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The Changing Floor

Maximizing use of the square footage on a slot floor is a craft that changes as much as the slots themselves

The Changing Floor

In the old days, it was all straight lines on the slot floor. Three-reel stepper slots and, later, video slots all featured more or less the same size and shape of cabinet, creating a uniform, almost factory-like appearance to the slot floor.

In addition to aesthetic appeal, orderly rows of similar cabinets allowed operators of 20 year ago to fit the maximum number slot machines within a given square footage—imperative when slots were the prime cash cow of any casino.

Today’s use of slot-floor square footage is more relaxed and fluid, with machines positioned as much in small, freestanding groupings as in the old-style rows of machines. And those rows themselves are much smaller, with bank configurations of six or eight back-to-back machines allowing for wider aisle space.

There are many reasons today’s slot floor bears little resemblance to that of two decades ago. Lower slot revenues led to fewer machines and more elbow room on the slot floor. Different games like ETGs and carnival-style games appeared, and the look of the core games became as varied as the growing number of suppliers providing them. Each supplier creates new hardware every year.

Uniformity is no longer an option.

“We’ve got so many manufacturers out there today,” observes Charlie Lombardo, who started operating slot machines in the early 1970s and was senior vice president of slot operations for Caesars’ Strip properties and head of casino operations for Seminole Gaming—which still retains him as a consultant in designing the slot floors of the Hard Rock properties.

“If you go back just a few years, we had Bally and IGT and and a couple of other suppliers, and boxes were fairly uniform—pretty much the same height, the same width. It was easy to sometimes even put different manufacturers back to back on the same stand, and not even notice the difference. Now, when you start getting into the bigger and taller machines, you can’t put those in a straight row, because you’re really creating walls.

“With even one manufacturer, there are different boxes and different styles. You want to keep them in smaller groups so that you can give bigger variety on the floor.”

Variety, in fact, has governed the design of the slot floor, notes Tom Jingoli, executive vice president and chief commercial officer for slot supplier Konami Gaming.

“In the past, U.S. casino slot floors carried layouts consisting of 12-plus games in a bank, hooked up to one simple linked progressive; whereas now we see three different linked progressives covering four games each, divvied across different areas. This reduction in average bank size reflects a number of different factors, including increased competition around integrated progressive games, evolving player preference, and varied operational considerations. The result has been greater game variety and depth of content on the floor.”

The variety available on today’s slot floor is achieved with fewer units, notes Lombardo. “On the Las Vegas Strip 15 years ago, everybody wanted 2,500, 3,000 games. Now, there are half or two-thirds as many. It was due to a number of factors. We went into recession; the money wasn’t available for buying new new games, so they paired down and got rid of some of the old stuff.”

That’s not a bad thing, notes Kevin Sweet, vice president of slot operations and marketing for the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, who says more free space formerly devoted to slots translates into a wealth of new attractions on the casino floor.

“Every market is different, but in Vegas the trend has without a doubt been that you can earn just as much money with far fewer units on your floor,” Sweet says. “The days of row after row of slot machine are gone forever on the Strip. Our casinos now need to maximize revenue from every square foot of real estate available. We have fewer games on our floor because we have found other great ways to keep our guests engaged—specifically with things such as improved F&B offerings, bars and lounges, and a more exciting sportsbook.”

Another side advantage of this new use of space is player comfort. “We have reduced our count by about 12 percent over the last five years,” says Cliff Paige, director of slots for the South Point casino in Las Vegas. “We opened up some aisles and reconfigured the bank layouts with great success. Easy access for the player is key.”

“Gaming on a casino floor is now a lot more comfortable,” notes Sweet. “The chairs are nicer, the aisles are wider, but the biggest change has been the shapes and spacing of the slot machine banks. The machines on the end (end caps) always generated a much higher win per unit, so now the goal is to maximize your spacing between machines. That’s why you’ll walk a floor and see six-pack triangles, and pods of three, four or five machines where you’re never really sitting next to someone. Slot players want to be in an energetic environment, but don’t want anyone in their personal space.”


Changing the Game

Variety in non-gaming attractions is matched by variety within the slot genre itself. In the locals casinos, that has meant a resurgence in more traditional stepper slots, according to Paige.

“In the last few years, at least in the locals market, we’ve seen a resurgence toward the stepper slots,” he says. “Some manufacturers have decided to try and grow this segment with great success. Before, it was primarily video reel and poker being the drivers.”

