On paper, 30 does not appear to be all that large of a number… it’s the amount of days in most months, the second point gained in a tennis match and the total of upright stones that form Stonehenge. But when you consider 30 years—more than a third of an average human lifespan—it becomes a very significant number indeed.

Thirty years is something we at Casino Journal have been contemplating quite a bit recently since 2017 marks the 30th anniversary of our first issue. Suffice to say the casino industry has changed quite a bit since 1987 when only two states allowed commercial casino gaming and most of the action took place on mechanical reel slot machines. In celebration of our 30th anniversary, the editors of Casino Journal decided to borrow a page from ESPN and its acclaimed 30 For 30 documentary film series that looked back at important events that shaped modern sports. In our case, we decided to pinpoint a total of 30 impactful properties, technologies and events over the past 30 years that continue to reverberate across the U.S. gaming industry. Read on to see what game changing items made our list:

PROPERTIES & EVENTS

The Mirage

The Mirage Resorts

The Mirage Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, NV

Is there a single property that has had more of an impact on the casino industry? No. Simply put, The Mirage was the ultimate expansion vehicle. It redrew the boundaries of casino entertainment; it grew the entire Las Vegas market; and, perhaps most important, it opened the door to the capital markets for gaming operators everywhere. On the occasion of its 10-year anniversary, Steve Wynn, then chairman of Mirage Resorts, said, “It caused Las Vegas to go in the right direction, to provide a deeper, richer experience for the visitor.’’ The $630 million junk bond -financed property had to generate $1 million per day to pay its bills when it opened in 1989. That first year, it did double that, hitting $720 million in revenue. Its staggering success set off a wave of megaresort development, pushing Las Vegas visitor volumes from 18 million in 1989 to over 32 million 10 years later. Wynn spent almost five times more building The Mirage than anyone had ever spent to open a casino, and its ROI was wasn’t just off the charts, it was incalculable.

Wall Street

Wall Street

The Wall Street Charging Bull

For much of the last century, the casino industry suffered from the inability to secure reliable investments funds to fuel expansion and new developments, forcing gaming operators to turn to less reputable sources of capital that caused no end of headaches. But as casinos spread beyond Nevada, the investment community’s perception of casino gaming began to thaw. Sensing an opportunity, Wall Street investors started to delve more and more into casino development, and were instrumental in getting trendsetting projects such as The Mirage off the ground. The rewards of this investment were such that more and more banks and Wall Street firms were willing to provide financing for worthwhile casino development projects, and over time gaming projects lost the image of being a risky venture.

Trump Taj Mahal

Trump Taj Mahal

Trump Taj Mahal, Atlantic City

If megaresorts could work in Las Vegas, why not Atlantic City?

The first Atlantic City-based casino that could claim “mega” status was Trump Taj Mahal, a $900 million facility that included a hotel, multiple entertainment options and a 120,000-square-foot gaming floor, arguably the largest in the world when the property officially opened in 1990. Although in and out of bankruptcy from the start, the Taj was reportedly the highest grossing Atlantic City casino until the opening of The Borgata in 2003. Trump Taj Mahal closed its doors for good in 2016, and the space has since been bought by the Seminole Tribe and is being converted into Hard Rock Casino & Hotel, Atlantic City.

The Trump Taj Mahal project also introduced the gaming industry and the world to Donald Trump, whose brash persona was the marketing calling card for the facility throughout the 1990s. The exposure and reputation Trump gained from his Taj Mahal venture undoubtedly aided in his successful presidential campaign.

Riverboats

Riverboats

Isle of Capri Riverboat Casino

Numerous states throughout the U.S. faced a quandary during the late 1980s—they desired the tax revenue, job creation and economic stimulus casinos provided but wanted to avoid the type of development that had taken place in Nevada and Atlantic City, which was anathema to some lawmakers and constituents who desired a low-impact approach to gaming expansion. It was legislators in Iowa that came up with the solution; offering select gaming licenses to a few locations in the state, with the wagering to take place on riverboats while they were cruising. The state and its citizens approved in 1989, and the era of riverboat gaming had begun.

By 1994, Illinois, Mississippi, Louisiana, Indiana and Missouri had all jumped on the riverboat gaming bandwagon. This period of cruise gaming proved short-lived however—Mississippi immediately came to the conclusion that dockside gaming was best, the other jurisdictions eventually followed suit and eventually most of these operations became land-based gaming facilities during the 2000s. Still, riverboat casinos played an important role in the expansion of gaming by spreading legalized commercial wagering throughout the Midwest and South.

