Gambling on Technology

By Christina Volpe | October 09, 2008

When it comes to the latest casino technologies, next-generation solutions that promise to increase efficiency and cost savings, as well as offer guests new and exciting gambling options, are the name of the game. From mobile hand-held gambling to server-based gaming, vendors are supplying casino operators with a variety of up and coming options.

Networked gaming
For years, server-based gaming (SBG) has been on the lips of casino operators across the country as one of the most buzz-worthy innovations in casino gaming. After years of research and millions upon millions of dollars spent in development, server-based gaming is beginning to make its way onto the casino floor on a small scale.

This downloadable technology, which allows operators to manage multiple slot machines from one networked server, is expected to yield a plethora of benefits for operators, such as the ability to change games, demonstrations, bonus payouts and promotions electronically without the need to call in a technician to manually change the computer chips that govern these functions in older slot machines. This means more money for casinos because slot machines will no longer be "down due to repairs" for hours at a time. Whenever a change is being made, a message pops up on the screen notifying players of the adjustment. On the customer end, this means more interaction and efficiency. Guests can place drink orders, print show tickets, change games without changing machines and even compete against other players for a jackpot.

Currently there are a number of casinos nationwide who are beta testing server-based gaming. One such location, California's Barona Valley Ranch Resort and Casino (www.barona.com), has a small percentage of its floor dedicated to SBG slots from both International Gaming Technology (www.igt.com) and WMS Industries (www.wms.com) with hopes to expand SBG to the whole floor: all 2,000 slots. Management at Barona recently installed a new platform on the floor, in addition to the 20 server-based games, which allows them to send a game up to the slots and change the bet max function.

"Table bets change from the weekday to the weekend. In the past [for slot machines] a nickel machine was a nickel machine and during the week we were not able to change bets until now," says Lee Skelley, assistant general manager for casino operations at Barona. "Maintenance in the past was very time intensive in order to switch them, but now we can do that as we would with the table games. A penny machine can become a nickel machine or a quarter machine."

Skelley also notes that Barona will benefit from the ability to offer guests a larger variety of games to choose from. "For us, when new games come out they are very popular and you cannot get them out on the floor fast enough. It allows you to say, 'I normally can put 12 games on the floor, but with server-based gaming, I can increase that to 24 games,'" notes Skelley. "In the long term, I hope that customers will benefit from it. If there is no benefit to the customer there is not a benefit to spend one million dollars."

Gambling on the go
Imagine being able to gamble practically anywhere you want in a casino: by the pool, in the lobby or even while you wait for your table in a restaurant. Nevada has become the first state in the nation to approve of the use of handheld mobile gaming devices in casinos, and several casino operators are lining up to test out this innovative technology.

These wireless handheld devices, which look like Nintendo's Game Boy, feature a variety of games that patrons can choose from to play such as bingo, poker, blackjack, baccarat, roulette or horse betting. In order to use these mobile devices, guests simply need to sign them out with the proper identification and load them with the desired amount of money.

By limiting where players can use these wireless devices (they only work in public areas, such as by the pool or in the lobby), manufacturers and operators hope to curb incidents of theft and underage use. Should guests roam away from the sanctioned areas of play, these devices will turn off and can only be reactivated once the player returns to the casino's public area.

The M Resort, Spa and Casino (www.themresort.com) is just one of two Las Vegas resorts which is in the process of testing mobile hand-held gaming, which management expects to go live in spring 2009. Through an exclusive agreement with Cantor Gaming (www.cantorgaming.com), the M Resort has plans to use the hand-held mobile devices for operating their racing and sports books, in addition to offering guests the opportunity to play unique casino game offerings. The M Resort is currently in the process of choosing which games they are going to use on the mobile devices.

"There is definitely a demand for mobile gaming as an operator," says Joe Magliarditi, executive vice president and chief operating officer for the M Resort, Spa and Casino. "We are going to be able to offer casino customers more time to game at the pool, or during conventions, or when going to dinner with friends. We, like everyone else, are trying to give customers more options. Our hotel will be very value oriented and customers can do something here that they cannot do at other properties. And that is very important."

The Venetian Resort, Hotel, Casino (www.venetian.com) was the first property in Las Vegas to field test devices from Cantor Gaming. After receiving approval from the Gaming Control Board, testing began in April 2008 and is expected to conclude this fall. The field trials are currently contained in the high limit slots salon of The Venetian only, with hopes to roll out mobile gaming throughout The Venetian and The Palazzo once the tests have concluded.

Cantor Gaming is the exclusive mobile gaming provider for both the M Resort and The Venetian. The company is the first licensed manufacturer, distributor and operator of a mobile gaming system in the Nevada Gaming Commission and was one of the early proponents pushing for the legalization of mobile gaming in Nevada.

"It is just like everything else, says Magliarditi, "We are going to have to closely monitor it with security, management and surveillance."

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