The "Downton Abbey"-themed slot machine on display at the recent Indian gaming trade show at the San Diego Convention Center clearly had its charm.
With a comfy, over-sized chair and familiar depictions of Lady Mary, Mr. Bates and others characters from the former PBS show, the single-player machine looked as cozy and safe as afternoon tea with the Crawley clan.
Which is exactly what's wrong with slot machines, according to many millennials.
The generation weaned on adrenaline-pumping video games, mobile downloads and social experiences are turned off by the solitary passivity of traditional slots, where you push a button and hope for the best, gaming experts say. That's prompting the casino industry - like countless other businesses - to evolve to better suit millennials' preferences.
Enter the Gamblit Model G machine, from Glendale-based Gamblit Gaming. The fast-paced, multi-player, no-seat machines are about the size of small foosball tables and fuse popular video game technology with wagering.
On Friday, two of the Gamblit Model G machines were introduced at Harrah's Resort Southern California - the first in the state - and placed strategically adjacent to the popular bar Spiked.
"We're always about innovation and what the next casino experience will be," said Radley Medina, vice president and assistant general manager at Harrah's Resort SoCal in Valley Center.
"Young people who grew up playing video games like to socialize, they very much like interactivity and innovation, they want something that uses some skill. This stokes your natural competitive side and it encourages people to bring people with you to play," Medina said.
"It's not like just sitting there and hitting one button."
Harrah's Resort SoCal is the latest casino to add the machines from the fast-growing startup Gamblit Gaming, with Las Vegas' Planet Hollywood, Paris, The Linq and a host of other Caesars Entertainment properties on the strip betting on them. Next up are the MGM Resort casinos.
"Our hardware production can't keep up with the demand, we're filling orders placed a year ago," said Darion Lowenstein, 35, Gamblit's chief marketing officer. Lowenstein, who spent about five years as a producer for video game giant Rockstar San Diego in Carlsbad, said the company is fielding requests from Australia to Asia and Latin America.
"I think this is the future of gaming. Slots are super successful but they appeal to an older demographic and that's why slot revenue has been declining in recent years," Lowenstein said.
"We look to the video arcade, like games at Dave & Buster's. I come from the video world and we partnered with the Australian company that developed 'Jetpack Joyride,' which has had 350 million downloads. We're taking hit mobile games and making a gaming version of them," he said.
"You don't have to be a hard-core gamer to play, but when you sit down at a slot machine and you're used to Super Nintendo or Atari, you're used to skill, and we just don't think sitting at a machine and hitting one button is interesting. It's boring."
The digital divide at casinos is becoming more apparent as younger visitors opt for table games, like blackjack or, frequently, not even gambling at all.
"The younger generation does like the non-gaming amenities like shows, clubs, restaurants, entertainment, concerts and hotels. Those things are part of the solution for casinos," said Alan Meister of Nathan Associates Inc., an economic consulting firm, who gave a presentation at last week's San Diego convention titled "Indian Gaming Economics 101."
Over the past two decades, Las Vegas - and San Diego area - casinos have sought to widen their customer base by adding everything from gourmet restaurants to tricked-out hotel suites, pulsating nightclubs to glitzy pool complexes and spas.
But other than expanded non-smoking sections, upgraded decor and spiffier slot and table game graphics, casino floors have remained essentially the same.
Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, Meister said.
"The next generation of gamers, millennials and beyond, (has) been a big part of the discussion in the gaming industry - 'What are we going to do about it? How are we going to attract them? How are we going to get them into the casino and gamble?' - but younger generations have never been a large part of casinos to begin with," Meister said.
"Casinos need to concentrate on their core customers, who are older. It's not millennials right now, but going forward they're going to be the customer base," he said. "They don't don't have as much money to spend now, but they will."
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