Racinos

Racinos

Yonkers Raceway

Prior to the legalization of casino gaming in Atlantic City, the primary source for legal wagering throughout most of the U.S. was the racetrack and offsite parimutuel facilities. However the rapid growth of casino gaming, combined with the ongoing expansion of state lotteries and an aging player base, hit racetrack facilities hard and many began to close as visitation and business declined. In an attempt to save its parimutuel industry, Rhode Island approved a plan to install slot machines at the Twin Rivers greyhound racetrack in 1992, and the “racino” was born. Other jurisdictions soon came to the realization that racinos were an ideal way to expand into commercial gaming; racetracks were already established wagering sites and did not attract the ire of the “not in my backyard” crowd, the racetrack owners wanted the casino games, and state and local governments as well as the horse industry desired the tax money generated by increased wagering.

Eventually, states such as Florida, New York, Maine, Delaware, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and others approved various forms of racino enabling legislation, and commercial gaming became accepted in a new slate of jurisdictions. 

MGM Grand

MGM Grand

MGM Grand Las Vegas, NV

When Kirk Kerkorian first unveiled his plans for MGM Grand in the early 1990s, jaws likely dropped, given the sheer size of his vision. Back then, The Mirage was the largest Strip casino resort in Las Vegas, and Kerkorian’s monster project, if it ever came to fruition, would dwarf it.

Kerkorian and MGM persevered and when MGM Grand opened in 1993, it set all kinds of Las Vegas records—the most expensive casino resort ever built ($1 billion), the most hotel rooms under one roof (5,005), largest casino on The Strip (171,500 square feet), largest parcel of land (112 acres) and largest theme park (33-acres).  After some initial financial hiccups, MGM Grand eventually performed at a level that got other developers to believe bigger would always be better, launching a Las Vegas casino arms race of sorts that shows no signs of abating.

Foxwoods Resort Casino & Mohegan Sun

Foxwoods Resort Casino

Foxwoods Resort Casino

Even as megaresorts were transforming the Las Vegas Strip, gaming developers wondered if the format could thrive outside of the Nevada and Atlantic City gaming hubs. Two Connecticut-based tribes were willing to give it a try.

One of the first tribes to swing for the casino fences was the Mashantucket Pequots, who had been running a bingo hall on tribal reservation land in Connecticut since 1986. The tribe secured financial backing and expanded its bingo hall to include table games and, by 1993, signed a compact with state officials that allowed them to offer slot machine gaming in return for 25 percent of the revenue. By 1996, Foxwoods Casino Resort had 600 hotel rooms, a 250,000-square-foot casino and over 4,400 slot machines, and was so popular in the region that it became the highest-grossing casino in the nation. Emboldened by the Mashantucket Pequot example, the Mohegan Tribe also struck a compact with Connecticut, and with the help and backing of Sol Kerzner’s Sun International opened Mohegan Sun in 1996. The property generated $30 million in revenue during its first month of operation and never looked back.

Mohegan Sun

Mohegan Sun

Today, both Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun are sprawling facilities that house over 5,000 slot machines each, in addition to a myriad of lodging, dining, entertainment and cultural offerings. Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun were game changers, proof that megaresorts could thrive in both the tribal and northeast gaming markets.

Sun City & Atlantis Paradise Island

Atlantis Paradise Island

Atlantis Paradise Island

By the mid-1990s, the megaresort was a proven casino development formula within the U.S. What no one was certain of, however, was would this gaming development format play as well overseas.

Sol Kerzner believed it would. As head of Sun International Hotels, he had been the guiding light behind the Sun City gaming complex in South Africa, which in 1992 became something of a megaresort when it opened Lost City, a $275 million attraction themed around a lost mythical civilization. The 62-acre manmade jungle featured cliffs, rock formations, waterfalls, streams and swimming pools that eventually opened onto four-themed hotels and two champion-level golf courses.

Fresh off the success of Sun City, Kerzner purchased the three resorts that made up Paradise Island in The Bahamas. Sun International invested $250 million into the resorts and transformed them into Atlantis Paradise Island, a true megaresort that included a massive casino, multiple hotel towers, numerous restaurants, bars and shops and, most noticeably, a 14-acre water park that featured caves, pools, waterslides, rides and the world’s largest outdoor open-water aquarium.

The end result of this investment was much the same as the one made at Sun City—people flocked to Atlantis Paradise Island, which opened in phases from 1994 through 1998. Megaresorts could indeed survive, and thrive, outside their U.S. birthplace.

National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA)

National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA)

Early on, Indian nations across North America realized that there was strength in numbers, especially when it came to establishing and protecting tribal gaming operations. Incorporated in 1985, the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) is an inter-tribal association of federally recognized Indian tribes united with the mission of protecting and preserving tribal sovereignty and the ability of tribes to attain economic self-sufficiency through gaming and other forms of economic development, according to the organization’s website. The common commitment and purpose of NIGA is to advance the lives of Indian peoples economically, socially and politically. NIGA operates as an educational, legislative and public policy resource for tribal policy makers, as well as the public, on issues related to Indian gaming and tribal community development.

Located on Capitol Hill and under the leadership of Chairman Ernest L. Stevens Jr., NIGA is a leading voice for Indian Country, working diligently to ensure that the special status of tribes is recognized and protected when issues affecting tribal sovereignty arise. The continued growth and wellbeing of Indian gaming across the U.S. is a testament to NIGA and its ongoing advocacy efforts.

American Gaming Association

American Gaming Association Logo

With the spread of gaming in the 1990s came increased scrutiny and the need for the casino industry to organize itself and speak with a clear voice, not just to educate the public on the economic benefits of gaming, but to the counteract the many criticisms and, yes, myths, about the industry circulated by its opponents. The first man for the job was former gaming attorney and ex-head of the Republican National Committee Frank Fahrenkopf, who was named president and CEO of the American Gaming Association (AGA) in 1995. During his 17-year tenure, the AGA achieved many substantial successes, including the positive findings and recommendations of the National Gambling Impact Study Commission; the establishment and good works of the National Center for Responsible Gaming; and the worldwide success of industry tradeshows Global Gaming Expo and G2E Asia. Fahrenkopf was succeeded in 2013 by Geoff Freeman, the present head of the association, whose policies of inclusion have effectively expanded the AGA’s reach to more levels within casino organizations and to more sectors of the industry. 

The Venetian Las Vegas

The Venetian Las Vegas

The Venetian in Las Vegas, NV

Sheldon Adelson was an outsider to the small world of Las Vegas Strip resort operators, and when he announced plans to build what he called an integrated resort, the howls of derision were long and loud. But Adelson, a legendary tradeshow operator before his late-in-life transition to casino operator, saw things from a different perspective. His $1.5 billion project would fill what he saw as a yawning void in the product mix. In his view, Las Vegas needed a more comfortable hotel, with more amenities and rooms whose quality was not necessarily tied to a visitor’s gambling budget. Business travelers shouldn’t have to walk thousands of yards to a business center to send a fax (you remember those); the machine could be right in their room. Adelson’s response to the critics who thought his vision lacked proper appreciation of the importance of gaming was we’ll have gaming like everyone else, but we’ll also have things they don’t have. Needless to say, his decision to expand the non-gaming horizons of the modern casino resort was validated.  The Venetian was a hit right from the time it opened in 1999. And non-gaming revenues now account for two-thirds of every dollar the Strip takes in.

California Indian Gaming

California Indian Gaming

California accounts for over a quarter of all tribal gaming revenue in the U.S., generating $7.9 billion in 2016, according to Alan Meister of Nathan Associates. That amounts to a total economic impact of over $17 billion and over 111,000 jobs. It’s worth thinking about those figures when one goes back to 1998 when 88 California tribes came together around the ballot initiative known as Proposition 5, which provided for mandatory compacts between the state and tribes for gambling on Indian land. The initiative was opposed by Nevada commercial gaming interests in no small part because it feared the impact of tribal casinos on the Southern California drive-in market, a lobbying effort that was very effectively turned against it by the tribes as a centerpiece of a massive communications effort that stressed sovereignty and self-reliance. In the end, Proposition 5 passed with over 60 percent support; California would become home to some of the most successful and forward-thinking casino operators in the industry and Las Vegas, for its part, barely missed a beat.

