As I mentioned to Bruce when I interviewed him for the profile, he is a reporter’s dream, whose well-formulated thoughts are delivered in complete sentences. While I had him on the phone, we discussed the state of the contemporary slot floor and what can be learned from the past. Here are some anecdotes:
• The lessons of TITO and server-based gaming: In the past decade-and-a-half, the slot floor has seen some big technology wins and some not so big ones. On the positive side is ticket-in, ticket-out (TITO); less so server-based gaming, whose challenges Rowe identified for the industry early-on.
“The lesson from TITO was that everyone benefitted,” said Rowe. “Customers were really being denied a very popular product in the industry, the multiline penny games coming out of Australia. It was so successful so quickly because it allowed the customers to have a product that they couldn’t have otherwise and it allowed them to not handle coin. The customer was happy and the casino was happy because they were driving revenue and decreasing cost. It was a perfect triad of solutions that benefitted everybody.”
The server-based concept, on the other hand, mostly makes sense when you’re dealing with excessive demand and limited supply; route operations are a good example. “The thing that always stuck out for me was we were talking about server-based gaming at a time when the most popular games on the floor were literally works of engineering art; 14-feet high with all kinds of sights and sounds and some that even emitted smell,” said Rowe. “We were talking about giving a people a choice of up to 200 games where the games that were making the most money were single function. There are places where that makes sense but I don’t think it’s on these large floors where you have 1,000 or 2,000 products competing with each other.”
• Floor design: “I still don’t see a tremendous amount of coordination between casino design and what the objectives are,” said Rowe. “If we think about a casino floor as a theater, it’s like the set designers aren’t talking to the lighting designers and they aren’t talking to the people who wrote the play. I still see architects not understanding the players and what’s important to them. Take the simple example of the use of columns in a casino. Columns are one of the best places you can put a slot machine on a casino floor. Yet architects want to make them into something with fancy moldings that holds sconces or physical art. The idea of retail is really starting to show in some casinos, but there are others that just don’t get it. In some places it’s too big a play for too small a stage and in other places it’s the exact opposite. Things have to fit and look like they were designed to be there to make the customer feel comfortable.”
• Data: “The use of data to optimize slot revenue and make sure the product targets customers is just beginning,” said Rowe. “I’m still surprised by how many times we present data and people will argue that it’s inaccurate or not applicable but have no better data. The other side is to use data to personalize relationships. I find that many casinos these days have engineered-out the personal interaction with human beings. I recently had the occasion to visit the same casino multiple times and, over 150 interactions with employees, they never ssaid, ‘welcome’ or ‘thank you.’ I think there’s this combination of back-to-the-basics augmented by data that will give us a big opportunity to build loyalty with customers.”
• Manufacturing lessons: Rowe’s resume is unique for a number of reasons, among them the time spent at high-level jobs on both the operator and manufacturer side. “When I came to Vegas with Harrah’s I set a goal that my next job would be on the manufacturing side,” he said. “I wanted to understand why it was difficult to build systems and why it was difficult to build games that worked every time. Building games is like being in the movie business and making movies on a computer that have to be approved by the FDA. The other thing I learned is that there’s a huge opportunity for manufacturers to use data to make better games. It is still much more of an art than a science and that pendulum needs to come much more to the middle.”