Land of linking
Land of linkingTechnological advancements are differentiating progressive games in terms of features and functionality
Progressive jackpots are beginning to take command of the casino floor. Whether it is a $1,562 jackpot on a stand-alone bank of eight video poker machines, or the world record $39.7 million Megabucks Nevada progressive won last year at the Excalibur in Las Vegas, progressive jackpots have grown in popularity with both slot players and operators.
Growing right along with the progressives is the supporting operations and systems technology provided by Mikohn Gaming, Aristocrat Technologies, Bally Gaming and Systems, Paltronics, WMS Gaming, International Game Technology, Atronic Games, and others. Indeed, these systems providers are vital to the ongoing evolution of the game since the basic concept of progressive play varies little from property to property-banks of slots linked to one another via jackpot controllers and communicate with multiple gaming devices. How the progressive slots are linked and what data they provide is what differentiates the various products provided by gaming equipment manufacturers.
A matter of controlFor example, the IGT Progressive Controller was developed specifically for use with IGT machines to provide multi-level, multi-denominational game progressive capabilities.
"Our controller offers the opportunity to progress more than one denomination on a single machine," said Ed Rogich, IGT's vice president of marketing. "Uplinks to machines on the progressive link are done simultaneously via a fiber-optic link that controls nearly twice as many machines as traditional progressive controllers. Switching to a different progressive is as easy as changing the denomination on the machine. This means players can look at a screen with five or 10 different games on it and each game has a separate progressive and with different denominations. So let's say a player starts with a nickel Deuces Wild Triple Play and that progressive is $3,000. Twenty minutes later, he can touch the menu screen and switch to quarters and play Jacks or Better Five Play with a progressive of $5,500. The new controllers are making the games more diverse and more exciting for the players, and more efficient for casino operators."
While IGT focuses on multi-game controllers, the Atronic Progressive Link is unique in that each machine comes with an individual controller built in so machines can hook together and form one progressive system. The machines interface with each other's controllers to form a bank of linked machines.
Michael Ratner, Atronic product manager, said in order for some casinos to run a progressive, they must first choose a dozen games to progress, go to a third party for a progressive controller, link the games, and then finally display them
on an overhead sign. "Our advantage," he said, "is that every one of our games can be progressed without having to buy expensive controlling equipment. We have a committed focus on progressives."
"It's a good participation environment," adds Joe Bailo, chief operating officer at Atronic. "The entire system is a strong solid network within a client server environment. We house a central server in our corporate facility for the states that participate in our wide area progressive that we call Magic. [Otherwise,] the individual installations in the participating states are basically the client's. They have a local floor server that communicates back to the hub that communicates back out to the games."
A move toward the centerPaltronics, on the other hand, stresses centralized flexibility-constructing progressive controllers that are compliant with most games. Its One Link Slot System wires games to one central system that provides configuration, monitoring, and auditing control over gaming and non-gaming links throughout the property.
Brad Johnson, vice president of sales marketing and business development at Paltronics, said progressives were previously handled on a bank-by-bank basis.
"Casino would have local area progressives where they put 12 games on one and then another 12 were handled individually somewhere else," he explained. "This made it difficult for the slot manager to control. If he wanted to change or add new games, he would have to stop play, rewire the floor, and get into the jackpot controller that was usually in the base of one of the slot machines. It was all very time consuming."
Johnson said Paltronics wires its games to one central system where a PC configures games. "If you have games on one side of the casino and want to link them to the games on the other side of the casino," he said, "just go into the system, punch it up, and send the command."
The Borgata in Atlantic City was the first U.S. casino to use the comprehensive One Link package that included an extensive progressive slot system. Paul Tjoumakaras, vice president of slot operations, said the progressive controller and slot data controller are kept in a separate room off the gaming floor. Security is improved as controllers, previously in the base of slot machines, are in a separate room with passwords and other added security features.
But Tjoumakaras had more than security in mind when he opted for the centralized One Link system. "Every slot bank is connected and we have the opportunity to connect games in any matrix we want," he said. "We're able to connect any assortment of machines to its internal progressive games. Machines from any manufacturer in any denomination at any location on the floor are capable of being connected to a progressive system using the single control system."
Ease of use has also been cited as a strong One Link benefit by other properties. Thunder Valley Station, near Sacramento, Calif., is owned by the United Auburn Indian community and managed by Station Casinos. Rick Lopez, an account executive with Paltronics, installed the One Link System there last year when the casino opened. He speaks regularly with Bryan Delugo, director of slot operations at Thunder Valley. Delugo, he said, is extremely satisfied with the system.
"Bryan said the system is easy to use, flexible, and reliable," said Lopez. "He told us about its convenience because he can now pull reports without having to go to each separate system. That's because all banks are networked."
Outside the boxAlthough many recent progressive innovations center on linking and mechanics, some advancements have been made in terms of signage and other consumer-attracting technologies. For example, Paltronics now offers RGB (red, green, blue) LED module for its progressive display systems.
"The addition of blue takes the current RGY (red, green, yellow) module from 256 colors to over 56,000," Lopez said. "Graphics can be displayed in such a range of colors that it's going to catch everyone's eye. Marketing executives can use these displays to broadcast advertising messages, restaurant specials, or current jackpot winners to linked plasma screens and televisions throughout the casino.
"We're a society driven by full-color television and TV is not just three colors anymore, Lopez added. "RGB makes the floor that much more inviting and the more attractive and friendly the floor, the greater the play or more return trips."
Size matters when it comes to Atronic progressive jackpots, just not in the way you think
We can always dream about winning the big one. Or the little one.
According to Jason Stage, head game designer at Atronic, there are two schools of thought when it comes to players winning jackpots, whether it is the actual game jackpot or the progressive amount.
"Let's understand the psychology of the fantasy," said Stage. "Most players realize that there is a low probability they will win a large jackpot. However, part of the fun of playing is the fantasy that they will win. The other part of the fantasy is figuring out what to do with the money. Buy a car? Pay off bills? Maybe buy a boat. The fantasy is important because that is what drives play."
Stage said Atronic has life-altering jackpots, not life-changing jackpots like Megabucks or Betty Boop.
"We did focus groups with players while developing our Magic wide area progressive and learned that players know the probability of hitting a $10,000,000 jackpot is very low. Our Magic jackpots, which are in California, Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin and New Mexico, start at $100,000 with a secondary jackpot beginning at $50,000. They're designed to hit every 30 days with the progressive usually hitting at between $150,000 to $175,000. In the past 18 months, 13 Magic progressives have been hit. Therefore, we award millions of dollars to many players and this creates talk and excitement on the casino floor that in turn creates strong marketing and advertising opportunities for the casinos."
Players decide if they want to play for Magic or just the jackpot. A left to right bet wins the secondary jackpot; a double bet (left to right and right to left) wins Magic.
"Players are looking for attainable jackpots and not some pie in the sky amount," said Stage. "We adjusted our product to insure that we're delivering what the customer wants and our data tells us we're right on target. At the same time, even after someone wins, we tell them not to quit their day job."
Technology has also been developed for the stand-alone progressives that drives play on an individual game. These single banks of games feature progressives that run between $5,000 to $10,000 and cater to a player who enjoys playing a specific game.