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Report from G2E 2009, part 1

15 December 2009

It was early in the morning at the recent Global Gaming Expo at the Las Vegas Convention Center, and I was touring the International Game Technology booth with Julie Brown, IGT's director of marketing. Another IGT representative came over to point out a special guest in the booth.

"Steve Wynn is over at Sex and the City. Now," she said.

I looked over, and sure enough, the Wynn Casino honcho who built the Mirage Resorts brand from the ground up was playing the game I'd just tested moments before.

IGT, the world's biggest slotmaker, has had its thunder stolen a bit in recent years by the innovations developed by competitors such as WMS Gaming and Bally Technologies, but this time around anyone who was anyone wanted to check out what IGT had going on. At G2E 2009, it seemed the crowds couldn't get enough of either Sex and the City or American Idol among the games casino players will be seeing in the coming year.

Sex and the City has already been installed in several Nevada casinos, and early returns give IGT high hopes. With video clips, reel symbols and bonus rounds featuring all four of the TV hit's female as well as "Mr. Big" Chris Noth providing voiceovers and essentially acting as a host for the game, fans of the show no doubt will love the game. But there's enough entertainment with nine bonus rounds and a five-level progressive jackpot that non-watchers can enjoy it, too.

It's the first IGT Megajackpots game to feature the Multiplay system introduced a year ago, with four sets of spinning video reels on the same screen. Enhancing the package is the new MEGAfx Surround Chair with five audio channels in the wraparound head section and a subwoofer in the seat for a total sensory experience.

"I think folks were thinking it's primarily a game for women and yes, that is the demographic we're going after," Brown said, "but we were at Hard Rock the other night and there was a guy playing. I walked up to him and said, 'Do you like the game?' And he said, 'My wife made me play,' and she was sitting next to him laughing. But he said, 'I'm really having a good time, there's a lot going on here.' So that was really fun."

IGT ramps up the excitement with its new Center Stage series, starting with the Wheel of Fortune Experience and, coming in March, American Idol. Center Stage is an eye-catcher as a 103-inch screen above a bank of machines draws attention to the prime-time product. A second version features a 70-inch screen. IGT's hope is that casinos will install both versions, with the latest and greatest production going on the big screen while the previous game moves over to the 70-inch stage.

I sampled both games. The Wheel of Fortune Experience, the latest in IGT's long, successful line based on the TV game show, features a community bonus that has three players choosing letters to complete a puzzle. The player who fills in the most puzzle spaces gets the biggest bonus.

American Idol uses five sets of video reels per screen along with AI personalities Ryan Seacrest, Simon Cowell, Kara DioGuardi and Randy Jackson. Its community bonus on the big screen involves auditions from the TV show. Each player picks one of three judges — I went with Kara each time. After video of the audition, each judge in turn gives assessment of the performance, with bonus meters rising and falling with the judges' comments. In playing through, I saw both a terrific performance that led to a bonus round within a bonus round — the Golden Ticket to Hollywood — and a disaster of a performance that had judge Simon at his snarky best.

It's all good fun, and plenty of it.

** * ** * **

Each year at the Global Gaming Expo, casino industry insiders are polled in the American Gaming Associations Future Watch survey. This year, one of the hot topics was the future of legalized online gaming in the United States, something that a majority of those polled see coming soon.

Fifty percent of those polled responded that the U.S. will legalize some form of online gambling within the next one to three years, with another 31 percent saying it will come within three to five years. They are not counting on current proposals to pass Congress — 81% said they expected a proposal by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) to fail, and 63% said they expected a bill sponsored by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) to stall.

Nonetheless, they expect some form of online gambling to be legalized in the near future. They don't expect that form to be sports betting, despite the large following offshore websites have developed among American sports bettors. Seventy-five percent said they do not expect legalization of online sports betting within the next five to 10 years.

Report from G2E 2009, part 1 is republished from GamingMeets.com.
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Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

The Craps Answer Book

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski