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June 29, 2017

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Bet your bottom dollar chairs matter in casinos

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Steve Marcus

Station Casinos placed new chairs for slot players when it completed its acquisition of the Palms in 2016. According to one manufacturer, the right chair at the right game can really help a casino’s bottom line.

The bulk of Nevada’s economy rests on one unglamorous, taken-for-granted object.

It supports most of the state’s gaming win and resultant tax revenue, as well as a large portion the quarterly earnings for publicly traded gaming companies and as a result, sometimes their stock prices.

To a large degree the fortunes of gaming establishments from the smallest neighborhood tavern to the largest Strip resort literally sit on this item.

We’re talking about chairs — the kind seen in front of almost every one of the 166,855 slot and video poker machines in Nevada.

Players dropped nearly $2 billion into casino coffers while sitting on 148,313 chairs in front of slot and video poker machines in Nevada’s nonrestricted casinos (places with 16 or more games) in the first quarter of 2017, according to the Nevada Gaming Control Board,

That number doesn’t include money from the 18,542 other slot and video poker chairs in neighborhood bars, drug stores and supermarkets. In Nevada gaming regulations, these are known as restricted locations with 15 or fewer machines. They aren’t required to report gaming revenue.

It also doesn’t include the money casinos made from people sitting on chairs and playing blackjack and other games or betting on sports, which totaled just a little more than $1 billion during that same quarter.

It’s hard to know how many chairs contributed to that billion. With slots, one game almost always equals one chair but casinos can vary the number of chairs at table games or in sports books.

Tale of the tail

According to one manufacturer, the right chair at the right game can really help a casino’s bottom line.

“If you look at a typical slot chair, what you’re trying to do is to get people to stay for extended periods of time to play,” said Skip Davis, president of Reno-based Gary Platt Manufacturing, which builds slot and video poker chairs.

“You want to design it right and make sure it fits the game properly, in terms of height and access to the button panel. And, more importantly, you make it so comfortable that the chair doesn’t give you any reason to get up and leave the game.”

For their part, gaming executives definitely appreciate the importance of this, the most basic of casino furnishings.

“The chairs are vitally important, and we take a lot of care in choosing the right chair with the right look,” said Brian Benowitz, senior vice president of gaming operations at the Cosmopolitan. “It has to have both a good design element, and it has to function. And it has to last as well as be comfortable for the guest to sit there for hours.”

The Cosmopolitan has been revamping the casino floor and other areas recently to better appeal to players and in the process increase gaming revenues. The resort has replaced almost all of the 2,000 slot and table game chairs on the casino floor since it opened in 2010, Benowitz said.

Choosing the right chair is an important process, Benowitz said, involving most of the resort’s executives.

“We work with the design team to get the look we want in order to match it to the decor,” he said. “Then we specify the chairs and get samples made up. Then I and the executive team all the way up to the top, try out each of the chairs.”

A look back

Keeping backsides comfortable wasn’t always important to casinos. Back in the Rat Pack era, when Las Vegas first started garnering national attention, people stood while playing slots.

There are a number of theories why people had to stand and why eventually chairs were introduced. But according to Walt Hawkins, a slot industry veteran who has worked for manufacturers IGT and Aristocrat, the change came after casino operators realized people gambled longer when sitting down.

“Initially it was a manufacturer who was doing it just to be different,” Hawkins said. “He really could not, or did not patent it. The first machines designed specifically to work when players were seated were called slant tops.”

At first, the casinos placed stools in front of the machines but then, Hawkins said, the industry noticed people playing longer at video poker machines in bars with comfortable chairs.

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Alex Class, an assembler for Gary Platt Manufacturing of Reno, works on a chair. It typically takes Platt about six weeks to produce an order of 200 chairs.

Foam and form

Today, there’s no shortage of vendors selling chairs to casinos. At the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas last fall, 20 of the 450 exhibitors were promoting slot and video poker chairs.

The secret to keeping people in the chair is foam, said Davis, whose company, Gary Platt Manufacturing, is a major supplier of chairs.

