Prize fights and pot luck

Las Vegas, in particular, has honed the concept to a science, offering excitement and big cash wins for the top placed tournament players. To organize these events, casinos inform their slot club card holders about upcoming tournaments. They unusually offer tournament participation alongside two or three nights accommodation and meals for a relatively   low fee. The average large casino slot tournament in the US attracts around 300 participants, who quite often bring along a spouse or friend. This means, for the duration of the event, there are at least 450 extra players in the casino. During traditional slot tournament play, an area is set aside with an appropriate number of machines, depending on how many participants there are, about 30 or more machines is the usual figure. Slots are numbered from 1 to however many are needed. For each session, numbers are drawn to match up players and machines. Every player hopes that their machines will perform better than all the others. All of the machines are of the same type and are usually fitted  with special programs that generate  increased jackpot combinations than one would normally expect. This allows the accumulation of much greater point totals, adding to the excitement of the tournament. Most slot tournaments are then divided into sessions, each session lasting for a predetermined length of time, normally 15 to 20 minutes.

Machines either start with a preset number of play credits, or will automatically stop after a certain amount of time.. The object of tournament play is to use up all the credits and/or rack up as many points as possible in the allotted time frame.
      When all the players are ready and the machines activated, the frenzied play begins, since the top prize goes to the participant who complies the highest points total for the entire slot tournament.
During these tournaments, the slots are adjusted for play without money, limiting the risk for the player to the cost of the tournament entry fee, but limiting drop for the casino. However, traditional tournament sessions are also spaced several hours apart, giving the captive audience plenty of time to enjoy the games and entertainment offered by the location. Players consider the best events as those where the machines are pre-loaded with a certain number of credits and every participant plays at his or her own speed until all credits are used up. Other slot tournaments limit play   to a specified period of time, but both follow a set prize structure  of $25,000, $15,000 for the top three winners. 


There are two basic types of tournament, the first is time-based, such as hourly ones, which require a minimum number of players that have chosen to enter the tournament to fully fund the prize (unless this is seeded by the operator). Thus, tournament prizes are typically scaled according to the number of players. At the beginning of the tournament   deployment, operators may choose to go with daily events verses hourly or less. But as the players become more familiar with these special competitions, then a greater number of available tournaments will be provided to the players as the community grows. Most game tournaments will work in as large or small a location as desired. An extremely small location (just a few units such as a pub) would typically see customers play with players in other facilities to compete with them. The second basic type of tournament requires a fixed number of players, for example 50. As players post their scores to the tournament they will fill one of the 50 positions available. Once  all of the positions are filled then the tournament closes and the award is given. These can be run in very small locations, while the trick with these types of tournaments is to have the number of positions in the tournament not too large, such that the close time is too far into the future. The players that just posted a score want to know sooner rather than later, if they have won. Thus proper management of tournaments require proper sizing and tuning of the events and their prizes to fulfill the desired player expectations.


Automated slot tournaments work exactly as you’d expect, by taking the manual labour out of the task. While the US tournaments described require areas of the casino to be roped off, and machines reconfigured for tournament play, no such intervention is now needed. Instead, a series of systems are available, most as standalone additions to a slot floor that do not need to work with prescribed types of slots. They simply offer the benefits of a slot tournament while at the same time increasing the control and functionality of the event, without the aggravation of manual set-up. They also ensure that instead of reconfiguring the machines to run on credits, players play their normal game with the addition of the tournament game on top. G3 asked the top providers in the European market place to explain the concept and match the needs of the European marketplace to explain the concept and match the needs of the European operator to the benefits of their automated tournament systems. Austria’s system specialist, Systems in Progress, recently extended its product portfolio with the addition of its automated slot tournament, Slot Race. Players can enter tournaments to compete for points or watch the ranking dynamically change on the SiP multi-media display. Plug –and- play animations give information and Race. Players can enter tournaments to compete for points or watch the ranking dynamically change on the SiP multi-media display. Plug –and- play animations give information and generate excitement for the contestants and spectators during the pre-tournament phase, the competition proper, as well as the celebration of the winner, and the they can be flexibly configured together with the tournament parameters. “The strength of the SiP tournament’s module is its flexibility and scalability,” explains System in Progress ’ managing director Helmut Steffenini. “This means that the feature can be implemented anywhere from a single bank of machines up to the whole floor. The venue can operate an individual tournament at a time or host several competitions on the same floor with different themes, diversified prizes, either simultaneously or with varying schedules.

