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Best of John Grochowski
Technology on the Slot Floor19 July 2005
That technology has advanced on the slot floor is obvious every time we watch the Wheel of Fortune spin, or drop our lines into the water in Reel 'Em In Cast for Cash, or save Nell in the Rocky and Bullwinkle slots.
None of that would have been possible a decade ago, when playing the slots meant watching the reels spin and little more.
But advances in slot technology doen't stop at the games themselves. It takes much more than spinning wheels and bonus rounds to make up a modern slot floor. Let's take a stroll through and see what we can find:
** Bill validators. The bill validator has been with us so long it almost seems invisible now, something that is taken for granted. Slide paper currency into the validator, and you get credits on the game. But slots weren't fitted with bill validators until the late 1980s, and it was the mid-'90s before they became commonplace. Until then, players dropped coins into slots for each play.
Even though bill validators on slots are an everyday thing nowadays, the technology hasn't stood still. Along with trying to make them faster and more reliable --- who likes to sit at a machine that rejects bill after bill? --- manufacturers have had to adjust to accepting bar-coded tickets in these ticket in, ticket out days. With the growth of gaming overseas, bill validators also must have the software available to accept international currencies. And the identification of counterfeit bills is always a priority.
** Card readers and player rating systems. Slot players are among the most valued customers in casinos today, and rewards programs are geared toward providing comps and cash back to those who spend enough time on the machines. It has not always been thus. Comps long were reserved for table games players, with player ratings done with pencil and paper by the pit bosses and floor supervisors.
The old pencil and paper system doesn't work very well for slot players, who move from game to game, play by themselves and don't have the same kind of interaction with casino employees that table players have with dealers and pit crews. With the growing recognition that slot players are important to the casino bottom line, player ratings start with player rewards cards. Slide the card into a reader at the machine, and it tells the rewards system that you're playing. Every wager you make is tracked, giving the casino the information necessary to decide what comps are warranted.
Rewards systems have become more and more sophisticated over the years, and so have their interfaces. Most common today are small displays that welcome the player, tell how many rewards points the player has, and perhaps gives a countdown to the next point. The next generation of systems that is starting to move into casinos makes the interface a self-service rewards station with a larger video display. The player can signal for a slot attendant or cocktail waitress, check rewards points or even exchange points for slot credits to be downloaded without leaving the game.
** Bonusing systems. This really ties in with card readers and player rewards systems, because some new player tracking interfaces will allow casinos to award bonuses or play promotional games right at the machine. The same touchscreen, LED panel that lets you signal a waitress or redeem rewards points may give you a bonus game when you slide your card into the reader. Perhaps you'll get a representation of spinning reels, or maybe a find the alien bonus game, on the LED panel, with a prize of bonus credits or a buffet comp.
Less visible are bonusing systems that can be programmed to award mystery jackpots on a random basis, or to give celebratory bonuses as in the Jumbo Jackpots promotion at the Stations casinos in Las Vegas. There, whenever the Jumbo Jackpot hits, other players who are using their rewards cards win free slot play.
Casinos are able to program the parameters for a giveaway. Under what conditions should it be awarded? Should all players be eligible? Only dollar players? Only nickel players? The system takes care of the random selection.
** TITO. Without ticket in, ticket out technology, the penny and two-cent games that are the fastest segment of the casino industry would not be possible. Small coins such as pennies wreak havoc with coin hoppers, leading to frequent jams. And with players betting dozens, if not hundreds, of coins per play, leading to frequent payoffs in the thousands of coins, keeping up the coin inventory to meet demand would be a costly chore and a half.
To my mind, everyone wins with TITO. For the player, there's no waiting for hopper fills or for attendants to clear hopper jams, and players get game selections that would not exist if payouts were still made in coins. Casinos save time and money by not needing to fill hoppers, clear jams or keep large coin inventories.
What could be better? Well, maybe even elimination of paper transactions. Using smart cards for monetary transactions is high on the list of casino desires. It's not going to happen next week --- regulators will tread slowly. But you can bet that smart card transactions will be the focus of some future column on slot technology.
This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Best of John Grochowski