Pechanga Resort & Casino/Barona Resort & Casino

Pechanga Resort & Casino

Pechanga Resort & Casino

California has become one of the top grossing casino jurisdictions within the U.S., thanks to pioneering tribal gaming properties such as Pechanga Resort & Casino and Barona Resort & Casino, the first megaresorts to open in the state. Pechanga, which is owned and operated by the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, debuted June 2002 on reservation land in Temecula and featured an 85,000-square-foot casino, 1,200 seat showroom, 14 story hotel and a convention center. Since the opening, Pechanga has undergone a number of expansions to become one of the largest resorts in the state.

Barona Resort & Casino

Barona Resort & Casino

Barona, a project of the Barona Band of Mission Indians, opened in December 2002 on land just outside of San Diego and has since grown to become a gaming complex with 2,100 slots, 90 table games, a 400-room hotel, spa and a championship golf course. Both properties have also acted as incubators for nascent casino technologies and practices, including TITO at gaming machines and the use of marketing analytics.

Online Gaming

Online Gaming

It used to be that if someone wanted to wager on casino-style games such as slot machines and table games, they had to do so within the confines of a land-based gaming facility. This all changed in the 1990s with the advent of the Internet, which in turn spawned online gaming sites that allowed visitors to wager from almost anywhere via personal computer. The mid- to late-1990s saw a proliferation of online casino games and poker websites, and by 2002 the technology was legal in 68 jurisdictions, generating an estimated $4 billion in yearly revenue. The sudden growth of this somewhat unregulated industry did not escape the notice of the U.S. government, with Congress passing the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act (UIGEA) in 2006, effectively closing the U.S. market to Web casinos and other forms of online wagering. Meanwhile, jurisdictions in Europe, Asia, South America and North America embraced Internet gaming and regulated it, creating a multi-billion dollar industry that continues to thrive and expand. Online wagering sites also became incubators of sorts for cutting-edge game mechanics, some of which are now being integrated into land-based slot machine products.

Macau

Macau casino boom

When the 40-year monopoly of the Stanley Ho-run Sociedade de Turismo e Diversões de Macau (STDM) was ended in 2002, the stage was set for an epoch-defining explosion of casino gaming, and one that mightily benefited several American operators at that. Instead of one operator, six concessions were eventually granted, with Las Vegas Sands, Wynn Resorts and MGM Mirage each getting a piece of the action. The combination of an exploding Chinese economy and an established cultural appetite for gambling that is unmatched on Planet Earth led to otherworldly results. When government anti-corruption crackdowns produced a catastrophically “bad” year in 2016, Macau’s 33 casinos still posted $28 billion in revenue. That’s almost three times larger than the number posted by Clark County last year. At its peak in 2013, Macau generated $45 billion in annual GGR. As the political environment improves, numbers are beginning to creep up again, along with the fortunes of the Chinese middle class who figure to grow Macau’s mass market business considerably in coming years. It’s hard to find an informed observer who’s betting against Macau, and for good reason.

Consolidation

Consolidation

The casino industry is fragmented by design. Each jurisdiction has its own rules and regulations and the economies of scale that accrue when companies combine operations is small because, well, supply is tightly regulated and the casino business is relatively small. But as casinos spread across America in the 1990s, so did the underlying marketing logic of consolidation. Two companies led the way, MGM and Harrah’s, now known as MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment. MGM’s two big acquisitions occurred in 2000 (Mirage Resorts) and 2004 (Mandalay Resort Group).  That same year, Harrah’s Entertainment agreed to purchase Caesars Entertainment. Both of the deals were completed in 2005, giving MGM and Caesars de facto ownership of the Las Vegas Strip plus huge footprints nationally. Another wave of consolidation was to occur among slot manufacturers, but not for another decade, when IGT and Bally Technologies were snapped up by lottery suppliers GTECH and Scientific Games respectively. Both of those deals were closed in 2015, with IGT retaining its name and Bally Technologies now known as Scientific Games.

