Newfangled machines will aim to hook younger casino players

August 4, 2015
By Jeff Barker at Baltimore Sun

BALTIMORE -- Many slot machines on casino floors bear images of faded but recognizable movies or TV shows such as "Sex and the City," "Ghostbusters" or the still-running "Wheel of Fortune," appealing to an older generation of players who reliably play the random games of chance.

But time and technology are catching up with traditional slot machines, which don't hold anywhere near the same appeal for younger players as they do for their parents. Slots simply can't compete with the variability and social nature of the window through which most young people view the world -- their smartphones.

'Slowing down'

Slots play "has kind of been slowing down nationally. It's not advancing as fast as table play," said David G. Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "Today, anybody who has the disposable income to play a slot machine has something in their pocket that is way more entertaining than that slot machine."

Anxious about millennials' indifference to slot machines, manufacturers are testing more social and interactive games that would make the casino floor of the future look like a cross between a TV game show and a NASA flight control room.

"The slot floors that you see today are not going to be in existence 10 years from now," said James Murren, chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International, which is building a $1.2 billion casino in Maryland that will be the state's sixth.

Maryland's largest casinos already have been reducing their slots offerings, freeing up space for popular table games or restaurants. Although their popularity may be ebbing, slot machines still generated $680 million at the state's five casinos in the fiscal year ending June 30.

Maryland regulators say they are preparing for the day when the state's casinos seek to add arcade-style games to revitalize their slots floors.

"We are aware that the industry is starting to look at increasing the skill factor in gaming, and we are reviewing statute to determine to what extent that is permitted under current law," said Charles LaBoy, the state's assistant director for gaming.

It's not that slot machines haven't evolved. Today's machines are more akin to video games and some even mimic arcade rides, rocking your chair like a mechanical bull. Many casinos offer machines with escalating jackpots, curved touch screens or video clips of popular TV shows.

A missing link

But experts say an important lure is missing from the games of chance: skill-based tasks allowing players to compete against each other rather than passively playing only against the house. Game manufacturers even envision players tracking their progress and the competition on their phones.

"The products are going to look different, it's going to be configured differently. You can have more social settings, more interactive games, more social games where people are playing against one another," MGM's Murren said.

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