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Casinos Bet On Change After Younger Players Ignore 'Boring' Slot Machines


Casinos are also trying to attract a younger crowd. One obstacle may be slot machines. Now, they've advanced way beyond cherries and lemons. For instance, you can try to match up different types of sea creatures, but that hasn't quite done the trick with younger players. So casinos are trying to replace the slots. David Kestenbaum with NPR's Planet Money team spoke with a man who thinks he has the solution.

DAVID KESTENBAUM, BYLINE: If you run a casino, slot machines must seem like one of the greatest inventions of all time. You line them up on your casino floor. They vacuum up money all day long - nickel here, quarter there, dollars. The players, though, tend to be older. As one young guy at a casino told me recently, slots, he said, slot machines are for zombies.

ERIC MEYERHOFER: They have no interest in slot machines whatsoever. They find them kind of boring.

KESTENBAUM: This is Eric Meyerhofer. He used to work in the slot machine business. Young people do go to casinos, he says. They actually go a lot, more than any other age group. But if you look at the people who play slot machines, only 2 percent of them are under the age of 35. Meyehofer thinks they're generally less interested in games that just depend on luck.

Do you really think games of chance are getting less popular? I mean, they've found dice in ancient Greek ruins, you know?

MEYERHOFER: That's what the stats are showing. In fact, it isn't just in casino gaming. It turns out the lotteries, the state lotteries, are having the same problem.

KESTENBAUM: And why now?

MEYERHOFER: Look, I think the answer is probably sitting on the desk right in front of you or in your pocket.

KESTENBAUM: As it happened, mine was on the table - my phone, or as I like to call it, the "Angry Birds" machine. Actually, tower defense games are my weakness. People spend an extraordinary amount of time playing games on their phones. The most popular ones are games of skill - games you can practice at, get better at. By comparison, slot machines can seem truly mindless. Meyerhofer is now CEO of a company called Gamblit. Gamblit is one of several companies trying to develop replacements for slot machines. They're making video games, but with one key difference. If you're good, you can win real money. Remember that old arcade game "Asteroids?" Gamblit has "Cashteroids" - I know.

Could you make a sound from it, please?

MEYERHOFER: (Laughter) How do I make a phaser powering up sound?


MEYERHOFER: (Laughter, imitating phaser sound).

KESTENBAUM: "Cashteroids" is still under development, but "Police Pooches Versus Zombie Cats" - that one's ready.


KESTENBAUM: It's basically "Angry Birds" but with police dogs. We launched the dogs from a catapult at cats that are holed up in some kind of fortification. The better you are at the whole zombie cat thing, the better chance you have at winning money. Eric says for a $20 wager, if you hit the jackpot, you could get 2,000 bucks.


KESTENBAUM: For casinos, the beauty of these games is that, like slot machines, they can adjust the pay out so they always make a profit. Some casinos might set them up so that no matter how good you are the games will always drain your pockets. But casinos could also set them up so that the best players - what Meyerhofer calls the ninja masters - could reliably beat the game, walk out winners.

MEYERHOFER: The casinos, to offer this, they're going to on the whole have to still make a profit. But people on a given night, or with their skillful performance, could feel pretty confident they're going to walk away with something.

KESTENBAUM: Of course, if you're bad at the game, you would have an even better chance of losing. There are going to be people who look at this and say, hey, you've married one super addictive thing with another super addictive thing and made it even easier for people to lose money at casinos. Does that cross your mind?

MEYERHOFER: Well, it does except people typically have a budget. So you'll play those games because they don't cost a lot. If they were costing you too much, you would find a way to limit yourself.

KESTENBAUM: I mean, in casinos people sometimes walk out losing a lot of money.

MEYERHOFER: They do, but it's like a spot visit.

KESTENBAUM: Meyerhofer imagines casinos will make about the same with his machines that they make now off slot machines - a couple hundred bucks per machine per day.

Are any of these games out there in casinos?




KESTENBAUM: States have laws and policies laying out what games casinos can offer. Often casinos are restricted to games of chance - luck. Poker is the obvious exception, but for historical reasons, it's often treated as just another game of chance. It does look like things are changing. A bill under consideration in Nevada would clear the way for Las Vegas casinos to offer games like this. And in New Jersey, the division of gaming enforcement recently sent out a press release saying it welcomed applications for new games based on skill. David Kestenbaum, NPR news. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Kestenbaum
David Kestenbaum is a correspondent for NPR, covering science, energy issues and, most recently, the global economy for NPR's multimedia project Planet Money. David has been a science correspondent for NPR since 1999. He came to journalism the usual way — by getting a Ph.D. in physics first.