“For our solution, it’s really all about the foam,” Davis said. “It’s about the density and elasticity of that foam and getting that right. Then you have to work on the depth and designing into the foam the ergonomic features you need to give lumbar support and make sure there are no pressure points.”

The shape is crucial, Davis said, especially when it comes to transition points like the edge between the top and the sides of the cushion. Platt’s designs typically use a rolling edge called a “waterfall” as opposed to sharp 90-degree turn which can put pressure on the back of player’s legs.

Getting the edges right, Davis said, is almost an art.

“We literally hand-sculpt the foam, and we have the best guy in the world sculpting our foam,” Davis said.

Davis said it typically takes Platt about six weeks to produce an order of 200 chairs, if there are no requests for special fabrics and if the company has the supplies on hand. While some orders are large, more than 4,000 units, most orders are for 500-1,000 chairs.

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Gary Platt Manufacturing of Reno produced chairs used in The Cromwell.

Platt offers many different models of chairs, 20 in 2016. But most of its business comes from one or two models that designers and gaming companies customize.

Comfort vs. aesthetics

The decision about which chair to use often pits interior designers against casino executives in a battle of look versus feel, Davis said.

“There are two very different views in general when you look at designers by their training and operators by their training,” he said. “One is trying to drive coin in and play, and the other is trying to design the look of property.”

The look is important, Davis said, but it’s also vital to remember a chair is an income-earning asset.

Slot machine chairs, Davis said, are typically 19 inches wide and can accommodate 90 to 98 percent of the behinds found in casinos. Chairs at table games, he said, will often be thinner to fit more customers at one table.

Also, the backs of table game chairs are typically lower, which makes it easier for cocktail waitresses to serve drinks and for other customers to watch the action.

The future of accessorizing

While basic casino chairs aren’t that complicated, extra chair features are being added as the gaming industry looks to interactive games to spur customer growth. And in some cases, it’s working.

Jean Scott, author of “The Frugal Gambler” and QueenOfComps.com, says she and her husband visit casinos at least twice a week primarily to play video poker rather than traditional slot machines.

They will make an exception, however, for one slot machine specifically because of its chair.

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A zombie looks on as people try out the new "Walking Dead" video slot machine by Aristocrat during the G2E convention at the Sands Expo Center Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013. The slots are themed after AMC's Walking Dead television drama.

“‘The Walking Dead’ is one where when you hit a jackpot and if it’s working right, the seat jolts,” she said. “My husband never gets used that, and the first time it happened he nearly jumped out of his seat. Even after you think, ‘I know this is going to happen,’ it still surprises you the next time.”

Davis said extra features are increasingly part of Platt’s business. The company can build chairs with subwoofers, speakers, shakers and backlit displays. In addition, he said they’re working with manufacturer Interblock, building bench seating for that company’s new stadium-style electronic table games.

“We are working on one project right now with one of slot companies for a pod-style chair,” he said. “(It’s) basically to create more of a gamer experience for the player. They’ll be surrounded by the screen, and it has a more of an exclusive feel than it would have by just adding speakers.”

End of the line

At some point, regardless of the style or level of comfort, slot chairs have to be replaced. Fortunately, most chairs are easily repaired and have a long life even in an environment filled with cigarettes and alcohol, raucous winners and irate losers.

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Slot chairs ($75 each) are shown during the first day of a liquidation sale at the Riviera on Thursday, May 14, 2015.

At a New York location, there are Platt chairs that have been in service for 10 years, Davis said. Caesars Entertainment says that the average life of its slot chairs is longer, approximately 12 years.

Jay Fennel, vice president of gaming development and technology for Golden Entertainment, which owns PT’s Pubs and casinos in Pahrump, said Golden uses a contractor to repair the chairs and keeps a supply of the parts needed to repair the chairs on hand, so they can “last indefinitely.“

But sometimes, the chairs are just too beat up stay on the casino floor. Then, they’re often hauled to a storage room and ultimately sold.

“At the Cosmopolitan, we liquidate them,” Benowitz said. “First, they are sent through to warehouse, where we decide if there’s any other use we can find for them. And if there’s not, we send them to a liquidator to be sold.”

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