Where one-armed bandits have always been standalone devices with a single game hard-wired into their circuitry and rotors, the industry is getting set to unroll a new generation of machines in which the games will be stored on back-office servers and downloaded at the whim of gamblers.

According to executives from two of the biggest slot machine manufacturers, the so-called server-based gaming, or SBG, technology is slated to be the biggest news at next month’s Global Gaming Expo (G2E) in Las Vegas, the casino industry’s huge annual trade show.

“The floor of gaming establishments in the near future will be changing drastically,” said Ali Saffari, senior vice president of engineering at International Game Technology, or IGT, one of the largest makers of slot machines. “Quite simply, the machines are going to be slaves to the system.”

What this means, essentially, is that slot machines will become little more than dumb terminals with games that can be changed on the fly by customers or at any time by casino officials looking to put the more in-demand games on casino floors when players want them.

Further, the gaming industry has in recent years standardized electronic loyalty club programs in which players carry cards that track what and how much they play in return for complimentary rooms, meals and other rewards. With SBGs deployed, casinos could also keep track of which games club members most like and have the machines offer those games from a menu when players insert their cards in a slot.

“It will allow your favorite games to carry with you no matter where you are,” Saffari said. “The games can be downloaded in seconds.”

By all accounts, this will be a major move in places like Las Vegas and Atlantic City, despite the fact that no one is exactly sure when the first SBGs will hit casino floors. Saffari said, however, that the roll-out should begin sometime after G2E and should be complete by 2007.

Yvette Monet, a spokeswoman for MGM Mirage, which owns Vegas casinos such as Bellagio, Luxor, Mandalay Bay, the MGM Grand, Monte Carlo and others, said the company likely plans to deploy SBGs in the near future.

It gives MGM Mirage the “option to switch to an exciting new emergent technology that (offers) benefits for the consumer and the casino,” Monet said. “This is definitely predicted to be (big) and is going to be seeing very wide use.”

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