Updated July 23, 2021 - 2:51 pm
Gaming industry vendors gathered in Las Vegas this week for the first time in more than a year to showcase their latest and greatest products at the Indian Gaming Tradeshow and Convention.
“This is like a celebration of the industry. We’ve been virtual and remote for 18 months, with Zoom calls and all those things. And this really is a people business. It’s about long-term, sustainable partnerships,” said Matt Wilson, CEO of the gaming division for Scientific Games. “So it’s good to be back, face to face.”
Gaming technology companies highlighted their products on the Caesars Forum show floor, including several they’ve recently rolled out or will be coming to Las Vegas casinos in the near future. Here are some trends to keep an eye out for on the casino floor:
Cash(less) is king
Cashless gaming remains top of mind for gaming tech companies. Manufacturers and analysts say the pandemic accelerated casinos’ interest in cashless, no-touch products, though such technology has existed or been developing for years.
Las Vegas-based companies such as International Game Technology, Scientific Games and Everi all touted their different financial technology products at the convention, put on by the National Indian Gaming Association.
“We had already had a good foundation of customer interest in our IGT cashless technologies,” Vice President of Global Communications Phil O’Shaughnessy said. “With the pandemic, I mean, literally, the phones started ringing, ‘Hey, how can we implement this?’”
IGT offers a Resort Wallet product that gives players the chance to fund an account and play the slots sans cash by using a player’s casino-branded loyalty card or a digital wallet integrated within a resort’s app, said Michael Ratner, director of product management.
A partnership with digital casino marker maker Marker Trax, announced Tuesday at the convention, adds the ability to play the slots with casino credit, something typically limited to table games.
Ratner said a player can transfer funds in and out of a slot machine inside any property using IGT’s casino management system, IGT Advantage. Two Las Vegas casinos have installed Resort Wallet — one on and one off the Strip — and are preparing before they go live, he said. IGT is field testing an external funding feature “at a major corporate customer here in Las Vegas.”
Everi’s digital wallet, CashClub Wallet, holds real money on behalf of a casino guest and is “agnostic to the gaming system,” according to Darren Simmons, an Everi executive vice president who oversees its financial tech business.
The wallet is effectively a bank account with accompanying licensing and federal insurances, Simmons said. Guests can load money into the account and use it to fund a slot machine, table game, mobile gambling game or retail purchase at the property.
Players can fund their CashClub Wallet using a debit or credit card or a direct payment from their bank account. The funds are accessible through a mobile app or a self-service kiosk that allows players to withdraw cash from the wallet, Simmons said.
He said he hopes the technology comes to Nevada this year.
“You definitely want to be able to make the customer feel good and comfortable about where their monies are,” Simmons said.
Aristocrat Technologies also announced a partnership Tuesday with Sightline Payments that facilitates cashless payments at any casino using Aristocrat’s management system. These efforts initially launched at Boyd Gaming Corp. properties in Nevada, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana through BoydPay.
Big and tall
Think IMAX, but for slot machines.
The maker of the Buffalo slot machines, Aristocrat Technologies, launched this month a new line of “Game of Thrones: King’s Landing” slot games and a new twist on the Buffalo machines, Wild Wild Buffalo.
Slot influencer Brian Christopher, who has a slot room at the Plaza, was seen Wednesday at the Aristocrat gaming booth recording a video playing the Wild Wild Buffalo game.
It’ll be hard to miss the games. They’re found in the company’s Double Neptune cabinets, which launched earlier this year, according to Ryan Scott, vice president of gaming operations at Aristocrat. Each Neptune cabinet has two 49-inch, 4-K definition curved displays, a 23-and-a-half-inch button deck that curves to meet the display and eye-level side video displays.
“You’ll actually see it from any point in the casino,” Scott said.
And what will players see playing the “Game of Thrones” game?
“Dragons, dragons and more dragons,” he said.
Wild Wild Buffalo combines the Wild Wild West chase mechanic and Buffalo’s gameplay with a wheel feature from previous games, Scott said. The company launched in May another combination game with Dragon Link and Buffalo called Buffalo link.
Scientific Games worked to design its own extra-tall cabinet game — the 11-foot-tall Mural that features dual 55-inch, 4k curved displays and the popular “WILLY WONKA – Dreamer of Dreams” game — during the pandemic with a specific cause in mind.
“People are stuck inside on their couches, consuming media on their small little iPhone or up there on a 42-inch LCD screen. What’s an experience you can bring to life that you can’t get in your home?” Wilson said.
The new game, Wilson said, offers an immersive experience that they hope can draw people back to gaming floors “with an experience they aren’t going to get sitting on their couch.”
Deal or no dealer
Electronic table games — essentially digitized versions of popular games such as blackjack, baccarat, roulette, etc — aren’t new technology by any means.
Those types of games, often called ETGs, have been popular in the Asian gambling markets for years. But during the pandemic, ETG manufacturers said they saw a surge in demand from North American casinos looking for alternatives to traditional table games as they looked to restructure their gaming pits amid social distancing and other COVID-19 restrictions.
That’s where products like Interblock’s Pulse Arena are coming more into play. The company’s set-up allows for a live dealer for some games, located at the front of an arenalike set-up with a large screen behind them showing the game board, or fully automated games, and gamblers can play multiple games at once. But most notably, the set-up is modular, with each machine being able to be moved around to create nearly any kind of set up a casino might want or need due to restrictions.
“This is a really great solution because you can socially distance.You can space it out as much as you want,” said Stephanie Kozal, director of marketing for Interblock.
Beyond the pandemic, manufacturers see ETGs sticking around and continuing to increase in market share.
The digitized table games often require smaller buy-ins than their traditional counterparts, and new players can learn as they go without worrying slowing the game down.
“A lot of new players are becoming more accustomed to this type of wagering experience,” Koval said. “You can sit here and enjoy and learn without really feeling intimidated by some of the more advanced players.”
Everi is also field testing its digital jackpot system, Jackpot Xpress, at El Cortez and Caesars Palace. The program expedites what can be a time-consuming process for casino jackpot winners, said Adam Fong, senior vice president of product management, casino operations. A jackpot winner may wait upward of 30 minutes at the winning — and therefore disabled — slot machine for an attendant to return with the necessary tax documents, he said.
Jackpot Xpress helps slot attendants prepare tax forms, collect winner information, apply withholdings and pick a payout method, the company’s site said. The system is designed to cut down on the amount of time a winner spends waiting at a disabled machine. It benefits both player and operator, Fong said, as the former can sooner leave with their winnings and the latter can return functionality to the machine and continue making money.
Company executives also note that Jackpot Xpress can send a player’s winnings to the company’s CashClub digital wallet, allowing the lucky person to exit the building without carrying a hefty wad of cash.