When I first started attending Global Gaming Expo (then known as World Gaming Congress) back in the early 1990s, the trade show floor was full of merchandise we would consider either antiquated or quaint today. Remember slot token providers? How about all the products and services devoted to riverboat casinos that actually cruised?
Visit a slot provider back then, and chances are you would have experienced a booth with a large percentage of space devoted to mechanical, stepper-reel slots. And why not, considering how popular that type of slot was throughout the 1970s and 1980s? Indeed, the first great expansion of gaming in the United States was on the back of the mechanical slot and customers who loved to pull the handle, see the reels spin and hear the coins clank when they won. By the time I saw the machines, modern touches such as push-button spins and bets had been added, but it was still at heart the same machine and play mechanic it had always been.
But even then you could see the change coming. Sure, the booths were full of reel product, but all everyone wanted to see, play, experience and talk about were video slots. It was apparent to even a novice like me that video slots were the future, that they offered a platform much more conducive to cutting-edge graphics, theming, mechanics, design, game math and so on.
So it wasn’t surprising over subsequent years and trade shows that the amount of vendor booth space devoted to mechanical reels became gradually diminished. Stepper slots were still displayed, but often relegated to the back of the booth, its former star-turn positions out front taken by the latest licensed video slots. By the 2000s, people were predicting mechanical reel machines would go the way of the record player and VCR, and slowly fade from existence.
It now appears that this predicted demise for stepper slots may have been a bit exaggerated. Indeed, the games still resonate among the older casino patrons, many of whom actively seek them out on the slot floor. The mechanical slots are also evidently finding purchase with some younger casino clientele, those that actively seek to be retro chic and want to play the type of machine that personified the old Las Vegas casino gaming experience.
Whatever the reason, some slot suppliers have noticed the mechanical reel slot market is still quite lively, and have taken steps over the past couple of G2Es to improve their offering in this area. IGT has stepped up the mechanical reel market in a big way this year, showcasing its King Reels concept, which includes the new S3000 cabinet for all its stepper slot games. The cutting-edge new cabinet includes player adjustable volume and lighting, touchscreen technology for the reels and the ability to synch lighting and sound for a bank of machines, essentially allowing properties to create modern, floor-wide entertainment experiences at mechanical reel slots, of all places.
It will be interesting to see player response to these new mechanical slot products. Who knows, maybe old dogs can enjoy new tricks.
I would like to welcome Frank Neborsky, vice president and principal officer for Power Strategies, to the writing staff of Slot Manager. He will be taking over the Thoughts from the Floor column from Kevin Parker, who is pursuing other business opportunities. Frank is a veteran “slot guy,” and his columns are bound to be both insightful and useful.