Live Online Slots: The Next Big Thing?
Live Online Slots: The Next Big Thing?
In February 2020, Hard Rock Casino Atlantic City took online slot machines to a new level by unveiling its tempting array of live online slots.
Hard Rock’s online casino was not hurting for slot options anyway, with nearly 400 slot game offerings available at hardrockcasino.com to residents and visitors of New Jersey.
With games from across a wide spectrum of software developers, and titles ranging from branded games (Ghostbusters, Jumanji, Ozzy Osborne) to whimsical (Acorn Pixie, A Dragon’s Story, Astronomical Magic), this massive games portfolio is par for the course with Hard Rock’s competitors in New Jersey and worldwide.
So what’s different about what Hard Rock’s latest foray?
Whereas the nearly 400 slot games currently offered at hardrockcasino.com are basically web apps existing primarily as computer code in the cloud, Hard Rock’s twelve live video slots, developed in partnership with Softweave Ltd., are actual machines sited in the casino in Atlantic City.
That novel aspect offers a thrilling spin--no pun intended--on online slots gameplay, bringing the excitement of real-time games machines right into a user’s living room, office or whichever venue they choose.
The opportunities here are obviously limitless; this kind of live opportunity has long since been popular with other live-dealer casino games, but now, you can have the old-school fun of slots brought to you in a technologically savvy way--combining the very best of old and new.
How does this innovation work?
Well, rather than triggering a web app to spin virtual reels, players remotely trigger a genuine, touchy-feely land-based slot box, the likes of which you see dominating the casino floor, to spin reels right of a physical machine there in Atlantic City. You’re flung into the midst of the casino action and excitement--while seated at home with your feet up and a cup of coffee (or something more indulgent).
Players can do this from anywhere in the state of New Jersey.
The actual machines sit in a secure room on the casino grounds. Members of hardrockcasino.com will be able to view the outcome of the spin, thanks to cameras pointing at the machine and streaming video to a media player in the desktop browser site or mobile app.
Because it would hardly be a casino game without an opportunity for spectatorship, looky-loos at the casino can also observe all the action through peepholes into the secure room.
If it weren’t for online gambling laws restricting the play to members located within New Jersey state lines (confirmed by geotargeting), you could theoretically spin those reels in Atlantic City from anywhere in the world that has an internet connection. That’s exactly how it will be if land-based casinos with less restrictive jurisdictions adopt live online slots.
So what does the future hold for this innovative concept? Is it a curiosity or fad, or a seismic shift in the online gambling landscape? We think it’s most likely here to stay.
Why Live Action Games are Gaining Online Fans
The idea of playing a live casino game from a website or mobile app is actually not new. The concept evolved with classic table games. (And, even thinking outside the casino arena, the live participation concept is even older: online auction houses have been using it for more than a decade, with bidders sitting at home, but interacting with auctioneers via their computers.)
For casinos, it’s been a reasonable leap from the physical casino floor to online play, and rapidly to live-dealer or live-slot games. Now, all the big names already seem to offer an online casino--and most are getting into the live-dealer action too.
Hardrockcasino.com, for example, offers three “live-dealer” table games—baccarat, blackjack, and roulette. Other online casinos offer live dealer craps, poker, etc. So, it’s a natural fit for casinos to extend these live-dealer facilities to live online slots; it’s not a gigantic leap, and simple to set up for a land-based casino.
It’s even a great way for new online casinos to deliver a more innovative feel and an upgraded user experience, with minimal work required to get it going.
Here’s how it works for other live-dealer games.
An actual dealer, employed by the casino, sets up shop in a studio with cameras live-streaming the table action as the dealer unfolds it. (S)he deals actual cards from an actual shoe, spins an actual roulette wheel and tosses a ball into it, throws actual physical dice, and so on.
Players use the online interface to place their bets. They can also interact with the dealer, other players, or spectators via live chat. Players of online live-dealer games can even, if the spirit moves them, engage in the time-honored practice of tipping the dealer!
How does this differ from other online casino games? After all, animated video versions of blackjack, baccarat, roulette, and other “live-dealer” available games proliferate on online casinos. What’s the advantage to live-dealer interactions?
