G2E tells me Empire Striking Back!

Another G2E has come and gone. This always leads to me getting questions about this year’s show from my friends.
They want to know how it was. On one hand, I had fun walking through the Sands Expo looking at all the vendor booths. On the other, I can’t really say it was a mind blowing adventure the way a Consumer Electronics show can be.
For those who have never attended, you need to understand that a relatively small percent of the show floor is taken up by the stuff the player actually pays attention to (at least consciously).
The first time I attended, I was amazed by how many vendors there were that dealt with the stuff players clearly use but undoubtedly take for granted – chairs, tables, neon signs, artwork, slot machine cabinetry, TITO machines, etc.
These are all very necessary parts of a modern casino, but I doubt very many people can tell you the name of the company that makes the chair they are sitting on when they play video poker.
Taking up a fair amount of space at the show are all the slot machines. As I typed that, I almost subconsciously wrote “video games.” I’ll get back to that in a second.
IGT, Bally’s, WMS, Konami (my apologies for leaving any others out) all have large booths where you can try out their latest offerings in the slot machine world. If you’ve stepped into a casino in the past decade, you are well aware of the movement toward creating themes for the games such as a popular movie series, TV show or pop culture character.
Internally, the games might be nearly identical, but change up a symbol of Batman for one with Luke Skywalker and voila, you’ve taken care of both a Batman and a Star Wars slot machine.
But, it no longer stops there. Get into a bonus round and your mission is to destroy the Death Star. I’m not really sure how much control the player has over what happens in the Bonus Round, but while I was walking through these booths I had to hand it to the developers
The lines have been so blurred between slot machines and video games that it is almost hard to tell them apart. While watching the Star Wars ones, I wanted to run home and tell my 5 year old (who is very fond of Star Wars Legos) about this new game I saw; and I thought about how much he would love to see it.
Then it hit me; the only place he could see it would be in a casino in the year 2028 when he would be able to legally play it.
By that time it will probably be in 3-D with full motion. Uh oh, I might’ve spoken too soon because I also saw one slot machine that had motion seats. The seats actually vibrate depending on what happens in the game!
For those who read my column on a regular basis (or even occasionally), you know my thoughts on slot machines. The paybacks are not good, too much is unknown and I desperately try to steer players in a different direction.
Of course, my readers also know I consider casino gambling to be a form of entertainment. If you’re not having any fun, then you shouldn’t be playing. Given this, I can’t deny many people will consider playing slots a lot of fun.
No matter what characters you like, there is a good chance you can find them in the casino (thankfully, I have yet to see any Disney or Peanuts themed slot machines). So, now you can play with some of your favorite characters and you’re not just watching reels go around.
You can play a simplistic and very graphical video game for your enjoyment. The big downside is your money will still be leaving your bankroll at a faster pace than most any other casino game.
What I also found rather interesting is that through the years the slot concepts have never been added to the video poker machines. To the best of my knowledge, there are no video poker games with themes. How come no one has simply taken a deck of cards and added popular movie characters/themes to them?
Imagine a Joker’s Wild video poker machine. The Joker is Darth Vader. The King is Luke Skywalker. The Queen is Princess Leah. There’s Hans Solo as the Jack. Before you hit the draw button, the machine says “May the force be with you, always.”
Why don’t really cool bonus rounds exist in video poker? Maybe anytime you’re dealt a Natural Straight or better, you enter a bonus round and Superman has to take out the bad guy. If he succeeds you win $500.
While walking through some of the booths, I saw some newer twists on video poker, but the machine itself was essentially the same as the ones we already have in the casinos. Why all the bells and whistles (or graphics and moving chairs) for slot machines only?
I have a few theories on why things are the way they are. The first is that video poker players would not be impressed by all this extra stuff. In fact, many would consider it to be a distraction. In other words, video poker players are there to play the game. They take it seriously and that’s what entertains them.
Slot players prefer the games with no strategy and thus need the entertainment to entertain them. The game by itself isn’t enough.
The second theory is more of a conspiracy one (but they seem to be in vogue nowadays), which I have to admit is a bit more farfetched (I hope). Casinos make a lot less money with video poker machines than they do with slots.
As such, they don’t want to make video poker as enticing anymore and all the innovation is going into slot machines in the hope of regaining all that casino floor space the video poker machines have taken up in the past two decades.
After more than 20 years of my father and I telling people to break the slot habit, it would appear the Empire may have finally struck back!

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