The Evolution of Slot Systems and Gaming Technology

The Evolution of Slot Systems and Gaming Technology
Chris Garrow, Gaming Operations Director, Prairie Band Casino & Resort

Chris Garrow, Gaming Operations Director, Prairie Band Casino & Resort

When I started my career in gaming in 1994, slot machines were still very basic. Every game was your typical “one-armed bandit”. From that time, technology advanced rapidly to where the industry is now. When bill acceptors were added to the sides of slot machines in the later part of the 1990s, it was considered to be a game changer at the time. We no longer had to insert coins to play if we didn’t want to, rather insert a bill and press the “play” button. Before bill acceptors, we all had dirty fingers from inserting the coins.

Moving into the early 2000s, we started to see slot machines come out with large progressive jackpots or what we call wide area progressives. Those games were linked to other casinos throughout the country with jackpots going to the millions of dollarsconsidered to this day to be life-changing jackpots. They are a staple in markets that allow those types of games. At the same time, penny games started gaining traction and ticket-in ticket-out (TITO) was introduced and both have been huge game changers in the industry. At first, everyone joked that penny games were a waste of floor space and some operators initially refused to place them. Fast forward to today, and every operator has well over 50{38557cf0372cd7f85c91e7e33cff125558f1277b36a8edbab0100de866181896} floor share being either penny or penny based multi-denomination games. TITO was accepted quickly due to the overall cost savings that accompanied the removal of coin (mechanical parts in the machines, coin drop and count, etc).

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the importance of player development and marketing. With the technological advances with slot systems throughout the years, we are able to leverage granular gaming metrics to know exactly what patrons’ play habits are, number of days played, gaming and promotional preferences. This information can then be utilized for direct marketing efforts based on the expected value of the player and to create VIP programs. Both gaming and marketing are very important pieces to any successful casino and they must work closely together.

 Both gaming and marketing are very important pieces to any successful casino and they must work closely together 

In table games, one of the biggest technological advancements came with adding shuffler machines. By adding shufflers, the hands per hour on an eight-deck shoe increased by a minimum of 15{38557cf0372cd7f85c91e7e33cff125558f1277b36a8edbab0100de866181896}. There have also been added technologies in the bingo area including video flashboards and handheld electronic devices that tell you when to yell BINGO!

In my opinion, the next best advancement in gaming is cashless. You can deposit funds at the cashier and through an app, then download credits to the machine. Once you’re done playing, you upload your credits back to the app. There are versions of this for slots as well as table games and several manufacturers that are approaching how to deploy it in different ways.This has picked up interest since Covid-19, however, this technology hasn’t been perfected yet.

As a gaming operator, in order to be successful we need to leverage our vendors to get the best games whether that is in slots, table games, or bingo. Look at your regulations versus competition and use those regulations to your advantage. We have games on our floor that our competition cannot have. This can draw traffic to your property and ultimately increase revenues. Be creative and think outside of the box. Use your marketing team to advertise these games.

Currently some challenges facing gaming tech are disruptions to the supply chain. Prior to Covid, we could receive a shipment of games within two months; now we’re waiting a minimum of three months and as much as up to eight months to receive those same games. Slot machines and parts are getting more expensive as technology evolves. We’ve gone from nine-inch tube monitors to curved 50-inch flat screen monitors and continue to get even larger than that. The most important challenge right now is the shortage of qualified labor. This shortage starts from the beginning of the supply chain to the end user. Most companies are offering sign on bonuses, however, how many potential new hires are shopping incentives and moving from job to job to take advantage of them.

In closing, I’d like to offer advice to both veterans and newcomers to the industry. Veterans: take time to mentor the newcomers. Look for those who want to advance and learn more about the industry. Pay attention to the quiet ones, they often have a lot to say. Get to know the names of your team members and show empathy. I’ve worked at many places where executives aren’t approachable and stick to their peers – some don’t even acknowledge team members as they pass by each other – and it’s a shame. Newcomers, do your research on the company you’re going to work for. I’m lucky to work for a company who has high marks on employment sites. If an area in your organization looks interesting to you, find someone on that team to ask questions. If they aren’t approachable, you might want to look elsewhere.

Chris Garrow has been in the casino industry for 27 years, with a career encompassing experiences at corporate and tribal properties. Currently, as the Gaming Operations Director at Prairie Band Casino & Resort, Chris responsible for optimizing the revenue and profitability of its slots, table games and bingo products. Prior to joining Prairie Band, Chris was the Director of Gaming Operations for Treasure Island Resort & Casino in Welch, Minnesota, where he was responsible for launching social gaming at the property. His extensive gaming career includes Monte Carlo Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, Ho-Chunk Gaming Black River Falls and Nekoosa in Wisconsin. Chris’ gaming philosophy is progressive and forward-thinking, and he embraces challenges as the opportunity to push for what’s next, while keeping his focus on the bottom line.