Automation Run Amok

An old geezer confronts the new wave of casino technology

Automation Run Amok

As I mentioned a couple of months ago in this space, after 34 years writing about this industry, I’m pretty much a crotchety old man trying to keep up with lightning-fast changes in technology.

Yes, I’m definitely a geezer, since I actually remember when playing a slot machine meant inserting these little metal discs into a slot and pulling a handle—yes, actually, manually pulling a metal thing with a ball on the end.

Now, I’ve got nothing against automation. Goodness knows, I’m glad we don’t have to do all that work to play slot machines anymore. I’m happy, for instance, that we don’t have to go through all the misery that sometimes ensued when you wanted to cash out the coins from your credit meter, then sit and wait for a slot attendant when the hopper went empty—which for me, always happened at the very worst time. The dreaded “Hopper Empty: Call Attendant” message always seemed to send an instant signal to my bladder, and well, you can take it from there.

Yes, kids, we used to wait for coins to come out of the machine, and if the coins ran out, we had to wait for a slot attendant, who was invariably 90 years old, to doddle across the floor lugging a sack of coins, dump it into the machine’s hopper, and scrawl his name on more paperwork than most mortgages entail.

It didn’t matter if you had to go to the bathroom, had a dinner reservation, had to catch a plane, or whatever. If your payout stopped with money on the meter, you waited. Even if you were waiting for a buck and a half, and you could time the attendant with a calendar, you sat there.

It’s in a gambler’s DNA, you know. You don’t leave chips on the table, or coins in the machine. Or count your money sittin’ at the table. (Hey, that would make a good song.) In short, thank God for TITO. And I’m not talking about the late Yugoslavian dictator. (As Roger Gros noted in his Agenda column in a similar vein, look it up, kids.)

I also love the automated drink requests in some of the slot management systems these days. As soon as the server brings you one drink, you order the next, and before you know it, you wake up the next day with a tiger in the bathroom of your suite.

OK, there’s always that danger. But I still like it.

Automation, though, does seem to be getting out of hand. At California’s Pechanga Resort, they’ve got a security robot named “Buddy” that cruises around the hotel lobby, keeping an eye on things. The robot—think six-foot R2D2, as opposed to the Jetsons’ maid—continuously captures 360-degree HD video and photos, scanning for suspicious activity, unattended packages, and even coffee spills.

The rumor is that he’s named after Buddy Frank, who was formerly the longtime slot operations VP at Pechanga. (Buddy, my pal and fellow slot guru, doesn’t really like the comparison, since the robot has a smooth cranium and Buddy, like myself, is, let’s say, follically challenged.)

The only thing I don’t like about Buddy the Robot is that he doesn’t interact with the guests. Not so much as a “Danger, Will Robinson” or “Jane, stop this crazy thing!” (More references you won’t get unless you’re old like me.) He just looks at you with that suspicious robot eye.

I wonder what he’d do if I put my fist through the monitor of a slot, as is now tradition in some New York casinos. Laser death ray, maybe? Would mechanical arms come out and wrestle me to the ground?

I miss the old days, when actual humans would greet you in a friendly manner, take you into the back room and break your knuckles with a hammer.

Ah, good times.

With casinos coming to Japan now, get ready for an overload of automation. There’s already a Japanese amusement park operator planning to replace a third of his human workers with robots. I read that Japan even has a chain of hotels run almost entirely by robots.

Do you think you could program a robot host to talk like DeNiro? Something to think about.

At least Tim Arnold isn’t into

automation. The 62-year-old Las Vegas arcade operator is opening up a new Pinball Hall of Fame on the south Strip—a 27,000-square-foot facility on the east side of Las Vegas Boulevard south of Russell Road that will have more than 1,000 classic pinball machines.

Now, that’s my idea of old-school fun.

I sure hope he doesn’t have robots running the place.

Frank Legato
Frank Legato is editor of Global Gaming Business magazine. He has been writing on gaming topics since 1984, when he launched and served as editor of Casino Gaming magazine. Legato, a nationally recognized expert on slot machines, has served as editor and reporter for a variety of gaming publications, including Public Gaming, IGWB, Casino Journal, Casino Player, Strictly Slots and Atlantic City Insider. He has an B.A. in journalism and an M.A. in communications from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. He is the author of the recently published book on gaming, How To Win Millions Playing Slot Machines... Or Lose Trying.