Matthew Farley, author of "Good Food, Good Whiskey, and a Good Gamble: Outdated Nostaligia or Still Effective Today?" was kind enough to write up and share his thoughts after attending G2E in Las Vegas.
This dovetails nicely with yesterday's Vegas Gang coverage of the event.
Thanks to Matthew for sharing his insights - I'm sure you'll all enjoy this.
Click through for more...
Global Gaming Expo 2008: Alive and Kicking by Matthew Farley
This year's Global Gaming Expo (G2E) was a bit different than it was in 2007, but not excessively so. The keynote presentations were a bit economy focused, for obvious reasons, but still upbeat. The show floor was alive with many vendors and active attendees, and there was no shortage of excitement among the crowd. A new conference track for those interested in casino design was available as well, a nice future-looking offering to see during these trying times. Some parts of the gaming industry may be running on scared money right now, but one wouldn't know it from a tour of the show floor.
G2E Attendance was hard to gauge (the official numbers indicate a 7% decline), but there certainly were plenty of people around. The attendance of the reception seemed very good on Monday evening, but it was even harder to determine attendance at given the fact that it was held at Rain (Palms), a much smaller and more high-energy venue than the outdoor Rio reception last year. The sound levels and crowd intensity made networking rather more challenging than last year (though a small outdoor area did offer a much easier locale for casual conversation).
On the main G2E show floor, the product lineup was rather as one might predict it would be. There was a plethora of fairly traditional machine-gaming products, a few furniture and accessory vendors, and a few new products. The floor space was dominated, as it was in 2007, by slot and video poker products. Running a close third were products designed to mechanically (or electronically) replicate and/or enhance table gaming experiences, products intended to serve both jurisdictions where live dealer-based games are not permitted, as well as giving traditional gaming venues a method by which they can eliminate labor cost for a table at the price of a more expensive table-setup.
One interesting facet to this was IGT's hybrid 'M-P Series' table game products. These tables include a set of six touch-screens (one for each player), as well as a set of controls and a larger display for a dealer to operate. Capable of dealer-run or dealer-less operation, such a table can be easily reconfigured (via software change and felt change) for a number of traditional table games. A conversation with one of the sales people at these tables brought forth the idea that since the table itself handles much of the mechanics of a game, they greatly reduce the necessary training for a dealer, thereby reducing labor cost. This particular point I question a bit, since gaming venues typically pay very little per hour for dealers, dealer income instead depending largely on tips. The M-P tables were both interesting and effective, however, and add the potentially desirable feature of making table games card-ratable, definately reducing the labor cost related to the manual rating of players by floor staff.
There were an increased number of fully-automated games that have improved greatly since last year's show. Several vendors had games with large screens displaying computer-animated dealers rather than video-loops of live dealers. This resulted in a smoother, less distracting playing experience. A few even more unique variations were represented, including a robotic-arm dealer based baccarat game that Perception Gaming offers, and a number of other table-simulation products. Roulette seems to have become a staple of the fully-automated game offerings, so I took a close look at what each vendor offered in that department. Overall, I was most impressed by Alfastreet's R8 roulette game, an elegant-looking glass-domed roulette wheel surrounded by 8 electronic betting stations. It doesn't look anything like a traditional roulette table, and featured a live wheel instead of a video representation of such.
Beyond the automation of regular table games, the introduction of the Triple Towers horse-betting game from IGT (a non-table-game offering in their M-P series) was of particular interest. It features several complex, automated betting stations, and a large-screen display showing a computer-generated three-dimensional horse race. Gaming machine afficiandos may be aware that Las Vegas is home to one of the last operational Sigma Derby machines (at the MGM), but this looks to be a fine modernized replacement for the gradually disappearing Sigma Derby product that has become a cult classic of the machine gaming world.
Beyond the game offerings, the security section of G2E offered an interesting bit of insight into the role of new technology related to surveillance and security. For some time now, there has been a push for surveillance to become fully-digital, with digital video recording (DVR) equipment now being the norm and offering unprecedented ease of playback and often much greater resolution than older analog systems can offer. Though not a new concept, this better image quality and accessibility dovetails nicely with a particularly interesting suite of products offered by several vendors, aimed at expanding the capabilities of surveillance via computer-based facial recognition. Facial recognition systems of the past have left quite a bit to be desired. However, the rapid advance of computer technology and the related software has served to prove the technology to be ready for automated application in addition to the traditional manual usage of such systems.
While facial recognition technology has traditionally been limited to the realm of helping surveillance crews in the process of detecting, cataloging, and identifying potentially undesirable patrons, it is now being applied to self-exclusion (to help problem gamblers curb their play, a traditionally ineffective process if the patron wants to sneak in and play anyway). This can now be accomplished quite effectively using specially designed slot machines displayed at the Bally Technologies booth which features a hidden infrared camera that provides an image of the player to the self-exclusion system. After having my 'mug shot' scanned into the system (can be taken with a camera, from a driver's license, or without associated personal information from a surveillance feed for purposes beyond self-exclusion), I sat down at a camera-equipped slot machine after taking off my glasses, and proceeded to play whilst facing slightly away from the hidden camera in order to make the process of identifying me more challenging. No more than ten seconds later, the self-exclusion system identified me as a registered self-excluded player, and locked me out of the slot machine as it was supposed to.
The effectiveness of the self-exclusion slot system was impressive, so I went on to visit the booth of the software used to accomplish this feat, a Biometrica product. The salespeople there were able to demonstrate the uses of their systems beyond player-exclusion, including anonymous (non-carded) players, as well as what seemed to be a primary focus of the technology, the identification of players who are to be excluded or monitored for reasons beyond problem gambling. Further conversation revealed that although it is technically possible for a system such as theirs to continuously scan a high-resolution image of everyone entering a casino or other facility and run a facial recognition process on the image, the computing power necessary to perform this makes it well beyond the budget of virtually all such operations. Given the exponential and continuing growth of affordable processing power in the computing world, however, I expect that this limitation will be short lived. As a final note on the facial-recognition systems, they did mention having an active installation at the Stratosphere in Las Vegas, though a number of other resorts are similarly equipped.
Overall, G2E 2008 was none the worse for the lower attendance numbers. The big vendors are still there, the little guys are still vying for a bigger piece of the pie, and the attendees still flock to see, try, and hopefully buy the latest and greatest things to help them come out of the current industry downturn on top.
Global Gaming Expo:
Glossary Definition - "Scared Money":
IGT Slot Line Special Show Edition Newsletter (22MB)
Alfastreet R8 Roulette:
Sigma Derby blog post (photos and description, long post):
Biometrica/Stratosphere Case Study:
Stratosphere Hotel and Casino: