Community gaming. It’s one of those things where you’re in it together and you’re in it apart. Like life.
The together part, the Chinese know all about that. If you’ve been to Macau you’ve seen them four and five deep at those baccarat tables. Entire families make the crossing from Zhuhai or ride in on the ferry from Hong Kong, determined to strong-arm Fortune into revealing to them their destiny, if only for the day, and the more collective spiritual muscle you can bring to bear on the contest the better.
As for the slot machines, the “hungry tigers,” as they call them over there, they sit mostly untouched. That’s beginning to change, we’re told. But the problem the sector has had historically among the Celestials stems in part from the idea that you’re taking on a machine, an inanimate, insentient object that cannot be appeased or cajoled and might well be rigged against you. Worse, you’re doing it alone.
What you do see more of in Macau these days are electronic roulette and the like. You see them mostly in the slot halls, where the flexibility of their multi-player configurations makes sense for spaces that are smaller, where there isn’t as much money to pay croupiers and other staff - and where the bets are smaller, the wrestling with Fate more along the lines of horseplay.
These e-tables are prized in Europe, too, because maximizing revenue within the continent’s pitiless geographic and regulatory constraints is an endless challenge. Even the sanctity of the British betting shop has succumbed to them. But then Europeans have always been adept at packing a lot into a little. They’re masters of space. As for the rest, it’s only natural to them to think collectively first. In their view everyone wins when the good of the whole takes precedence over the passions of the individual.
Group love is harder to come by here in the Land of the Free. So we’ve been a little slower to catch on to the idea that the act of gambling might have added value as a communal experience. Once you’ve pushed past the craps pits it’s pretty much every man and woman for themselves.
Yet why should Americans be different than anyone else when it comes to recognizing that fun tends to increase when you multiply it times other people? We’re not any different. Of course, we like doing things together. Why wouldn’t we?
And there’s nothing like shared consequences for bringing people together. Let’s hope it’s one of the enduring takeaways from this recession. A gambling hall would be the last place you’d look to find the shoots of social change. Then again, there’s no place like a casino for coaxing our weaknesses and strengths into the open, separately and collectively, and stripping them bare, where this huge and unwieldy social thing has to be made to work for all participants on some level.
Which is why when it comes to slot R&D you have to think these present hard times are supplying a lot of the momentum. Selling machines is tougher than ever, as we know. At the same time, the industry is entering one of those storied consensual phases that lead to its reinvention for sale to the next generation, and everybody seems to be on board with the idea that the process must make this new culture of mass personal communication its own if it’s to succeed. Creating experiences that people want to share - yes, it’s about the restaurants, the rooms, the spas, the shows, the stores, the service, and it has to be about the games too.
And should we come away from all this with technologies and practices that help rid us of this not so rugged individuality of ours, this pathological American loneliness, the illusion that we’re going it alone, that somehow we’re better off going it alone, as if such a thing were possible … well, we could do a lot worse.