Colusa Casino Resort’s server-centric solution developed in collaboration with industry veteran John Acres, may be harbinger of gaming’s futures

Patrons can relax and play video poker and keno on iPads in a lounge at the Colusa Casino Resort in Colusa, Calif.

Kevin Parker, Colusa Casino Resort director of casino operations, faced a quandary: His tribe had secured licenses to add 373 Class III slots to its 900-slot gaming floor in northern California. The catch was the gaming devices had to be available for use by Oct. 5, less than a year away.

With the current casino floor filled to capacity with slots, and limited capital and time available for expansion, the casino had to come up with a cost-effective solution quickly or risk losing the licenses.

During the Global Gaming Expo last year, Parker happened to have dinner with John Acres. “I asked him, ‘Kevin, what’s the number one problem you face on your floor today?” Acres recalled.

Parker told him of his dilemma and the potential loss of licenses if the gaming devices were not available for play by Oct. 5, 2010. The dinner conversation that followed spurred a collaboration between the tribe and Acres that ultimately led to the successful Oct. 4 launch of the A4 server-centric system using Apple’s portable iPad and iPod Touch devices in a casino restaurant lounge. The Colusa Tribal Council was supportive and backed the plan, Parker noted.

The big test came when California regulators visited the property to see the iPads in action and determine if the operation satisfied established legal criteria as a slot device.

“The state came in last week and told us it was a slot device and we were good to go,” Parker said in early October. His reaction? “Absolute relief,” he said.

Colusa is the first casino to offer the technology developed through the collaboration with Acres, founder and CEO of Acres 4.0 in Las Vegas and a veteran gaming industry innovator. A second casino, Blue Lake Casino in Blue Lake, Calif., now offers 56 of the devices as an additional gaming outlet for casino bingo players.

Parker said Colusa guests seem to enjoy playing the A4, which weighs just over a pound. Right now, just two games, keno and video poker, are available for play on the devices, but both Parker and Acres anticipate many more games to come in the future.

Players now can play the portable games throughout Colusa’s fine dining restaurant, Wintun Seafood and Steakhouse and Lounge.

Right now, the casino has a dedicated A4 smoke-free gaming lounge with comfortable sofas and chairs. Guests can relax in the lounge and play their games and even enjoy small plates of food from a Tapas menu. Eventually, the casino plans to make the games available throughout the casino, restaurants and bingo hall.

Parker noted that the new system will allow Colusa to deliver a better gaming experience to the players at a much lower cost and using much less floor space.

“Nobody presupposed this could take place. It’s so far ahead of what most systems are, ticketless, wireless, double redundancy on encryption …,” Parker said. “You’d have to crack that egg twice in order to get to anything. It’s amazingly secure.”

It’s all wager account-based, he said. “One of the really cool things is that if the unit times out from inactivity, when you bring it up, everything comes up the way it was before,” Parker said. “So if you were playing poker, when it came back up, it would still be in the middle of that hand.”

Colusa has had no shortage of visitors from other casinos and other gaming vendors, Parker said.

“I’ve had a steady stream of vendors. We’ve had two tribal chairmen. They’re all lining up to come and see what we’ve got. I think they’re going to want to do it too,” he said.

What about the customers’ reactions? “The poker and keno players are really liking it. They really like the idea behind it,” Parker said.

But they want more and different games, and that’s something that’s in the works, both he and Acres said.

Going into the project, “we had a lot of work to do, and we were worried that we wouldn’t get it done,” Acres said. So they decided to keep it simple with just the keno and video poker on the devices. “It was a great first test.”

Already in the works are six more games that Acres hope to have GLI approval for by late this fall. If all goes well, “we expect that we will release the new games to casino in mid-December and that’s when the marketing [to players] will start,” he said.

Parker and Acres both see the technology as gaming’s future. “If we stand back and look at the casino of today, in many ways it was designed around the game rather than the player,” and its look hasn’t evolved much from earlier days, he said, citing the big cabinets designed to hold large coin hoppers as an example. “Why do we need to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on these cabinets?” he asks.

Answering his own question, Acres notes it’s partly about marketing and the game’s bells and whistles as an attraction device, but “when you make the whole place flashing lights, it’s like having no flashing lights at all.”

Acres said he wants to personalize the player’s experience to a greater degree.

“We believe in the long term, it’s all about the player,” he said. “The experience has to be personalized to the player’s personality, and that includes the games they play. We have to get a comprehensive look at the player’s total experience in the property and make sure that it’s one the player wants to repeat.”