Since they were introduced by Charles Fey in the 1890’s, slot machines have pretty much stayed the same. The effortless nature of the game is arguably what makes slots so attractive to so many gamblers around the world - all you need in order to play is a bucket of coins, some spare time and the ability to pull a lever or push a button. But the same effortlessness is proving to be quite a problem among the younger generation of gamblers.
For a generation of gamblers that was raised on graphically complex action-packed video games, the existing slot machine format just doesn’t seem to cut it any more. Studies show that gamblers between the age of 21 and 40 tend to spend very little time at the slot machines. Most of these ‘next generation’ gamblers spend most of their time, and money, at skilled-game tables such as poker and blackjack. But the casino owners are not ready to give up on this generation just yet.
All you have to do is take a look at the numbers to understand why casinos want to see more young action near their slot machines. In the US alone, where there are roughly one million slot machines, players spend more than $1 billion on slots every day. Even though most of that money is paid out to winners, casinos get to keep between 5 to 10 percent, depending on the type of machine, the jackpot size and the casino itself. This is precisely how slot machines bring in nearly three-quarters of the $60 billion dollars generated yearly in gambling revenue in the US, and the statistics are more or less the same in other countries around the world. Theses machines are known in the industry as “beautiful vaults” for this exact reason, and casino operators want to find a way to share the beauty with the younger generation as well, or else they will lose this great source of income in the years to come.
But how do you take a simple concept like a slot machine and make it appealing to players who grew up on complex video-games such as Doom, World of Warcraft, Halo and Grand Theft Auto? Even the extremely simple Super Mario Brothers I, a game that generations of video-game enthusiasts can more or less play in their sleep, requires much more skill, hand-eye coordination and effort than pulling a lever. Some industry experts think they have come up with a solution.
Game developers are currently working on ways to add elements of skill into the next generation of slot machines. One of these efforts is the machine known as ‘Pong’, currently in development for Vegas-based Bally Technologies by the famous Atari labs. Pong is due for release in August, and comes with a paddle control knob that players use when reaching a bonus round. Players have a chance to increase the bonus they stand to win by playing well. Another similar Atari concept slot-machine is the ‘Breakout’, which was introduced by Bally last month.
Other developers have announced a new line of machines armed with joysticks and other video-game controllers. It seems as though the next generation of slot machines will be equipped with flat-panel display screens, surround sound and top-notch graphics to compete with the vivid images found in the latest video games.
But perhaps the biggest revolution is yet to come. Industry innovators are talking about slot machines that will allow for teamed action and live real-time competition. These machines will try to capture the thrill found in many popular internet video games (including online poker) by allowing players to compete against each-other in real time. The players will be using their skills to compete in a communal activity, but all the while they will actually be sitting round good old slot machines.