If there’s a thread that pulls together Casino Journal’s Top 20 Most Innovative Gaming Technology Products Awards for 2009, it’s that the future really is now. The products that made the grade represent forward-thinking, novel concepts designed to take casinos to the next level.
This year’s Top 20 cover a lot of ground. They include business intelligence tools, software applications that leverage the power of social media, server-based gaming, digital way-finding, mobile couponing, novel slot and electronic table game concepts, new cabinets and specialty table game and security products.
Our panel of independent judges faced no cakewalk in evaluating a crowded field of some 80 entries encompassing much of the industry’s most creative thinking. They spent long hours poring over marketing and technical materials, grading products and submitting detailed evaluations for each product.
We’d like to express our gratitude to each of them:
• Blake Cumbers, vice president of development, Boyd Gaming, Las Vegas;
• Jay Fennel, principal, Pfie Gaming Consulting, Las Vegas;
• Troy Simpson, senior vice president of innovation, Barona Resort Casino, Lakeside, Calif.;
• Gregg Solomon, chief executive officer, Motor City Casino, Detroit.
This year’s Top 20 actually include 21 winners, as two companies tied to land their products in the 20th spot on the coveted list. Fifteen different companies, in all, made the Top 20, making this one of the most diverse groups in the history of the awards.
Both Bally Technologies and International Game Technology landed three products on the list. Walker Digital Gaming and TCSJohnHuxley also showed their prowess, each garnering two spots.
The winners will be honored and plaques will be awarded to each at the Wednesday keynote luncheon at the eighth annual Gaming Technology Summit, May 25-26, at Green Valley Ranch casino resort in Las Vegas. Attendees at the summit will vote for their own “Platinum, Gold” and “Silver” award winners. These three top vote-getters, along with the winner of a special “Attendee Choice Award,” also will be honored at the luncheon and will be featured in the July issue of Casino Journal.
Here they are, the Top 20, in alphabetical order.
Verve Cabinet - ARISTOCRAT TECHNOLOGIESAristocrat Technologies launched its next-generation VERVE hd cabinet at the 2009 Global Gaming Expo. The stylish VERVE provides a modular platform allowing for greater flexibility and innovative game design. In addition to its powerful games engine, this modern, attractive cabinet will enhance the overall player entertainment experience.
Available in two configurations - 2.x 21.5 LCD and 31.5-inch portrait LCD - the VERVE features an ergonomic design to optimize play and comfort. For operators, its sleek, modular design is keyed toward the technology of today and tomorrow. The internal layout also has been enhanced to improve serviceability and maintainability.
Judges were most impressed with the cabinet’s attractiveness and ergonomic design.
One called VERVE “very stylish” with an “ultra-cool presentation” and said it could be a “very important product for downloadable games.”
Another was pleased to remark that it “looked like an iPhone.”
A third said he appreciated the cabinet’s more compact footprint. “I think this is the direction that most manufacturers will be moving toward in regard to cabinet depth,” he said. “There is no longer any need for the depth of the current slot machine cabinet. With the removal of the hopper and the advent of flat-screen monitors, the cabinet can be made much thinner.”
Context Sensitive Buttons - ARUZE GAMING AMERICA
Aruze Gaming’s Context Sensitive Button Deck provides tactile feedback to the players using a button-deck layout in conjunction with on-screen touch-screen button options.
The display for this unique player experience uses a video layout for blackjack. But unlike conventional touch screens, the buttons change their options depending on the circumstances of the game. Whether it is a bet amount or “stand, hit” or “double-down” depends on the choices available to the player. Because the buttons can change, more options can be assigned to fewer buttons, allowing for player flexibility and casino ease of use.
The judges felt that this product served a useful purpose.
“It provides flexibility, especially when multigame functionality becomes available,” said one.
“If a crowded button deck was an issue that I needed to overcome then I would consider this product to optimize the button deck,” said another.
Another noted, “This simple solution could enhance the players’ ease of playing a game.”
They were also impressed with the technology’s ability to offer “flexibility to add more player options to the game without adding additional buttons,” and “may appeal to players [who] prefer tactile feedback with game play.”
