LAS VEGAS - When you get down to it, casinos are a lot like sharks (and not only in the obvious way). Just as the predators of the deep need to move constantly forward or die, a gambling den likewise must advance in terms of new games (and their attendant technology). Failure to do so can result in economic catastrophe.
"You need to continuously keep your floor up to date and fresh," said Christopher Downey, director of slot operations at Resorts Atlantic City. "Your [video] gamers of yesterday are becoming your gamblers of today. Younger folks seem to be interested in more [video-driven] product."
Which is why it wasn't surprising that inventors and manufacturers at the recent Global Gaming Expo (G2E) here used so much of the vast display space to show off state-of-the-arts casino games of chance.
While new table games tended to be hawked to potential customers by "mom-and-pop" operations in no-frills booths, the leading slot machine companies - among them WMS, IGT and Bally's - conducted business at giant, eye-catching displays designed to showcase the newest generation of slot machines and video-game consoles.
In many cases, the equipment seemed better suited to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration than Borgata. That's because slot players especially demand continuous innovation. "The voice of the player is our main DNA," said Robert Bone, vice president of marketing for Illinois-based slot titan WMS. "We're constantly [using] focus groups and online groups."
Not that the company simply asks for suggestions. Players, offered Bone, "may not be able to tell us exactly what they do want, but they can tell you what they don't want. Everything we bring to the market is fulfilling a key psychology or void in the market."
Electronic games are the engine that drives the gambling industry. What were once derisively called "one-armed bandits" account for 70 percent to 75 percent of gambling revenue at casinos that offer slots and table games. So it's no wonder millions of dollars are spent each year on research and development.
The fruits of those labors were on display at G2E. Below is a look at some of the slot and table games likely to surface at your favorite casino.
While "American Idol," "Sex and the City" and "Wheel of Fortune" slot machines from Reno, Nev.-based IGT are mortal locks to show up in our region's gambling dens, the table games mentioned here are more iffy, depending as they do on ease-of-play, casino-space and other issues.
"Sex and the City": IGT arguably lapped the G2E field by having actor Chris "Mr. Big" Noth on hand to unveil the company's "Sex and the City" unit which, like its concepts based on "Wheel of Fortune" and "American Idol," integrates video clips and games-within-games, as well as high-definition video and surround-sound audio.
For instance, when a player hits the right combination of symbols on the 30-payline screen, three purses appear. The player picks one and a clip from the show begins to play (e.g., actress Cynthia Nixon as Miranda hitting a jackpot in an episode of the TV show that was filmed at Trump Taj Mahal). The clip determines the bonus payout.
The "SATC" game figures to be a home run for IGT: It's already on the floor in some Vegas casinos, and the company says the rate of play is 2 1/2 times that of the average slot machine.
"American Idol" (IGT): Another bells-and-whistles-athon, "A.I." likewise incorporates video clips. Various on-screen combinations activate the bonus round in which the player chooses one of three judges (as in real life, former judge Paula Abdul has been deleted). A brief clip of a real past contestant is screened, followed by the judges' evaluations. Bonus amounts are determined by how much the player's judge liked the performance.
"Wheel of Fortune Experience" (IGT): Already one of the country's most popular casino games, this newest version uses the same basic components as "American Idol" (including 103-inch or 70-inch high-definition monitors). A new feature allows players to play "Wheel" by choosing letters that result in bonuses.
"Texas Hold 'Em Heads Up" (IGT): In some ways, this video version of the most popular casino poker game is the most astounding of all. It uses an artificial intelligence-created "logic table" rather than standard, randomly generated play. This means the game's computer can bluff and raise pots.
"Lord of the Rings" (WMS): The next generation of this popular slot machine features the manufacturer's signature "adaptive technology," which can digitally record players' progress. Using a log-in code, they can pick up exactly where they left off as they try to advance through different levels of the game - even if they're at a different casino.
"MONOPOLY Big Money Spin Bigger Event" (WMS): Played on a 104-inch high-definition screen, this version based on the popular board game Monopoly features new ways to qualify for and trigger bonuses. The game boasts the first use of "collaborative gaming," which allows players to work together in the bonus round.
"Wizard of Oz Ruby Slippers" (WMS): Another iteration of a wildly popular concept, "Ruby Slippers" uses high-definition video and a Bose audio system to involve players as they travel through the virtual fantasy land.
"Rock 'n Roll Dice" (Rock 'n Roll Dice): The biggest impediment to craps popularity is nonplayers' belief that it's extremely difficult. This simplified version uses a plastic-enclosed dice roller and just three possible betting strategies. The man behind "Rock 'n Roll Dice" is Ken Barber, who grew up at 10th and Ellsworth in South Philly (www.rocknrolldice.com).
"Picture in the Hole Blackjack" (Pith Gaming Enterprises): This is a standard 21 game with one major variation: a side bet equal to, or less than, the main wager pays 3-2 if the dealer's "hole" (unexposed) card is 10, jack, queen, king or ace. However, no bet is taken when the dealer's up card is an ace to avoid confusion with "insurance" (www.pictureinthehole.com).
"Double Back Jack" (Double Back Jack): One of the most innovative of all table games at G2E, "DBJ" allows players to continue in a round of blackjack even after they've exceeded a point count of 21. A player who "busts" can take - after making an additional (equal-value) wager - another card whose point total is subtracted from his original score. If the player winds up winning the hand, he gets paid only on the secondary bet and "pushes" on the original wager (www.doubleback