On June 25, 2015, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that the population of millennials officially outnumbered baby boomers (search “Release #CB15-113” for details). By this time the gaming industry had already seen the impact millennials would have on revenue with a subtle yet seismic shift from the repetitive pull of a slot machine lever to the social and physically engaging table play. This allows young players to exhibit a style that, if followed by the normal cycle of player wins, would be attributed to skill. Of course, when those same players experience the losing side of the bell curve, little is ever said.
Who would have guessed that the very kids who could sit for hours in front of a TV playing a game that was fundamentally impossible to win and only accumulated a rank after countless hours of social solitude would not be the ideal market for slot machines? But they’re not. This generation embraces social media, multi-player interactive games and the smartphone. They are an emerging population that will demand something more from games than just being a winner.
Just winning was fine for baby boomers who could find entertainment in the periodic spotlight shining on them by chance with its bells, whistles and momentary notoriety. It was enough to scream, “I won!” Millennials don’t want to “just win” by circumstance, millennials want to “make it happen!” Millennials want to say, “I won because I did it!”
Though seemingly narcissistic, the selfies and adulation from every Like, check-in and product review demonstrate the social dynamic integrated into the millennial entertainment quotient.
Their mantra, “It’s not just about me, it’s about everyone else too…that they know it’s about me.”
Gaming Innovation: Skill and Chance
In 2013, necessity being the mother of invention, the Nevada State Assembly formed a legislative committee to understand the influence of technology on the reduction of slot winnings. In the following session in 2015, Senate Bill No. 9 (SB9) provided a foundational shift in gaming law that could change everything we know about games today. SB9 provides for (highly truncated for brevity):
a) Define… outcomes of a game of skill, a game of chance and a hybrid game;
b) Allow flexibility in payout percentages…based on nondiscriminatory identifiers;
c) Support integration of social networking technologies;
d) Facilitate…interactive and concurrent play of games supported by networked server computers;
e) Accommodate…electronic commerce;
It goes on adding much more in the way of requirements, definitions, and all the additional legalese you would expect in a Senate Bill (Google “NV SB9 2015” for the bill).
Regulatory Innovation: Accelerating Speed to Market
As innovative as the games may be, the bigger innovation may be the October 2016 change to the Nevada Gaming Control Board’s Regulation 14 which provides a new term: “New Innovation Beta” which, solely at the Chairman’s discretion, allows conditional testing of new games to be conducted ON THE CASINO FLOOR with real people and real play!
As stated in the regulatory language, “… expediting the introduction of innovative, alternative and advanced technology for gaming devices and inter-casino linked systems for use or play in Nevada, a manufacturer may request its new gaming device or inter-casino linked system be considered for evaluation under New Innovation Beta …”
“New Innovation Beta” effectively provides for the “Lab” to be emulated on the gaming floor. Thereby giving manufacturers the opportunity to accelerate the rate at which multiple new games can be tested and brought to market.
Not to be taken lightly, search “Nevada Regulation 14 New Innovation Beta” for details and the myriad requirements, but the regulatory innovation is surprisingly business friendly.
The Dilemma of Skill and Gaming
Skill demands time. Slots demand play. The transaction time of a slot machine is measured in seconds per play whereas many games of skill, chess for example, even speed-chess requires six minutes per player.
A random number generator can be the single engine for all types of games that can be packaged in themes that target appeal to all walks of market segments.
There is no single engine for skill. Word games appeal to one market segment while shoot ‘em up games may appeal to an entirely different segment. Sports games have market segments all their own.
The dilemma for manufacturers is to develop skill engines that provides for rapid play, constant funding, enjoyment, entertainment AND SKILL!
The Need for Social Networking and Concurrent Play
Part of the genius in SB9 is the integration of social media and multi-player, server-based games which recognizes the impact games such as Candy Crush are having on the emerging population of casino patrons (almost 11 million daily active users). Part of what spread Candy Crush was that every time someone reached a new level, they were prompted to invite their “friends” to share their achievement and play!
