Florida-based Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa is a premier entertainment destination for the central portion of the state, owned and operated by the Seminole Tribe of Florida. As one of the most successful and largest casinos in the world, its slot floor holds thousands of slot machines. The responsibility of managing this large array of gambling devices falls to Dan Ingster, vice president of slot operations for the property, who has over 15 years of experience in slot operations, slot performance and sales/marketing for Seminole Gaming. Recently, Ingstertook some time to answer slot operations and other questions provided by Casino Journal Associate Editor Joan Mantini.
Here are some excerpts from his responses:
Do slot machines have a defined lifespan and how do you determine when it is time to retire a machine? What are some of the metrics you use to determine the true popularity and value of a slot? Is there some type of keep/replace benchmark you go by?
Ingster: Due to the size of the property we cannot compare individual machine performance to house average. Instead, we break the floor down into smaller sections and compare the performance to the machines in that area. Our focus is on maximizing the utilization and performance of the machines that are performing above average in each section and converting or replacing the machines that are significantly below average in each section. In addition, we also watch the historical performance to determine when a machine title peaks and when it begins to decline so that we can take action before it drops too far.
When it’s time for a new slot machine, how does the decision-making process actually work?
Ingster: We are open to considering any new slot machine. When it comes to choosing new slot machines we look at the math, the game style and any comparisons to strong performers that we currently have on our floor. We also have a great tool at our disposal in our communication and information sharing with our sister properties, allowing us to see what machines are working and what machines are not. I work alongside the director of slot performance to make the decisions on what new machines we will choose and which machines we will pass on.
What impact does game/machine cost have on your slot replacement decisions?
Ingster: Pricing is very important, as we are always focused on controlling costs. This is most important with premium lease and wide area progressive (WAP) machines. My ultimate responsibility is to maximize revenue while minimizing expenses.
What slot manufacturers do you hold high on your watch list when considering integrating new slots to the floor? What new slot manufacturer game line-ups are you most excited about?
Ingster: We evaluate product from all manufacturers when considering adding new slot machines to the floor as they all have certain cabinets or game titles that perform exceptionally well. We are looking forward to the new Scientific Game TwinStar cabinet and the integration of new titles along with established Bally and WMS game families. We have also had some recent success with the Incredible Technologies’ SkyBox cabinet and we are excited to see how they continue their creative game design to utilize the 55-inch screen on the top box.
How do new machines fit into the property’s floor plan? Are they concentrated or spread out?
Ingster: We try to place new machines in visible locations to create excitement. Once they develop an established following we are able to move them further back into the casino because the players will find them. We designate certain banks by the casino entrances to ensure we have the newest game titles that develop a good baseline for performance expectations.
What types of slot machines are currently the most popular at your facility?
Ingster: Progressive jackpot slot machines (WAP) have always been strong performers. Currently we have great success with Bally Quick Hits progressive game titles in various denominations. Our players also favor Ainsworth machines, with their creative and flexible use of stand-alone and linked progressives. Some of our newer progressive winners include: Bally 88 Fortunes and 5 Treasures, Aristocrat’s Lightning Link and Incredible Technologies Crazy Money Deluxe on the SkyBox cabinet. Non-progressive, long-time favorites include: IGT high line video reel titles Stinkin Rich, Bombay and White Orchid along with some of the newer Aristocrat titles on the Helix cabinet and many of the titles on the Bally Wave and Wave with Wheel cabinets.
Regulations are making way for skill-based slots being integrated onto the slot floor, is this something you have considered adding? If yes, what types of skills-based games have caught your eye?
Ingster: I believe that there will be a time and a place for skill-based gaming. Players have shared with me though how slot machines can become too complicated. In my opinion, many of them still like traditional reel slots. I have had players who are doctors and attorneys owners tell me how they enjoy playing slots because it is their opportunity to disconnect and relax.
Do you host slot tournaments? If so, what slot tournament management system do you use and why did you choose it over the competitors?
Ingster: We currently use the IGT SpinFerno S3000 Slot Tournament machines and the IGT tournament manager software. We are the first property to install SpinFerno and the players enjoy the exciting lighting and sound, along with the combination of standard reels with an interactive touch screen for additional bonus wins. The marketing team loves the flexibility and ease of configuration for various types of tournaments. The initial game titles perform well in live cash mode and we are looking forward to new titles that are currently being developed.
One of the biggest challenges facing a slot manager is determining the proper level of participation or revenue sharing games to put on the floor. Do you believe revenue sharing games bring value to the gaming floor? Why or why not?
Ingster: In a locals market, I believe players know their chances of hitting $1 million jackpots are slim, so they want to play games that will give them more time on device and keep them entertained longer. It is important to have the games that players want, therefore it is important to have the most popular games which are often participation.