Station Casinos starts a marketing campaign this weekend for a new video-poker format that industry executives say will change the way video poker play is bought.
Marketed as "Guaranteed Play," the format allows players a certain number of hands no matter how badly play goes.
A player buys 75 hands for $20 or 200 hands for $40, but it still pays out on the same 25 cent, maximum bet, pay table.
The format is also available in the $1 denomination.
"People who gamble want to be entertained," said Jay Fennel, Station Casinos' corporate director of slot operations. "When video-poker players play, they are going after that royal flush, the big payout. It's getting guaranteed play time to try to get that big hit."
Research shows that most video-poker players play on a certain budget no matter how long that budget lasts, Fennel said.
Instead of paying for hands transaction by transaction, where a maximum-play hand costs $1.25 on a quarter machine or $5 on dollar machine, the player is guaranteed a certain number of hands at a set price.
Playing by traditional video poker, $20 gets the player 16 maximum-bet hands. To play longer depends on three variables; play of the player, how the game is playing and what game is being played.
David G. Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said the format could move video poker away from coin-operated amusement to more of a form of entertainment.
"If it is done with discipline, it is another way for customers to limit losses," Schwartz said. "Often the goal of the customer is time playing and limit losses."
The marketing campaign will include television, print media and direct mailings.
Station Casinos has the game on 2,000 machines spread across nine casinos: Green Valley Ranch, Red Rock Resort, Sunset Station, Palace Station, Boulder Station, Texas Station, Santa Fe Station, Fiesta Henderson and Fiesta Rancho.
The only downside for Guaranteed Play compared with traditional play is if the player hits a large payout early, according to a study by gaming analysis firm Goldman Sachs.
In traditional play, if a player hits a royal flush on the first hand, the player has spent only $1.25. In Guaranteed Play the investment is $20 regardless of when the player hits a big payout. Also, if the customer cashes out, he forfeits remaining hands.
Schwartz said Station Casinos may be seeing Guaranteed Play as a way of attracting new customers to its machines.
Slot play revenue accounts for 80 percent of Station Casinos cash flow, but 20 percent of the machines on average are inactive at nonpeak times.
Station Casinos tested the new format with the game's developer, Connecticut-based Walker Digital, using focus groups culled from the company's Boarding Pass database.
The average play time on 75 hands of Guaranteed Play is 25 minutes, the focus group showed.
International Game Technology distributes the game.
Station Casinos thinks the advantage will stay with the casinos in the long run through increased repeat business while giving more chances for a royal flush or other higher payouts to the customer.
Company spokeswoman Lori Nelson said the average customer to Station Casinos visits a property as often as eight times a month.
IGT spokesman Ed Rogich said it the first serious breakthrough in video poker since multihand play was introduced six years ago.
"There has not been anything this innovative in the video poker world," Rogich said. "Guaranteed Play will revolutionize the way people buy video poker."
Station Casinos has a seven-month exclusive with IGT in the locals market. Rogich said there has been some interest from Strip properties but nothing has been introduced.