Perdicting the future is far from an exact science; whether it’s picking sure Super Bowl winners (hello Carolina Panthers prognosticators) or Republican presidential candidates (like anyone other than Donald Trump thought Donald Trump would be leading the primary field at this point). So it is with a mountainous grain of salt that I aim a crystal ball at the casino gaming enterprise and attempt to determine the form and function of tomorrow’s land-based slot machine areas.
To start, a re-examination of session notes, booth visits and conversations from recent gaming industry trade shows does reveal a couple of ongoing underlying trends that will likely influence slot areas going forward—the evolution of disruptive technologies such as mobile communications and the need for gaming properties to attract and retain younger clientele. The likely end result of these two factors, according to numerous gaming designers, operators and manufacturers, is that the current casino enterprise model, especially when it comes to the slot floor, is unlikely to survive as currently constituted.
“Millennials are looking for a gaming experience unlike the one currently provided to Baby Boomers and GenXers,” said Tom Wucherer, CEO and principal of YWS Design & Architecture at a G2E session. “They want exposure to all things at once, which means we will have to make some fundamental changes to how we design casinos… to get these kids from the pool deck into the casino, we’ll have to offer them more than a 100,000-square-foot gaming hall sprinkled with slot machines. We will have to take these huge, gigantic boxes and literally compartmentalize them…turning them into microenvironments that will engage the Millennial generation.”
“As designers, we understand that the experience the customer is looking for needs to be exciting,” added Donald Dissinger, a principal for Ewing Cole Architects during the same G2E session. “It needs a certain degree of intimacy, but it also needs the opportunity to be shared by others. That is a big driving force. Early casinos were social experiences with everything going on. We are moving back to where it is not just a slot parlor, it is an entertainment district. Those districts need to be organized so the create neighborhoods that foster social interaction with the games and the services being offered.”
How will these slot-oriented “entertainment districts” appear and function? Here are some potential answers:
Mobile technology will be front and center. Few would argue that mobile technology is impacting every facet of the casino business—from marketing and player retention to security and equipment maintenance. Slot games have not been immune to the pull of this revolutionary communications advancement.
“As Millennials grow up with mobile technology, in groups where they communicate electronically and things like that, you have to have those games that will appeal to them,” said Gavin Isaacs, president and CEO of Scientific Games during a G2E keynote. “There should not be a great difference between what they can do on their cell phone or on their computer at home and what they can do at a casino. Community gaming, skill gaming… those things give us the ability to innovate, to try and make the games more appealing, more entertaining and fun for players whatever age they may be.”
Operators also acknowledge the impact mobile technology will likely have on slot play going forward. In a Kirvin Doak Communications release on 2016 Las Vegas trends, Thomas Mikulich, senior vice president of business development for MGM Resorts said that with the introduction of in-casino apps, gaming will continue to expand from the traditional slot machines to include the convenience of mobile device options.
Casino system and game providers have already taken steps to ease terrestrial slot operations into the mobile world. As part of its SG Universe suite of products for land-based casinos, Scientific Games offers the VenueBet platform; where players can engage with slots and table games, as well as more casual and skill-based content, from their smartphone or tablet within pre‐determined areas of a casino property, turning players’ mobile devices into incremental gaming positions on the casino floor. Meanwhile, International Game Technology Plc (IGT) offers OnPremise, an integrated mobile technology solution that modernizes gaming experiences and enables players to wager via a single mobile app anytime within set boundaries at a casino. The technology integrates with a casino’s back office and patron management systems and features comprehensive management and reporting tools.
Skill-based slot games will be present in growing numbers. As with mobile technology, it appears that land-based gaming operators and machine suppliers are in agreement that skill-based games will play a larger role on slot floors going forward, primarily as a way to draw more play from younger generations of customers.
“We need to think outside the box if we want Millennials to start playing slot machines,” said Mark Frissora, CEO of Caesars Entertainment at a G2E keynote. “Regulators have opened the door for us with new rules on skill gaming that will allow us to interact with slot players in a more interactive and social way.”
The jury is still out on just how much skill to incorporate into slot play however. Established providers such as Konami Gaming, IGT and Scientific Games are taking the cautious approach of integrating aspects of skill gaming into existing slot machine cabinets and game formats. Other companies with roots in the video game marketplace are willing to push the skill slot envelope out father. For example, Gamblit Gaming currently offers multiple skill-based real-money wagering games that can be played on stand-alone units or on specially designed tabletop devices that allow multiple players to participate in a game. New York-based GameCo is another nascent slot company looking to tap into the skill-based video game realm. According to company press materials, GameCo has united video games with real-money casino floor gaming with the creation of the world’s first skill-based video game gambling machine (VGM), a proprietary arcade-style cabinet that balance player skill with proprietary game design to deliver the same return to players as traditional slot machines.
Slots will not be the only form of wagering on the slot floor. Non-wagering entertainment will be increasingly integrated into slot play. Simply stated, the slot floor will no longer be strictly dedicated to machine play and gambling. As Mikulich intimated in the 2016 Las Vegas trends press release, as Millennials tend to travel in groups, gaming environments also will become more social, with an emphasis on group competition and involvement. Expect to see more casino games and tables present in non-gaming establishments such as nightclubs, restaurants and bars. An example of this trend was the recent rollout of Suzo Happ InteractivePro electronic wagering tables at MGM Grand’s Whiskey Down nightclub.
In the case of some Las Vegas properties, it has been the casinos and slot floors that have integrated popular social pastimes into their operations. For example, O’Sheas Casino, located near the recently opened Linq in Las Vegas, has carved out a profitable gaming niche integrating its gaming experience with the popular drinking game beer pong. “We opened O’Sheas at The Linq with 10 beer pong tables which is really a game for Millennials…and it has become the most popular bar in the company,” Frissora said. “It’s crazy good—it’s packed and it’s hard to get a beer pong table any time of day or night.”
The slot floor will become a series of smaller, more social spaces. In some ways, this is not a new trend for casinos; indeed, throughout the years, high-roller and non-smoking slot areas have frequently been carved out of slot floors. Going forward, this segmentation into smaller, more specialized gaming areas will likely become more intense and pervasive.
“One trend to pay attention to is the creation of microenvironments within the gaming property,” Wucherer said, “… breaking a large floor into smaller environments that are much more focused on one thing and much more social, so there are layers and levels of intimacy.”
Last fall, Palazzo Las Vegas showed what such a concept could look like when it teamed with TAO GROUP to open Lavo Casino Club, a modern gaming experience fusing blackjack table games with Vegas-style VIP bottle service, mixology and Italian cuisine, on its gaming floor. Wynn Las Vegas took this concept a step further with the recent opening of its Encore Player’s Club, a 5,013-square-foot venue located on Encore’s casino floor across from Surrender Nightclub, Andrea’s restaurant and VDKA bar. Built specifically to appeal to Millennials, Encore Player’s Club offers interactive and social games and mobile sports betting prominently showcased in a unique luxury lounge environment complete with a live DJ, according to a company press release.