Ergonomics has flexible application.
In the office world, where it most likely ascended, the term is chic. It refers to advanced worker safety via equipment fitting the human body. Upgraded chairs, keyboards and machines prevent employment-place injuries and billions of dollars in workmen’s compensation claims. Companies also enhance employee comfort and productivity.
Gaming has a deeper slant on ergonomics.
Comfort is a lucrative business. A chair can decide if and for how long a customer plays at one property. If customers leave because of discomfort, money has vanished, and this keeps manufacturing workshops busy.
Hundreds of chair models feature enhancements like lumbar support, foam injection, curved edges, friction-reducing coating and flexible wood framing. State-of-the-art comfort forms a high-stakes business plan for distributors and manufacturers. One successful pitch becomes thousands of chairs sold.
Yet, there is a contradiction. Casino excitement won’t easily embrace ergonomic efforts to help aging, demanding and variably sized patrons battle back pain, neck pain and poor leg circulation. There is no uniform machine height, or chair width. One minute a patron relaxes in a row of slot machines. Then comes a heart-throbbing adrenaline rush, a jackpot which puts the patron at the end of his seat. In theory, he should be straight up, feet to the floor. But triple sevens can trump good posture, obliterate back pain and make people forget the equipment they sit on.
Ergonomics and economics must dance on the same floor. The question for manufacturers, distributors and operators is: Who provides the best music?
Say Halo To Gasser
Gasser Chair Company reaps the reward of a single connection. Formed in 1946, the Youngstown, Ohio, company initially specialized in kitchen tables and chairs. That changed in the 1960s after its founder, George Gasser, forged a relationship with gaming magnate Bill Harrah. Gasser convinced Harrah that stools in front of slot machines would enable customers to play longer.
That vision, coupled with the eventual Harrah’s gaming boom, propelled this company into a prominent position. Gasser also has a presence in Australia, Europe and the Caribbean along with product on board many cruise lines, says Christine Dravis, the company’s gaming accounts manager. Gasser’s product line grew to include table-game seating along with poker, keno and bingo chairs.
The most recent buzz involves the halo disc slot stools, an innovation that grew out of a previous product.
“Prior to the halo base, most slot stools were built with a spun steel base with single-direction rollers underneath it,” Dravis explains. “It allowed you to move the chair forward and back, but not necessarily side to side. We wanted something that improved the overall mobility of the chair.”
How does the new version work? The halo disc innovation occurs at the bottom with a curved-edge design with friction-minimizing powder-coat finish. This enables easy movement of the chair, in all directions. It also eliminates tipping, which occurs with normal designs because of a weight distribution problem or a drag on the hard-edged casing which prompts a stool to dig into the carpet.
The halo disc may indeed become an angelic link between gaming and Gasser. The design, created by company President Mark Gasser, is already showcased in Gun Lake Casino in Wayland, Michigan, Ameristar in Kansas City, and Ameristar in St. Charles, Missouri. It can prevent back pain for the person moving it, helping both customers and casino housekeeping personnel who wish to clean behind them. This design also prolongs the life of a carpet, which translates into money.
Gasser rolled, or perhaps glided, this product out last year.
“This is the biggest introduction of a new product innovation in a number of years,” Dravis says. “The technology of it is dynamic. It has been so well received that some of our customers to whom we provided a steel-spun base about 10 years ago now want the new halo base as they decide upon replacements.”
All made in the United States, all tailored for casino themes and preferences. Dravis considers Gasser’s ability to customize a major separator in its favor.
“We are in almost every property in the United States for sure,” Dravis says. “We can build a model that a designer would request, and our competitors really can’t do that. And we have more control over what we build, as opposed to if you imported containers of chairs from China.”
Dravis says Gasser has better proficiency with component parts than its competitors. Gasser produces its own cushions and protective edging. It does not rely on outside vendors. Casinos can look at Gasser’s capabilities and create something for themselves, Dravis asserts.
“In the casino business, it’s all about keeping up,” she says. “Everybody wants to have their own theme, their own message. The chair is an excellent way for us to give that to them. It can be a form of their advertising, their eye candy.”
Platt Hits Big
Gary Platt supplies IGT, Bally and Shuffle Master for their participation games, and thus exists in every North American casino. In 2000, the company engineered a chair for San Diego’s Barona Casino that introduced state-of-the-art ergonomics to gaming, according to CEO Skip Davis. That design became the basis for its X-Tended Play series of seating and propelled the gaming world into ergonomics, he says.
The company also has supplied chairs to the World Poker Tour for the past three years. Talk about all in. Gary Platt’s innovations are significant. Waterfall edging, a gradual arc in the front of the chair, enables prolonged leg circulation. A lumbar design provides back support and injected, contoured foam enables weight distribution.
The design fundamentals provide a strong element for casino balance sheets; they prevent customers from leaving prematurely. It’s difficult to assign a dollar figure to this dynamic, but its effect is positive.
“We took this design concept right out of the office industry a few years ago,” Davis says. “You think of the chair like a bed mattress. If you feel the frame right away, that’s not good. And if a chair is too soft, it might feel great when you first plop down on it, but then your back will be hurting a half an hour later. That’s why the foam density is very important, for your weight distribution and your comfort.
“When we talk to casinos, we can’t point to specific data like time-on-device and say that this chair will give you 15 minutes more per day for each customer; there are too many other variables. But what we can say is, ‘Sit in one of your chairs; now sit in one of ours.’ You can tell from ours that you can eliminate the leg fatigue as one reason for a person getting up and leaving. Well, if you can eliminate one variable, that’s a very good thing.”
At the end of the day, of course, ergonomics is economics. Davis would like to see more operators realize this at the beginning of the day.