  Of course this features targets the more aggressively playing, speed-loving  patrons. However, by adjusting the tournament theme and parameters, an operator can cater to the tastes of any client base. ” This flexibility offers all types and scale of operation the ability to run a tournament, but it’s not the universal view that all sizes of venue should invest in such a system. Atronic System’s Director of Sales and Marketing, annette Jauch, state: “Personally, I think that locations for slot tournaments should not be too small, i.e. should have more than 50 machines. In addition, the location should have a regular client base, rather than occasional or tourist gamblers. ” The view is that period to educate the transient player, rather than the regular customer, would not be a worthwhile investment for the operator. However, Steve Allen, Sr. Product Manager for Progressive Gaming International’s Game Station, thanks to the nature of the game offered by Progressive, has a different perspective. Poker Café , featuring Tgexas Hold’em Live, is a part of Progressive Gaming’s Game Station family of server-based gaming products. “Interest in poker has expanded greatly the past few years, widening the demographic base,” said Mr. Allen. “Poker tournaments are an extremely popular way to play lve poker. Player demand for tournament play is roughly equally to the demand for non-tournament play (also called ‘ring’ games). This contrasts with slot tournaments, which are optional and designed to promote regular slot play. As such, Poker Café is designed to accommodate both wide-area and single –site play. There are no physical limits to the size of the venue or to the size of the tournament,” explained Mr. Allen. “Single table or sit-n-go tournaments are typically designed for 7-10 players, but large-scale multi-table tournaments can include hundreds or even thousands of participants. A tournament could include one or two players   from a specific location competing against players in other gaming establishments or a group of players all from the same location. ”


There are tournaments that group players of the same and different club levels against each other, but basically any person who plays a slot machine or poker machine is a potential tournament player. A player gets to play their game in normal mode (the machines pay table) and tournament mode (the tournament prizes) at the same time or concurrently. They can also play their favorite slot machine, as practically any machine can be added to the tournament game. “Slots   can be used in SiP tournaments regardless of brand, denomination or game,” stated Mr. Steffenini. “The tournaments module is fully integrated into the ‘Sip online system plus multimedia jackpot display ’ and does not require any additional hardware. Of course, the tournaments module is also available on its own. What’s more, it can be installed in venues where a host-based casino system from another vendor is already in place and the operator wants to offer this feature to his patrons. ” Much still depends on which supplier you chose. In former times, slot machines needed a firmware change (literally a different E-Prom) to be able to participate in a tournament. Nowadays, this is controlled by the ‘tournament controller. ’  With the Tourna mania product of Atronic Systems, the participating machines (again regardless of their brand, type or denomination) are connected via a Crystal Web network  (whereby each machine contains an MDC machine data controller) and is connected to the Tourna mania PC that controls the tournament. If the tournament is not on, the machines can be played as regular slots, without any change whatsoever required on the machines. ”
In the case of Progressive Gaming’s Poker Café, specific terminals are required, though the type of device can be tailored to suit the operator. “Poker Café is powered by the Poker Link GMS (Game management System),” stated Progressive Gaming’s Steve Allen. “The complete back-end  solution includes modules for game and tournament management, player tracking / account management, progressive jackpots, game analysis and reporting. Poker Café can be deployed on a variety of game terminal devices including traditional upright or slant-top cabinets, table-top gaming kiosks and wireless / mobile devices. ”