Well, you’ve probably got the gist already. There’s really no comparison; they’re two diverse product types.
Although the animation built into the game might show cards being turned over, a wheel spinning, or dice bouncing off the bumpers of a graphical craps table, no actual cards are being flipped, no wheel spun, no dice are thrown. These are just illusions created by animation.
Instead, the outcome of digital games of chance is determined by a type of software called a random number generator. The software decides the outcome of the interaction at random. No matter how much the animated dice bounce around or the animated roulette wheel spins, that part is just theater. You might as well download a random-number-generating app on your iPhone and bet on the outcome of that.
This doesn’t sit right with some gambling enthusiasts. They trust Lady Luck to guide the outcome of the spin of a physical wheel or the flip of actual cards, but they don’t like the juju of betting against a computer.
Some gamblers are even suspicious of computerized games of chance. Somehow, it doesn’t feel authentic or credible for many. They see the black box of code as an opportunity for unscrupulous actors—even the casino itself—to rig the game, skewing the numbers in their favor.
The irony is, most online casino games actually skew the odds more in the favor of the player than the casino. Casinos really don’t need computer code to rig games in their favor. They have all the tools they need at their fingertips with multi-deck shoes and observations of players’ behavioral psychology.
Casinos have been at this for decades—in some cases, centuries. Their games typically yield a mind-numbingly predictable “house edge,” making it impossible for the casino to lose overall, while still paying a hefty chunk to players. One player may be up, the next one down, but across all the players at that game over the course of hours, days, and weeks, the house will win its edge, no matter what.
Video table games, however, do tend to have a lower house edge than their live-dealer counterparts. Players might feel luckier with a live dealer, but the numbers are against them.
Other players prefer the excitement, intimacy, and interactivity of a live-dealer game. Bear in mind also that the overheads for a casino to operate live-dealer games are invariably higher, since they have at least maintenance and streaming costs, and a mountain of tech to care for. This makes a higher edge for the house more than forgivable and understandable.
We feel the added tension, the heightened sense of credibility for skeptical players, and the flexibility offered all combine to make live-dealer options the more alluring route.
Will Live Action Slots Be Popular Online?
With live-action games gaining ground over random-number-generating video games, live online slots could make a very big splash in the online gambling pool.
Once a disreputable pastime, playing the slots has risen to a position of dominance in the casino landscape. Today, about 70% of casino revenues come from slots, with each machine generating over $200 in revenue per day and all slots worldwide generating over $3 billion per year.
Slots also dominate the online casino landscape. On a site boasting a portfolio of 500 games, the chances are excellent that around 480 of those games are some colorful, animated variations on the multi-payline, five-reel video slot.
If the popularity of slot games meets the enthusiasm for live-action casino games, live online slots could well explode worldwide. Land-based casinos from Vegas to Macau could start stocking vaults with video-monitored remote slots, spun by a worldwide player base.
The Problem with Live Online Slots
Of course, this critical mixture could fizzle instead of catch fire. Live online slots do have a crucial flaw that may undermine their popularity compared to live-dealer table games.
It’s the kind of detail that is so simple it hides in plain sight …
The snag is that most slot machines on land-based casino floors are video slots … and video slots are already random-number-generated video games! So, we’re kind of getting back to the fact that players sometimes don’t hanker after that kind of play--they hope for the old-school, one-armed-bandit type of slot.
The random-number-generated feature is true of all five titles currently offered as live online slots by hardrockcasino.com—Wild Leprechauns, Buffalo, Triple Red Hot 777, Hotter Than Blazes, Double Times Pay.
None of these are old-fashioned hand-crank fruit machine slots that made their homes in pre-war pubs and that generate not only a super sound and feel, but also deliver a mini upper-body workout. It’s like comparing a 1930s record player to an iPod.
It’s cool that players get to hit a button in Newark and cause something to happen in Atlantic City .... but it’s still just theater, and still just a digital spin of some reels with the outcome determined by a random number generator and a predictable house edge already built in.
