Within a couple years, the slot floor – and the casino – as we know it is going to change

IGT sbX Service Window is one of the changes coming to the slot floor soon.

It’s been almost a decade since slot manufacturers and casino executives first started talking about the possibilities of server-based gaming for the traditional casino floor. At the time, it was a far off concept that promised to bring downloadable games to every machine and money-saving efficiencies for operators.

But in an industry such as gaming, it wasn’t something that could take off overnight. Casinos have invested millions in their current infrastructure, and many questions remained over how games would actually be delivered, and how manufacturers’ games could co-exist with each other.

Now the industry is seeing server-based gaming make inroads onto the gaming floor in several different forms, and concepts that have been long talked about are becoming reality. Slot Manager talked to several gaming manufacturers and developers about strides they see the industry taking by 2010.

Earlier this year, MGM Mirage’s CityCenter and International Game Technology signed an agreement calling for IGT to install the first floorwide server-based network and related IGT sbX and gaming management system at the development’s $8 billion resort casino scheduled to open in late 2009.

At G2E, IGT will show how casinos can try out server-based gaming on a small portion of the slot floor, at bank level, said Javier Saenz, vice president, sbX product management, IGT Network Systems.

 IGT is focused on the convergence of games and system, and the evolution of the hybrid slot floor.  “Capital constraints are a reality. We’re going to have to do this at a reasonable pace for an operator,” Saenz said.

New platforms, such as IGT’s AVP, gives casinos the confidence to invest in games and products that won’t be obsolete as new technology becomes available.

“Everyone is struggling right now on what’s the ROI here,” he said. “How is this going to benefit the entire operation? {This} a system to test the waters and plan for a bigger implementation in 2010,” he said.

Operators will pay one all-inclusive amount for service, support, training, and managed services. Operators will get a library of game themes (80 initially) and a pipeline of six conversions a month. “We’re going to make it very affordable for customers to do this,” Saenz said. And, “If you don’t like the system, you cancel.”

“We will be going live with essentially Floor Manager initially, because that’s just what’s in the current version and ready for primetime, and we’ll be introducing the Service Window and we’ll be migrating applications during 2009 into the Service Window.”

Press Your Luck, a community-gaming product, is an example of how WMS is leveraging networked gaming technologies on the slot floor today.

Content counts

Products such as IGTs sbX Service Window and Bally Technologies’ Display Manager, will unlock the power of secondary experiences, such as second ways to win, customized content, marketing opportunities, and other service-oriented features.

“We look at the player experience as the moment you walk into the resort to the moment you leave the resort, and where can you touch that player with software,” said Jon Berkley, president of Las Vegas Gaming Inc., makers of gaming software. “You should be able to touch them at the gaming machine, in room, via mobile device and be able to have a consistent user interface and consistent look and feel on the gui with the player and give them access to whatever information they want at anytime.”

Recently, the company announced a strategic alliance with IGT to provide software applications on IGT’s sb service window, and also on IGT NexGen interfaces.

 “The strategic alliance with IGT makes a great deal of sense because a networked gaming floor gives us the opportunity to put very, very robust software applications out there that truly enhance the player experience so to be able to that through an sb environment and to be able to deliver software on sb NexGens, the sb Service Window as well as be able to retrofit with [LVGI’s] PlayerVision is going to be very, very powerful.”

LVGI has developed several applications already in use or in regulatory submission, and is in the process of creating more. Among its applications are AdVision, which allows a casino to promote other amenities such as shows or restaurants on the screen,  WagerVision, which provides access to the sports book, and BonusVision, which will provide bonusing opportunities.

“What you’ll see is with the new platform that we’re moving to where we’re going to have a common architecture in room, in machine and on mobile device that’s going to allow you to choose from a large suite of software applications and put them wherever you want to interact with the player,” Berkley said, noting the company hopes to have several applications at CityCenter.

 “I think that whether it’s through the sb Service Window or through PlayerVision you’re going to have a player experience that’s much more rich,” he said.

“This is truly touching the player with an interactive experience, things that really give the operators that are utilizing it a competitive advantage.”


Show, don't tell

Rob Bone, vice president of marketing at WMS, said it is the company’s philosophy is to show products that can actually be put on the floor today that demonstrate the power of networked gaming applications to players and operators.

“Our goal is to evolve one step at a time by giving them products or individual games that show them the benefits of those game applications,” in demonstrable ways, he said.

For instance, WMS has debuted successful community games, such Monopoly Big Event and Press Your Luck, that use networked gaming technology on the floor today. Its Star Trek game demonstrates adaptive gaming, allowing players to return to a game and start up at a level where they left off, instead of starting from scratch.

 “Go to the Hard Rock, and you’ll see no one playing slots,” Bone said. But these kinds of products are what have the power to attract that new gamer, the millennium generation, to the casino. “I’m telling you there is just as much opportunity with the Millenniums as there has been with the Boomers who have historically defined this market.”

Personalization, community and dynamic content – some of the same elements that are driving the powerful online experiences today, also will have tremendous significance in gaming, Bone said.

“If you personalize the gaming experience and make it meaningful to them, what reason do they have to leave?”

Bruce Rowe, Bally Technologies vice president, sees important first steps being taken.

“This is more evolution than revolution,” he said.

 “I think you’re going to see casino upgrade the networks on the floor to high speed broadband networks,” to be ready for the technology when it is ready, Rowe said.

And especially in an economic climate like today’s, “there’s always going to be a balance what operators would like to do and what they can do going forward,” he said.

Rowe does see a change in how players interact with the gaming device.

“The user interface with the player will start to change pretty dramatically,” Rowe said.

That opens up significant benefits to players, who can now service themselves as they have been at the kiosk and receive different opportunities and experiences. “I think they’ll have more second chance to win opportunities, customized applications for players, marketing at the point of play…” he said. “We’re able customize the experience in a much more dynamic way at the game.”

Other features may include the ability to manage their accounts or have point-of-sale opportunities, and the ability to link to a community of players, he said.

Three-legged stool

One thing that already is changing is who is becoming more involved in the operations of the slot floor, Rowe said. “The thing we’re seeing a major change from the past is that primarily gaming operation and IT have really had the influence over the slot floor. More and more, it’s going to be the marketing department that has an influence in the decision. It’s more of a three-legged stool.”