Years of web-based tournaments have shown that the concept of slot tournaments is a hugely popular one. Also slot tournaments today have proven to be successful marketing tools that casinos like to run. Players also love to have head-to-head play against each other and love to have the status of having their name on a leader board. Annette Jauch told us : “Tournaments have always been very popular  and most casinos organize some sort of tournament one way or the other. Maybe it’s no-brainer, but if a casino attracts very regular players, it could organize a player survey and include the question of tournaments. Otherwise – just try it, since wherever Tourna mania has been installed, the feedback has been installed, the feedback has been phenomenal. Players really seem to love it and once the tournament is on, there is no machine available, with players queuing for the next round. ” It’s phenomenon that’s been witnessed by each of the suppliers. “From many talks with operators over the past few years, we have identified the need to come up with a feature life this,” commented SiP’s Helmut Steffenini. “We have had an excellent response from our early installation in Russia, where the operator reports a substantial increase in drop. Similarly, Progressive Gaming’s Steve Allen is equally convinced that the Poker Café concept will meet with speedy adoption by players and operators. “Hundreds of thousands of players worldwide have flocked to Internet poker sites over the past few years,” affirmed Mr. Allen. “We have taken the virtual card room concept and adapted it to the much more stringent requirements of the regulated brick-and-mortar casino world. The dynamic, user-friendly design of Poker Café will appeal to both experienced and novice poker enthusiasts alike. ”


Balancing the cost requirements of Progressive Gaming’s Poker Café, Mr. Allen assures us that it’s much less than the investment required to build and operate a standard poker reom. And that the return on investment for Poker Café also compares favorably to other forms of gaming. Including video slots. Meanwhile, SiP’s Helmut Steffenini justified the cost of his company’s system: “The tournaments module constitutes a minimal investment when added to an existing SiP system. For a new installation, the module is available at a very reasonable price and offers extremely fast ROI – based on the substantial increase in drop mentioned, and therefore SiP tournaments finance themselves. ” On the other hand, the Tourna mania system requires a small Crystal Web network, which would connect the participating machines, plus a PC to run the tournament, plus the software itself plus an overhead screen (Plasma or TFT). “If the machines are suitable, the second screen of the machine can also be used. These are the minimum requirements,” said Atronic System’s Anette Jauch. “It goes without saying that it would be more attractive to offer Tournamania with some overhead signage and some decoration material,  which we also offer in a package. ” However, if a casino already has a full Crystal Web network installed, the only thing it would need is the Tournamania software and a plasma screen (which most casinos have anyway).

In addition, if the casino already offers player tracking, the tournament can even be personalized with the players ’ names displayed instead of just the machine numbers. “In our eyes, Tournamania should not only or necessarily be used as a money-maker, but rather as a marketing tool to animate ‘slow’ periods, to reward loyal customers and to make the entire casino offering more attractive,” said Ms. Jauch. Thanks to the nature of these automated events, each tournament is relatively self-running and self-promoting, needing little intervention on the part of the operator. According to Helmut Steffennini, professionally promoting SiP tournaments is very straight-forward and cost – effective. “It’s very much like promoting a jackpot,” stated the SiP Managing Director. “Only minimal preparation is necessary to host tournaments, which are literally set-up within a few minutes. This way an operator can host ‘ad hoc tournaments ’, as opposed to scheduled ones, for example when a group of players spontaneously come into the casino looking for a special treat. “Tournaments start and end automatically at the configured times, with no staff intervention necessary in between. Naturally, attendants will have to be available on the floor to assist players if necessary and to attend to the winners,” said Mr. Steffenini. SiP offers its customers a complete plug-and –play tournament package (Slot Race). This package includes high-quality air race-themed animations for overhead displays and in-machine monitors, and SiP’s PC-based Multimedia Display application to drive the displays. “Assistance is available for adjusting tournaments to our customers ’ individual needs and to the tastes of their patrons. We are also always glad to share our extensive experience with the SiP community on how to make the most of this feature,” stated Mr. Steffenni. Atronic Systems also maintains that the promotion of its tournament is straigh-forward and has animation sequences within its graphic animations to make it a ‘self-runner. ’ However, it is more attractive to have an ‘animator’ promote the tournament. Atronic Systems provides a ‘Starter’s Package’ for customers. This Starter’s Package contains a selection of decoration materials (posters, banners, helmets, shields, etc.) as well as brochures and How to Play Cards. in addition, it also contains a selection of give-away that can be handed out to those who didn’t win the prize.


