The Future of Gaming Technology: Associations
By Abram Sauer
When it comes to the future of gaming, two groups will be extraordinarily influential, and extraordinarily influenced by technological advancements. We spoke with Thomas A. Jingoli, president of AGEM, the Gaming Standards Association’s President Peter DeRaedt and its Technical Director Marc McDermott.
The difference between these two industry organizations is that AGEM is a trade association that represents gaming manufacturers and works in their interests through political action, trade shows, etc.; GSA is a trade association that creates benefits for manufacturers, suppliers, operators and regulators through development, promotion and implementation of open standards.
Of what the immediate future of gaming technology will bring, Jingoli says: “As the trade association representing all of the slot machine companies, it’s a pretty simple thought that technological advances by individual companies will benefit all AGEM members as a whole and the supplier sector specifically, and the gaming industry as a whole. AGEM’s greatest challenge when it comes to technology will be to react like we do today, and that is to pick and choose our battles on behalf of our members. In other words, the individual companies will continue to take the lead in this area, but AGEM is there as a singular body to offer support and to hopefully help drive technology forward where and when it makes sense.”
As for its immediate future, GSA is most excited about a couple of areas. Marc McDermott breaks it down. “From a G2S point of view, we see player user interfaces being huge,” he says. “From an S2S point of view, we see more reaching out within casinos, from the gaming floor to the rest of the casino. The second part of S2S that is very exciting is reaching outside, past the casino to start touching other industries for cooperative marketing. Think about flying an airline and getting bonus points for your players club. Or if you play at this casino, you can use points to buy an airline ticket. Just like credit card companies, airlines and others do now.”
Of course, McDermott is talking about networked gaming. Building on the possibilities for networked gaming, McDermott says: “People are missing the link between networked gaming and profits. The thing is, right now the gaming floor is isolated from the rest of the casino—in fact, from the rest of the world. That includes the retail, restaurants, showrooms. Networked gaming can start to tear down some of those walls and create an information flow nobody ever really thought of before. Once you get this going, you can start to extend that out to agreements with other interests and other properties. Once you sit down with an operator and start to go through some of the possibilities, you can see them start to shift their thinking. And that’s exactly what needs to happen.”
Communicating those possibilities is DeRaedt. He spends a great deal of time meeting and reaching out to operators to promote how networked gaming can open a future of possibilities many operators have never before imagined. DeRaedt says this engagement is half the battle. “If you look at the Internet and see how much is going on there and then look at gaming, we have to understand that as an industry we need to wake up, to grow up. And we’re getting there.”
McDermott compares the current place of server-based gaming to the beginning of the Internet. “In the beginning, the Internet was confusing. Nobody knew what to do with it and asked, ‘What is this thing?’ Of course now, the Internet is a tremendous force with limitless potential. That’s how we need to think about server-based gaming.”
McDermott and DeRaedt see the lack of a robust offering of applications as one detail slowing down adoption, but say that “this could change overnight.” Both point to how outside groups are already well steeped in leveraging networks and advanced communications to expand customer communications and drive down costs and increase revenue. Of this potential single driving force, DeRaedt says: “A true visionary could come along and radically change things for everyone. There is a tremendous opportunity for somebody outside of gaming to come along with a radical new idea.”
Jingoli thinks Internet poker has the best chance of becoming legal in the United States soon. But, he adds: “I still think we are a ways away from full-blown Internet casinos operating legally in the United States. With that being said, I am not sure how much of an effect that Internet poker would have directly on our AGEM membership. It would seem that the large operators like Harrah’s, Wynn and Fertitta Gaming would have a bigger stake in the game than slot machine manufacturers.”
Whenever Internet gaming comes, GSA says it will be ready. In fact, it’s already at work. McDermott explains: “We have a committee that did research and made recommendations for how GSA can fit into Internet gaming. Where we’re seeing initial work is in the back-of-house areas, such as reporting and accounting, keeping track of play and player points. What Internet gaming is going to demand looks a lot like what we already have at GSA.”
DeRaedt adds: “As you migrate outside your boundaries of a brick and mortar property, the exchange of information such as player profiles is very valuable. You have a player playing on the Internet then he walks into your casino, wouldn’t it be nice if you could recognize that player? Wouldn’t it be nice for that player regardless of where he played in your casino—online or brick and mortar—he could get points or a free room? In order to achieve that, you need a common interface, and that’s exactly what GSA can, and intends to provide.”
DeRaedt says the other role GSA will play in Internet gaming is reporting. “No matter where it is, governments want standardized ways of tracking revenues through a common interface. That is where GSA will also have a leading role.”
McDermott points out that it isn’t just the government. “It could be anyone who has several Internet gaming sites and is trying to figure out which sites are doing what,” he says. “The bottom line is that the information needs to come in a standard format so that one set of data can be compared to another.”
GSA’s goal is to develop standards that will give operators the information they want, when they want it, and that information can be logically matched up to and compared with information of a similar type. McDermott says Internet gaming is unlikely to have its own separate standard. “Ideally, it will be an online extension of our existing standards,” he says.
DeRaedt believes the challenge for GSA will be to communicate the power of standards to the gaming community. “There is significant money to be made, and also significant money to be saved. Change is a good thing.”
Abram Sauer is the Senior Editor for Casino Enterprise Management. He can be reached at abe[at]aceme.org.
The Future of Gaming Technology: Systems and Software
By John Wilson
When thinking of gaming systems and software, it can be extremely difficult to predict the future. Although the gaming industry has been slow to adopt new technology in the past, that has changed. The seemingly slow adoption was due to a number of factors. Part was the necessity of extremely reliable and proven technology just as you would see in the financial industry. Another was regulation. In such a strictly regulated industry, it takes time to introduce and approve cutting-edge technology. The replacement cycles of slot machines were much longer even just a decade ago, so the introduction of cutting-edge technology was not always possible or financially viable. In the gaming industry today, however, we are seeing modern technology being utilized and a much shorter replacement time. This will see an even faster turnaround time for the latest technology to reach gaming floors. Although the current economy has slowed down replacement time once more, there is still a forward momentum and many areas where technological improvements are being made.
Slot machines used to be simpler. The move from mechanical slots decades ago saw the introduction of electronic modules and more automated features. As the machines became fully electronic, proprietary electronic systems were created. As more computerized technology was introduced, manufacturers relied heavily upon proprietary operating systems for their technology. There just were not any other options.
Today there are numerous options available for the manufacturers. As computers have decreased in size, become faster, are able to address larger amounts of memory and have faster storage of vast amounts of data, the capabilities are virtually unlimited. Newer slot platforms will include the latest and fastest in processors, considerable amounts of memory as well as high-resolution video systems. We are already seeing tremendous capabilities in processing power yielding high-resolution graphics with real-time animation and studio-quality surround sound. Newer advances will allow better graphics to enhance the player entertainment experience. Not only will sound capabilities increase, but the overall atmosphere of the casino will take advantage of this. Players will be immersed in more personal video and audio experiences that will remove sound and interference from nearby players. The players will be able to immerse themselves into their game while lessening the distractions around them.
With embedded systems and newer technology comes the opportunity for a wider scope of providers. Manufacturers can take advantage of third parties who can offer solutions that will integrate with their machines and systems. An organization with expertise in the arcade or amusement industries, for example, can move into the gaming industry and capitalize on their own expertise and technological tools they have developed. With this you will see the gaming industry moving closer to the amusement industry. Gaming machines of the near future will have features and capabilities closer to an arcade game. This, in turn, will attract younger players and a new generation of patrons. The technology used in the near future will wide the scope of casino gaming.
