and access information about restaurants, discounts or special offers.
The PortalVision technology is “agnostic” meaning it will work on any existing game platform.
“This appears to be a solid concept,” one judge said.
“Some aspects of this system could enhance the overall game experience,” another judge said, noting PortalVision’s best feature was its sports wagering abilities. “It could work well with racinos.”
Trident Table Safe System
JCM American’s Trident Table Safe System modernizes the pit by bringing baseline accuracy and real-time control to the pit, giving operators and accurate picture of pit activity.
With the Trident Table Safe System, casinos do not have to guess about table performance. The system gives operators a real-time picture of the entire pit, table-by-table. Its bulk-note feeder allows the dealer to process multiple notes simultaneously, and its validator reads currency and alerts security automatically if counterfeits are discovered.
Table Safe is virtually invisible to players, while securely tracking, stacking, sorting and reporting all cash and non-cash transactions. All U.S. notes and most international notes are accepted, and there’s a 2,000-note capacity cash box. Combined with other JCM American technologies such as its Pit Manager® and Intelligent Cash Box (ICB®), casino operators can create a complete tracking and accounting system for their table game operations.
“I would recommend this product to increase efficiency and account-ability on the floor,” one judge said. “It meets the requirements for new technology in the gaming industry: increased efficiencies, higher accountability, tighter security and an opportunity to free up staff and management for greater customer service.”
“Like bill validators pre-TITO, this product could truly offer better currency management to the game,” another judge added.
Automated PokerPro® Heads-Up Table
With its PokerPro® Heads-Up product, PokerTek Inc. has created the world’s first two-seated automated poker table. The PokerPro® system runs without the support of a dealer, automatically shuffling, dealing, calling pots and prompting players for action. This system offers casinos a profitable way to spread heads-up poker, creating a new source of revenue while providing players with a popular version of poker that few casinos offer.
The PokerPro® Heads-Up system increases casino revenue and reduces the downtime between games by requiring very little assistance from casino staff. The PokerPro® system automatically resets after each tournament, allowing customers to play back-to-back tournaments. Additionally, the system integrates with the PokerPro® Waiting List Kiosk, enabling players to sign up for tournaments on their own and automatically reserving seats when they become available.
Occupying only 20 percent of the footprint of a traditional poker table, PokerPro® Heads-Up frees up valuable floor space, allowing operators to position tables throughout the property including unconventional locations like the sports book, bars or near a slot bank.
“This could help draw and hold the attention of online players to the traditional casino environment,” one judge said, additionally lauding the product’s simplicity.
“It is reminiscent of the 1980s electronic bar games, and would seem to do well in that context,” another judge opined.
Rapid Bet Live
Progressive Gaming’s Rapid Bet Live, offered in both a wired and wireless mobile configuration, allows casino’s sports books to offer play-in-play, or proposition betting, on any number of sporting events.
Using Rapid Bet Live terminals or enabled wireless devices, sports book oddsmakers can create unique betting propositions and manage odds in real time. Players, after setting up an account and depositing funds with the sports book, can log onto the Rapid Bet Live terminals or wireless devices and watch the sporting events of their choice in progress. A host of different proposition bets will appear to the players and they can choose which bets to make.
The appeal of Rapid Bet Live to players is the ability to stay active and wagering during games, deciding which football team will score first, or which what a certain player will accomplish in his first at-bat of a baseball game. For operators, it’s a way to maximize betting revenues.
Rapid Bet Live is currently available for many sporting events, including baseball, basketball, hockey, football, NASCAR, boxing and golf.
“It adds a new dimension of excitement to an existing venue—reinvigorating an ‘old’ environment with new technology,” one judge said.
“The during-game wagering allows for continued interest in the game (i.e., keeps patrons in the casino) and allows for a prolonged gaming experience,” another judge added.
Race and sports book technologies
Station Casinos/Kelley Technologies
Station Casinos, in building the year-old Red Rock Resort-Casino in Las Vegas, implemented a new race and sports video display system with significantly enhanced visual elements and functionality.
Utilizing race and sports book innovations from Kelley Technologies, Station Casinos was able to provide video layout flexibility never available before—including real time odds and score updates—all with 100 percent high-definition capabilities. In addition to day-to-day operations, the system also allows for numerous customized video layouts for special events such as the pro football, baseball, college basketball and horse racing championship events, as well as major fights.
The race and sports book at the Red Rock features a three-screen, 96-foot video wall. Station has since utilized the technology to revamp the sports books at its Green Valley Ranch and Santa Fe Station resorts in Las Vegas as well. Green Valley Ranch features a five-screen 110-foot video wall, while Santa Fe Station is a five-screen, 114-foot wall.
“Excellent, a great implementation,” one judge said.
“This is a technology I would like to look into further,” another judge added.
Vegas Star Wireless
Shuffle Master Inc.
Utilizing wireless handheld devices and Shuffle Master’s Casino On Demand and Vegas Star® platforms, Vegas Star Wireless gives casinos the ability to increase their Vegas Star® player positions without adding fixed terminals that require additional floor space.
This wireless product builds upon the success Shuffle Master has enjoyed with its Vegas Star® platform of electronic, multi-player table games with animated virtual dealers and individual touchscreen betting terminals.
But with the value of floor space at an all time high, requiring more player positions can become costly. A standard Vegas Star® configuration can range from five to 16 fixed terminal player positions, with 10 positions being the most-often installed. When using Vegas Star Wireless, casinos can increase their available terminals to an unlimited number of remote positions on any Vegas Star® game that does not require a fixed number of cards. Additionally, Vegas Star Wireless capability can extend to any public WiFi enabled area of the casino.
Built on the secure Casino On Demand wireless platform, the system features military-grade encryption and security at both the device and network levels.
“It’s very promising,” one judge said. “It offers operators another great way to offer a gaming experience tailored to the customer’s taste.”
“This is the epitome of best and highest usage of foorprint real estate—none!” another judge said.
Combining the traditional player appeal of a mechanical reel gaming machine with the interactive and rich graphical interface of real-time, 3D visuals enabled on a CPU-NXT2 system, WMS Gaming has introduced its Transmissive Reels product.
Graphically-rich video content is projected over mechanical reels to create unique game play, visually-engaging levels of player entertainment and endless winning possibilities. This technology combines the best of what players love about traditional mechanical reels and video reel products. Debuting with the popular MONOPOLY licensed brand, the Super Money Grab game is set to be the first of many new games in this new product category from WMS.
Accelerating the future appeal of this category, WMS has licensed the rights to bring the “Duke” to the slot floor. JOHN WAYNE DUKE IT OUT will be the next WMS product utilizing the Transmissive Reels technology. With a mid-FY2008 launch anticipated, the JOHN WAYNE DUKE IT OUT product is expected to further drive interest in the Transmissive Reels product category.
“Without fundamentally changing the player’s interaction with a traditional slot machine, which is still very popular in the U.S. market, it enhances and enlivens the game experience,” one judge said.
“It is cool…the interaction between Mr. Monopoly ‘hosting’ the game and what occurs on the reels is engaging,” another judge added.