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May 29, 2016

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Next generation slot machines could play more like Super Mario, less like Wheel of Fortune

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L.E. Baskow

The Global Gaming Expo, pictured here Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014, is the gaming industry’s big annual convention at Sands Expo.

Imagine a Las Vegas casino floor 10 years from now, where the games look less like traditional slot machines and more like the video games millennials grew up playing on Xboxes and PlayStations.

That vision may be on its way to becoming reality. A state Senate committee is considering a bill that would let gaming regulators allow more skill, as opposed to chance, on the casino floor. The bill suggests, among other things, that regulators outline requirements for games of skill and allow flexibility in payout percentages or a game’s outcome.

If the bill becomes law, it could pave the way for a flood of slot machines with games that play more like Super Mario than Wheel of Fortune.

Such a shift is underway. Game developers have created video game-like products.

Bally Technologies, for example, introduced a slot based on the arcade game Skee-Ball, while Gamblit Gaming debuted products that resemble popular games such as Angry Birds. Skilled players, though, aren’t necessarily rewarded with bigger payouts.

Changing the regulations would push the market even further. And casinos have a major incentive to offer such games: They’d be a big draw for younger generations that increasingly shy away from slot and video poker machines. Many millennials aren’t enticed by games that require only the push of one button repeatedly, despite the possibility of winning a jackpot.

“The younger demographic is just interested in a different type of gaming than the older demographic that was used to, and is still comfortable with, the traditional slot machine and video poker machine,” said Sen. Greg Brower, a Republican from Washoe County who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is considering the bill.

Brower said he didn’t anticipate problems getting the bill passed. Then it would be up to the state’s two regulatory bodies for the casino industry — the Gaming Control Board and the Gaming Commission.

Regulators seem equally receptive to introducing more skill on the casino floor. Control Board Chairman A.G. Burnett said the days of “grand casino openings with people rushing to play the slots” are gone.

“Now have come the days of huge, integrated resorts offering hundreds of entertainment options found nowhere else on earth, from the finest dining and entertainment anywhere to clubs that cater to a younger demographic,” he said. “So everyone recognizes that gaming must keep up, and to do that, the old style of slots simply needs to change. … This means adding skill and social elements to the slot mix.”

Gamblit showcased its products at last year’s Global Gaming Expo, the casino industry’s annual convention in Las Vegas. Since then, David Chang, Gamblit’s chief marketing officer, said the company has received a warm reception from casinos.

“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” he said. “We’ve had people come in and say, ‘I’ll take 20 of those.’ ”

Chris LaPorte, who owns the Insert Coin(s) arcade bar in downtown Las Vegas, also is waiting for the regulations to loosen. He created Quantum Gaming Concepts, which develops casino games LaPorte says are “definitely outside of what can currently be done.”

Quantum’s games have the look and feel of something you might play inside LaPorte’s bar, only skill is rewarded with cash instead of virtual currency, extra lives or a higher score.

A longtime video gamer and a Las Vegas resident for the past decade, LaPorte understands questions remain about how skill-based gambling can be financially successful for casinos. One question is whether games that cater too heavily to players’ skills would allow customers to get so good they’d prevent the house from winning.

LaPorte is confident he can answer that question, though he won’t publicly say how.

“Have them call me, and I’ll show them,” he said. “There is definitely a way — my way — for the casino to be happy, just as much as the customer is happy with their experience.”

To illustrate, LaPorte compared the number of people who play basketball to the number of people who are professional players in the NBA. The latter group is comparable, proportionally speaking, to the number of people who would be highly skilled enough to regularly win at new casino games, he said.

If he’s right, and if enough other game developers follow suit, the casino industry might well be looking at its next game-changer.

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