Proprietary systems will always exist. Each manufacturer must, by necessity, create their own application software to drive their platforms. You are not going to see generic white boxes that will run any manufacturer games. The casino of the future will not have a plain floor with only one type of bland cabinet. Not only will it be a detriment to the player by not offering exciting cabinets, but open architecture has never meant that everything is open and public domain. While communications, standards and means and methods of communicating are easier and less costly in open systems, it does not mean that you can alter or add to any manufacturer’s system software. Open architecture applies to the network architecture and communications and interface processes. Manufacturers excel by their own special capabilities and their own intellectual property.
What open and embedded systems can provide, however, is the removal of having to reinvent the wheel. It is surely more productive and more efficient to have a video card manufacturer develop advanced low-level graphic capabilities for the hardware, removing manufacturers from the necessity of having to hire and train skilled staff for very specialized functions.
Embedded systems, such as Linux or Microsoft’s Windows Embedded Standard 7 provide a rich, robust base for manufacturers to build on. Many are already utilizing this in their game offerings. They provide many tools that give powerful functionality with reduced effort. Support for graphical user interfaces, multi-touch screens and integrated media centers exist and can be accessed through the manufacturer’s system software. The embedded systems also give a base to support even more advanced technological features. Networking connections are available in the embedded system that allow for capabilities not seen on today’s floors. Internet connections can be used to configure and upgrade peripherals and systems, regulators could remotely check hardware and firmware compliance and manufacturers could even update their software from their facility. (Assuming proper jurisdictional approvals were in place, of course.)
The gaming machines of the future could have Bluetooth and wireless capabilities to interface with the players over smart phones and their own personal accounts such as e-mail or Facebook.
The slot machine of the future will certainly be more of a “gaming machine” than a “slot machine.”
Take a look inside your newest slot machines and study the hardware. They look more like your home computer with a motherboard, video card and flash memory cards than anything else. With this great technology comes infinite possibilities.
Above all, as the hardware and software running the gaming machines becomes more intelligent and more capable, operator functionality will increase. They will communicate easier with slot technicians, hosts and a variety of casino staff that can benefit from this vital information. Peripherals can communicate problems immediately and even provide diagnostic information. Ticket printers, for example, can send a message to the system to indicate that there are only 20 tickets remaining and that a refill should be scheduled.
Scalability and upgrade paths for the machines will also improve. Systems will support great expansion from the floor, to further departments such as retail and hospitality, to operations offsite such as facilities located across the country.
Networked floors will continue to evolve and make their way onto casino floors. What we may see over the next few years, however, will be a slow and carefully planned integration. New facilities will install a complete casino-wide network infrastructure, but existing facilities will not necessarily be able to realize a suitable return if they wire their complete floor. Instead, there will be small areas that will be networked to support the requisite systems such as community bonuses. The move toward networked gaming will be a slow and steady evolution. Technology will be introduced as it is required and as it will provide true benefits.
As networking capabilities increase, so do the ways of communicating and transferring data. Instead of tearing up the entire casino floor, wireless solutions offer easier implementation. There are, of course, issues with wireless networking, including bandwidth, data congestion and rf-related issues. Perhaps the major fear centers around the security of data traveling through the air.
The gaming industry has always excelled in the area of security. From security cameras and monitoring, facial recognition and physical security through keys and electronic measures, I doubt any industry has such a successful track record. I expect that wireless solutions that come onto the floor will come with some of the tightest security measures. Wireless solutions will have military-spec ratings and will undergo extensive testing. Gaming standards and regulatory approvals will see secure solutions being developed. When in place, wireless communication will experience the same level of security that the gaming industry has always had.
Whether wireless or hard-wired networks are utilized, once the network is opened for external communication, a link to the outside exists. If your personnel can access reports via the Internet, if your system can communicate data through e-mail or via SMS messaging, of if you have an automated link to external websites, then there is a link to external networks and the potential for hacking. I believe that this fear itself will hold back the progress of external networking more than anything else.
Data and Software
As systems mature, they generally become easier to use and provide more relevant data. Operators will be able to get the full view of their facility—from the machines and peripherals, to accounting data, game statistics, and patron data—not only easier, but quicker. Every department of the enterprise will begin to realize the benefits from the increased technological tools that are available. Staff will be able to perform their jobs better, more efficiently and with more relevant information available to them. Training will have to follow suit and the wise operators will ensure that the staff receives proper and continual training so that the technology realizes its true potential.
The gaming industry has been ahead of the curve, so to speak, when it comes to business analytics. And this is not going to change in the future. With that comes a lot of work behind the scenes, at least to get to the point where serious analytics can be performed. Arguably, all of the technology boils down to information. What information is available, who can access it, and what do you do with it. While it is easier than ever to collect vast amounts of data, it does nothing unless it can be put to work.
Data collection becomes easier as storage capabilities increase in both speed and cost. It is more feasible to collect large amounts of information today when compared with a decade ago. Over the next five years, storage capabilities will increase to the point where the amount of data to be stored is not of consideration. The means of collecting the data will be easier as smarter peripherals and more complex systems emerge. The primary problem will be the speed that the data can be collected. Will the network support the vast amount of data that is available in real time?
The next consideration with data collection is data quality. The data that drives the business needs to be clean, accurate and high-quality information. As the data volume increases geometrically, it becomes cost prohibitive and less feasible to clean it after collection. It will have to be stored in a clean format to minimize post-processing.
SAS is the leader in business analytics software and services, and the largest independent vendor in the business intelligence market, and has been providing software solutions since 1976. Rory Fagan, sales manager, hospitality and gaming, spoke about data quality. “Our DataFlux solutions integrate and extend user-defined rules for data quality and data monitoring,” he says. “We can do a nightly batch to clean the data using fuzzy logic to de-duplicate names, standardize addresses and the like. But the new trend is real-time cleaning as the data is put into the database. As staff enters a patron’s information, for example, it is cleaned and checked for duplicates. We are freeing the people resources that were required to do this manually. It not only keeps the data clean, but prevents fraud by having offers only go to eligible patrons.”
With one comprehensive database will come one comprehensive view of the patron throughout the enterprise. Business intelligence software continues to evolve and provide easier solutions. But analytics is easy to say and harder to achieve. Looking at a historical report could be considered by some to be analytics. “SAS provides much more value than mere reports with true predictive analytics,” Fagan says. “SAS can show where you and your patrons are moving to in the future. These predictive insights are extremely valuable for accurate decision making. SAS Customer Analytics for Casinos provides a single view of the customer, tracking their needs and preferences and even identifying behaviors that signal attrition so you can make proactive decisions to increase patron loyalty and, thus, maximize patron profitability. Everyone can see where they were in the past, but when you see where you’re going it starts to show the real value of analytics—helping you make decisions based upon very accurate predictions.”
One of the key areas where analytics and decision-making is most important is in patron marketing. Clean data and sophisticated systems can help to automate the marketing efforts, all under the direction of the appropriate personnel. Real-time offers made at a slot machine require some powerful systems and a large collection of accurate data. It will, however, generate a return on investment. Ideally, this will take place before the patron even leaves the casino floor.
“We are seeing more requests from even the smallest of casinos. Many have experienced cuts in their marketing budgets and are asking how they can do more for less. They have less offers to mail out, less money to offer the patrons and have to work smarter to obtain their objectives,” Fagan explains. Casinos don’t want to waste their money with a “shotgun” approach to marketing incentives hoping that the recipients will come back to the casino after receiving a mailing. The analytical tools in the future will allow then to send specifically-targeted offers to patrons who will provide a return.
“We are seeing more requests for SAS analytics from even the smallest of casinos. Many have experienced cuts in their marketing budgets and are asking how they can do more for less. They have less offers to mail out to patrons and have to work smarter to obtain their objectives,” Fagan explains. With predictive analytics, the future is here. Analytical tools allow them to target the right patron with the right offers, which increases response rates and decreases costs.
