Las Vegas Strip casino slot machines are placed in new ways on the gaming floor

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Gone are the days of gambling halls lined with rows of small slot machines and players sitting side by side.

Now, the casino floor allows players to stretch out a bit while playing tall and dynamic slot machines with massive digital screens.

Changes to the layout of a casino floor began about 10 years ago and are now commonplace in Las Vegas casinos, especially in the post-pandemic era. Some operators are finding that focusing on player convenience and slot technology is paying off, as gaming revenue reports show fewer machines on the floor making more money compared to 2019.

And with the Global Gaming Expo kicking off Monday at The Venetian Expo, industry leaders can expect to see the newest games that are likely to change the layout of casino floors on the Strip.

Mike Gatten, senior vice president of slot strategy at MGM Resorts International, credits new technologies as driving change. In the past, games and naming options were limited. But the latest technology enables multi-game and multi-denomination functionality, allowing fewer machines on the floor and maximizing space to add other conveniences.

“Our playground floors are very different from what customers experienced five or 10 years ago,” Gatten said in an email. “Advances in technology that have allowed us to offer more games with fewer machines have also changed the profile of slots. Guests will now see the height and layers of a slot floor that feature video motion and color from a monitor – previously this was created by neon lights and a rotating panel on a bank of slots.

Gatten said consumer pressure for new dining and entertainment experiences has also required more space.

“So when the casino floor doesn’t need as much space as it used to, patrons have the flexibility to enjoy these amenities just steps away from their favorite machine,” he said. “The physical shape of the floor is not only changing, but it’s also allowing us to develop new pathways and sight lines to highlight and make these new amenities more visible to our customers.”

Fewer machines, more money

The new strategy of many casino operators can also be seen in the state gambling revenue figures.

Clark County reported $688.7 million in slot machine winnings in August on 88,375 slot machine units. As of August 2019, slot machine winnings were $478.4 million from 103,260 slot machine units.

In the state, the number of slot machines in August was 40% higher than in August 2019, even though there were 123,300 units in August and 140,600 units in August 2019.

Industry members say the figures show it’s likely to be a combination of factors proving ‘less is more’.

Rahmi Chaghouri, director of operations at Circa, D Las Vegas and Golden Gate Casinos, points to advancements in slot machine technology from manufacturers – more lines of play, more multipliers and more progressives. Players can also have higher average bets and more games played per minute on upgraded machines.

“Slot machines and technology have evolved which has created more ways for people to win and also lose and play much faster,” he said.

Changes fueled by COVID

Charlie Lombardo, a retired gaming executive from Las Vegas who now works as a consultant for Seminole Gaming and Hard Rock International, suspects the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of a new layout by casinos.

In the face of social distancing requirements, after the reopening of state-mandated public health shutdowns in 2020, many operators removed games from the floor to allow at least 6 feet of space between players. This has led to an increased “pod” configuration, where games are configured in the shape of a circle, triangle, or soccer ball.

“What they found was that it made the casino a lot more comfortable and players enjoyed being separated a bit – which we always knew, but most thought more was better,” Lombardo said. “I thought more was not always better. I think everyone found fewer machines to be more productive.

This is something that even game makers have noticed.

Nick Khin, chief gaming operations officer at IGT, said the London-based company’s customers are sharing feedback that points to straight bank hijacking.

“We have certainly seen that. I’m also a gambler, and when I go to the casino and gamble, I don’t necessarily want to sit right next to someone, especially if they’re smoking,” Khin said. “I think player preferences have definitely changed and have definitely changed since the pandemic. People are a bit more aware of social distancing and such. We’ve seen a lot of success with different setups.

Khin believes the growing popularity of electronic tabletop games, also brought to light during the pandemic, has added to the changes.

Guests looking for more space away from others can now choose a pod or stadium style setup, instead of a table with a live dealer and possibly other players seated next to them.

This led IGT to consider flexibility during research and development, he said. Game and machine designers think about how a casino can position a game, whether in a bank, against the wall, in a pod or elsewhere.

Focus on customer comfort

Despite the success of machines arranged in a pod-style post-pandemic, some casinos were incorporating the format long before COVID-19 arrived in the United States.

Chaghouri said casino floors are usually designed based on the building’s available space and the age of the infrastructure.

The old-school mentality was that more slots meant more money, he said, but that changed when people took into account the psychology of a customer’s choice.

“When you’re in the car, nobody ever wants to sit in the middle,” Chaghouri said. “It’s kind of the same at a slot machine.”

The D Las Vegas began to grow about six years ago when the team reduced the number of slot machine floors from about 150, he said.

They found that fewer plays still produced strong play.

“Anytime we can give people a little more elbow room, we will,” he said. “More slot machines is not always the answer. If you have 4,000 slots in your floor and you only get 100 people playing there, then why do you really need 4,000 slots? It’s about getting the right use, the right mix, and knowing what your customers want, what the risks are, and what niches they’re flocking to.

For MGM Resorts, that same philosophy has guided its configuration changes, Gatten said.

If there are three machines in a row with the same game and the middle receives less game, the floor operators will reconfigure it into a module so that each player can have a “final” place.

Customers also feel more comfortable when sightlines are increased, Chaghouri said. As the cabinets get taller, they could clutter the casino floor space and make it difficult to see through the room.

“If you look through the casino, look for a restaurant, look for restrooms, look for a store, a bar, as the slots get bigger, it’s harder to see that stuff,” Chaghouri said. “By creating a slot instead of creating a wall of 10 of these things, it visually helps increase sightlines and makes it a little easier to look through the casino and see where you’re going.”

However, industry leaders say the trend may be limited to Las Vegas. Indeed, the region’s hypercompetitive market rarely results in full occupancy, so reducing the number of matches may have little impact. On the other hand, tribal and regional casinos need to maximize their usage, Lombardo said.

MGM Resorts’ Gatten expects the strategy to stick.

“Currently, the floor layout is much more open, exciting, and provides an opportunity for our players to see and feel more activity around them during their gaming experience,” he said in the email. “The feedback we’ve received has been overwhelmingly positive, and it was definitely the push we needed to scale our operations and embrace this new strategy at our properties.”

McKenna Ross is a corps member of Report for America, a national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms. Contact her at [email protected] Follow @mckenna_ross_ on Twitter.

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