Seminole Tribe of Florida

Seminole Tribe of Florida

Seminole Hard Rock Hotels & Casinos

The Seminole Tribe of Florida occupies a central role in the history of Indian gaming. Its bingo hall, which opened in 1979, was the first-ever casino in Indian Country, and it served as a legal linchpin for testing the principle of tribal sovereignty. A 1981 lower-court decision which excluded most states from regulating high-stakes tribal bingo would eventually become a cornerstone of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988. But a compact with the state of Florida for Class III gaming was still decades away, so the Seminoles took the Class II route, investing heavily in human talent such as Charlie Lombardo (slots), Lyle Bell (IT) and CEO Jim Allen. By 2005, Seminole Gaming was working with the Cordish Company to develop Seminole Hard Rock Hotels & Casinos in Tampa and Hollywood. And in 2006, the Seminoles became the first tribe to acquire a major international company when it bought Hard Rock International from Rank Group.  That was apparently more than enough to bring the state of Florida to the negotiating table, where a compact was signed with Gov. Charlie Crist in 2007. Today, Hard Rock International operates 196 venues in 62 countries, including 150 cafes, 21 hotels and 10 casinos, including seven in Florida, where the original bingo hall in Hollywood still stands.

Oklahoma Indian Gaming

Oklahoma Indian Gaming

The second largest tribal gaming market in the country with $4.75 billion in revenue in 2015, Oklahoma has long played a pivotal role in the gaming industry. Class II games were the backbone of tribal gaming there until 2004, and many players remain loyal to them. Tribes as well, as they are exempt from the state’s exclusivity fee for Class III games, which generated $132 million in 2015. That’s nearly twice the annual projected amount of $71 million when Question 712 was put before Oklahoma voters in 2004. Also known as the State-Tribal Gaming Act, it contained a Model Tribal Gaming Compact that enabled tribes to operate Class III games in return for the fee. Per the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association, 31 tribal nations in Oklahoma now operate almost 130 gaming facilities with 72,850 electronic games and 5,300 bingo seats. This includes 20 casinos with hotel resorts and a combined total of 5,000 rooms. Gaming helps support nearly half a million Oklahomans identified as Native Americans, the second largest such number in America, not far behind California, a state whose total population is over ten times larger.

Decline of Atlantic City

Decline of Atlantic City

The Atlantic City Boardwalk

The latent demand for gaming in the U.S. was such that even as casinos expanded into new jurisdictions, properties in nearby existing marketplaces still saw substantial bottom line growth. Throughout the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, the best example of this phenomenon was Atlantic City, which saw its revenues increase year-over-year despite commercial gaming facilities of various types and sizes coming to Connecticut, New York, West Virginia, Delaware and Rhode Island. By 2006, the 12 Atlantic City casinos combined to generate $5.2 billion in yearly combined revenue, making it the second largest single gaming market in the U.S. and seemingly impervious to the impact of gaming expansion in neighboring states. But then the first of an eventual 12 casino/slot machine gaming facilities opened in Pennsylvania, one of Atlantic City’s last casino-less feeder markets. The impact on Atlantic City casinos was immediate and eventually devastating: The seven remaining Atlantic City properties generated $2.6 billion in combined gross gaming revenue in 2016, while the 12 Pennsylvania-based facilities brought in $3.2 billion in combined gross revenue over the same time period. Few would argue that Pennsylvania’s gaming gain came at the cost of Atlantic City’s casino business. In the long run, Atlantic City proved that consumer demand for gaming was not limitless, and that casino expansion into new locales would likely take business away from properties in established markets, decisively changing the dynamics of the industry.

The Great Recession

The Great Recession

Thanks to its stellar performance during the various market downturns of the last quarter of the 20th century, there was a common belief that the gaming industry as a whole was “recession-proof,” and therefore a good investment when economic uncertainty was in the forecast. The Great Recession of 2008-2012 permanently blew a hole through this perception. The year prior to the Great Recession, commercial casinos generated combined $37.52 billion in revenue, a 6.3 percent increase over previous year totals. By 2009, this revenue figure had dipped to $34.28 billion. It took until 2013 for the commercial gaming industry to surpass its 2007 revenue results. Although the commercial gaming industry now boasts yearly gross revenues of $38.96 billion, year-over-year growth remains low, with only a 1.1 percent change from 2015 to 2016. Most in the industry have accepted that a return to pre-Great Recession growth rates is unlikely for the foreseeable future.

Dissolution of the Wire Act

Dissolution of the Wire Act

For decades, gaming entrée into various forms of electronic media was curtailed by the Wire Act, federal legislation originally enacted to stop horserace wagering from occurring via phone lines across state borders. This legislation, along with the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act, were the two primary roadblocks keeping the gaming industry from offering casino-style, for-wager games over the Internet and all the various communication devices that linked into it. But in 2011, the Justice Department surprisingly ruled that the Wire Act only applied to sports wagering, clearing the way for federal and state governments to legalize and regulate non-sports wagering forms of Web gaming. Within a year, Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware had legalized online casinos and set up regulatory structures to insure the integrity of the games. Pennsylvania recently approved legislation to join this group, and online gaming measures are under consideration in Massachusetts, California, Illinois and a handful of other states. It appears the U.S. is poised for a second great expansion of for-money online wagering.

PRODUCTS & TECHNOLOGY

Large Jackpot Games

Large Jackpot Games

The first large jackpot game in a casino environment, IGT’s Megabucks, dates back to 1982, when the company launched a dollar game by the same name in tandem with a wide area progressive system called Megajackpot. The games had a base top jackpot of $1 million and were linked throughout the state of Nevada to steadily build the prize amount. As the decade progressed, Megabucks evolved along with the creation of multi-jurisdictional lotteries such as Mega Millions, which was to become Powerball. Megabucks therefore gave the casino industry its own publicity-generating, life-altering jackpot product. Of course, Megabucks never rose to the level of Powerball in terms of jackpots, but it spawned innumerable imitations on casino floors across the country, as linked progressives from a host of manufacturers appeared in a wide range of games and denominations, a trend that has never abated.

TITO

Ticket-in/ticket-out (TITO) cashless gaming

Ticket-in/ticket-out (TITO) cashless gaming

Ticket-in/ticket-out (TITO) cashless gaming had its first test run as an in-house solution at MGM Grand in Las Vegas in 1993. At the close of the decade, IGT developed its own system, a voucher-based product called EZ Pay. But before even contemplating rolling it out, it did a little research. Michael Meczka’s firm MMRC was retained to conduct player interviews on the product and its findings became a springboard for change.

“People were caught up in the romanticism of coin for the player for a long time; walking around with multiple buckets; everybody thought that was the thing to do,” said Meczka. “The people at IGT came up with the idea of ticket-in/ticket-out. So we tested it, and to IGT’s surprise patrons embraced it.” Players told MMRC that they preferred not to have to carry coins, they liked the fact that their hands no longer got dirty and that they could move from machine to machine immediately with the click of a button. By 2001, EZ Pay slots were widely installed throughout North America. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Licensed/Participation Games

Licensed/Participation Games

IGT Wheel of Fortune-themed slot

Visitors to the most recent Global Gaming Expo (G2E) tradeshow in Las Vegas could not help but notice all the licensed game content available for slot machine use—everything from James Bond and Penn & Teller to WESTWORLD and The Voice. Indeed, the past two decades have seen licenses from popular movies, television shows, games shows, musical acts, comic book characters, board games and more snapped up by slot manufacturers and adapted into games for new and established slot cabinets. It is a trend that shows no sign of slowing and, according to many industry observers, owes its start to the first IGT Wheel of Fortune-themed slot, which debuted in 1996. The Wheel of Fortune concept proved so popular that IGT was able to ask operators to pay a portion of the win generated by the slot for the privilege of housing it on their game floor, ushering in the era of participation games to the casino marketplace; a business practice that continues to reverberate throughout the industry and keeps manufacturers searching for the next lucrative licensing opportunity.

Penny Slots

Penny Slots

Once upon a time there were electro-mechanical quarter slots and not much else. That started to change in the mid-1990s when Aristocrat Technologies introduced its line of penny denominated multi-line multi-coin video slots to the American market. The penny slot concept, which was refined in Australia’s locals-oriented “pokie” casino market, was to prove a perfect fit with U.S. slot players, who were becoming increasingly sophisticated themselves. They gravitated both to the volatility of the game math, which offered the chance of high prize payouts  on relatively small bets and the DIY aspect of the games themselves, which gave them control over bet amounts and lines per bet. From the operator’s perspective, pennies with their higher house advantage drove win-per-machine numbers higher. So everyone was happy; the games were perceived as more affordable, offering more time-on-device and they were more profitable for the casino. And TITO technology, a long time ago, smoothed out the initial inconveniences of waiting for five-cent hand pays because coin hoppers were empty.  Over 20 years later, penny slots often account for up to half, or even more, of casino slot floors and the category continues to grow.