On the larger gaming floor, he adds, even though table products have become a larger draw, they’re not taking space away from slots. “In the destination markets, table products have really become a larger part of the floor,” Paige says. “Electronic table games have been a little slow to grab any sizable section of a floor from slots, in part because of the high return-to-player—even with side bets, it can be hard to compete with the latest and greatest in video and reel slot machines in generating great win for the casino.”

Sweet agrees that modern slot-floor configurations have little to do with changes on the table-game side. “I don’t think slots have really given up much space to table games over the years, and ETGs are just an extension of slot machines,” he says. “It really is the non-gaming amenities and shift in bank configurations that have led to a reduction in floor space for slot machines.”

With those changes comes an evolution in how the slot floor is configured. “A lot of people will give the grocery store analogy when describing how they lay out a floor,” Sweet says. “Your essentials (milk, Wheel of Fortune) are tucked in the back because the people will just go find it because they need it.

“But in today’s world, you really need a hybrid approach. You still need to have some premium product in a decent location because you need that impulse purchase right at checkout. The customer wasn’t planning to gamble as they walk towards the showroom, but with a giant Big Bang Theory machine on the aisle, maybe I’ll get that $20 bill. Every square foot of real estate on my floor has a value that ranges from Baltic Avenue to Boardwalk. My job is to figure out what piece of property will give me the highest value in rent for each square.”

“Slots have to cater to many different segments of players, meaning penny players all the way to high-limit players,” says Paige. “Generally, high-limit players prefer to have a secluded area of the floor. For the lower-stakes player, market basket analysis becomes even more important to make sure that you have the correct games in locations that don’t require a lot of walking for the player to find their second, third and fourth favorite games.”


The Dynamic Floor

Various philosophies of slot floor design have one thing in common: they are always changing.

“Slot floors are constantly on the move; it never stops,” says Paige. “When moving a game that is not performing to another area, this again is where the MBA comes in to play. Most of the time, we can improve the performance of a game with a location change, unless it’s just an absolute dud, which happens.”

“A casino floor is never ‘finished,’” says Sweet. “We move or convert something four days a week. There are always incremental improvements to be made. Sometimes simply swapping the locations of two banks of machines can improve the performance of both banks. A customer may walk the same path all the time and always pass by a set of games, but if it appears new, even if just moved from a different location, maybe they’ll play it.

“The story of The Cosmopolitan and our slot floor has been very exciting to be a part of. I am a fan of constantly refreshing our content and offering a lot of premium (leased) product. As we’ve now established ourselves as a major player on the Strip, we’re beginning to pull back on how much leased product we need and where it needs to go on our floor. Each casino should have its own strategy based on its identity and what its goals are.”

Konami’s Jingoli says another reason slot-floor design must remain dynamic is the constant advance of technology in general. “The speed of technology outside of gaming actively impacts the casino landscape now and in the future,” Jingoli says. “I believe emerging player tracking solutions will gain a greater presence, including mobile technology and biometric tracking.

“Players have demonstrated greater demand for larger, ultra-high-definition displays, which we see more and more across the casino floor. There is also room for fresh concepts and new innovation around merchandizing and total game packaging. It is important to the future of the industry that we anticipate and respond to shifts in technology and consumer preference, in ways that are measured, responsible, and engaging.”

Paige at South Point agrees that technology will change the look of the slot floor. “I think the slots of the future will be much more than just a game box like it is today,” he says. “You will be able to do so much more once you’re seated, whether it’s betting sports, making reservations for dinner and show or booking tickets to a sporting event. This is the direction that the people are moving in—more on-demand services.”

Not that this will change the overall design of the slot floor, says Lombardo. “Everybody is trying to figure out how you’re going to get millennials in there to play. You’re going get the younger people in there to play what kind of games we have to offer them. My philosophy is that first, take care of he customers you’ve got.”

“Inherently,” says Cosmopolitan’s Sweet, “I still think in 10 years you’re going to have casino floors look pretty similar to how they do today. Hopefully, we’ve just found continued ways to improve service and increase the ease of doing business.

“I am so jealous of what the cruise industry is able to do because they don’t have the regulatory burdens we do here. The ease of charging gambling to my room while on a cruise as I sit at a slot machine or table is incredible. It’s frictionless, it’s fast, and I earn my normal credit card points. If we can figure out that piece, and finally get the slot jackpot threshold raised to where it should be adjusted for inflation, we’ll see incredible new growth in our industry.”

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 books, How To Win Millions Playing Slot Machines... Or Lose Trying, and Atlantic City: In Living Color.  

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