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Unlike past gaming industry trade shows, when slot machines themed after pop culture icons, 1960s and 1970s television shows, and blockbuster movies were the convention's rage, the star of this week's Global Gaming Expo 2005 is what's inside the machine.
Gaming's largest annual get-together starts today at the Las Vegas Convention Center with several training and development seminars. The conference runs through Thursday and more than 27,000 people are expected to visit the giant trade show, which opens tomorrow and will feature 700 exhibitors inside a 290,000-square-foot exhibit hall.
Organized by the American Gaming Association and Reed Exhibitions, G2E is closed to the general public.
The gaming show's primary purpose is to unveil the newest games and latest technology that will be available for the casino floor in 2006. However, the show has evolved over the past few years to include nongaming offerings.
Pavilions have been set aside for food and beverage, design and decor, air quality, security and surveillance, technology and Internet gaming.
"Clearly, gaming still drives the show," said Judy Patterson, senior vice president and executive director of the American Gaming Association. "But just as the gaming industry has evolved, so has the show itself. A lot of focus has been given to nongaming amenities, and that's something the show needed to reflect."
Goldman Sachs gaming analyst Steven Kent said this year's gaming expo will highlight technology on the slot machine floor. The show is providing manufacturers a ready-made audience for a time when the equipment vendors need to find a way to boost sagging sales.
"While we anticipate a number of exciting game designs and technologies at this year's G2E, we don't expect this to take away from the secular issues that are overhanging the industry," Kent said in a recent note to investors.
"Specifically, the slot space faces rising competition, a slowdown in the replacement cycle, and limited new market openings," Kent said.
"We don't expect these trends to improve in 2006, and while many of the technologies will be on display for downloadable gaming and table management systems, we still think it will be a while before they are fully commercially available."
Still, the newest slot games and themes, types of machines, table game advancements and other casino products remain the trade show's most popular offerings.
The major gaming equipment manufacturers -- International Game Technology, WMS Industries, Shuffle Master and Alliance Gaming of the United States and Aristocrat Technologies of Australia -- will try to outdo one another to entice customers into their booths.
Last year, for example, Aristocrat featured international soccer star Pele signing mini soccer balls to promote a new penny slot bearing his likeness. Across the way, Alliance and its Bally Gaming subsidiary introduced a slot machine featuring "Baywatch" actress Pamela Anderson. WMS unveiled its Clint Eastwood-themed slot machines with the Academy Award winner on hand.
This year's show seems to have toned down the celebrity luster.
"For us, it's the overall quality of the game and what's under the hood that we're displaying," said Robert Luciano, chief technology officer for Bally Gaming.
"All of us might have overdone the theming but the pendulum has swung the other way and it's how the game works and how it looks that we're concerned with."
Bally will have a 11,000- square-foot booth with more than 100 new game titles, 50 of which will be on the company's new "Alpha" video platform. A new reel-spinning game, that has the characteristics of video reel slot, will be unveiled.
Bally Gaming has also created a slot machine base dubbed Cinevision, which is wider than a regular slot machine but features enhanced sound and technology.
Most of the major gaming companies will be displaying some version of central server gaming, or downloadable technology, which allows a casino to download different slot machine games from an equipment provider and reconfigure game content more quickly.
"Central system gaming enhances the player interaction capabilities of slot machines through tournament style and linked-gaming possibilities," said Kent, who added that most gaming observers don't believe the technology will be on casino floors much before 2007.
Slot manufacturers are also looking to unveil gaming systems that increase player-to-player interaction.
At the same time, the slot machine companies have been trying to branch into table game management. IGT, Shuffle Master and Progressive Gaming plan to unveil a prototype of their proposed intelligent table game system; Bally Gaming will promote its Mindplay management system.
"With the ticket in-ticket out slot replacement cycle largely complete, table management systems are the next way gaming manufacturers are looking to help casinos reduce operating expenses," Kent said.
Some companies, such as WMS, are using the show to unveil products they hope will cut into market share controlled by rivals, such as IGT.
The company is showing 83 new game themes including two poker machines based on the World Series of Poker.
Multidenomination slot machines with multiple-game capabilities will continue to dominate the slot floor.
However, pop culture won't be missing.
Atronic Gaming is unveiling a slot machine based on the 1980s television show, "Miami Vice."
And Aristorcrat, which unveiled a game earlier this year with tennis star Andre Agassi, will have television star George Lopez in its booth to unveil the penny slot machine based on his entertainment persona.
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