Slots hit the jackpot with new technology.
Bright lights, big city
With so many machines to choose from, players often look for something familiar or glitzy that shouts, "Come over and play me." Many times they find it in electronic game toppers. In that vein, Durel Corp., Chandler, Ariz. (www.durel.com), (an affiliate of 3M and Rogers Corp.) developed electroluminescent (EL) lamps specially designed for backlighting gaming machines. The lamps are said to be bright and white in color, offering long life, low power consumption, and uniform backlighting. They are suitable for machine toppers, slot glass, and gaming-machine billboards.
Durel's EL lamps, made from proprietary phosphers, distribute light evenly over an entire surface. This eliminates hot spots that degrade graphical details, an important consideration in graphically intensive gaming machines. The EL lamps save space, claim Durel officials, because each lamp package is less than 0.025-in. thick. Also, EL is a cool energy-saving alternative to conventional hot bulbs.
The lamps can be attached to the back of graphic glass with flat C-channel clamps or adhesive, saving room as compared to large fluorescent-bulb cases. The EL technology provides thin two-sided illuminated screens that can be moved from machine to machine simply by unplugging two wires and moving the lamp and driver, or power supply, which plugs into a standard 110-Vac outlet.
Wheel of Fortune, one of IGT's wide-area progressive slots, is one of the most successful games ever launched, says Rogich. One reason may be the chance for bonus play on a mechanical spinning wheel resembling the hit game show version, but much smaller, that sits in the top box. The machine is a basic three-reel spinning slot but with an additional spin symbol on the third reel that initiates a bonus round. Players get a chance to spin the wheel and win more money than what they may have already won on the reels. IGT recently kicked it up a notch, so to speak, with its newest Wheel of Fortune Special Edition. Though still a basic reel-spinning game with mechanical wheel, the new-generation system has added whiz-bang features including a touchscreen, hardware-accelerated real-time 3D graphics, 32-bit color (more than 16 million colors with 8-bit alpha channel allow for over 4.2 billion color combinations), and 32-channel hardware mixed digital stereo sound. (Only 256 colors were available with the older system).
Another enhancement: live streaming video. "Our games must be able to perform on demand," says Rogich. "Live streaming video on a computer sometimes causes glitches or hang-ups when downloading. To put this capability on a slot machine means the video must be available at the touch of a button, without any delays, and must perform consistently in a heavy-play environment." To avoid any downloading snafus, machines needed more storage capacity than possible with EPROM chips, so IGT developed a new PC-based processor called the AVP platform with hard-drive storage.
Bringing live streaming video to slots adds extra excitement to the games and keeps players in their seats longer. (Imagine getting encouragement or playing instructions straight from Pat Sajak and Vanna White.) IGT only recently rolled out AVP technology. Some of the features of AVP include a high-resolution digitally controlled color monitor with up to 1,280 3 1,024 resolution, a DVD ROM drive, more than 40 Gbytes of high-speed RAM, AGP video with hardware 3D rendering, high-speed Ethernet, a modular serial communication system adaptable to any gaming/lottery system, and USB for use with new peripherals such as the standard multicolor LED-lighted monitor bezel. AVP also offers new technologies including electronic configuration keys (ekeys) used for securing menu pages, advanced verification software, controlled nonvolatile RAM clears, and authorized CD/DVD ROM-based software installation.
Tickets, pleaseBeyond the technology of the games is the technology of the casinos. That same machine producing millions of colors, 3D animation, stereo sound, and live streaming video must interact with player-tracking techniques, accounting procedures, and alternate payout systems. For example, new coinless slot machines using Ticket In/Ticket Out (TI/TO) technology are popping up everywhere. Instead of paying players with coins from a hopper, machines with TI/TO systems dispense a ticket that can be played in other coinless machines or exchanged for cash.
IGT developed what it calls the EZ Pay Ticket System. Touted as being more versatile for players and operators alike, EZ Pay cuts down on hopper fills, simplifies hand pays, and supports selectable-denomination gaming. This lets casino operators program a machine to pay a portion of its payout in coins and the rest as a ticket, or pay the entire amount via ticket or hopper, depending on the payout limit. The system, says Rogich, provides all transaction processing, auditing, and reporting associated with the tickets, and integrates that with the casino's existing systems.
Interestingly, with all the money changing hands and all the high technology in today's machines, the gaming industry had no standard form of communication for its equipment until recently. Without standards, manufacturers were developing their own proprietary forms of communication, which often couldn't "talk" to other gaming equipment without interpreters. Leading gaming manufacturers, suppliers, and operators stepped up to the plate, forming the Gaming Standards Association (GSA) in 1996.