“You often see a casino design in which the chair is like a chandelier or the carpet; it’s just part of the look,” Davis says. “The operators are not paying attention; they are missing an income-earning asset with the chairs. Designers get lost on fabrics and shapes, which is wrong. If you want customers to stay and play, you have to keep them comfortable.”
Top Of The Line
Norman Friedrich, president of Kenilworth, New Jersey-based Top Line Seating, incorporates numerous angles into his company’s business. Top Line sells primarily to distributors, who turn around and place its products in casinos.
Friedrich doesn’t mind taking a piece of the action rather than to gamble and get nothing. He might lose an overall job bid, but capture some of it by selling parts to his competition.
“I’m glad to do it,” he says. “There was a time when that kept us going, because the business was horrific. Now it’s coming back, which is a wonderful thing. We certainly get it that casinos may want to make a statement with their chair, and we know the different preferences players have, but the first thing you do in making a chair? It’s not the ergonomics. The first thing is, that chair has to be strong as a tank. You want it durable, no matter what. Casinos have invested heavily in their property; they do not want a customer falling off a chair.
“After you talk about how strong to make it, then the ergonomics angle and how sleek it is come into play, and they vary from property to property.”
Friedrich says orders will change and cause production delays, an irritant compounded by the layered effect of a distributor. But, like many chair-manufacturing executives, he sees that a specialty market has emerged, with an increasing number of viewpoints.
“The smaller property might be happy with a simple black chair,” he says, “but a larger casino has several designers on its property. So you are going to be dealing with their ideas. They will have you provide four or six different samples, with different color combinations, and some with a handle, some without.
“Because we deal in custom, it’s always, ‘What do you want?’ You can’t stock a casino chair; it’s really not possible. Because not everybody needs the same height, you are always dealing with a moving target. And if someone changes one thing, it’s a multi-week delay. One day I’ll find out you want a handle, but then what color do you want it, how big do you want it, where exactly do you want it? Each of these things requires a decision to be made by the property.”
Choice Equals Compatability
Ergonomics is admirable, but compatibility with casino products remains elusive, according to Steve Odden, vice president of sales and marketing for MLP Seating near Chicago.
Odden’s company is 62 years old. His specialty area grew from office furniture being used eight hours a day to gaming chairs needed for 24/7 durability. They need to withstand the pressure of people larger than 300 pounds.
The company has, literally, hundreds of chair models. Some of that is for diversification. Part of the varied product line, however, reflects MLP’s belief that chair companies are lone wolves in the ergonomic gaming movement.
“For 40 years, many of the chair companies have installed ergonomic features, but seating companies are the only ones addressing it to any degree,” Odden says. “If I build the perfect ergonomic stool, once I lift my arm to play the button on a machine, I’m no longer ergonomic. There is stress on my shoulder. If you have to lean back so you can reach upward to see a monitor on a machine, now you will have stress on the shoulders and your neck.
“There is no standard location of the keypad. There is no standard location for the bottom of the slot machine cabinet. If you have people building second monitors above the first monitor, customers have to move their heads.”
Odden says the top of the game video screen should be slightly above eye level. He says if a player has to lift his arm, shoulder discomfort ensues. The bending of knees to use the foot rest cuts off blood flow. All of these symptoms can occur even with the most perfect, comfortable chair.
Odden acknowledges the unlikelihood of gaming and chair manufactures getting on the same page. While the casino lighting and machine pizzazz clash with ergonomics, these bells and whistles create a customer wow factor.
That’s why MLP opted for the Choice product line.
“What people buy is subjective,” Odden says. “Everybody wants a different-style back, for example. We have four of them, with different sets of brackets and angles of reclines. We have three different seat form densities. We have removable seat pad options, two different four-legged bases. If that doesn’t fit the customer, we say, ‘What do you want?’ Tell us and we will build it.”
Majestic Industries, based in Passaic, New Jersey, enjoyed its biggest breakthrough ever in recent months. The 14-year-old company landed major contracts for several thousand chairs each at Revel in Atlantic City, Resort World New York, Hollywood Casino and Maryland Live!, all recently opened.
“I don’t know what we actually seized upon, but I guess it would be price and comfort,” says Joe Ursini, the vice president of a company that employs more than 50 people. “You are always trying to strike a balance. For instance, with ergonomics, you can spend $250 on a chair or you can spend $500. You sit on that $500 chair (multiplied by thousands of units in a casino) and you get that soft, cushy feeling, but the question becomes, ‘Is it worth $500 to you?’”
Somewhere between those extremes, Majestic managed to satisfy casinos with different gaming requirements. In Atlantic City, for example, the chair must be attached to the slot base. That discourages flexibility of movement. In Maryland and at Resort World, that problem didn’t exist. Majestic delivered a specialized product to both and enjoyed its best run of fortune since it began dealing directly with casinos.
Majestic once used a distributor, but decided to make its own deals with operators. A sign of the times.
“Our decision was based on the fact that other chair guys were starting to go direct,” Ursini says. “It kind of became a requirement to go direct.”
This move eliminates the middle-man markup and makes a company competitive from a pricing standpoint. The tradeoff is that the company must get licensed, a laborious process in some states, and it won’t have the distributor’s contacts.
That’s just one change companies have felt compelled to make. Another involves serving several masters. In years past, most machines were IGT, meaning that companies knew how to tailor its product. That has changed, and the variables for companies have increased.
“It was easier a long time ago,” Ursini says, “when 75 percent of the floor consisted of one type of machine. Now the floor is so diverse, with so many different cabinets. If every machine had their buttons at the same height and their screen at the same angle, we could design the perfect chair.”