Given the evolution of security and geofencing, smartphones can now place sports bets within allowed jurisdictions. So, it’s not a big leap to imagine how smartphones may become integrated into networked gaming. Just as progressives such as Wheel of Fortune network many players from different places to play the same game and contribute to the same jackpot, it’s not a big leap to imagine a multi-player, networked game such as a Pokemon Go-type game to literally find cash (search “alibaba pokemon type cash game”).
One example from MGM Resorts International, easyPLAY Mobile Tournaments, launched in July 2016 and allows guests at nine MGM properties to compete with other players in a variety of tournament games using their own mobile devices whether they are at the pool, sipping cocktails at the bar or simply relaxing in their rooms.
Given that technical standards for SB9 have only been available since February 2016, it’s remarkable that on Sept. 7, Caesars Entertainment Corporation, “announced a multiyear agreement … [in]which Caesars will be the first casino operator to bring Gamblit’s innovative, skill-based gaming positions to market. Beginning in October, Caesars plans to … install positions in Caesars’ Nevada properties and other markets shortly thereafter.”
As Gamblit’s own website proclaims, “Gamblit Gaming is the industry leader in bringing … skill gaming onto the casino floor. With … hit titles from the video game industry … focused on attracting millennials onto the casino floor …”
The Evolution of the Lounge
While skill is coming to the slot machine, the lounge itself may be evolving to become a gaming platform for the highly skilled whose lives maximize every social engagement.
MGM’s LEVEL UP, claims to “present a new era in interactive, skill-based fun. [T]he tech savvy, adult playground will feature pay-to-play offerings in a social atmosphere, designed to not only attract the next generation of players, but existing players seeking innovation.”
Fun is the operative word in the above press release, because “fun” is very likely to become “gaming” once all the SB9 wrinkles are ironed out. It’s a small leap to see the 12,000-squarefoot lounge venue eclipsing the social offering and skill of a craps table.
Drawing from MGM’s press release, “LEVEL UP will offer an extensive selection of traditional activities including pool, foosball and ping pong, among others, all while putting an inventive twist on the latest in peer-to-peer experiences. The … venue will [offer]a number of unique installations including QuadAir Hockey, Bubble Hockey, Sigma Derby, Giant Pac-Man and Connect Four, an arm wrestling table and much more.”
“Adding to the amenities, LEVEL UP will welcome Vegas’ first LEVEL UP Arena by Interblock. Replicating the traditional concept of table games in a more social environment, LEVEL UP Arena will be a fully customizable, immersive, multi-sensory experience that will meet the needs of players looking to the future of gaming. Featuring popular casino games, the 40-seat arena will provide a high-energy environment that will revolutionize the casino player culture.”
Nevada’s SB9 and similar regulatory changes in New Jersey are also being considered in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.
Some in the Tribal community may have a unique advantage in that some of the state compacts provide a reciprocity with Nevada and New Jersey for class iii devices. This means that in some cases, tribal properties may get a jump on the large market properties with the latest innovation class iii gaming if their target market is starting to include millennials.
The e-commerce aspect of SB9 is still pending as the story is being written. However, SB9 has served as something of a catalyst for standardizing wagering accounts across all games. Presently, table games, slots, bingo and the sports book each manage their accounts with a different set of requirements. That’s about to be standardized, but not without a fair share of debate.
While millennials are very comfortable using their smartphones for all things financial, safeguards have to be maintained to keep good gamers from becoming problem gamblers. But we are very near the time when gamers will in one way or another be able to fund their favorite game from their phone, and see the winnings accumulate there as well. It’s like that now in several Las Vegas sports books, and some form of that will permeate the remaining games.
In an era when legislators and regulators are generally panned for their lack of innovative thinking, it is quite remarkable that a law was conceived, debated and passed that embraced technology, media and modern behavior in a way that may both revolutionize the concept of the slot machine, and change gaming as we know it today. The millennials have arrived.