November 14, 2022 Casino, Land Based

Slots of the future

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As technology changes the world, slots are no exception. Gaming America’s Cameron Saunders took a look for himself.

Growing up, the stereotype was a rather sad one: widowed retirees sitting at a slot machine, cigarette dangling from the lips, a 32 oz. cup of quarters in the cup holder, a lady whose only evident mobility was to move the arm just enough to pull down on the lever ad infinitum. Racket from the machines suffused the room as lights blared garishly.

And then? All is vindicated. JACKPOT! The coins come splurting out of the machine. The once unbudging body jumps for joy in disbelief at her windfall. This is what makes it all worth it.

This is the old stereotype. It is largely out of date. You could even say it is about 90% out of date, since many of the people I talked to about slots on the casino floor today said that only 10% retain that lever or have that quarter input. Indeed, the last decade has seen slots evolve from this earlier stereotype to the point of being nearly unrecognizable.

Technology has taken over, making machines more visibly impressive as the games have increased in complexity, multiple buttons and touch screens having replaced the singular lever. The modern slot machine can appear beast-like, with a huge arching screen. In some cases they can even appear as tunnels.

Zitro Games is a Luxembourgish slot manufacturer that has stayed ahead of the curve in terms of technology and has seen its US operations expand significantly over the past few years. The company’s US CEO, Derik Mooberry, spelled out for Gaming America some of these changes in hardware: “Slots are continuously changing and evolving… We’ve seen a tremendous amount of hardware innovation. The advent of curved screens and the cabinet sizes themselves have changed radically. You used to see that every cabinet in every casino was a dual-screen cabinet. Now we’re seeing tall cabinets with big screens and ultra HD graphics, lots of angles and supports, and the accessories that go with them as well. They have all really gone to new heights.”

Mooberry also notes how changes in slot design have profoundly affected the user experience. He goes on: “There are lots of evolutions in terms of ways to reward players. There are a lot of new ways to do free spins and to award players. Players find these exciting. The one thing we have an obligation to do as a manufacturer is to make the games continue to be exciting for the consumer.”

In addition, new technologies are affecting such areas as payout. Cashless technology has become commonplace, with a card replacing the older cup of quarters. Headquartered in Reno, IGT is among the leading slot manufacturers in the world. Unsurprisingly, it is doing what it can to stay in the lead in terms of cashless technological innovation.

IGT VP of Global Communications, Events and Sustainability Phil O’Shaughnessy spoke to us about what advantages cashless technology was bringing his company’s customers: “In innovating with cashless, seeing how players interface with the machine – our Resort Wallet with IGTPay – has enabled a transformation of slot play experience by allowing players to connect to their funds, to card into the machine and loyalty program from the convenience of their phones. That makes for a more fun player experience.”

And then there is the revolution in online gaming. As more states allow iCasino (the tally is up to six for now, with more on the horizon), more people are playing slots on their cell phones and other mobile devices. This revolution brings with it bold implications for how slots will be designed in the coming years. What will be designed first, the land-based slot or the online game? How will design in one influence that of the other? And will there be a world where hybrid slots are commonplace (ie, will we be sitting in front of a slot machine while looking at our phones)?

Mooberry at Zitro sees the two worlds as increasingly intertwined. He noted that, despite the fact the company designs for both the online and the land-based player, the two essentially grow alongside one another: “We design for both. And the player is slightly different. While you’ll see a game that works well for both land based and for online, the way you can configure it and the bonus rounds will be slightly different.”

At the Las Vegas-based Aruze Gaming, developers are fully cognizant that these two streams are growing together. I asked group President Rob Zeims if online slots would come to dictate the design of land-based ones. This was what he said: “Maybe dictate is too strong a word. I might go with influence. But we’re still in the early days. I don’t know if in ten years it will be dictating. But I do know a number of manufacturers that start in the online world by taking their land-based games and importing them for online. A number of those that are a bit more mature in that market are developing for online as a way of sampling what they think will be successful for land based.” Despite this, Zeims concedes, “They are still very different markets.”

It seems slots are going to bold new places with the blending of all these new technologies. But after speaking to the industry leaders, I couldn’t help but wonder what the people thought. Were they enamored with the new style of slots or were they, like me, nostalgists?

One night I walked the floor of Circus Circus, one of the most nostalgia-inducing casinos on the Las Vegas Strip. I quietly walked up to players, many of whom were too focused on their machines to pay me any mind. Sure enough, about 10% of the slot machines on the floor were of the old lever sort.

I walked up to a couple “from back East” who was playing on one of the old ones. They were convinced that the payout was greater on the older ones. The husband told me: “These have better odds. They pay back more. You win more often. That guy right there just hit $1,000.”

But then I went over to the newer, electrified, lit-up machines and the players were just as sanguine. As one lady told me: “It doesn’t really matter to me. Playing is playing.” 

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