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Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz
 

Slot machines center of attention at G2E

20 November 2009

By Howard Stutz

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Slot machine manufacturers didn't hold back at the Global Gaming Expo.

Games with high-definition animated characters and 3-D graphics, touch-screen technology and Xbox-type or similar video game features were on display in the booths of the major slot machine makers.

Slot machines built around familiar themes and popular culture took up a large chunk of G2E's 258,000 square feet of exhibit space inside the Las Vegas Convention Center.

International Game Technology highlighted a slot machine based on the television series "Sex and the City" while WMS Industries displayed a game based on the movie trilogy, "Lord of the Rings."

Bally Technologies focused on its games with new cabinet designs, liquid-crystal-display screen displays and games with new bonus-round features to enhance a player's interest.

Companies even trotted out slot-machine chairs with movie-theater-quality audio systems built into the seat backs that played sounds incorporated into the games.

Equipment manufacturers were more positive about the 2009 G2E than they've been about recent shows.

"There is that sense of energy and anticipation this year," International Game Technology Chief Executive Officer Patti Hart said before the opening of G2E. "We're getting the sense from our customers that they truly want to see what we have to offer."

The sagging economy has kept most of the major casino companies and independent operators from updating their slot machine floors over the past few years, as casino managers tried to squeeze additional life out of older, out-of-date games.

Small signs that the market is turning around, however, have boosted the spirits of slot makers and investors. With the multimillions of dollars invested in their products in 2009, the gaming equipment sector is hoping for a windfall in 2010.

"We were impressed with some of the newer products and believe it was considerably improved upon from newer products introduced over the last few G2Es," JPMorgan gaming analyst Joe Greff told investors. "We think this is important as newer and more competitive content is a big part of what investors are expecting as the industry prepares for a pickup in domestic replacements and gaming expansion presents newer revenue opportunities."

Slot machine manufacturer representatives said G2E isn't about sales. The trade show is geared toward showing the casino industry what to look for in the coming months.

"It seems to us that the strength of these games and technological advancements are so great that they should catalyze replacement sales," Goldman Sachs gaming analyst Steven Kent said.

Macquarie Securities gaming analyst Joel Simkins said the long-term prognosis for equipment manufacturers is good.

"It has never been a better time to be a slot manager, as the competitive playing field is arguably the most robust in the history of the industry and nearly all vendors are bringing out high-quality, innovative products," Simkins said.

Penn National Gaming CEO Peter Carlino told MarketWatch.com that his company was meeting with slot-machine company sales representatives with the idea of placing orders for 2010. Penn National operates 19 casinos and racetrack casinos in regional markets.

"We are the only company that didn't cut back on capital expenditures," Carlino said. "It only means you have to spend more in the future."

In several gaming markets, casino operators updated slot-machine floors before the economy tanked.

Tjeerd Brink, chief financial officer for the Pechanga Resort in Temecula, Calif., said the large Riverside County Indian casino expanded its slot machine base in 2007, a year after the tribe negotiated a new compact with the state.

Brink, a former executive with the Palms in Las Vegas, checked out slot machine products, but he wasn't buying.

"We're in pretty good shape right now. Our floor is up to date," Brink said. "We're always looking to see what's out there."

Some the trade show's highlights included IGT's 3-D Center Stage series, which includes a bank of slot machines linked together and backed by a 103-inch, high-definition television screen. One of the themes featured is based on the reality television series "American Idol." The bonus round allows players to assume the persona of one of the judges -- Randy Jackson, Kara DioGuardi or Simon Cowell -- and incorporates clips of the show's past contestants.

The platform also allowed IGT to update its popular "Wheel of Fortune" game, which, for the first time, offers a bonus round in which players can solve the hangman-style word puzzle for additional rewards.

Reno-based IGT also introduced slot machines based on the reality television series "The Amazing Race."

WMS displayed 137 new games in its booth, including an updated version of the game show "The Price Is Right" that combine the company's transmissive reels, sensory immersion technologies and community-gaming concept that lets players at one slot-machine bank share in bonus rewards.

Slot machines center of attention at G2E is republished from GamingMeets.com.