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The Future of Slots30 December 2003
When you think of slot machines, what comes to mind?
Spinning reels on one-armed bandits?
Video games with second-screen bonuses?
The majority of games on slot floors are still reel-spinners, although they're mostly no-armed bandits these days - handles have been just about completely designed out of the games.
Still, the great expanding force in casino games in the last half-dozen years has been video slots. That's something many industry executives expect to continue.
In a survey conducted before September's Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas, casino industry professionals were asked this question by the American Gaming Association: "New multimedia and video game-type technology continues to gain market share in gaming machine placements. What is the future of the traditional three-reel [slot machine]?"
Fifty-four percent checked off, "The traditional reel will always have a place with some casino customers. It will thus maintain about its current share in the marketplace."
I asked a Nevada slot director if the second part of that statement was significant, if he agreed that reel-spinners were going to maintain current market share.
"I think people probably focused on the first half [of the question]," he said. "I know I did. I agree that the traditional reel will always have a place, but it's not going to hold market share. Most of the new product I buy is video."
That seems to mirror comments the AGA included in its report of survey results. Under "Select Verbatims," the report used four survey responses, and all pointed to a reel decline:
**"It [the reel-spinning slot] will slowly go away, but it will still remain very popular with many players."
**"It will have a place, but certainly a smaller one."
**"It will have a very reduced role on the gaming floor, but will still be here in the future."
**"The traditional reel will always have a place, but it will lose market share."
There were more extreme opinions voiced; 8 percent agreed with the statement, "The traditional reel machine will have some future, but it will be in smaller markets or at lower-end properties," and another 8 percent said, "There is no future for the traditional reel machine." Thirty-one percent checked "Other."
Nearly all are agreed that in the near future, we'll neither be dropping coins into the slots nor hearing them clatter into the trays when we cash out. We'll be using ticket printers or electronic transfers with smart cards.
The survey asked, "Cashless gaming machines are quickly gaining market share in U.S. casinos today. If you had to look ahead 10 years from now, what percentage of the U.S. gaming machine market do you think will have converted to cashless technology?" The agreement was overwhelming. No one answered less than 25 percent of the market, or 25 to 49 percent, or even 50 to 74 percent. Every respondent thought at least 75 percent of the market would be cashless within 10 years. Twenty-three percent went the distance - answering 100 percent - while the rest said 75 to 99 percent.
Perhaps as significant as cashless gaming or the debate over whether there is a future for reel-spinning games is the question of just how games will be delivered to players. Today, casinos buy machines from competing manufacturers and distributors. They don't necessarily buy a whole new machine when they change a game. Much of the time, the hardware remains in place, but the computer chips that drive the game are replaced, as is the machine glass that bears the game's name and logo.
The time may be coming when even those steps might not be necessary. Instead of manually changing microchips, casinos might simply download a game from a distributor's database.
Asked, "Might the future bring games that are downloaded directly from game creators and suppliers, thus doing away with the need to physically replace gaming machines on the slot floor?" Sixty-two percent of those polled responded that it was likely, with 31 percent saying it was very likely and 31 percent saying it was somewhat likely.
By 2020, respondents said, the casino floor will have been reshaped. Forty-six percent said the casino floor of 17 years from now will be totally different, with 31 percent saying quite a bit different, 23 percent saying only a little different and no one checking off hardly different at all.
How will casinos be different? One exec suggested, "A renewed player environment, with rows of stools, as opposed to banks - which will look archaic in the future - and flat screens that offer any game in available in that casino."
I'm not at all sure I like the idea of doing away with competing machines of all shapes and sizes and their 3-D figures, sound effects, lights, bells and whistles screaming for attention in favor of simply sitting at a computer terminal and calling up any game the casino offers.
But players have gotten used to armless bandits, reels on video screens and are getting used to ticket printers. Who am I to say they won't adapt to rows of flat computer screens instead of today's slots?
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.
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