These tools are not limited to the future. They exist today. For many operators, however, there is a lot of work to be done to be in a position to fully utilize them. The economy of today will see a lot of motion toward this in the near future. One again, this is going to be a continual evolution. We will see pretty significant motion toward comprehensive data collection, analysis, prediction and action. Even the smallest of casinos can benefit. Once this begins to become mainstream, then the technological advancements will truly begin to be realized. At the moment I see the industry at the cusp of a technological breakthrough. Some operators are already using advanced data collection and analytical tools. Some are currently using remote download and configuration of portions of their gaming floor. Some have computerized dispatch systems in place. As networked technology begins to become the norm, the industry as whole will be utilizing their assets more efficiently and effectively.
John Wilson is the Technology Editor for Casino Enterprise Management and Owner of ICS Gaming, providing slot consulting services and game design. He has designed several slot games in both Class II and Class III markets. He can be reached at jwilson[at]icsgaming.com.
The Future ofGaming Technology: Slot Manufacturers
By Sarah Klaphake Cords
Recently I sat next to a nice, middle-aged couple on a flight headed to Arizona. They asked if I was traveling for work or fun (my answer was work, heading to CasinoFest 8) and took an interest in the magazine I was reading (this one, of course.) They excitedly told me about their recent trip to ARIA at CityCenter, saying the slot machines there were so neat because they could sit at one machine and choose which games to play. How neat, they thought it was, that they didn’t have to walk around looking for options. I told them that’s one of many emerging trends in slot machine technology. It appeared they suddenly felt even more special that they had experienced something new. I also told them about a few other things I learned while researching for this article. Their eyes lit up, and I could tell they couldn’t wait to see it all in person and play. They wanted more.
When I told Javier Saenz, vice president of network systems at IGT, this story, he said, “That’s why innovation is going to be so much fun. We’re about to create millions of those stories and it’s going to be awesome.”
What does the future of slot machine technology hold? Will the machines, as we know them, even be around? Server-supported gaming, server-based gaming, new math models, enhanced graphics and audio, community gaming, social networking, online gaming, the use of skill, video-reel hybrids, and classics with a new twist and more that we can’t even imagine are all ahead. To give you an idea of what the future of slot machine technology will bring, we interviewed more than a dozen experts. This is what they are looking forward to.
Blurring the Lines
What will grab players’ attention at the casino in the near future? The answer varies and is at times, elusive. As Mick Roemer, senior vice president of sales at Multimedia Games puts it, “That’s the magic of it, it’s the secret sauce.”
The secret sauce of the next few years may consist of the following: a continually blurring line between system and game, operator control over content on the machine, content libraries with games and other applications, advanced graphics and sound, new forms of community gaming, persistent-state gaming, 3-D technology, unique lighting features, ergonomic cabinet design, the inclusion of skill in slot games and more.
The overall theme is the goal of creating a memorable, personalized, connected experience at the casino that can carry over into a player’s everyday life, yet be distinctly different than an online gambling experience. Steve Walther, vice president of marketing at Aruze says, “We cannot stress the importance of the connection between the game and the player enough. You’ve got to be able to not just gamble, but you’ve got to be able to gamble and entertain.”
Today’s technology has players accustomed to wanting more for their money. Don Doucet, SPIELO’s vice president of business strategy, products and marketing, says, “Developers will have to create games and products that provide more entertainment and social connection than ever before. This will be key to grabbing players’ attention.”
The blurring of the game and system line will make much of this possible. Saenz says digital pop-ups controlled by the operator will be used to entice, inform and excite players. James Acres, president of Acres Bonusing, sees the blurring of lines happening best when the system tells the game to offer play experiences tailored to a player and what their preferences have been in the past.
Acres adds, “I can’t say what the next big thing is; I don’t know,” but he is confident that the future will be defined by the process of experimentation. “If you knew it was going to work after the experiment, you wouldn’t do the experiment.”
Saenz says you don’t have to convert your whole floor to start experiencing technology of the future. “The time is now for casinos to start implementing server-based technology on whatever scale makes sense for them.” He says now is the time to get in on the game, in the early stages, and that open protocols are putting us on the verge of a massive wave of innovation. “It’s very much like when the Internet first started coming into its own, and all of these new websites came out. And not all of them have survived. We’ll end up with our share of not so great ideas. But it’s the process of that innovation of exploring concepts that will allow us to provide the tools for operators to be innovative.”
The Next Few Years
An improvement in overall packaging of the product will continue over the next few years. As Jason Meyer, product marketing manager at Ainsworth Game Technology, says, widescreens, lighting effects and hardware options make an initial impact. “Straightaway people are like ‘let’s go see what that is.’ And that’s the easiest way to capture attention these days.”
For that initial grab, Aristocrat has introduced three new cabinets in the last 12 months. Dallas Orchard, vice president of gaming operations at Aristocrat, points to its newest release on the VERVEhd™ cabinet Rockin’ Olives as an example of how the company is player-led and technology-driven when improving overall product packaging. The game features art by Michael Godard, incredible sound and LCD buttons.
Beyond the packaging, connectivity is expected to entice players. The slot manufacturers are betting on this and developing technology to meet the demand. Connectivity is key when it comes to personalized bonusing and community gaming.
WMS has hundreds of its Lord of the Rings games out now. The game uses WMS’ improved adaptive technology to allow players to pick up where they left off and unlock bonus game content. Many other manufacturers are looking at creating experiences like this. Bradley Rose, senior director of game studios at WMS says: “Really the only advantage there is just brand new content. And from a lot of players that we talk to, it sounds a little cheesy, but content is king. They love that. They love being able to sit down at a machine and they get to play something that the person next to them doesn’t because they’ve achieved something. There’s no monetary value there. ” He says this is just the tip of the iceberg. The future will bring leader boards, different variations of this on future game releases and a community for slot players.
Advances in community gaming will continue with products like WMS’ Big Money Spin, Bally’s Virtual Racing on the iVIEW and iVIEW Display Manager (DM) player-use-interface, Aristocrat’s Crazy Taxi – Fare 4 All™, Multimedia Games’ TournEvent, Aruze’s Jackpot Battle Royal™, and ATRONIC/SPIELO’s DEAL OR NO DEAL Join’N Play™.
Community gaming of the future will offer players the chance to compete, collaborate and experience events together. The games will have complete strangers high-fiving, cheering each other on, or at times just the opposite. Walther says, “The technology that’s going to drive this is how, we as slot manufacturers, present to the players that it’s not just a game, but it’s a network game, it’s a community game and it’s a game that’s going to foster some sort of social connection and community by playing.”
Bally recently launched its Elite Bonusing Suite Virtual Racing application at a tribal casino in southern California. In this floor-wide event, players selected their favorite horse on the iVIEW player-user-interface screen during game play, and if their horse won, they were awarded a share of $350,000. The casino added to the floor-wide excitement by displaying the race on more than 50 displays in the casino, and created content featuring live music, a professional race caller, and bugle calls to the post, creating an experience for hundreds or thousands of players across the casino.
Bryan Kelly, vice president of research at Bally Technologies Innovation Lab, says, “They’re screaming for their own color,” which creates a sense of team play. “This is the technology that differentiates this casino from its competitors and the other casinos because they really get how to make the people who come to their property feel special. If you gamble at home, online or play other games elsewhere—on your mobile phone or wherever else—you’re not going to have this remote-wide experience.” Bally also plans to add interactive features to this game that would allow players to actually make their horse advance.
