New Jersey regulators approve server-supported tests

Atlantic City will soon become the next testing ground for what many are calling the next generation of slot machine technology. The New Jersey Casino Control Commission last week approved testing of server-supported gaming in Atlantic City casinos.

It means that tests will now be conducted of systems that download game content and peripherals from a central server to terminals on the floor. The “server-supported” gaming approved differs from “server-based” gaming in that the game logic will still reside at the slot terminals on the floor.

Full server-based gaming places the RNG and all game logic at the central server, with machines on the floor acting as nothing more than dumb terminals. In this system, casinos will be able to download game content, or changes in themes, denominations and hold percentages to machines on the floor, after which the machines will operate independently of the server.

Under the preliminary regulations issued earlier this year by the commission, slot management officials will be able to switch denominations, percentages or even entire game themes as long as prior notification is given to the commission, so changes can be monitored by regulators and verified after completion.

The preliminary regulations, which received the commission’s final approval last week, also require that a game be idle at least four minutes before any changes can be made, and that the game’s screen goes blank for a minute while the change is being made. This rule was instituted to prevent a game percentage or other element from being changed while players are at the machines.

The new digital technology would free operators to tailor their floors to the preferences of groups of customers present at any given time. For instance, if casino officials know that afternoon customers prefer penny video slots and evening customers prefer quarter video poker, the same group of machines can serve both sets of customers, with changes effected from a remote location with the click of a computer mouse.

With current analog slot equipment, such changes require technicians to physically open the door of each machine and switch out EPROM chips on each machine. It also is required that a regulatory official be present when changes are made, so the proper percentages can be verified upon completion of the change.

Manufactures of server-based and server-supported systems say that eventually, the systems will mature to the point where players will be able to select their own games at a slot machine from a library of choices, or even simply insert a player’s club card and have their favorite games appear on the screen.

It’s generally accepted, though, that these capabilities are years away, and that the most immediate uses of the technology will be in changing denominations on the slot floor in the same manner that minimums on table games are changed in the pit, and for tournaments and other marketing functions.