Ali Saffari spins the wheels on the slot machine in front of him, taps a touch screen on the top of the display and prints out an airline boarding pass.
A couple of taps later, and the founder and chief executive officer of Reno’s Leap Forward Gaming is printing a lottery ticket - with the price deducted from the cash-out amount he’s accumulated while playing the slot.
Building on Leap Forward’s previous success in creating a wireless casino floor, the company is rolling out new technologies in an ever-larger way during 2014, opening the way for casino operators to quickly modify game play and opening the door for a multitude of applications for players on every machine to transform the gaming experience.
At the bare minimum, the introduction of wireless technology onto slot floors already has made life substantially easier for casino employees.
Bally Technologies, for instance, allows casino staffs to manage slots floors from their own mobile devices.
Staff can be immediately dispatched to deal with a machine problem — no more cruising the floor, looking for “help” lights — and managers can see machine-by-machine activity across the floor and spot hot players.
“It improves customer service and at the same time it reduces labor,” says Tom Doyle, vice president of product development with Bally Technologies in Reno. “We’re trying to do more and more to increase the player experience.”
Leap Forward Gaming expects to see installation of its technology on about 10,000 gaming machines in North America this year.
Gaming operators, who otherwise face large costs to replace traditional slot-machine boxes, instead will remove that need when installing Leap Forward Gaming’s interface into existing machines on the floor.
Last year, Leap Forward’s multimedia Patron Display Interface — that’s a trademarked name — was named the industry’s top new technology for slot floors by Casino Enterprise Management magazine.
The cornerstone of the technology, Saffari says, is its patented “picture within a picture” system that can be used on all makes of existing machines to deliver games, couponing, bonusing, tournaments and marketing to players on both gaming machines and tables in real-time.
The foundation of the technology, he says, is its flexibility and functionality which allows content to be changed at a rapid pace. The open technology allows casino operators and third-party developers to develop custom applications.
But technology challenges are nothing new to Saffari, who worked more than two decades at International Game Technology before he launched Leap Forward Gaming in 2009. At IGT, he played leadership roles in the development of the company’s first wide-area progressive games such as MegaBucks, as well as the ticket-in, ticket-out technology that replaced buckets of coins.
The big sales push by Leap Forward Gaming this year follows successful tests at four properties, including Atlantis in Reno and the Wynn in Las Vegas, as well as installations in Macau.
The company employs about 30 people at its headquarters in South Meadows, all with substantial gaming experience.
“We have big ideas, but we’re not a big company,” explains Saffari.
Gaming properties that have tested the company’s wireless infrastructure are enthusiastic, but other casino operators are cautious. While the expense of adding wireless features to an existing machine are less than the cost of buying an entirely new box, it still represents an expense for casino operators who are still recovering from the recession.
Carlton Geer, president and chief executive of JA Nugget, says his executive team would want to take a long and careful look at protection of gaming data as it moves wirelessly around a casino.
But the elimination of cabling under a casino floor would allow quick relocation of a slot machine, Geer notes.
Given that a move of even a few feet one way or the other can affect the amount of play that a machine receives, easy relocation has been a dream of slots managers for years.
But relocation in a cabled casino floor is a major headache.
“It requires somebody with a strong back,” says Mike Jones, director of casino operations at Sands Regency Hotel & Casino. Taking a machine out of service while it’s moved adds to the cost, and then there’s the need to further disrupt things as cable is installed or moved.
The ability to quickly change out games is likely to provide yet another major selling point for wireless casino floors, Geer says.
But some gaming executives remain cautious. Tim Morton, director of casino marketing at the Sands, worries that some players might feel that marketing messages might be viewed by intrusive by some players. He worries, too, that some players might become so engrossed with all the other video activity on the screen in front of them that they play less — or not at all.
Still, Morton says that young, media-savvy players often are eager to embrace multi-feature gaming and expect it as part of their casino experience.