WMS’ Big Money Spin will bring players to a bonus round in which each player makes a decision that impacts what everyone wins. Rose points out, “you don’t want to be the guy who picks something bad.” This feature does raise the point that some players don’t want to interact and are afraid to affect the outcome of a stranger’s experience. Rose says WMS was concerned about that, but research eased their worries, pointing out that these games are for a special niche of casino patrons. “Players maybe who don’t understand rules of blackjack or craps but wanted that kind of community fun, can now get it at a slot machine.”
Walther points out that Aruze is keeping this in mind as well. “There are still people that want to be solo. So there has to be some sort of way to establish that it also could be based on a solo game or opt out of the community option.”
Larry Hodgson, vice president of product development at Incredible Technologies, has put much thought into this dilemma. He says the key is making sure that there is some sort of benefit to playing with others. In his opinion, the experience can’t be worse than what a player would have had on their own. “Mathematically, we can’t make everybody wealthy, so all that’s left is to make you feel good about yourself, and that’s the key.”
Aristocrat’s upcoming community game creates an atmosphere where the players all benefit as a community, instead of competing against each other. Crazy Taxi – Fare 4 All™ takes players on a wild ride as they participate collaboratively in three community gaming features.
Jared Torres, senior director of game development at Cadillac Jack, says he expects to see innovative new ways for players to spin reels, “similar to the way smart phones can be manipulated with the touch or slide of your fingers, in addition to the use of 3-D visuals.”
Bally did introduce its Cash Spin game with U-Spin™ gesture-control technology earlier this year, enabling players to spin a virtual wheel on a touch-screen. At G2E this year, Bally will be showing off its soon-to-be released iDeck™. It is a flush-mount button deck with multi-touch capabilities. The iDeck can change configuration from a main game to a bonus game. Kelly says it will blow people away. “The experiences you’re used to in the arcade or on your Xbox, those interactive, immersive experiences, you will have those types of experiences in a slot machine now, combined with a gambling experience.”
Hodgson says, imagine a slot machine without spinning reels. Incredible Technologies took a small step this year with their sidewinder reels in its Cars game. “We’re looking to give people different ways of winning. We can’t make that jump too fast, but once we’ve got our foothold we intend on experimenting with a lot of different ideas in presenting entertaining ways to gamble.”
Bally is also looking forward to 3-D technology, comparable to what people are used to in their entertainment or home-gaming lives. “A lot of companies are trying to crack the nut on how to do it without glasses,” Kelly says. “There’s a lot of research and development being done out in the world in this space.” He believes casino gaming products we’re seeing now in 3-D are just the beginning of what is to come.
Doucet says SPIELO would like to see technologies that allow players to interact with the games without even touching the machine. “This could add an interesting new element to video games. We’ve seen the level of interest in the new Kinect product that Microsoft is introducing for its Xbox 360, and we think that similar functionality could work in casino games.”
Multimedia Games is also working on skill-based games comparable to Wii games for at-home play. “I think it will be approved in some form or fashion to appeal to younger players and a broader gaming experience.”
Hodgson and the Incredible Technologies team, with a successful history in skill-based coin-operated games, sees skill moving into slot machine play in the future. “A lot of people want to have a little bit of influence on what they’re doing like video poker players for example. I think that there’s a lot of room for skill-based gaming in slot machines. We’ve been doing 100 percent skill-based games for 25 years. Obviously, we’re looking to bring our expertise to the slot market as well, but in the correct doses and in the correct way.”
Hodgson revealed that Incredible Technologies is working on its first game with an element of skill. It’s in the works now and just about ready to be tested in certain markets. There’s some skill coming in unique ways as we take small steps toward the future.”
The trick with this, Hodgson points out, is in the math. The skill can’t affect the outcome so radically that it skews the expected return for the casino, or worse, leaves the player with a bad feeling if the results are negative.
Acres takes it one step further, saying casinos might not use the big slot machines at all in the future. “If I had to make a prediction I would say, we’re going to move away from these $20,000 dollar boxes because they’re expensive and they’re clunky.” Acres is currently introducing a way for casinos to use iPads to run poker, keno and slot games. It debuts in casinos this fall.
Mechanical Reels and Traditional Game Images
The experts I interviewed agree that no matter how games are delivered and displayed, there is room in the future for mechanical reels and traditional images. Although video will continue to grow and dominate, with server-based gaming’s growth, it seems there will still be a place for steppers. Doucet says, “The challenge is combining these types of products in new and innovative ways.”
Roemer points out that reels never died, as expected six years ago. “The mechanical reel spinner is such a powerful psychological element for the player,” he continues, “So when a player gets the chance to play an actual mechanical reel, there’s going to be a powerful attraction.” He believes the growing use of bonusing will push the continued morphing of video and mechanical.
“I don’t know what it is in our human nature, but we love to see things physically spin,” Kelly says. “There’s a difference between a video where it virtually spins and a mechanical where it physically spins. For some reason, there’s either a trust factor that players have toward that experience, maybe it goes back to our caveman days when the wheel was first invented. We love a wheel.” Kelly believes mechanical reels will be viable for at least the next decade, with new technology coming on board to take that to the next level.
Walther adds that spinning reels are what the game of chance is all about. “I think steppers will be something that will be able to distinguish the actual brick and mortar gaming environments away from the Internet gaming environments.”
Orchard says Aristocrat knows it needs to release new products in its reel categories, and will be unveiling products at G2E to show where the company will take this in the future. Multimedia Games will debut its new 5-reel game at G2E this year as well.
This need to put a new spin on the old and familiar will carry over to traditional images and games. Torres says the traditional, classic games seem to stand the test of time, and Cadillac Jack has leveraged some of their most popular titles. “With updated graphics and features, we can create successful modern versions of older, traditional games,” he said.
Incredible Technologies learned this, this year, as the company introduced its innovative collection of slot machine games. After hearing feedback from test sites and players, the company is now adding a collection of traditional games to its portfolio.
Meyer says Ainsworth will work to take an old concept that hasn’t been around for decades and add something new to it. Kelly gives the example of a game with cherry images, but the cherries of the future will be floating in 3-D.
In the Future
Most manufacturers don’t want to say much about what they have up their sleeves for five or more years from now. Orchard put it best. “I will say that every slot machine manufacturer right now is paying enormous amounts of attention to the technologies going on in other industries,” he says.
Incredible Technologies has plans to bring players’ experiences to social networking sites, as the company has in the past. They used this concept in coin-op by linking its Golden Tee games to a network. When a player gets a hole-in-one she can chose to upload the video of that shot to YouTube. At this point, the company says it’s not quite ready to push that envelope in casino gaming just yet. “But it’s just a couple of years before we get our foothold and we can get cranking on connecting people in ways that they haven’t been connected in games before.”
Paul Miller, VP of business development, North America, says Betstone continues to invest in research and development and sees technologies like biometrics, visual perception, pervasive computing across all platforms, laser-video displays and even screenless displays such as holography making its way into gaming. “The player will become part of the game, rather than just play it. There will also be improvements in speed, security, graphics and Wi-Fi, providing more compact platforms in more diverse locations.”
Kelly loves talking about exciting technologies that could impact gaming. He sees cashless gaming or account-based gaming becoming more and more prevalent, over time. He also wonders how near-field technology in mobile phones could work with gambling devices to create that cashless atmosphere.
He echoes the biometrics outlook, saying the pace at which it will develop is debatable, not whether or not it will happen. He also sees facial-recognition technology being used with responsible gaming measures in which the game would recognize the face of a player and disable itself. It could be used to allow employees to unlock a machine, or offer players club perks without the use of a card.
Good Math Trumps All
Of course no matter what catches the attention of the players, the ultimate goal is to keep their attention. Meyer believes performance of games without good math will die off when someone else brings out the next big thing. However, if the core game and the math are good, players will still be going to the game in 12 months time.
That’s why Meyer says, “At Ainsworth, it’s all about the game.” He adds that taking money from someone and turning that into a winning experience is a fine art. “Long term, there is nothing that beats a winning math and game model in providing the ultimate experience for a player.”
Roemer adds that technology is really just the delivery system of the gaming experience. What holds players is the psychological experience of playing, betting and hoping for the big win. Creating that experience, he says, will overcome huge technology weaknesses in a product. “We’re obviously really technically savvy, and we’re on the forefront of the creation of electronic Class II bingo and other innovations. But we spend a lot of time on that psychological aspect and how we entertain the players, how we present those awards over a period of time through the technology. It’s dangerous, I think, to believe that technology is the answer to the future of gaming because it’s really just one aspect of it.”
Manufacturers agree that they must put equal amounts of attention toward technology for the player and technology for the operator. You can’t do one without the other. With server-based-gaming, manufacturers will continue to make changes to be an asset in many areas of the business.
Download and configuration, or server-supported gaming, is here. Saenz says that will be the obvious, basic element of how a server will interact with the slot floor of the future. But he believes server-based gaming will really be all about bonus games and connecting with players in a new way.
Robert Miodunski, chairman, interim president and CEO of Las Vegas-based American Gaming Systems, believes the industry has not quite figured out exactly where and how server-based gaming fits into the big picture moving forward. “We will keep working on it and it will ultimately be beneficial to all. American Gaming Systems has server-based Class III technology in the field working today and we will continue add the features and functionality that both players and operators want.”
Meyer believes manufacturers will have a similar role to what they do today, with a continually increasing investment in research and development.
Saenz says server-based gaming is here and it is already changing how IGT and some of its customers operate. Upgrades are being done through the network with a mouse, not on the floor with a screwdriver. “It truly changes the speed with which operators can deploy content and players can get access to fresh new games.” He says this means a big shift in how manufacturers distribute games and how operators access them.
Saenz envisions a game library, accessible via subscription. Operators will log on, chose their games electronically and put them on the floor. They will not get a big box in the mail with parts to be manually installed. “We’re going to figure out how to do things like Amazon does, like recommending game titles and having search capabilities. This will allow operators to select game themes and instantaneously switch between various games or place multiple different games on the same cabinet.” He points out this will increase the need for flexible platforms.
Miller says that the BetStone platform is “future proof” because of its ability to be constantly upgraded with the latest software and game content.
Torres says server-based data will guide Cadillac Jack’s development of products and add interaction and excitement to the player experience. “The social aspects of gaming will be better executed and enabled through social networking applications. Mystery features as part of community games and server-based games will permeate even more games, but will potentially be triggered through extended game play levels or via an ante bet. These features have the capability of not only generating excitement by adding a new element of play and perhaps increasing the overall payback of a game, but also of increasing the hold of the game as well.”
The experts seem to agree that operators will determine how server-based gaming evolves. They need to be able to see how they can get a better return on their investment. That’s why Saenz points out the opportunity SBG will give to market to players while they are playing.
Aristocrat feels confident that it will meet those needs moving forward. It currently offers operators Oasis 360 that helps casinos drive entertainment, bonusing and marketing to the player while on a slot machine. With SBG, the operator can use business intelligence systems to create personalized, customized experiences for players. Orchard explains, “So the casino itself understands the habits and the techniques of that individual player so they can then create marketing and database awareness around that individual player.”
Aristocrat is also working on its thin-client solution, TruServ. Orchard says the power of this technology can basically take over a floor. “Where the game is the system and the system is the game. And it’s a very scalable solution and we think that that is the future. It’s just a matter of how it gets adopted.”
Kelly believes a 10-year migration strategy will take the game from the machine to the server. “What that gets you to is a more platform independent thing, so today I can be playing my Cash Spin game on a Bally Pro Series cabinet. Tomorrow, in theory, I can be playing on wireless handheld. Because the outcome on the game is actually happening up on the server. The device is just a presentation device.”
Kelly says the next big need for casinos will be a recommendation system. “Have the right product for the right person at the right time, to maximize entertainment value, player satisfaction and obviously casino revenue. That’s the Holy Grail. That may take 10 years. All of the companies, the key slot system providers, will be working on technology that allows you to do this.”
When online gaming is approved in the United States, experts believe mobile gaming will skyrocket. Clearly the launch and acceptance of smartphones and mobile applications has taken off and many see gaming as a natural addition to what people do on their phones. Leaders of Austrian Gaming Industries GmbH (AGI) and Greentube, both part of the Novomatic Group, tell us “Especially urban citizens are spending a remarkable amount of time while waiting for or travelling with any kind of public transport as a potential situation for seeking an easy accessible form of entertainment. Gaming is one of the favorite contents people are looking for within that context.”
Kelly believes i-gaming laws could also open the door to wide-scale, wide-area community gaming. “If some of these things open up, there may be aspects where people at a casino are playing against other players who may be playing at home, on their mobile device, things of that nature.”
Kelly says when i-gaming is approved, suppliers and operators will have to work together to create experiences at brick and mortar locations that players simply cannot get online. “There’s something about the concept of proximity to other players. You know, movie theatres didn’t go out of business once the DVD rental business came out. One of the reasons is because people still like to go and experience the dark movie theatre, go get their real popcorn, sit and hear the rest of the crowd sigh and experience it all together. We become one, even though we are an individual in this larger room. So that experience we have to help accentuate through good game design.”
Walther adds, casinos will use lighting, packaging, linking and sound to create this casino-unique experience.
When we asked Rose how online gambling in the U.S. would change WMS, he simply said, “If it comes, we’ll be ready.”
Most of the experts I talked to agree that regulation, intellectual property rights and investment barriers are the main obstacles they face when trying to introduce new technology.
Saenz says in order for the transformational changes he envisions to take place, operators will need to get their floors updated with Ethernet wiring to connect to modern games or use retrofit kits on their older games.
The manufacturers are clearly capable of bringing new technology to the market. But to do so they need to focus on regulators. “We need to make sure that our regulators and our gaming commissions understand the technology that we want to introduce, and believe in it, and similar to customers that they actually see benefit in it and potential in it because otherwise things can be slowed down,” Orchard explains.
Doucet refers to SPIELO’s success with game downloading in VLT markets as an example. These distributed, or wide-area, markets adapted this technology out of necessity long before the casino industry started to consider it. “It’s taken years to reassure many casino regulators that downloading can be done just as securely, if not more securely, than manually replacing EEPROMs. The same is also true of remote configuration and wireless networking.”
Rose says one way WMS gains the trust of regulators is introducing things in phases, to avoiding shocking regulators or players. He believes people are ready for change, but the presentation of that change is key.
Hodgson says getting people to change the rules takes time and the newer ideas are even riskier. Although the regulatory process can hinder technological advances, Hodgson says he sees why it must be this way: “You need to protect the integrity of the game, you need to protect what the casino holds dear, and be concerned with fairness to players. You can’t be in a situation where the game is going to do something that’s going to put the casino operator at risk or mislead players.”
Roemer points out that some technology just may not be approvable because it’s too skill-based or not secure enough.
Roemer says intellectual property also continues to be a barrier, slowing down progress by preventing companies from improving on technology introduced by others. GSA standards may help alleviate this barrier in the future.
Orchard says: “It’s a very controversial subject. I think all of the manufacturers need to feel comfortable that the industry isn’t being bullied into one certain direction just because it is the first to market. I think we all feel like we have good solutions, and that we can all benefit from this and all move into the future together, but we shouldn’t have to follow the lead of one manufacturer, we should all work together and make sure it best suits everybody and best suits our customers because we all have good solutions and being first to market doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re right all the time.”
