Gambling in the Cloud: Server-Based Slots

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I  wrote an article about server-based slot machines more than five years ago. It was in April 2007 when the Nevada gaming regulators approved International Game Technology’s (IGT) server-based gaming system following field-testing of 20 machines. The server-based slots, also called downloadable slots, were being touted as the wave of the future for the gaming industry.

womanatslotsI first saw the demonstration of this technology a few years earlier at the Global Gaming Expo, the annual trade show for the gaming industry. Although the Nevada gaming commission approved IGT’s system first, they are not the only slot maker with server-based technology. WMS Gaming and Bally Technologies have spent millions of dollars in research and development of similar systems and they received approval shortly thereafter. Since that time, other gaming jurisdictions have approved the server-based slot technology including California, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Indiana and Iowa.

How It Works  

Server-based slot games are connected to a central computer system. The slot machines on the casino floor are generic terminals. Different slot games can be downloaded into the slot cabinets. Slot managers have the ability to change a slot machine’s games, denominations, and bonus payouts from a central computer server rather than requiring technicians to perform the work manually. Instead of having to buy a slot game that could go out of favor with players, the server-based system lets the casino have the ability to switch an unpopular game with a new one in a matter of seconds. This saves the casinos the expense of buying a completely new slot machine when they want to bring a new game on to the casino floor. They merely pay a licensing fee for the particular game they downloaded.

A Myth Comes True  

For years, slot players have believed a myth that casinos could change the payback of a slot machine with the flip of a switch. They worried that the casino could tighten slot machines during busy times such as weekends and then loosen them up to pay more during the week. With the new server-based system this myth could actually become a reality as they can change the payback of the machines along with the denomination of the game through the server. 

The one consolation for players is that casinos must deal with the regulatory requirements for server-based slots in each state where they are approved. In most jurisdictions, casinos must notify state regulators at least 24 hours in advance before the payout percentage for a slot machine can be changed. Also, casinos can’t simply request players leave slot machines if they want to switch themes. A slot machine must be idle for at least four minutes before themes are switched. No changes will be made while a customer is still playing the slot or any credits are left on the machine.

A Slow Transition  

When the decision by the Nevada board was made in 2007, many gaming analysts predicted that server-based slot machines would start finding their way onto casino floors and be in full swing by 2009. 

In the article I wrote in 2007, I predicted that the proliferation of server-based slots would not happen by 2009 as some analysts forecasted. I did not think that players would readily accept the new technology of having games residing on a server in some distant location. I had conducted an online survey for an Internet site I wrote for, and I received hundreds of negative responses when I asked players how they felt about server-based games. The majority of players said they did not trust them.

My prediction proved to be correct for that time period. However, over the last few years, there has been a shift in the way people have come to look at server- based products. It really only took a simple name change to make the server-based slot idea more acceptable. 

We are in the age “Cloud Computing,” which is nothing more than having your data stored on remote servers that can be accessed from different computers or any device with an Internet connection. Many of us have online email accounts through companies like Yahoo or Google, and we can easily check our email remotely when we are not at our main computers.

Accepting the Cloud

There’s no definitive answer who originally coined the phrase “Cloud Computing,” although many credit Google CEO Eric Schmidt with making it popular. And, of course, when Apple started offering their iCloud service where you can store your digital music online to access from any device, this only brought wider acceptance to keeping data on remote servers. 

Regardless who was the first to use the term Cloud instead of server-based, it was a stroke of genius. Our images of clouds are soft, puffy objects floating around the sky. It sounds friendly and nonthreatening. In contrast, when you use the term “server-based,” it evokes a completely different feeling. I would not be surprised if you start hearing server-based slots being referred to as Cloud-based games sometime in the future. Regardless of what they are called, our overall acceptance of remote data will probably mean that we will start to see more server-based games on casino floors.

In a press release in January 2012, IGT announced that Barona Resort & Casino in San Diego, went live just before Christmas in 2011 with the first IGT server-based gaming system and machines ever installed. And the new Revel Casino that opened in Atlantic City earlier this year also offers server-based slot games. This may be the start of a trend that was predicted over five years ago, and I believe you will see more server-based slot expansion in the near future. 

Of course, the final test of this new technology lies in the hands of players. If players do not accept and trust the new “terminal games,” then casinos will not be in a hurry to convert their casino floors to the new system. Only time will tell. However, if the games are fun and entertaining I don’t think players will care if they are located in the Cloud or not.

Until next time, remember: “Luck comes and goes..Knowledge Stays Forever.”

Bill Burton is the author of 1000 Best Casino Gambling Secrets and Get the Edge at Low Limit Texas Hold’em available online at billburton.com. Burton is also an instructor for Golden Touch Craps: thecrapsclub.com.

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