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Gaming horizon? Server-based and electronic table games

A number of executives in the state’s gaming industry attended the recent Global Gaming Expo (G2E) in Las Vegas where they saw the industry’s latest products and technology. Chief among those presentations were server-based or downloadable game technology and electronic table games, both expected to have bright futures.

A survey of executives and gaming analysts released at the show indicates divided opinions on how electronic games should be classified, how they will affect the industry’s stakeholders — customers, operators and game manufacturers — and the impact to smaller, regional gaming markets.

Bill Fishman, director of slots at the Palace Casino Resort in Biloxi, attended the show and thinks the new technology is most definitely on the horizon.

“Electronic versions of table games such as Texas Hold’em Poker, Blackjack, Craps and Three Card Poker and more have been around for the last few years but have not been widely accepted in many of the larger gaming markets,” he said. “I believe that is beginning to change. At the gaming expo, almost all of the major slot manufacturers were displaying this new technology to the casino industry executives and members of the investment community.”

Server-based technology is not currently in the Mississippi market, but will probably make its way here in the future, according to Larry Gregory, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission.

“This technology would definitely change the gaming landscape if it ever developed,” he said. “Electronic table games are in our market as we speak. There are electronic poker tables in a few properties. They have been on field trial and did not experience many problems. The market will determine the success of these.”

Sherri Pucci, assistant general manger of gaming for the Grand, Horseshoe and Sheraton casinos in Tunica, is familiar with the technology. She said the Harrah’s properties are interested in the system once the operational details are worked out.

“I think operators and manufacturers are still trying to figure out the advantages of this new technology,” she said. “There are some easy ones. It will be easier for casinos to offer new products to their customers faster. Customers will have more options at their finger tips.”

Gregory said regulatory hurdles for the new technology and traditional gaming devices are the same. “Before any game can be introduced for play in Mississippi, it must prove it operates as designed and in accordance with state laws, “he said. “Testing is available through the independent testing labs used by the industry. These labs are very capable in testing these types of games.”

Pucci reminded that it is important to think about downloadable slots as a system, not a game. “For the regular customer, there will be very little difference with a game that is downloadable versus a game that uses a program chip,” she said. “Ultimately, there area lots of hurdles for casino operators, compliance with gaming laws and the gaming commission, existing slot machine capability, reel slot functionality and ease of use.

“Not to mention that the cost of this system has not even been developed by the new companies that will be offering this technology.”

Fishman notes that electronic table games will be faced with the same vigorous testing procedures and approval process as slot machines.

“I believe these games will not replace live table games any time soon,” he said. “They will compliment existing live tables and will give the players a novel alternative in an environment that is much less intimidating. Some of these games have virtual dealers displayed on LCD or plasma screens where others are designed to keep an employee at the helm who will work more as a cashier and information provider than as a dealer.”

The new system and electronic table games definitely have a place in the state market, he feels.

“I am fairly certain we will see it in our jurisdiction within the next two years,” he said. “The regulators will obviously have to develop a system of controls and policies to ensure that this new technology is utilized in ways that are fair to the gaming public and not too restrictive for the casino operator.”

The G2E survey raised the question of acceptance of the new technology by older casino guests, an issue both Fishman and Pucci say is important.

“There isn’t a casino operator in the world that wants to alienate any customer,” she said. “I do not believe that our pace of technology is at a rate to alienate anyone. Just a few years ago we had coin-in slot machines. Because of new technology, today we have cleaner hands and more flexibility with slot machines. Downloadable slots is a system and that is not intended to directly impact the slot customers but designed to offer more options and create more availability to customers.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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