Other industries have tried and tested many of the technologies now translating to casino gaming. The experts say it’s time for the industry to take advantage and learn from what others have done, while focusing on how it will make the players’ experience even better. Orchard says he has never seen technology play a bigger part in our industry.
Acres points out, that although change usually happens slowly in our industry, it is not always that way when something amazing, like TITO, comes along. “We know that our industry, despite of what we all say, has the potential for radical, rapid change that nobody saw coming.”
Hodgson says: “If you can imagine it, you can do it. You can entertain people in a lot of different ways. There’s nothing preventing this industry from really expanding beyond a video slot or a mechanical reel. But to succeed, the players have to embrace it. So we have to bridge the gap and say to people, let’s try something different and get them to understand its value. And I think that’s really the key to keeping the games vital.”
The experts quoted in this article are excited for the future; you can hear it in their voices and see it in their words.
Saenz says, “A couple years from now we’re going to have some ideas, like new sbX applications, that we never could have executed before, never could have conceived of before. And we’re about to sort of unleash people’s imagination and actually give them the tools and ability to do the things they’ve always wanted to do. And that to me is really exciting, it’s transformational. That’s really what brings me to work every day.”
Acres simply adds, “There will be things that I can’t even dream of, and they’ll be here sooner than anybody thinks.”
Sarah Klaphake Cords is the New Media Editor for Casino Enterprise Management. She can be reached at editor3[at]aceme.org.
The Future of Gaming Technology: Peripherals
By Taaren Haak
When looking at innovation in the peripherals sector of the gaming industry, one term is sure to pop into your mind—TITO. The technology, introduced more than a decade ago, was a launching point for many companies to turn out an entirely new and more advanced line of products in ticket validators and thermal printers. Now that TITO is no longer the newest kid on the playground, with adoption in more than 90 percent of U.S. casinos, it can be used as a tool to support the next wave of advancements—namely, networked gaming operations. With these new pairings will come greater opportunity for marketing-driven player loyalty and security innovations, topics that are on the minds of many experts in the peripherals field.
Plug and Play
Today, one of the most important aspects for peripheral manufacturers to consider is standardization. After all, if a customer can’t move from gaming machine to machine, exchanging tickets with ease, a major functionality of TITO is rendered useless. Thankfully, GSA has the standards in place to make operations smoother for both the customer and the casino.
“The benefit of these protocols is that they provide the open standard communications that will make integrating GSA peripherals much easier for the game developer,” said Nick Micalizzi, vice president of sales and marketing for FutureLogic, a company that was on the front lines of the TITO movement when it collaborated with IGT on its introduction to Las Vegas in 1999. “The other advantage is interoperability. In a GSA casino, these protocols will allow the movement of peripherals from game to game without changing the connectors or firmware.”
The next big innovation taking place in gaming is the much-talked-about networked gaming movement (see CEM’s Networked Gaming Guide, April, July and October 2009; April and August 2010). And though it may seem like the spread of networked gaming only affects slot machines, that doesn’t mean that other areas will be left in the dark. Eric Fisher, vice president – Americas for MEI, commented, “Bill validators are the port of entry to the game, so game and bill validator technology move in tandem.”
Besides their close connection to slots and other casino games, peripheral products provide an important link to the customer. “The addition of a network utilizing current technology provides the capability to actively communicate with all players on a slot floor and promote offerings that meet operator goals and objectives,” said Tim Moser, TransAct’s product marketing manager.
Fisher agreed, saying, “The industry is beginning to rely more on bill validators for networking the casino. The bill validator plays an essential role in server-based gaming and couponing, taking on the role of a system manager. Furthermore, we anticipate recycling technology to grow rapidly as it eliminates machine hopper starvation issues in global environments, such as Europe AWP, that are non-TITO.”
Peripheral manufacturers need to keep the networking shift in mind when designing new products, and realize that it is a big commitment for a property’s slot floor. Sim Bielak, vice president of sales and business development - casino gaming for Crane Payment Solutions, explained: “We see the cash management side evolving as we get into a networked environment, providing information through the slot system. That’s part of the reason why we took a different approach and went with a system, like oneCheckTM, that leverages the existing peripherals in the slot machine with no incremental cost to the operator. We try to keep the customer in mind and, rather than making them invest in hardware that may soon become obsolete, give them a solution to form a migration path for the future of a networked floor.”
Peripheral functions also provide the opportunity to work with players that frequent more than just the slot floor. “We see the integration of table games with the TITO network as an opportunity for casinos to identify and market to valuable crossover players, implement promotional couponing at the table, and virtually eliminate the need to replenish chips at table games,” Micalizzi commented. “FutureLogic recently introduced the TableXchange® printer/scanner, which connects table games to the casino’s existing network by scanning and printing TITO vouchers. The TableXchange printer/scanner can be integrated into the casino’s promotional couponing system, and is also fitted with a Magstripe reader to record and update player’s club cards, enabling players to receive loyalty points for activity at table games just as they do in slots.” With all of this information exchanged between your floor management system and the games, the networked couponing options can reach epic levels. It can stand to reason that soon we may have difficulties trying to figure out what to do with it all.
Don’t expect these advancements to slow down anytime soon either. Partly as a result of the gaming industry’s highly regulated, slow adoption process, this technology wave is nowhere near its breaking point. “We have only started to see the beginning of the digital revolution in gaming,” Fisher said. “As server-based gaming becomes adopted at a higher rate, the industry will transfer to the next level.”
Increasing Player Loyalty and Perceived Value
“Promotional couponing has clearly revolutionized the casino environment and created new opportunities for printer manufacturers,” Micalizzi said. “The ability to issue a player a bar-coded promotional coupon helps casinos attract and retain customers. For players, these offers provide valued savings and incentives, thereby enhancing their casino/resort experience. With non-gaming revenue becoming more important to casino resorts and complexes, linking reward programs across multiple leisure experiences, as well as casino floors, has become an important initiative for marketers. By directly linking promotional campaigns to specific player actions, activities or behavior, TITO printers become a multifunctional marketing tool.”
One thing that will help launch peripherals into the arena of marketing and player loyalty is real-time communication with the player through a networked device. “Real time” is the key term here, as it is the direct and nearly instant message to a customer that grabs his/her attention and keeps it there.
Moser explains: “A player that receives interactive promotions and offers in real time, with the ability to accept or reject the offer, receives a level of customer service that cannot be experienced without a networked gaming floor. This sort of immediate feedback and reward of players has the potential of not only lengthening the player’s stay on the property, but will also enhance the player’s experience. For operators this is paramount; the better the player experience, the more opportunity operators have to maximize player worth and strengthen loyalty programs. This has the potential of increasing a player’s perception of how valuable they are to a casino, which could in turn increase player loyalty. When a player feels that he/she is valued by a casino and appropriately rewarded or given promotional offers, player satisfaction increases. Real-time offers that are sent to the game, accepted by the player, printed at the game and redeemed at the venue provide a no-waiting VIP-type experience for all players.”
Safe and Secure
Peripheral products have a wide range of functionalities and applications, since they act to assist many different areas of the gaming floor. But while customer interaction and retention are important components of any casino operation, one specific factor of your machines can knock out an entire floor if not carefully considered. And that factor is security. Casino operators need to keep abreast of new security capabilities in order to stay ahead of any potential threat to data or finances. Since much of your revenue goes through a peripheral product, this is an area that deserves close attention.
