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Richard N. Velotta

Slot players might get new crack at an old video game

23 July 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Pong, the game that turned pinball wizards into video-game junkies in the '70s, is poised to make a comeback in casinos.

This time, it could help turn the video-game generation on to slot machines.

Las Vegas-based Bally Technologies is seeking approval for a Pong slot machine where a player's video skill would help determine the payout.

"Ever since we showed it a couple of years ago, there's been a great deal of interest," said David Schultz, director of video games for Bally, which has show n the game at trade shows.

Pong and the twist of a payout based on player s' skills were debated last week by the state Gaming Control Board. The panel said slot machines must have an element of randomness in their base game but noted that Pong's skill element comes into play only in the bonus round - something not covered by regulations. So, the three-member panel recommended approval and sent Pong to the Nevada Gaming Commission, which has to sign off on the concept before it could be played in a casino.

If the commission approves skill-based gaming , Schultz said, it could open the door to other skill-based games that could be popular with a new breed of casino gambler - Generation X'ers who grew up with video-game consoles in their laps.

But Pong is expected to be popular with Baby Boomers who make up the core demographic in most casinos and who will view the game with nostalgia.

The table tennis-based video game now has a distinct retro look and sound. But it was the first video game sensation in arcades and home consoles in the '70s.

Bally had first crack at buying the rights to the original Pong video game, but passed - open ing the door for Atari to make it a hit.

But Bally didn't pass on the opportunity to feature Pong in a slot machine.

The machine plays like most five-reel video slots but adds Pong logos among the brightly colored symbols on each reel. Line up three Pong logos, and the game goes into a bonus mode.

In the bonus round, the player competes against the machine, playing a 45-second round of Pong by controlling a paddle with a knob mounted on the machine. The Pong slot plays true to the original Atari video games, starting slow in the early volleys and gradually picking up speed as the game progresses.

The better a player does, the more he wins.

"If a patron reaches the bonus round, he has to be awarded a minimal amount," Gaming Control Board member Mark Clayton said. "That was one of the things we required."

Bally officials calculated the difference in the payout for a player who whiffs and one who is flawless and beats the game at 7 percent.

Clayton said another requirement by regulators is signage that clearly explains that the video-game skill element is a bonus and not a part of qualifying play. "Our main concern is that the patron has to be aware that skill is involved in the bonus round," Clayton said.

Clayton said he doubted skill would ever play a role in a base game because gambling is popular because every player has the same chance of winning or losing. But he acknowledged that skilled players have a better chance of winning at video poker, even though chance is still at the base of the game, since a good hand is predicated on what cards a player is dealt.

The Nevada Gaming Commission is expected to make a decision on the skill-based game concept at its Thursday meeting. If the concept is approved, Bally would be allowed to submit the game for lab and field testing. Bally didn't say where a field test would be conducted.