ALPHA Elite Cash Spin with U-Spin and Interactive Reels - BALLY TECHNOLOGIES
Bally Technologies describes its ALPHA Elite Cash Spin with U-Spin and Interactive Reels as bringing together several unique technologies to create a breakthrough gaming device not found elsewhere on the market.
The device combines Bally’s visually stunning V32 video platform with Bally’s Interactive Reels (i-Reels) technology to create a distinctive video/reel-spinning slot featuring a bonus video wheel displayed on the upper section of the touch-enabled video screen, combined with mechanical reels on the bottom section. The mechanical reels are overlaid with i-Reels technology, allowing the game to be played both as a video and as a reel-spinner at the same time.
What sets Cash Spin apart in terms of technological innovation is the brightly colored spinning wheel that occupies two-thirds of the video display above the mechanical reels. In the bonus round, the player actually spins the wheel on the screen, and the wheel reacts as if it were an actual physical “Big Six” type wheel. This touch-enabled high-definition LCD “senses” both the pressure and speed of a person’s hand gestures as the player slides a finger across the wheel, thus providing interaction and the sense of player control.
Judges praised this unique interactive feature.
“Gamblers want to feel as if they control their destiny,” said one, “and the interactivity of the U-Spin features gives them the perception of greater control in the results of their bonus round.”
Another noted the timeless appeal of the “wheel” concept. “Slot players simply like the wheel. Something so simple is so profitable.”
The Alpha Elite platform “looks like the shape of things to come in downloadable games,” said another.
Bally Business Intelligence - BALLY TECHNOLOGIESVersion:1.0 StartHTML:0000000172 EndHTML:0000005658 StartFragment:0000002829 EndFragment:0000005622 SourceURL:file://localhost/Users/Marian/Desktop/24%20Top%2020.doc
Bally Business Intelligence is an advanced application that allows operators to analyze and visualize the extensive data gathered throughout their business enterprise. Included in the package are interfaces to all of the Bally slot, table and casino-management systems as well as hotel and point-of-sale third-party systems.
Business Intelligence specializes in connecting player data with individual game data, providing slot and marketing managers with deep insights into how players interact with gaming floor and marketing promotions. It takes the deluge of data generated by slots, tables, marketing promotions, hotel and point-of-sale and converts it into actionable, visual insights.
One unique feature enables users to drill down into relationships between game and patron data using outside and inside “heat maps” in animated and still formats and covering any time period. Multi-property support lets enterprise customers view individual casinos, region, or all casinos, comparing data for each.
“More great thinking from Bally,” commented one judge.
Said another, “I think this product is very useful in being able to understand very complex data sets. Data visualization is going to be a critical component of analyzing a server-based slot floor.”
Bally Command Center - BALLY TECHNOLOGIES
Bally Command Center is a server application that allows casino operators to view, examine and manage their floor configuration from a central location, providing connectivity among a variety of devices - including gaming machines and player-tracking displays and peripherals - and placing a range of command, control and monitoring options at operators’ fingertips.
Based on the open G2S and S2S protocols, Command Center provides a platform to unify previously separately controlled devices under one managed application with easy-to-use wizards. This provides a means of creating a dynamic floor configuration that will maximize the player experience and casino revenue.
The CPU supports both SAS and G2S and maintains associated equipment status, supports dual-port peripherals, requires minimal regulatory approvals and allows peripheral firmware download (ticket printer, bill acceptor) to any machine, regardless of manufacturer.
Our judges gave high marks to Command Center.
One noted, “This product’s best features are that it is what enables a Bally System to take advantage of the features that the G2S protocol brings to server-based gaming.”
GameViz 3.0 - BISÂ²
BIS² designed gameViz 3.0 to represent the next generation of advanced data-visualization tools for strategic, operational and analytical use.
gameViz consists of four key modules:
AimViz covers revenue and customer analytics. FloorViz focuses on gaming floor optimization, showing customer segment preferences, highlighting areas and machines that are working well and areas that are underperforming, PropertyViz provides insight into how to maximize revenue and yield across properties. SlotViz delivers advanced analytics so operators can easily see which downloadable games/combinations are most popular, when and where.
Our judges were impressed, using terms such as “compelling” and “robust” to describe the gameViz suite of solutions.
One judge who currently uses the product gave it especially high marks. “This is the only product I have seen that has the potential to provide management-actionable information regarding the highly complex amounts of data produced by an all server-based slot floor.”
iGuide Wayfinder Plus - CASINO DATA IMAGING
Casino Data Imaging’s iGuide offers dynamic mapping, a feature-rich user interface and a story board that does not confuse users but offers instant recognition.
Within the “live map” default screen, the customer can immediately touch any landmark to call up an avatar “guide”. At the bottom of the screen he or she will see all applicable categories (NaviKeys). For example, touching the “Restaurants” NaviKey will bring up a new window showing dining options, meal specials, menus and any specific messages the restaurants wish to display (which can also be scheduled to display automatically). By pressing “locate” the avatar will appear and guide the patron to the restaurant of their choice. Another NaviKey focuses on slots, displaying top models and featured games, allowing the patron to search by denomination, game logo and keyboard search entry. Touching the game theme will call up the avatar and guide you to the machine location.
The iGuide found fans among our judges, including one who called it “very powerful”.
“As casinos get larger it becomes increasingly difficult for customers to find their way or to find amenities or features,” he said. “This product does it in as intuitive a way as I have yet seen.”
Said another, “This product could be beneficial to large resorts with many retail venues, a high volume of new patrons and limited human service providers.”
PlayAway on Facebook - GAMELOGIC
With more than 350 million users on Facebook it’s no secret that casinos have been eager to capitalize on the social media phenomenon. GameLogic’s PlayAway on Facebook is designed to get them there.
With PlayAway, for the first time, casinos can directly leverage Facebook’s most popular activity, games, by running free-to-play games such as slots, poker and bingo tournaments directly inside the Facebook world.
PlayAway also is viral in its design, which helps to harness the real power of social media. GameLogic brings its Software as a Service (SaaS) approach to interactive marketing to deliver a rich social media tool set in a way that is easy to implement and cost-effective to operate. Further, PlayAway supports connectivity among all major casino management systems. And of course it also conforms to all Facebook protocols and APIs.
Judges were enthusiastic. “Can’t wait to use it,” said one.
Another called PlayAway “a great addition to a property’s marketing arsenal.”
“Social media marketing is becoming increasingly important for the casino industry,” he noted. “This product would add interactivity to a casino’s Facebook marketing in a way that would increase customer loyalty and provide additional opportunities for implementation in a SBG ‘Service Window’ application.”
GLI Link - GAMING LABORATORIES INTERNATIONAL
Interoperability is critically important to operators, regulators and manufacturers. Each has a vested interest in knowing that games and systems have been certified to talk to each other correctly and give accurate reporting of casino activity.
Before now, such testing required devices and systems to be shipped all over the world, which can be cumbersome, expensive and delay time to market. To solve the problem the engineers at Gaming Laboratories International have created GLI Link.
GLI Link connects manufacturers’ products and operators’ systems, and interoperability testing can performed on any game with virtually any system from any GLI lab in any time zone. GLI Link operates remotely, requiring no shipping of devices, saving time and money. Further, it creates a “real world” environment that provides a sense of security and lowers support costs for equipment providers around the globe.
“I think this is a great idea, as the costs of repetitive lab approvals are ultimately born by the operator,” said one judge. “I would recommend this to any manufacturer as it would speed product to market and reduce costs of certification.”
“This innovation is a nice tool to improve the efficiency of new systems and devices,” said another. “Provided regulators endorse such a technology, it can be expected that operators would be supportive of a tool designed to speed up new device and systems testing and ultimate implementation.”
Versatile Volatility - INCREDIBLE TECHNOLOGIES
Incredible Technologies’ Versatile Volatility is a revolutionary new philosophy of slot mathematics that offers extreme flexibility in pay tables and game volatility. It is available only on Incredible Technologies’ new Magic Touch games, which received regulatory approval from GLI last November.
By taking a revolutionary approach to generating game math, Incredible Technologies has created a feature that gives casino operators and players what they covet most - control. The company’s mathematicians were mandated to build a model that allowed for speedy pay table generation to accelerate the game development and laboratory approval process. Also mandated was the need for mathematical “knobs” to allow detailed control over win frequency and volatility.
Versatile Volatility also was created to educate players and empower them with a sense of control. The technology is presented to them with an approachable, user-friendly interface called The Prize Guy, who asks the simple question, “How do you like to win?” The player responds by selecting “Often, Steady” or “Big” - a decision that determines the volatility of the game.
Our judges found it to be a bold innovation.
“This product takes a healthy step in the right direction by allowing players to pick the volatility of the game to better manage their bankroll,” said one.
Another judge liked the fact that Incredible Technologies, a new player in Class III gaming, was bringing new concepts to market. He said he would definitely consider buying such products “as the math models sound very interesting.”
IGT DynamiX Solution - INTERNATIONAL GAME TECHNOLOGY
The IGT DynamiX Solution bundles some of the Reno-based slot manufacturer’s most innovative technologies (3-D games, MLD, AVP, multi-game and dynamic buttons) into a complete solution.
It’s key features include flexibility - the ability both to run different math and graphics in an operator-configurable multigame setup and offer players three-, four-, and five-reel spinning reel and video slots, all on one machine; efficiency - no more converting physical reel strips, game and pay-table glass and button legends; player excitement - 3-D entertainment on IGT’s revolutionary MLD machines takes the player experience to the next level; and player choice - the ability to choose the games they want to play from a convenient on-screen multigame menu.
IGT DynamiX is fully compatible with the sbX system so operators can access hundreds of themes from IGT’s game library.
The judges raved about this product.
“Wow! Here we go into the future of slot machines,” said one.
Another called it “a good product with great features that could be a revenue producer on the slot floor.”
“This product is the best example of a game that maximizes the benefits of server-based gaming,” said a third.
REEL Edge -Â INTERNATIONAL GAME TECHNOLOGY
Modeled after Japan’s Pachisuro games, IGT’s REEL Edge slot is North America’s first regulatory-approved skill-and-chance spinning-reel game. It is designed to attract younger players and speaks also to the traditional player looking for more control.
REEL Edge games allow the player to affect their outcomes by deciding when to stop each reel. When the player presses the “stop” button, the reels decelerate and stop within 150 milliseconds. The short time limit allows the reels to stop without perceptible delay while allowing for some randomness in the selected stopping symbols. Each reel’s stopping position is selected independently of the other reels, so the outcome of one draw does not affect the others. The games also feature frequent true-skill bonus games to return a large percentage of the money wagered to the players.
Our judges found REEL Edge intriguing.
“This type of game is enormously popular in Japan and deserves a trial in the U.S.,” said one.
Another described it as “very innovative and fun,” and said, “I can’t get off of these at the IGT showroom.”
MegaJackpots Center Stage Series - INTERNATIONAL GAME TECHNOLOGY
The MegaJackpots Center Stage Series is a new hardware configuration with a commanding presence designed to draw attention from across a busy casino floor.
The series comes in two options. The MJ 103 Series features a 103-inch overhead monitor with crisp graphics. The monitor is flanked by two top-of-the-line 40-inch LCD monitors. Five individual player stations surround the game, each with its own MegaFX Surround Chair to enhance the player experience. The MJ 70 Series features a 70-inch overhead monitor and two 32-inch side portrait displays with four individual player stations, each with MegaFX.
The first game to debut on the platform will be the Wheel of Fortune Experience 3-D Slot. Wheel of Fortune Triple Spin Video Slots and American Idol Video Slots will follow.
The games are fully downloadable, and monitors, LCDs, signage and lights all instantly change to match the new game.
“I believe this is the direction that systems and communal games will have to migrate toward in a server-based gaming environment,” said one judge.
