High Tech Gaming

Spent the last few days at Belterra Resort and Casino near Madison, Indiana. Lots of fun things to do down here and the weather has been beautiful. It has been quite a while since I have been to a casino, either in Vegas or locally. The quality of the machines has really improved during that time. Much of the improvement is due to the development of high definition screens--the same as we use to watch TV. Using these HD displays, developers can create almost an infinite range of possibilities for each game--far surpassing the old “one armed bandit” reel type slots of yesterday.

Modern slot machines are more like high-end personal computers than anything else. Programmers can control virtually all aspects of the game: cost, payout, even the images on the payline. Casino operators can also make changes in real time through back-end servers that communicate with the slot machines. In essence, the casino becomes a big network of PC’s. But thinking of it that way takes all the fun out of it.

According to Rachel Konrad, Associated Press, PureDepth Inc. spent years developing tools for helping the military plot 3-D maps of war zones, eventually licensing top-secret technology to the U.S. Air Force and Navy. But the Silicon Valley startup hit the jackpot in October 2007 when it inked a deal with International Game Technology Inc, the world’s largest maker of slot machines. “This is the last piece of the puzzle,” financial analyst Aimee Marcel Remey, who follows the gaming industry for Jefferies & Co. “These new systems are so different from the slots out there now. You feel like it’s an exact science, every time you pull.”

Traditional three and five reel slots have a finite number of combinations, but adding a video layer allows programmers to exponentially expand the possibilities. “The mathematics drive the game, and the more mathematics you can derive, the more combinations you can create,” said Larry Pacey, senior vice president of product development at WMS, which developed the patented technology with Tokyo-based Pachinko powerhouse Aruze Corp.

Konrad also points out that without digital displays and servers, employees would have to manually close out meters, change glass, change reel strips and physically relocate and remove machines. One drawback to digital slots, however, is that they are vulnerable to the same bugs and malfunctions that plague personal computers. Regulators say they’ll be seductive targets for hackers, who have been trying to rig games for decades.

Based on my own experience, the new machines are more fun to play and seem to be quite effective at keeping a players interest. You have many more ways to win and the different "themes" make each game unique. However, as far as actual jackpots, my best payout of the evening was from an “old school” video poker machine that was sitting way over in the corner. Some things never change!

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