Probably the biggest benefit of the slot tournament is return play to the casino. players will have to be in touch with the casino to see if they won a tournament that finished after they left the casino. They will check the casino website for the leader boards, be contacted by emails etc.. This gives the casino another touch point for the player. These systems also allow players to play on the machine of their choosing against having to play on a machine of the casino’s choosing. A player can also wager as much or as little as they desire to create a tournament score. The player will be rewarded for their base game play based upon these wagers and in addition have the opportunity to win the tournament against others in the casino. “Tournaments are an excellent addition to any marketing mix and a great way to enhance the guest experience for regular and occasional slot enthusiasts,” said Mr. Steffenini. “SiP tournaments allow operators to cater competitive patrons and to those who thrive on gaming in a group or in a front of an audience. They put operators ahead of other gaming establishments by offering a new form of entertainment and offer a novel thrill for players and on –lookers alike. In addition, they increase the attractiveness of slot machines versus other types of gaming and support and enforce the theming of the casino to provide a consistent appearance to visitors,” he concluded. The creation of an atmosphere of competitive is also key to the appeal of Progressive Gaming’s Poker Café, which seeks to replicate the very personal competition of a proker game. “Tournament play creates ‘buzz’, raising the general level of excitement both for these playing as well as casual observers,” said Progressive Gaming’s Steve Allen. “Player loyalty can be enhanced greatly through the effective use of tournaments. As an example, a ‘free’ tournament with a cash prize pool for Players Club members would strengthen both brand awareness and, if held during off-peak hours, generate incremental traffic on the casino floor. ” In fact, many of the traditional slot tournaments, played with seeded credits to the slot machines in the US, are offered to players free, as a purely promotional device. “Slot tournaments are a perfect marketing tool to animate slow times or a less attractive location for a bank,” stated Attronic Systems ’ Anette Jauch. “They reward players for their loyalty, create excitement on the casino floor and show players that gaming can actually be a lot of fun as well. ”


Each automated slot tournament has been heavily themed by the supplier, with graphics and animations depicting colorful characters alongside the standard score information. And just as a   regular single slot machine theme has a life-span within the casino, the tournament theme could also become a little stale over time. Thankfully, most tournament engines are also fully configurable and as such should require updates for only new types of tournaments (types of players, types of machines, times of day, number of players, various prizes etc.). There are literally hundreds of ways of running tournaments, and every casino will have their particular desires to make them unique and different from their competitors. New features based upon customer and player requests are sure to mould the tournaments in the future. Because of its versatility, SiP believes that its tournaments concept will remain interesting to both operators and players for quite some time. Flexibility lends itself to longevity. Anything is possible, from single tournaments for specific target groups to floor-wide competitions. Even championships can be hosted, complete with semi-finals and finals. At a number of gaming venues, several rounds per site are played to determine a winner per location. These winners are invited to the final competition at one of the sites to compete for the grand prize. And in addition to offering the standard ‘Slot Race’ package, SiP is always happy to create new tournament themes for casinos. Continual updates are also part of the standard package from Progressive Gaming’s Poker Café, whose gaming philosophy completely embraces the concept of continuous updates and improvements as part of its server-based environment. “Daily, even hourly, tournaments are the norm rather than the exception in poker,” explained Progressive Gaming’s Steve Allen. “As such, tournament play is included in the base Poker Café system. Future updates will include new poker variations as well as other forms   of player-to-player gaming.


Installing complex systems within a gaming environment can be very costly, particularly if there’s considerable down-time as the engineers work their magic. However, the very nature of these modular systems is that the slot machines will only be out of action during the short initial install. “When the mac’s are installed and the floor network is connected, there is a short period of down-time,” said Ms. Jauch. “After that, there is no change needed whatsoever to alter the machines and the tournament can start at any time, pre-fixed or random, whatever the casino wants – without any additional work to be performed on the machines. However, at the very beginning, it would probably be prudent to start with a bank of machines – and if successful in the casino – expand to other banks or connect more machines, whatever fits into the plans of the casino. ” At casinos where an SiP system is already in place, no additional hardware or software installation is necessary. Slots are fully operational while a tournament is set up, since configuration is performed entirely through the software. The machines do not need to be reconfigured in any way. Jackpots running on machines that are participating in tournaments stay active and can be won while a tournament stay active and can be won while a tournament is in progress. However, for a new SiP installation, the only time when the slots cannot be played is during the extremely short installation period. Typically, machines are installed and brought   online bank by bank. The other slots are not affected and disruption to the operation is kept to an absolute minimum. This also applies to Progressive Gaming’s Poker Café. This is because the installation of a game terminal is similar to the deployment of a video slot game. As a server-based gaming system, software updates can be scheduled and implemented automatically through the central GMS, which also helps to minimize costly downtime for the location.


