Like most gaming enterprises, MGM Resorts International is continuously looking for ways to attract newer/younger guests and keep them coming back to its brick-and-mortar casino resorts.

The problem: today’s newer/younger consumers, often called Millennials, tend to shun the one-to-one nature of slot machines and other traditional casino games, preferring instead more social and engaging entertainment experiences. This trend has not been lost on the gaming community as a whole, and the past couple of years has seen states such as Nevada and New Jersey liberalize slot machine regulations to allow for the creation of skill-based games and devices, which many believe will entice younger clientele to casino gaming floors. Gaming machine manufacturers have quickly responded and there are now a number of skill-based slots hitting the marketplace, with more on the way.

Sensing an opportunity, MGM executives began to toy with the idea of creating an interactive and social gaming space filled with cutting-edge skill-based wagering devices and marketed toward the Millennial gambler. This concept, called LEVEL UP, became a reality this past December when it was unveiled at MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. 

“The project began in 2015 when skill-based gaming was under review for approval by the state, and the buzz for capturing ‘Millennial’ business was getting louder,” Steve Sirianni, vice president of slot operations and marketing at MGM Grand Hotel & Casino Las Vegas. “We formed a committee to lead the project where our first task was to identify the best location in our Las Vegas portfolio for the concept. The former Rainforest Café space at MGM Grand was ideal based on its size, availability to occupy, close proximity to Hakkasan Nightclub and high exposure to pedestrian traffic entering the resort from The Strip.”

From there, research was conducted using focus groups, competitive analysis and consultations with industry experts to better understand the new gaming demands and expectations of younger generations. “The recurring theme from our research suggested our venue needed to host a wide variety of products/games (new and old), offer an attractive beverage program and provide a fun approachable environment with good music and a staff to relate to the target demographic,” said Sirianni. 

A team of architects, designers, operating partners, construction teams, vendors and local artists was then brought in to make the LEVEL UP space a reality—not an easy task, considering the elements needed to make the space resonate among Millennials. Executives at MGM Grand and MGM Resorts International have been happy with the results of the area thus far.

“It’s a first-of-its-kind venue that marries the various components of beverage, casino, skill games, and arcade in a unique urban setting,” Sirianni said. “We are pleased with the return on our investment and only see upside as we bring more unique products and experiences to the space.”

GAME APPROACH

To fulfill this mission, the property continues to seek and evaluate the latest and greatest in unique guest experiences. To date, it has already experimented with a number of games and, not surprising, more of that can be expected in the future.

“LEVEL UP was designed to evolve over time and showcase new technology and skill-based games as they come to market,” Sirianni said. “We successfully launched the first new innovation beta trials for skill-based gaming in Nevada for Konami Gaming’s Frogger and Gamblit Gaming’s Model G. We formed new partnerships with companies from all over the world who are providing one-of-a-kind experiences such as Golfstream and Zero Latency. We held numerous tournaments for slots, Frogger, basketball, golf, beer pong and more. We’ve hosted parties for private groups including the Pro Football Arm Wrestling Championship.”

As to be expected, most of the attractions in LEVEL UP can be categorized as either arcade-style or casino-style games, according to Sirianni. Arcade games include classics like pool, basketball, air hockey, ping pong and giant Pacman. LEVEL UP is also home to cutting-edge arcade concepts, such Golfstream and Zero Latency, which are new to the market. The Golfstream attraction, billed as the world’s first indoor laser golf course,  uses augmented reality and laser guidance to simulate real courses and take players through a series of fast-paced mini-challenges in a new approach to skill-based contests, according to the game’s website.

Meanwhile, Zero Latency offers a truly unique virtual reality (VR) group game play experience. The “Virtual Reality Powered by Zero Latency” arena is a 2,000-square-foot space that immerses up to eight players in a completely interactive digital universe, according to a press release. Featuring an open space with no obstacles, the arena enables teams to freely explore the virtual environment together. Wireless goggles and wearable computers make the adventure even more realistic, letting players lose themselves in the game without being tethered. While battling through the simulation, teammates can see each other as full-motion avatars and stay in constant communication to strategize, call for backup and ultimately compete for the highest personal or team score.

Players stay in contact with each other through Razer-integrated headphone/microphone units and are outfitted with OSVR HDK2 virtual reality headsets while wearing a military-grade backpack containing a high-performance Alienware PC gaming computer. They carry a perfectly weighted, custom-made simulated weapon for game sessions that require firepower.

Teams can choose from three different games for a 30-minute experience, depending on what kind of adventure they seek. The initial choices are Zombie Survival, where a team is trapped in a zombie apocalypse, with the undead lurking around every corner ready to attack; Singularity, where something has gone wrong in a secretive military research space station; and Engineerium, a puzzle adventure that is set in a fantastical world with flying whales, giant parrots and colorful creatures.

“We were looking to bring a unique entertainment element to MGM Grand and found the perfect fit with Zero Latency,” said Scott Sibella, president and COO of MGM Grand, in a prepared statement. “There is simply nothing like this anywhere in Las Vegas and we’re proud that MGM Grand is the first in the city to roll out an exciting and fun virtual ‘wow moment’ for our guests.”

Meanwhile, the casino-style game side of LEVEL UP includes traditional products like video poker and video reels slots as well as innovative products like skill-based games and the Interblock stadium. The skill-based slot games currently housed in LEVEL UP include Konami’s Frogger game and Gamblit’s Model G which features Gamblit Poker and Cannonbeard’s Treasure. Frogger plays like the traditional arcade game, but has a gambling component. Gamblit games operate with two to four players who are all competing against each other to form the best hands in an allotted amount of time.

The Interblock stadium allows players to select from nine traditional games in a fully automated format where they can play multiple games at a time and view results on a 40 foot video wall. “We are targeting to incorporate live dealers in the stadium soon to add another level of innovation and entertainment,” said Sirianni, who added that, “as more skill-based games are released, they too will find a home in LEVEL UP.”