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Best of John Grochowski
The Future of Slot Clubs28 December 2004
Slot machine-playing regulars are used to the drill: When they sit down at a machine, they insert a player rewards card into a reader. A small screen flashes a message that can be as simple as "Accepted," to let the customer know play is being tracked. In more forthcoming clubs, more information is offered, with a message such as "Welcome (player's name). Points: 140. Coins to next point: 40." The player then may be given a countdown, showing progress as the player builds points toward cash back or other comps.
Such systems have been around for a decade or more, and it's time for an upgrade. Both hardware and software on slot machines have taken leaps forward in technology, so why not player rewards systems?
At the recent Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas, several manufacturers were showing player tracking systems that incorporated color LCD panels with touch-screen capability, all the better not only to advertise casino promotions right at the machine, but to allow players to check the status of their club accounts, summon a slot host or call a cocktail waitress.
Not everyone is going to spend the money to convert their systems overnight, but make no mistake, the LCD panels are coming. The combination of upgrading customer service while keeping the customer seated at the slots instead of wandering off to check points is going to prove irresistible to many casinos.
The system that wowed me at the expo, the one with the most bells and whistles, was Konami Gaming's Namb II. The casino advertising on the screen can be customized to player preferences. As the player builds a history, the system can keep track of customer preferences, and present on the screen advertising for the promotions, restaurants or amenities most likely to interest that player. The player not only can check slot club points on the screen, but the system can be configured so the customer can transfer slot club cash back into credits on the game.
One extra really caught my eye. Set into the left side of the screen was a square that gave the player streaming video. The player could touch the screen to choose one of four channels.
At the expo, I touched the screen, and up popped live video of the Houston Astros-Atlanta Braves National League baseball playoff game. Not as big a deal, perhaps, as it would have been if the Cubs hadn't collapsed in the last week of the season, but I multitask well enough to keep track of both a ballgame and the spinning reels as long as I'm not in a bonus round.
Even among casinos that choose to upgrade soon, not all will take advantage of all of Namb II's capabilities. Regulators in some states won't allow direct transfer of cash back to slot credits just yet, and some operators will be wary of the video slowing play on the games.
But make no mistake. The technology upgrade is coming, and Konami is showing us where it can go.
In my review of new slot machines a couple of weeks ago, I didn't nclude Konami's new products. Its games aren't commonplace in the Midwest just yet, although they are making inroads. Konami's place in the market at this time appears to be on the low-denomination, penny and 2-cent games that are taking off in popularity.
All of its games incorporate bonus rounds, both on reel-spinning and video formats. The reel-spinning games have a 7-inch LCD screen to the right of the reels on which bonus rounds similar to those on video slots are played. And like many manufacturers, Konami has gone big for multi-level progressive games. In introducing its Fusion series, Konami went for a five-way progressive, with copper, bronze, silver, gold and platinum levels. The lower levels hit frequently, giving more players the thrill of winning a progressive jackpot, while still enabling the casino to offer a larger jackpot at the top.
One Konami video game I tested was the bow-wow themed Barkin' Bucks. I forced a couple of bonus rounds - one of the fun things about the expo is that since you're not playing for money, the games are set up to allow potential buyers and prying reporters to see what they can do. On Barkin' Bucks, the Dog Day Bonus on the first screen is a scatter pay, with dogs landing on the paylines digging deep under the symbols for a bonus bone. On the second screen, I tried the Family Fun Bonus, choosing family members to play with the dog - a man tosses a ball and the overexcited dog crashes, or the family cat arches its back and fights, or a woman feeds the dog. It's your basic video slot fun.
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 email@example.com.
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