Class II Gaming

AGS Golden Guardians cabinet

AGS Golden Guardians cabinet

It all started with bingo. When Congress enacted the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988 it gave tribes the right to retain their authority to conduct, license, and regulate gaming so long as the state in which it is located permits such gaming for any purpose. This class of gaming, known as Class II, covers bingo, and included the following language: whether or not electronic, computer, or other technological aids are used in connection therewith. It could be argued that no regulatory language has come in for more scrutiny, or fostered more innovation, than those few words. As all Class II gaming revenue flows to tribes, an enormous incentive was created for tribes in states whose governors and/or legislatures were either hostile to gaming or unwilling to negotiate a compact to operate Class II games. Class II slot games and systems became ever more advanced, so it was possible for tribes in states such as Oklahoma and Florida, now enormous tribal gaming markets, to build substantial casino industries that helped bring states to the negotiating table. And in Alabama, thriving casinos run on Class II games alone. The quality of Class II gaming technology, the enduring popularity of many Class II game titles and the category’s importance as a leverage point for tribes means there are many chapters of Class II that are yet to be written.

Harrah’s Total Rewards

Harrah’s Total Rewards card

When Phil Satre brought Gary Loveman into the fold at Harrah’s in the 1990s, he was taking the latter up on his offer to help grow the company. When research showed that Harrah’s was only capturing 38 percent of its players’ gaming budget, Loveman zeroed in on the company’s loyalty program. The end result was Total Rewards, introduced as Total Gold in 2000, the casino industry’s first national, multibrand loyalty effort. It recognized and rewarded customers for all forms of entertainment spend at any of Harrah’s casino, dining, retail and entertainment venues nationwide, a 360-degree view of player behavior that would become standard in the industry.  Through Total Rewards, Harrah’s gave its loyalty club members to the largest network of hotel and entertainment options in the gaming industry. Post-2005, Total Rewards’ major resort brands included Caesars Palace, Horseshoe, Harrah’s, Flamingo, Bally’s and Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino. In revamping the program, Loveman successfully  mobilized Harrah’s around the idea of prioritizing players based on their worth and to give them rewards that were meaningful to them, even if meant recreating the movie Hangover for the 40th birthday celebration of a high roller from Asia complete with a live tiger and an appearance by Mike Tyson (true story).

Analytics

Analytics graphic

Casinos have been a data-rich environment ever since the advent of player tracking, but what if operators could use data to deepen their understanding of player behavior and optimize present and future results? That’s the goal of analytics, a term that has acquired buzzword status but which has been around for quite some time. Some might point to early heat mapping solutions such as Compudigm in 2003, which was the brainchild of Andrew Cardno, who was later to head VizExplorer. Whatever the exact point of origin, the ability to customize offers based on behavior has become a central goal of casino marketers. Extracting value from the mountains of data that are available to casinos is the chore of predictive analytics. Today, all slot systems have bulked-up analytic capabilities and there are any number of stand-alone products to choose from. For good reason; the casino industry has become a marketing game and the winners are those who build the most durable relationships with players.

Electronic Table Games

Electronic Table Games

Live table games were the original life blood of the casino industry, and table games remained at the forefront of casinos in Europe and Asia long after slot machines became the game of choice in America. Automated, or as they came to be know, electronic table games (EGTs) offered labor savings in Europe and were an indispensable way to meet excess demand in Asia, particularly Macau. As such, they occupy between 20 and 25 percent of the floor space in those continents. In Macau, the introduction of live dealer-assisted ETG’s was a wildly successful (and profitable) way to offer lower-limit baccarat hands in space-constrained environments. In the States, meantime, ETG’s account for a mere one percent of floor space, but the dealer-assisted format is starting to catch on. As a new generation of players who many observers believe to be more attracted to table games than their predecessors find their way into American casinos, don’t be surprised if ETG stadiums become a frequent landing spot for them.

Skill Games

Konami Gaming's Beat Square Tournament cabinets

Konami Gaming's Beat Square Tournament cabinets

Few would argue that the economic engine of the modern casino floor remains the slot machine. However, this tried-and-true wagering concept has been under assault of late, led by Millennials and other younger generations of casino goers that appear to be turned off by traditional video slot play mechanics. In response, manufacturers are integrating arcade and video-style game play elements into slot games and cabinets, creating a new category of product called skill games. Pioneers in this category include Konami Gaming, IGT, GameCo and Gamblit Gaming, just to name a few. Current thinking has skill slots being more of an adjunct than replacement product for slot floors, but the jury is very much still out.