Here’s a variation on the theme that would be worthy of Love, Death + Robots—imagine if a player could press a button in Newark, and in front of a livestream camera in Atlantic City, a robotic arm reaches out like The Claw from Toy Story and pulls the hand-crank of a mechanical fruit machine. Wouldn’t that be something?
Alternatively, let’s get these tech-befuddled casinos to buy in some old-style one-armed bandits--and in that case, offer us a live stream of the operator physically pulling down that lever and creating that thunk, clunk and kerching. That has to be way more thrilling.
We’re sadly not there yet.
One advantage live online slots may have over standard video slots, however, is that it allows online casinos to field popular titles that have not yet been adapted for online or cloud-based formats, but rather exist only as the big digital land-based slot boxes.
The Future of Online Slots
Live online slots are too new to the market to reliably predict their impact. One thing is for sure, though—slot games are malleable enough to keep on growing and evolving. This adaptability is a key reason they have exploded in popularity.
We think some key drivers of slot innovations might include …
It’s the signature problem of the smartphone age—the more connected we become, the more lonely and isolated we feel. Slots are certainly the prototypical loner’s game on the casino, a solitary and glassy-eyed activity light-years away from the hooting and hollering at the craps table.
Casino innovators are pushing back on this stereotype by fostering the notion of “social slots”—basically, Instagram for video slots. Players could create profiles and avatars, amass a network of online “friends,” and chat or direct-message their social slot-gaming network.
Bonus Round Innovations
The “game-within-a-game” aspect of bonus rounds helped cement a rapid fan base for video slots. Gone was the monotony of coin-push-spin-coin-push-spin in favor of digital board games, grab bags, scratchcards, and more that would pop up at random in the middle of gameplay.
As long as developers innovate new baubles and Easter eggs for players to discover, slots will never run out of steam.
“Games within games” also introduce the opportunity to incorporate skills-based bonus rounds. Rather than pure games of chance, players could take a break from pure gambling to multiply their winnings by playing bonus games relying on coordination, strategy, brain teasers, memory, and more.
Of course, casinos can’t bake a predictable house edge into skills-based games like they can with games of chance … but if the goal is to win repeat business, an enriching skills-based gameplay experience can’t hurt.
Online gambling is the fastest-growing segment of the gambling industry. Maybe this development was inevitable, given the advances in cloud-based technology, video graphics, and stable online or mobile gaming platforms. Plus, we have to just accept that people these days aren’t much enamored with things they can’t achieve by poke-poking at their smartphones.
Online casinos have also opened mobile gambling up to the world at large. Whereas you used to have to physically travel to a permissive jurisdiction like Las Vegas or Monaco to gamble, and while you still have to travel to New Jersey to enjoy online gaming on New Jersey-based sites, online gambling companies are stepping into the gap to fulfill a demand that knows no borders.
They can headquarter in a gambling-friendly country like Gibraltar or Curacao and broadcast their offerings with little or no oversight or accountability, as players should be aware. These sites may even be available in countries that outlaw gambling—technically illegal, but with few or no resources devoted to prosecution.
There’s also an unexpected upside to online gambling’s avai;ability; with global scares such as the spread of coronavirus, casinos can keep in business by a heavier reliance on online resources when gamblers are prevented from physical access for gameplay. When all this online functionality was being installed into the major brands, they wouldn’t even have anticipated this kind of need. So, not only can online gameplay--whether virtual or live-streamed--keep a casino afloat in troubled times, but also, it means gamblers can still enjoy their pastime.
Whatever the driver behind online gameplay, the result is that an estimated 26% of the worldwide population is estimated to gamble multiple times a year, with nearly half the population of the world having gambled at least once in the past year. We’re talking between 1.6 and 4.2 billion gamblers. As online and mobile gambling democratizes the industry, that’s quite a lot of potential spins.
So, whether or not they end up being the next big thing in casino gameplay, live online slots certainly up the ante, marrying online casino gameplay with the land-based casinos that birthed them.
It’s certainly a development to watch closely as online casino gaming, and online slots in particular, mature into the public consciousness and mainstream player appeal
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