Question of the Day July 29, 2014
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Q:Which casino is known for testing the newest slot machines in their casino first? Is there such a "testing casino"?
A:There’s no such thing, we’re afraid. As International Game Technologies’ manager of global corporate communications, Michelle Schenk, wrote us: "It’s completely unique, product to product, and jurisdiction to jurisdiction." "We don’t have a specific casino in Las Vegas," added Bally Technologies senior director of corporate marketing and communications, Laura Olsen-Reyes.
Aristocrat Technologies’ spokesman Paul Speirs-Hernandez went further. "All electronic devices are tested in a test lab. They’re never tested in a casino," he said, although we assume in reference more to the correct functioning of the hardware/software and accurate calculation of the odds on all conceivable payouts. The vast majority of all new slot games are the brainchildren not of the fertile imaginations of leagues of eccentric geniuses holed up in a secret caves and garrets, but rather by the far-less romantic in-house reality of teams of math geeks and engineers who do nothing but crunch numbers all day long.
If the numbers work, the marketing strength of a new concept is usually assessed based on focus groups prior to the game's further development, let alone release, due to the huge and myriad expenses involved prior to getting a game actually onto the casino floor (a subject we've tackled in the past -- see QoD Archives. The mathematics, the mechanisms, and the random-number generators are all tested in private labs "against the standard set by the particular jurisdiction" into which Aristocrat is releasing the game. Speirs-Hernandez cited Gaming Laboratories International and BMM Testlabs as two facilities used by the company he represents.
Scientific Games’ Mollie Cole said her company has casinos it favors for field tests, which are the final stage in determining whether a new game's going to make it onto the casino floor; before you get your hopes up, however, she added "but we don’t release that information. It’s proprietary." One of Scientific’s fears, apparently, is that competitors could find the slots and sabotage their image with a negative review before the public has had a chance to try them out with an open mind. As we all know, there's only one chance to make a first impression, and there’s never been a more fertile ground for rampant and wide-reaching disinformation than the Internet.
For a slot-machine game to make it to the field-trial stage, when the onus switches to the host casino when it comes to assessing commercial viability, all the prior indicators will have pointed toward likely success. However, it's a cut-throat world out there and the public can be notoriously fickle or just plain contrary, sometimes running completely counter to expectations. Hence, when once filming the development and launch of a Yahtzee-based game by (now-defunct) Vegas slot-manufacturer Mikohn Gaming, QoD's managing editor recalls how everyone was optimistic as to its chances of success, not least because the game itself is so familiar to households nationwide.
We seem to recall that the Rio was among the spots chosen for the initial live field testing of the finished product, which was simultaneously rolled out in small trial-sized batches to a few other properties around town. While we wouldn't attribute the demise of the entire company to the lukewarm reception their new reel-slot game received, it was perhaps not the only such miscalculation on Mikohn's part; all we can say is, the best of luck to anyone trying to find an original Yahtzee reel game on any Las Vegas casino floor these days. (Okay, we did actually find four locations where it still exists, two each on the Strip and downtown, so fans should check out the game-finder on the WMS (a subsidiary of Scientific Games' Facebook page. But "Wheel of Fortune," it is not.)
The moral of that story, perhaps, is that nice wholesome Yahtzee-playing family-fun folk don't necessarily frequent gambling halls in their spare time. However, to continue with the tongue-in-cheek stereotyping, you couldn't get much farther to the opposite end of this hypothetical social spectrum than the decadence personified by Elizabeth Taylor (R.I.P.), and yet the slot machine themed for her, which paid out in real diamonds (naturally), was an even bigger disaster and has long-since disappeared altogether, which just goes to prove that you never can tell.
The closest thing Las Vegas has ever had to a "testing casino" would be the El Cortez, but back during the period when Jackie Gaughan ran the joint. Gaughan, who in the late '70s came to be known as "King of the Slots," had the cachet of being the casino boss who would take a chance on brand-new games (among other things -- while segregation was still rampant, Gaughan was the first white casino proprietor in town to employ African American dealers and other minorities in significant numbers). Like his contemporary, Benny Binion, Jackie loved a good gamble and as a bookmaker was famous for his fondness for wild prop bets. When it came to novel slot games, if it performed well at the El Cortez, Jackie’s competitors would be quick to adopt it, too. In today's largely corporate environment, there's simply nobody around anymore who has that kind of reputation (or, very likely, that much discretion to take chances).
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