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Cool computers

John Seelmeyer

The vacationing Harrah’s Club customer, a Reno resident, plops himself down in front of a machine at the company’s casino in Atlantic City.

He inserts his Total Rewards player card.Within seconds, a list of his favorite games back home appears on the screen in front of him, ready for him to pick one and play his quarter.

“You no longer have to look for a favorite machine.Any machine becomes your favorite machine,” says Ali Saffari, the International Game Technology vice president who’s spearheading the new technology.

Cool enough? Try this: It’s a busy Friday night in a big property.About 800 slot machines are in use but 200 aren’t.A centralized computer system suggests to the operator that he download a different game into the idle machines.

The display of each machine, once made from screenprinted glass but now an LED, changes with the software.

And maybe the operator tweaks the machine’s payout a few percentage points as the Friday night crowd builds.

“This,” Saffari says,”adds a fantastic yield to the operator for the prime time.

This is the harvest.”

It’s a big part of Reno-based IGT’s vision of the future of the gaming business, a vision that’s quickly becoming reality as the Renobased company rolls out new versions of the software that makes it possible.

In the past few weeks, IGT introduced its SuperSAS protocol to more than 200 manufacturers worldwide who have signed on to use the system.

SuperSAS is the pipeline to transport everything from downloadable slot games to now-routine features such as playertracking and bonus payments.

The implications of the protocol, Saffari says,may be even more significant than the ticket-in, ticket-out cashless systems that drove IGT’s growth the past couple of years.

“This is fantastically bigger,” he says.

The reason? While casino managements worried about whether their customers would accept the cashless system and introduced it cautiously, they’re likely to move more quickly on the technology delivered by SuperSAS.

At the bare minimum, Saffari says, the technology reduces operating costs on the slot floor.

Because games can be downloaded from a central location, banks of machines no longer will be taken out of service while new games are installed.

“Those changes have become quite cumbersome,” Saffari says,

particularly as IGT and other developers pour an accelerating number of new game titles onto the slot floor.

At the same time, the ability to quickly change games from a central location and manage their payout on an hour-by-hour basis holds attractions for casino managers who want to wring every dime out of a square foot of floor space.

Gaming regulators, too, have voiced support for the system because it gives them the ability to remotely monitor operations that previously required expensive on-site visits.

So what is IGT making from sale of SuperSAS to manufacturers? Nothing.

It’s providing the source code for free from its Web.What’s more, users can develop their own contributions to the protocol and share them with others a model that Saffari says is modeled on Linux, which is built from the constant improvements devised by users.

At the same time, however, IGT expects to benefit from lower costs when the SuperSAS protocol is in wide use.Manufacturing, a complex operation with a multitude of games coming down the production line in Reno each day, is simplified as boxes are standardized and the content can be changed remotely.

Sales costs will be controlled, Saffari says, as casino operators begin licensing and downloading the games they want into a shopping cart on IGT’s Web site.

Those savings, he says, are the payoff for years of research and development that needed to address, among other issues, the security concerns that are tops on the minds of casino operators and regulators.

“We finally achieved what we wanted to do,” Saffari says.