“Traditionally bill validators are used to validate cash and tickets,” Fisher explained. “However, the market is beginning to leverage the information from the bill validator to manage cash and security, making processes better and more efficient. MEI continues to expand its products and integrate into more aspects of security, continuing to improve processes outside of where bill validators have traditionally been used. In the past few years we have already moved from just manufacturing products for the slot floor and have expanded into the soft count room. As our technology and the industry grow, we will continue to increase our footprint in other parts of the casino. The purchasing decision for a bill validator used to be the responsibility of the slot team. Now departments like finance and accounting are very interested in the reports that can be generated from EASITRAX Soft Count and have become involved in the purchasing decision.”
The products that stay on the floor also need to be sure to be working to the highest standards to catch fraudulent materials used in the machines. Bielak shared that full-spectrum functionality—including optical, inductive, ultraviolet and dielectric detection—in bill validators may be one of the most important technological advances for the coming years. “It’s probably more than what you would need today, but you need to build in future-proofing. Because counterfeiters get smarter, and the technology available to them is always advancing. The more spectrums of validation you use, the better acceptance you’ll have of poor-quality legitimate notes, and the more rejection you’ll have of good-quality counterfeit notes.”
“The current economy has slowed down the acceleration that we were all looking for in server-based gaming,” Bielak said. “It was supposed to be a catalyst for growth, and the recession has thrown all of that off by a couple years. But the neat thing about technology is you can’t hold it back.”
Peripherals, by their very nature, have a hand in many different areas of a gaming operation. This means that they may have to adapt to several different technology advancements in short succession. Of course, peripheral companies also pioneer their own innovations to make their own impressions on the industry. The most important aspect, though, is the player and how peripherals exist to improve the overall gaming experience.
“The benefits of implementing technology that allows casino operators to communicate with players at a gaming machine is less about the technology and more about providing the best possible experience to players,” Moser commented. “In fact, the more invisible the technology, the better and quicker it will be received by the vast majority of players.”
And that should be the goal of any new technology—to create a solution so seamless, you don’t even realize it’s there.
Taaren Haak is the Associate Editor for Casino Enterprise Management. She can be reached at (701) 293-7775 or editor4[at]aceme.org.
The Future of Gaming Technology: Table Games
By Amanda Huggett
No doubt, technology in slot machines and all its components is very fast growing. But what about the other part of the equation on a casino’s gaming floor—table games? This is a little more debated, as witnessed by a recent CEM article (see “Tech-Based Table Games” by Brian Doerr in the July issue) and in the corresponding panel at CasinoFest 8. To find out what others think, what is currently happening and what is on the horizon, I spoke with seven table game providers.
It seems that the collective answer is yes, there is technology in table games, and yes it can work. But, the difference here is that that technology is virtually unnoticeable to the player. It’s technology that works “behind the scenes,” securing game play, improving efficiencies and upping security on the tables, all while making the experience better for the player—even though they may not notice it. There may be no flashy toppers, blinking lights, surround sound chairs or animated animals guiding you through a bonus round, but there can be animated virtual dealers with HD graphics, player tracking systems, RFID-enabled products and automated shufflers.
The first thing we need to define is the difference between fully electronic table games and traditional games that incorporate new technologies. We are going to discuss and refer to both in this article.
Ales Zupancic, head of R&D at Elektroncek d.d., explained that even with automated player tracking options, live table games still fit into a different product segment than fully automatic table games. “Automated table games are generally purchased and maintained by the slot staff. Automated table games generally attract customers that are seeking an alternative to live table games due to the learning curve, price point, comfort or intimidation,” he said.
Nathan Wadds, senior vice president, research and development for Shuffle Master Inc., added: “With respect to e-Tables, including fully-electronic and hybrid platforms that combine electronic wagering with a live game outcome, the technology that is incorporated is on par with that used in today’s slot machines. Just like slot machines, e-tables offer complete game play information, they interface with back-of-house accounting systems and player tracking systems, and they do so in a completely secure environment that provides quick game play at a wide range of denominations.”
However, Wadds continued, the live games that have had technologies introduced to improve game speed and security over the years have suffered from a slower player and operator adoption rate. Though automatic card shufflers and other technologies such as RFID and camera monitoring systems are now the norm in most casinos, they were slow to catch on as casinos were reluctant to pay for an unproven technology and players were reluctant to sit at tables incorporating these “strange” devices. Over time, though, the technology proved itself and was expanded to cover all types of card-based games.
For Gaming Partners International, the big difference between the two types of games comes down to player experience. “We hear this from our customers all the time,” Greg Gronau, president and CEO, explained. “Look at Pennsylvania and all the markets that opened up in the Eastern U.S. recently—they all replaced many of their electronic table games with live tables. They didn’t replace all of them, because there is definitely room on the floor for both, but the majority of the tables went to live table gaming. The operators are going to supply the players with what they want to play. It has always been true for slots, and it has always been true for table games.”
“The best technology is transparent to the player,” Justin Woodard, GPI’s director of sales for the Americas, added. “It maintains an authentic gaming experience while increasing overall efficiency for the operator.”
“Even though it’s impossible to overlook the skepticism that the introduction of a new technology brings to the players, their satisfaction is the main reason behind every new solution that a manufacturer brings to market,” Zupacnic commented. “If the new solution is reliable, transparent and intuitive, the players will react most positively.”
“Players today use computers on a daily basis. So, it is a natural transition for players to accept and play electronic gaming devices like table games,” Brian Folger, product line representative for IGT, noted. “Traditional slots have advanced greatly by incorporating new technology and features with mystery jackpots, our MLD technology, and the advancement of server-based gaming,” he said. “Table games need to keep up with this advancement.”
Oldies But Goodies
Some of the first game technologies have been around for decades, including HD graphics and touchscreen interfaces, and have been used on both slot machines and table games for years. But Zupancic argued that the advancements here, especially in responsiveness, resolution and accuracy of touch-sensitive displays, have been crucial for improvement in the intuitiveness of the player’s interface.
Another proven technology, though a bit more recent, are automatic shufflers, making dealers lives easier by eliminating the manual shuffling process, allowing for more focus on providing good customer service, as well as reducing game down time and reducing repetitive stress injuries.
TCSJOHNHUXLEY shared one of their advancements in this area. “Prior to the first chipping machine being launched, each roulette table required two dealers, with one dedicated to sorting and stacking chips. TCSJOHNHUXLEY’S latest generation Chipper Champ 2 sorts up to 500 chips per minute, which can result in game productivity being increased by up to 15 percent,” explained Cohen. “It can be quickly programmed to reliably sort any chip from wheel checks to the most complex graphic value chips. It identifies and isolates non-conforming chips and notifies the dealer accordingly.”
What exactly was the first table game to go digital is up for debate, but regardless, some of the firsts paved the way. “Blackjack was one of the first electronic table games,” Folger said. “It allowed for a quicker, cleaner game with fewer errors achieving a more profitable game for operators. It also allows for new players to learn the game easily, which can sometimes be intimidating on a live game.”
Zupancic said it was poker and other card games that were simple enough to be transformed to purely digital versions. “Since these styles of card games only required a graphic display and a simple user interface, they were the first to be digitally automated. However, the first popular live table game that was automated in an electro-mechanical manner was roulette. Since its introduction, the demand for electronic roulette tables has been constantly growing.”
Gronau remembers back to when he worked at WMS in 1997: “There were electronic blackjack games back then. I think it was, in a lot of jurisdictions, a stepping stone for players who may have been a little intimidated by live gaming or didn’t like the minimum bet at the time to try table games. It had its place on the floor, and today it’s still similar.”
According to Tracy Cohen, marketing manager at TCSJOHNHUXLEY: “TCSJOHNHUXLEY, working with Novomatic, pioneered the introduction of the world’s first live electronic roulette system in 2000. Since it was launched, TouchBet® Roulette has changed the face of gaming floors worldwide and is now the market-leading electronic roulette terminal-based product. This range of products has significantly increased operator profitability in all major gaming territories and its success has led to a demand for baccarat, Sic Bo and blackjack based games to be added on the platform. This product definitely unleashed the start of the phenomenon.”