The size and scale of the tournament to be hosted is a decision taken by the operator depending on their patrons and their appreciation for tournaments at any given venue. Anything is feasible – from a few machines to the entire floor. The balance between prize versus the pulling appeal of the event, is a matter for the casino to determine themselves. How much of the slot that should be dedicated to the tournament will start as a matter of trial and error. “Tournamania is an extremely flexible tool and fits into any marketing stategey a casino would like to implement,” stated Ms. Jauch. “We have seen at Holland Casino in Utrecht that Tournamania is only used at the weekend on an hourly basis on currently 12 machines. In Panama, on the contrary, the casino has connected all of their machines to Torn mania and apparently, all hell breaks loose in the casino when the tournament stars. ” The decision to add slots to the tournament is made even simpler following the progressive model, where the slot is actually a terminal that can receive any game currently available on the server. “Poker tournament schedules can include ad hoc events, daily and/or weekly mini-tournaments as well as large-scale mega-tournament,” summarized Progressive Gaming’s Steve Allen. “Any or all of the available game terminals can be used for tournament play. But for rinng games, an operator should plan to include enough stations to ensure that a player can always find an open seat and an oppoent. This is called ‘critical mass ’ and is an essential element of a self-sustaining poker room. ”


There’s a growing selection of automated slot tournament options available on the market right now, each offering differing levels of functionality and cost implications. It’s also a relatively new product in the marketplace, so what key ingredients should an operator be looking to include in the package? “In my eyes, the operator should seek a system that is as flexible as possible, that fits into his marketing and expansion strategy,” said Atronic Systems ’ Anette Jauch. “For example, if a customer intends to equip his slot floor with an on-line system in the future, he might want to select a system such as Tournamania, which then already offers him part of the Crystal Web floor network that he could continue to expand to his whole floor, buy the software on top and have a full slot management system. ” Vital components needed to fit present and future remits for the tournament include the ability to operate the system across the entire casino floor. One that requires no manual reconfiguration of EGMs and virtually eliminates most layout costs for the casino. It also provides security, flexibility, dependability and support. SiP’s Helmut Steffenini believes that operators also need to know the total cost of ownership. “Operators must find out about the complexity of the procedures for installing and putting tournaments into operation, including training of staff,” said Mr. Steffenini. “They need to know if there are limitations on machine models. Do they need to purchase new/specific machines, or can they implement tournaments on their existing floor mix? And what’s the effort required to chance the theming?


Automated  slot tournaments also play a trump card in that they do not require the ring –fencing of machines involved in the tournament on the slot floor. Players automatically take part in the tournament if they play on a machine that is connected to the tournament when the tournament starts. However, since the machines behave ‘normally ’ while the tournament is running, if they wish then the players can just play on their machines without taking part in the tournament. There is a penalty though if the player joins the tournament while the event is already running. “By it’s nature., a tournament is a competitive event with a clearly defined start and end, similar to a horse or car race,” explained Mr. Steffenini. “Of course, a player can start later, but this will result in a disadvantage, as in any other race. The same applies to an ‘early out. ” SiP tournament concept is based on slot machine positions, which is again similar to other types races; you start and end on the same horse or in the same car. SiP believes that this approach creates transparency for all parties involved.


So far, the penetration of slot tournaments into Europe has been relatively small, compared to the scale of success achieved in the States. Each of the suppliers questioned, however, believe that such events have a rosey future in the European gaming marketplace. Steve Allen of  Progressive Gaming stated: “Slot tournaments are very successful in the US, but already poker turnmnts are hugely popular in many European markets. Televised poker is drawing large audiences in the UK and elsewhere. We see P2P games as a natural evolution in casino gaming and expect operators worldwide to take this phenomenon very seriously in the years ahead. ” Atronic System’s Anette Jauch also believes that automated slot tournaments will become an integral part of every European slot floor. “As the European gaming market becomes more mature, slot tournament systems will become part of each casino’s offerings,” said Ms. Jauch. “Maybe not just slot tournaments but other forms of bouncing and jackpots as well. ” It’s a view shared by Systems in Progress ’ Helmut Steffenini. “We see a development that is similar to those of jackpots over the last 15 years : When jackpots first became available, it was operators with a pioneering spirit who started offering them. Then the other gaming venues followed. The difference is that today the market is much faster and more  competitive; however, when tournaments are perceived as being very easy to manage, they will be widely implemented. ”