Judges also were impressed with the adaptability of the platform to multiple games and game types based on future downloaded content.
NICE Inform - NICE SYSTEMS
Today’s casinos face a challenge when it comes to sifting through the many diverse sources of security information for post-incident investigations. This might include surveillance video, recorded telephone and radio communications, incident reports and myriad data. All of this information typically resides in different systems that weren’t designed for interoperability, making it difficult to connect the dots in an investigation.
NICE Inform solves this problem by fusing multi-source, multi-format multimedia incident information into a common application and interface. Voice recordings, surveillance video and desktop screens captured at the time of an incident can be seamlessly combined into a complete, authentic, chronological audio/visual timeline, providing a 360-degree incident view. NICE Inform also gives casinos a better way to store, manage and keep track of incident files. These can be securely shared online or distributed electronically or via e-mail, which means receiving organizations get more thorough documentation faster and without compromising security.
Judges called NICE Inform a comprehensive and innovative investigative tool.
“For operators that have a heavy burden of costly scams this may be a beneficial tool assist in managing investigations,” one noted. “This product shows promise in expediting casino investigations and potential to mitigate losses from scams.”
Skywire Media Coupon Connect - SKYWIRE MEDIAVersion:1.0 StartHTML:0000000172 EndHTML:0000004544 StartFragment:0000003145 EndFragment:0000004508 SourceURL:file://localhost/Users/Marian/Desktop/24%20Top%2020.doc
SkyWire Media Coupon Connect is a powerful coupon/offer creation, distribution and redemption system that seamlessly integrates with other gaming systems, providing marketers with unparalleled control and flexibility over their mobile marketing efforts.
With the ability to control everything from how offers are configured to redemption through a casino’s own POS systems, Coupon Connect allows marketers to create and distribute offers to guests while maintaining tight controls, flexibility and analytics for each campaign.
Our judges found Coupon Connect useful and promising.
“This is the first product that I know of that is geared towards mobile or SMS messaging that is oriented towards the POS systems currently in place in most casinos,” said one.
“This is a nice technology that adds an added element of guest convenience in the mobile marketing channel,” said another.
i-Table for specialty table games - SHUFFLE MASTER
The i-Table for specialty games expands Shuffle Master’s i-Table platform by providing casinos with the ability to switch between popular games such as Three Card Poker and Ultimate Texas Hold ’Em as player demand dictates.
Using six touch-screen player stations embedded in a standard-size blackjack table, the i-Table combines an intuitive electronic betting interface with a live dealer who deals the selected game from the company’s proprietary i-Deal specialty shuffler. By automating the betting process, i-Table increases game security, accuracy and speed, resulting in an estimated 30 percent increase in rounds per hour while eliminating errors.
Our judges were impressed.
“Operators should consider placing it on their casino floor,” said one, who noted also that the i-Table “provides a less intimidating player environment for those new to the game and a user interface that may be attractive to younger demographics.”
Another judge called it a “great idea and implementation.”
Tangam Table Games Yield Management - TANGAM SYSTEMS
Tangam Table Games Yield Management is a software platform providing table games executives with control, transparency and efficiency in managing minimums and spread planning.
TYM produces a 3 percent to 10 percent improvement in table games profitability by automatically managing player occupancy based on real-time demand and by perfecting table spread based on historical trends. It also enhances the player experience by cutting the number of high-value player interruptions and by providing appropriate player occupancies for each betting level. It also provides in-depth, on-demand reporting on games performance, overall profitability and the quality of the player experience.
TYM rigorously evaluates the casino floor every five minutes using sophisticated, patent-pending algorithms, identifying high-value players and sub-optimal occupancy situations and automatically sending recommendations to staff.
“Takes the guesswork out of managing your pit decisions,” said one judge.
Another said, “This product adds scientific support to the good instincts of casino managers.”
Double Action Roulette - TCSJOHNHUXLEY
Based on TCSJohnHuxley’s Mark VII Roulette Wheel, Double Action Roulette offers a unique variation to the traditional game, delivering two winning numbers from a single spin.