I asked all of my contributors what they think has been the No. 1 best product advancement in table games. The responses were varied. Zupancic said he believed that one of the most notable has been the interconnectivity between player stations and games, which “at the same time allows more players to join any one game as well as give players the choice of which game to participate in without having to move player stations.”
Wadds believes the best advancement for live games is a combination of technologies that are used individually and in hybrid e-table platforms. For example, Shuffle Master’s i-Table platform combines fully-electronic wagering with a live game outcome to improve game speed and security while providing the operator with access to complete game data. It accomplishes this by utilizing intelligent shufflers or card reading shoes that read the value of each card or packet of cards as it is dealt, and relaying the information to the table operating system. The end result is 100 percent accurate pays and takes.
“The introduction of hybrid games has definitely been the best product advancement in recent years,” Cohen stated. “TCSJOHNHUXLEY is renowned for providing some of the best electronic multiplayer gaming systems in the industry. All products feature hybrid electronic gaming platforms and live game content, allowing players to compete against a live roulette wheel, dice shaker or card shoe while striking the perfect balance between the thrill of live gaming and the advantages of electronic betting.”
As one of the best advancements for electronic table games, Folger talked about IGT’s Table iD™ System, a product that allows for computerized player tracking and eliminates the need for manual reporting. The Table iD application automates player ratings, drops, headcounts, markers, comp issuance and table accounting transactions.
And for Leopold Öller, director at AMATIC Industries, the best advancement is simply, “electronic roulette.”
What is one of the most technologically advanced table games on the market now? “With mechanical and computerized systems in place and remote betting terminals for players tied into a casino host system, roulette is one of the more advanced table games on the market today,” Folger shared.
Öller said there are a small number of gaming manufacturers who have the know-how and corresponding manufacturing prowess to offer top quality table games. “AMATIC Industries in Austria controls the whole vertical integration of the electronic roulette table manufacturing. … The Roulette Grand Jeu™ and Roulette Grand Jeu Prestige™ series from AMATIC offers players the utmost gaming experience in electronic roulette.”
Woodard also commented: “From our perspective, live tables today can be as technologically advanced as the electronic tables, with automatic shufflers, table limit signs, table management systems, smoke filtration devices, progressive systems and RFID-enabled hardware. Our eReady™ table’s unique design permits the blend of all the technology and electronics currently employed on live table games with RFID technology, by eliminating signal interference and protecting sensitive cables. It allows all the electronic equipment found on a table to perform at its fullest potential while maintaining the beauty and function of the gaming table.”
Cohen references TCSJOHNHUXLEY’s MultiPLAY system, which features patent-pending Touch ID technology. What makes MultiPLAY different than other touchscreen systems is its ability to identify up to eight individual players and specific bets on the same MultiTouch screen and place bets with a touch of a fingertip.
“One of the technologically most challenging tasks was to produce a fully automated card shuffling and dealing mechanism for the purpose of offering popular card games such as blackjack and baccarat,” Zupancic said. “To date, this mechanism, which we use in our Organic Card gaming machine, is technologically the most advanced gaming machine on the market.”
Chad Hoehne, president of Table Trac Inc., noted that we are now at a point where practically everything that can be done to enhance the player experience on the slot machine side of the casino operation can also be done on the table games side.
“We still have enormous room for advancement with electronic table games,” Folger said. “For example, better mechanical and computerized systems will allow for better game management and a better game experience for the player.”
Gronau added that for live gaming, table security is going to be one of the main drivers in the future. He believes a layered approach to security, where there are visible and non-visible security features in the casino currency, is what protects the casinos best. “As technology continues to advance, security in the chips, at the tables and at the cage will become more sophisticated and continue to change and improve,” he said.
There is great potential in the development of electro-mechanical game elements, electronics, networking and software technology, from which the table games will greatly benefit, Zupancic said.
With so much potential, the possibilities are endless as to what we could see in the future. The collective thought seems to be that it’s all about driving player experience and supporting operators.
Amatic believes that its Roulette Grand Jeu and Roulette Grand Jeu Prestige is the answer. Its modular concept allows operators to expand its size without having to invest in a completely new electronic roulette. And the two-player Roulette Grand Jeu Prestige can be expanded to become a four-player, six-player or 10-player game.
It’s also important to note that some players look for the social aspect of traditional table games that is not always available in completely electronic versions. Hoehne spoke to this as well: “The social interaction of table games will continue to push the envelope in terms of technology. That is, new interactive video table games will continue to be introduced; new table games with exotic side bets and progressive jackpots will be rolled out. While the face of the pit may not change much over the next 10 years, we believe that it will be technology driven—everything from linked multi-property games to chips with new embedded technology. But most important, technology will drive how we attract, retain and reward table game players.”
Cohen agreed, and added: “Casinos will want to continue having products that satisfy the craving of the table game player while enhancing the playing experience simultaneously driving cost and error out of the operators business. It is this kind of technology that operators are demanding to ensure accuracy, better returns on valuable floor space and secure player retention.”
Gronau believes we’ll see continued advancement on table designs. “You’re going to see some operators who change the number of betting spots per table in order to optimize game play,” he said. “We’ve seen changes in baccarat; we’ve seen changes in blackjack … all because technology now permits such changes and enhancements, while improving table win. We also see game content continue to expand—there will be a growing number of companies that offer game content to the casinos.”
The Next Big Thing
One big advancement that has happened is cooperation among the manufacturers to come together to create that better experience for the operator and player. Hence, the recent announcement that GPI acquired the rights to a RFID chip inventory system which will allow casinos to better secure its currency, authenticate chips, gather other data at the table and cage, while linking with a casino’s back-end system. “We are now converging low frequency and high frequency RFID technologies to add improved functionality, security and communications with a range of casino systems,” Gronau said. “We look forward to partnering with the other systems providers to give casinos the benefits the RFID data from the tables and providing the customer with the best solution possible.”
Hoehne also weighed in. “Outside of new table games and interactive table game play styles being introduced which we believe will continue to fuel growth for the table games side of casino operations, we have begun testing a new Ipad® table tracking system that enables casino staff—and especially table games personnel—to not only auto-populate patron information fields, but also capture required signatures for everything from fills to other patron credit and cage requirements.”
These digital “documents” can also be stored in pdf bundles for back-office accounting and regulatory controls. He explained that moving the “workstation” from the physical podium to the pit supervisors hand allows for free-flow movement and observation of the pit, while keeping the monitoring of key events and players at his fingertips. “Systems that successfully anticipate and automate the flow in the table games unique environment, without intruding, is the next big advancement,” Hoehne commented.
TCSJOHNHUXLEY’s MultiPLAY has been so successful that they will continue to add new games and functions to the platform. The latest development is the introduction its new Gemini™ wheel, combined with bill acceptors and ticket printers. The result is a lucrative 24-hour live hybrid roulette platform that requires no dealer or inspection.
Pretty neat, huh?! And you can bet there’s lots of exciting things to come.
As a parting note, Folger shared that: “Casinos in Europe and Asia have already accepted electronic table games. All the traditional casino games are played in an electronic and mechanical format. Baccarat, roulette and Sic Bo have a huge presence in the overseas markets, with hundreds of terminals on casino floors. We are slowly seeing that market acceptance here in North America and have nothing but opportunities to advance.”
Amanda Huggett is the Managing Editor for Casino Enterprise Management. She can be reached at (701) 293-7775 or editor2[at]aceme.org.