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Howard Stutz

Wave hello to tomorrow

13 November 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- For some casino operators, the Global Gaming Expo serves as a preview to the future. Others want to know what can go on their gaming floors immediately.

This year's industry trade show opens today at the Las Vegas Convention Center and the focus remains on server-based gaming.

Slot machine makers, such as International Game Technology and WMS Gaming, are touting their newest server-based gaming equipment. Other gaming equipment providers, such as Bally Technologies, will show off a wide spectrum of gambling machines.

Wall Street has viewed server-based technology, which could let casino operators better manage their slot machine area and have greater flexibility in what they can offer customers, as the next wave in gambling.

Conceivably, downloadable gaming would allow casino managers to change a slot machine's games, denominations, bonus payouts and promotions from a central computer server rather than requiring technicians to perform the work manually. In some forms, the server-based systems would allow customers to change out their games themselves.

Most slot machine company executives admit server-based gaming systems, being tested in several markets, are still a year or so away from the slot floor.

The buzz surrounding the show and the various products could boost slot makers in the financial markets this week, Goldman Sachs gaming analyst Steven Kent said. With a significant number of new gambling products on display, and the potential for a "major evolution" as central server technology unfolds, Kent said the recent downdraft in some of the major gaming stocks could be reversed.

"The G2E convention is where all of the new slot machines and gaming technology is debuted in a massive trade show," Kent said a note to investors last week. "We think the gaming equipment and gaming operator stocks could experience a bounce."

In addition to the trade show, which is closed to the general public, the convention features seminars on the industry and financial presentations by most of gaming's publicly traded casino operators and gaming equipment makers.

Two of the cast members from the Home Box Office television series, "The Sopranos," James Gandolfini and Steve Schirripa, will cut the ribbon for the trade show. Aristocrat Technologies is marketing a Sopranos-themed slot machine.

The star of the G2E is the trade show, which will feature 750 exhibitors inside the 330,000 exhibit hall.

When Dan Garrow, chief technology officer for the Mohegan Sun casino in southeastern Connecticut, walks through the Expo, his concern is the available of products for his casino immediately.

The Mohegan Sun now has 6,000 slot machines through out the 300,000 square foot gaming space. Another 1,000 slot machines are expected to be housed inside a 64,000 square foot expansion that opens next year.

Garrow, isn't concerned as much about server-based gaming as he is with making sure Mohegan Sun patrons will have the newest gambling technology available to them immediately.

"We're already doing projects in front of server-based gaming, such as running fiber optic cables to the bases of all slot machine banks," Garrow said. "We're preparing for the future, but we're focused on other things. It's also hard to prepare for the future when you don't know what the future will be."

Garrow said once server-based gaming becomes more widespread in the industry, Mohegan Sun slot officials will have a better idea how to bring the content to the casino floor.

"I think for a while, it will be a small part of the slot machine floor," Garrow said.

The future is what interests Anthony Marnell III, president of the under-construction M Resort in Henderson. The $1 billion hotel-casino won't open until 2009, so Marnell has interest in the future slot machine offerings. Last week, while showing off the M's construction site, Marnell said he plans on spending three days exploring what the a casino might be able to offer customers in 2009.

"Our goal is to try to be the first to offer some of the new gaming technology when it becomes available," Marnell said. "We're going to spend three days at G2E trying to figure out what that might be."

Wave hello to tomorrow is republished from