- Move brings interactive play to once solitary one-armed bandit
- Casinos seek to reverse steady decline in money bet on slots
Caesars Entertainment Corp., trying to convince young people that slot machines can be cool, is rolling out a new generation of devices in its casinos that look like the mobile games people play on their phones.
The largest owner of casinos in the U.S. is trying to buck a trend that’s seen slot-machine betting fall to $291 billion in 2014 from a peak of $355 billion in 2007, according to the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers. While the slow-growing economy is often cited for the drop, casino operators also say millennials don’t play the slots like their parents and grandparents.
The new machines pay out based on a customer’s skill as well as luck, a change that required tweaks to casino regulations. The games, developed by Gamblit Gaming, challenge players to find words hidden on a board or match flavors of smoothies in a virtual juice bar. In Grab Poker, four people stand around a flat, waist-high screen and press buttons to see who’ll snag the card that pops up in the middle. The player with the best poker hand at the end wins.
The games are designed to lure younger patrons, who prefer to gamble interactively and tend to spend more on booze and food. Caesars plans to put six new devices, enough for 25 players, in its Harrah’s resort near San Diego this year and as many as 36, with room for 125 players, in its Las Vegas properties in 2017.
“Typically slot machines are a very solitary experience,” said Eric Meyerhofer, chief executive officer of by Glendale, California-based Gamblit. “Our games are designed to be played in groups with friends.”
Yet unlike typical slots, which are based solely on chance, casinos are challenged to make sure that the new skill-based machines aren’t so easily conquered, leading pinball wizards to break the bank.
Gamblit’s games are designed to create a series of small wins rather than one big jackpot, and over time the payouts should average that of traditional slot machines, Meyerhofer said. A.G. Burnett, chairman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, said he expects some manufacturers to make their games progressively harder as the players score higher, a big change from the static play of a game like blackjack.
Casino regulators in Nevada and New Jersey have been reworking their regulations over the past two years to allow for skill-based games. Major slot machines manufacturers such as Scientific Games Corp. and International Game Technology Plc have been developing their own versions of interactive devices. IGT has a machine based on the Atari video game Centipede in use at MGM Resorts International’s Bellagio casino in Las Vegas.
Other casinos are looking for ways to attract millennials. Wynn Resorts Ltd. redesigned the Player’s Club at its Encore resort in Las Vegas last year to add a DJ booth, lounge seating with flat-screen video slot machines and a white-lacquer billiards table from Steve Wynn’s Manhattan penthouse to create a more party-like atmosphere. Las Vegas Sands Corp. in July installed “stadium-style” seats at its casino in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. There, players bet based on cards dealt by live dealers at the center of a circular floor, an arrangement some people find less intimating than joining a table of strangers.
“It gives them a bit of time to learn these games without feeling they’re making a mistake and doing something wrong,” said Mark Juliano, president of the Sands Bethlehem.
For Las Vegas-based Caesars, which has been struggling under the debt load taken on during a 2008 leveraged buyout, the app-like games represent a way to compete against simple, addictive games like Candy Crush that have proliferated on mobile phones.
Caesars shares rose 1.9 percent to $6.29 at 9:53 a.m. in New York. They had fallen 22 percent this year through Tuesday.
The rollout is part of a larger strategy by Chief Executive Officer Mark Frissora to introduce more technology to the business.
“Our world has shifted,” said Melissa Price, Caesars’ senior vice president of gaming. “There are a lot of entertainment opportunities that don’t always exist at the casino.”