With the press of a finger, players are getting much more out of their casino experience

An Elo touch screen.

Touch screens have become ever-present in today’s casino world, from slot machines to player reward kiosks, from ATMs to electronic table games. They have become so important in such a variety of applications that it’s nearly impossible to think of a casino without them.

Growth in touch-screen applications in the casino industry has gone hand in hand with growth in other segments.

“In the last several years, touch has become more prevalent in everybody’s life,’’ noted Scott Hagermoser, gaming business unit manger for 3M Touch Systems. “Some of that goes back to devices like iPhones and iPods, the car navigation devices. All those kinds of devices have made touch more prevalent, and people are more accustomed to touching the screen.”

At Boink Systems Inc., manufacturer of the multifunction GX7 kiosk, vice president of systems development Parrish Graumann said, “Touch screens are vital to our company.  Without them, we would need to completely re-engineer them. As our machines are extremely graphically rich, they allow users to easily interact with the application. Ease of use and graphical richness is why customers love our product and without touch screens, we could not build on this advantage.”

As with any developing technology, both innovation and reliability are asked of touch screen manufacturers. In fact, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) who incorporate touch screens into their products put a high premium on reliability.

“With smoke, cocktails and fun loving patrons, casino environments are not particularly electronics-friendly,” said Mark Bryant, president of Micro Gaming Technologies Inc., whose promotions software is used in kiosks with touch screens. “With that in mind MGT places durability high on our list of requirements when considering touch screens. We look for cost effective solutions that offer good clarity and excellent durability. We choose units that require infrequent calibration and are ADA-compliant. Resistive Touch Screen technology has proven to satisfy these requirements and they account for the majority of units we sell.”

By no means does that mean innovation issues are set aside - not by a long shot.

*At 3M Touch Systems, the MicroTouch Capacitive TouchSense System is giving users a tactile interface, one where the user can feel as if he or she is pushing a button.

*Tyco Electronics’ Elo is showing innovation through the zero-bezel design in its 1900L and 2200L high-resolution LCD touch monitors, removing monitor frames for a seamless glass surface for a look that’s more design element than computer monitor.

*PureDepth, with multilayered screens, has developed a three-dimensional look that International Game Technology is using in its REELdepth video slot machines.

*Harrah’s Entertainment is going for a social experience with Microsoft’s MicroTouch surface computer with a 30-inch display, the first deployed in the iBar lounge at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

At 3M, the MicroTouch Capacitive TouchSense System is being rolled out after beta versions were shown both at Global Gaming Expo 2006 and 2007, including on slot machines shown at the Spielo booth in 2007.

“We’re trying to get casinos interested in this product as well as OEMs,” Hagermoser said. “The casinos that had the opportunity to look at it have been receiving this very, very well. When you touch the touch-screen buttons, or touch during a bonus round, you actually feel that you’re touching something. There’s actually a bit of movement on your finger that can be programmed to be different effects and different movements. You get that tactile feedback in addition to the graphics, in addition to the sound, in addition to your finger touching the glass, because the glass is feeling more like a button being pressed. We think that’s an exciting new advancement to try to bring the player into the game more. When they have had a chance to touch this tactile feedback, they feel how flat a normal interaction with a touch screen is.”

The tactile feedback on the screen has been a recent innovation, but 3M has long been part of the casino touch-screen environment. The 3M MicroTouch ClearTek II touch system has long been a standard on slot machines and ATMs, and is in use on player reward kiosks.

Elo products are also in use throughout the casino spectrum, including slot machines, loyalty kiosks, ATMs retail point of sale locations, lottery and bingo games, and in the table games pits on all-in-one touch computers and touch monitors.

“Wherever there is touch, Elo has a presence,” said product manager Brian Shannon, who went onto list uses from retail and hospitality applications to medical and health care equipment, airline check-in kiosks, toll booths, even public transportation.

“Elo touch products offer the gaming industry years of experience that result in high quality and reliable products, plus a broad range of touch technologies and products that provide customers flexibility to choose what is best suited to their needs,” he said. “AccuTouch five-wire resistive technology is resistant to dust, water and contamination and can be activated by virtually any stylus.  Acoustic Pulse Recognition (APR) combines high quality optics, durability and stability with excellent dragging experience.  CarrollTouch infrared technology offers a very light touch, excellent sealability, with high quality optical performance. IntelliTouch surface acoustic wave technology delivers high image quality and light transmission like APR. SecureTouch surface acoustic wave technology offers high quality in a vandal-resistant design. Surface capacitive technology offers a fast and sensitive touch response with strong dragging performance, plus the transparent protective coating makes the touch screen resistant to scratches and abrasions.”

Also, Shannon said, “Elo’s open-frame touch monitors offer a broad range of touch technology choices within the same form factor, allowing customers to interchange technology based on the individual installation requirements.”

PureDepth is new to casino applications, but IGT has great expectations for its REELdepth series. IGT showed off the 3-D screens at G2e 2007 with its Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade game, which was to be released in late September. The initial rollout of REELdepth came Labor Day weekend at the Grand Casino Hinckley and Grand Casino Mille Lacs casinos in Minnesota, with a combination of new and classic IGT themes. The screens use PureDepth’s Multi-Layer Display technology, layering two or more liquid crystal displays to create the 3-D effect. The first casino-industry applications of Microsoft Surface, meanwhile, won’t be on gaming devices. It’ll be in lounges, with a 360-degree touch-screen interface that can take social interactions into the 21st century with applications enabling customers to flirt from one Surface to another - with strategically placed video cameras part of the package  - or create and order up cocktails, take a virtual walk down the Las Vegas Strip or get information on other Harrah’s properties.

Games aren’t forgotten, with the Last Call musical memory game for group play part of the fun. But for now, these are just for fun, not for gambling.

The potential applications for touch screens, it seems, are virtually limitless.

“We believe there is definitely growth in the casino market for touch products,” Elo’s Shannon said. “Gaming globally is typically regulated by governments, who see gaming as a revenue stream to overcome economic downturns and challenges. Political climates change to open up new geographic regions and jurisdictions, such as the emerging global markets. Also, new touch technologies, such as multi-touch, expand the opportunities for gaming manufacturers who face increasing competition with increased player engagement.  For example, Elo demonstrated an IR-based multi-touch technology at the recent SID and ICE shows earlier this year.  As consumers grow to expect more interactive and engaging gaming applications, the manufacturers will rely on technology to deliver.”

At 3M, Hagermoser sees opportunity opened by server-based gaming.

“[The server-based game box] will have some button panel type of screen, or some kind of downloadable button cap,” he said. “If you want to have that box work with any game in the future, it’s best to put in all the capabilities at once. Several people are looking at video-based button panels, more LCD-based button panels rather than traditional buttons. People looking at putting 6-inch displays, 7-inch displays on the button area, then putting tactile feedback on top of that as well. That gives them the capability of doing a whole bunch more stuff in that button space.

“We’re also seeing a lot of uses for larger and larger touch screens, so we see lots of opportunity there. We see a great opportunity for touch within table games. [Companies] like Shuffle Master, DigiDeal and Star Games have been successful, both in the U.S. as well as in Asia. There remains plenty of room for growth in touch screens