The Double Action layout consists of two identical betting areas. Each area accommodates bets for one of the two sets of numbers on the wheel. A third area called Double Action Track is available for placing bets on a double number occurring - paying 1,200 to 1.
Our judges said they believe this product holds promise.
“This is a clever and classy variation on a game that has been making a comeback,” said one. “It’s easy to understand and would not put off the traditional wheel player. I think it is a good idea and has potential.”
“It gives a new twist to the old game,” said another.
A third said the game “deserves a thorough review from operators that offer live roulette.”
MultiPLAY Systems - TCSJOHNHUXLEY
TCSJohnHuxley’s MultiPLAY system is designed to offer an effective way of quickly delivering live roulette, Sic Bo or craps to up to 21 player positions simultaneously.
And by giving operators the ability to adjust games at the flick of a switch, it is possible to maximize game play and revenue by quickly reacting to the time of day and player demand. When used effectively on a double/triple table, different games can be played consecutively, all from the same dealer.
All chip handling, calculation of winnings and payout functions are fully automated, delivering total game security, reducing costs and substantially increasing games per hour.
Judges expressed strong interest.
“I think this is a great idea,” said one. “It now affords the same type of benefits of electronic live table game play usually only available to blackjack-style games to the more difficult games such as craps, roulette and Sic Bo.”
Another called it “a great combination of features that warrant review by casino operators,” adding, “Games like this will continue to grow in popularity as operators seek business efficiencies and younger demographics grow into their primary gambling years.”
Elite Baccarat/Perfect Pay Smart Table - WALKER DIGITAL GAMING
Walker Digital Gaming’s Elite Baccarat adds a new level of excitement to baccarat with new bets and play options while dynamically calculating odds to create the opportunity for higher house advantages on increased bet volumes. At the same time, Perfect Pay eliminates losses due to mistaken pays, cheating, counterfeits and inflated player ratings.
For the first time, baccarat players can change their bet, place new bets or settle a hand after the first four cards of the game have been revealed. If there is no game decision, players may raise a bet, switch a “player” or “banker” bet to the other side, place a late “tie” bet, place a late action bet, insure an advantaged hand or take an instant win for a guaranteed payout.
An informational player screen inset at each position shows bets offered, and a simple slider lets the player quickly see the payout for any allowable bet value.
Players who choose not to place Elite bets can still take a seat and enjoy the traditional game.
Our judges found the potential of the platform intriguing.
“Walker Digital has great innovation and bringing it to baccarat is huge,” said one.
“For casino operators with baccarat dominating play this technology should be considered as a way to increase house advantage,” another judge remarked, adding his view that the dynamic odds bets and perfect play-tracking are the product’s best features.
Perfect Pay/Smart Baccarat Table Network
Baccarat on Walker Digital Gaming’s Smart Table Network with Perfect Pay looks and plays like a traditional triple-live baccarat game with live chips, live cards and a live dealer. But the company has integrated RFID technology, a card-reading shoe and its proprietary Core Game Technology to create the first networked baccarat platform that dramatically reduces previously uncontrollable casino expenses.
RFID technology and Walker Digital’s Core Game Technology work together to eliminate losses due to dealer mis-pays and counterfeit chips. They increase game speed, exactly assess player value and avoid over-comping with accurate player ratings, and they save time and labor with automated table ratings. They also provide detailed reporting on game speed, bet mix, table occupancy, turnover, theoretical win, actual win and player-betting patterns, providing intelligence to maximize dealer performance, optimize floor revenue and create powerful insights for targeted marketing.
Our judges were duly impressed.
“This product would resolve many of the problems casinos currently deal with regarding very high-end baccarat play,” said one. “It automates many of the functions of administering baccarat play, but does so in a manner that would not be intrusive to the serious high-end customer.”
Another judge noted the product would “work well in high-volume baccarat markets where the clientele prefers to handle the chips.” The features he liked best included the combination of accurate real-time bet recognition and optical card reader. “Together they allow for complete tracking of game play,” he said.