The metilitsa Casino in Moscow installed System in Progress’s tournament, Slot Race, at the beginning of January, 2006. already running SiP systems at the casino, the slot management team, led by Andrey Denisov, asked the Austrian company if it could create the additional feature of a tournament system. “We explained what we needed to SiP and they surprised us with the speed and functionality of their response,” said Mr.Denisov. “We’re currently in a difficult situation in Russia with the law affecting the entire business, especially if you wish to operate prize draws to attract players. On each occasion you must visit the government finance department to receive permission and pay for the privilege. A slot tournament gives us great flexibility within the law. The customer continues to play the machine, without a special additional prize. They play the machine and accumulate a score, whereby the highest score wins the jckpot. In this way we are not giving away prizes. During this tournament, the player is risking their own money, which is not taxed. ” The crucial element of the slot tournament for Mr. Denisov is this fundamental difference between prize and jackpot win. Plahers take their regular wins from the machines, and in addition are able to play for an additional tournament sum.


Asked if his customers immediately took to the concept, Mr. Denisov explained: “They did not understand 100 per cent at the beginning, but we gave everyone an thorough explanation of how it works, and Russian players already understand how prize draws operate. We had to explain how the scores were increasing, and in particular that it is not necessary to play maximum bet in order to take the big win. We also use plasma screens and printed posters, with attendants proactively informing clients of the benefits and how to play. ”
      The first Slot Race tournament at the metilitsa Casino has held tournament games every Thursday at 8 pm. Players visited the casino especially to take part in the tournament, where they took part in a six week event to win US $30,000. “We started the first tournament with six people and finished the last draw with 18,” said Mr. Denisov. “After six weeks 6 to 18 is a good result for us, especially when you consider that the tournament was only running on five machines. Our casino has three slot areas, and the visitors to this area are very wealthy, paying the $ 50 entrance fee to this part of the casino. We offer additional services for play, with complimentary for the 24 machines on this floor. With this in mind, 18 people is a very good result. ”


The tournament started using Aristocrat machines, but the casino did not have five machines with the same game from Aristocrat, and quickly found this became a strict requirement from the player. “We changed to Novomatic games, because we didn’t have same games on Aristocrat machines,” explained Mr. Denisov. “The players complained that the different games favoured one person over another as part of the tournament, telling us that they could not build their scores as rapidly as the next person because their game differed from theirs. The multi-game machines from Novomatic lets the player choose which game they want to play, with most selecting the same game as their rivals. ” Still in the early days of operating the tournament, with only preliminary results to date, Mr.Denisov has a already seen an increase in drop of 23 per cent from running the tournaments. One of the most important aspects of the tournament system at the metilitsa has been the ability of the casino to guarantee that a winner will be named on the final day of the tournament. “In marketing terms we would allocate a prize of say $10,000 to be won as part of a prize competition. But very often, after three months the prize had not been collected, with players still having to play max bet to attempt to hit the maximum win combination. Slot tournaments allow us to take a different route, making sure that we can reward the players for the increased play. ”


During tournament days, casino attendance rose as players made a special effort to take part in the games. And with free drinks and a music programmed on offer, they came up to two hours before the event and stayed to play after it. “We would very much like to increase the frequency of the tournaments,” said Mr. Denisov. “I would like to automatically switch machines into tournament mode at say 7pm every day, and then switch it off again at 7:15. I think that this would stimulate even more play and attract more customers to the games. However, to continue to use tournaments in this way, I think it necessary to operate a card system in which we can identify the players. Those that begin a tournament in this way, I think it necessary to operate a card system in which  we can identify the players. Those that begin a tournament game and become tired are afraid that if they leave the machine another person will use their machine and start to benefit from their score. A card system would help to eliminate this problem. ” Due to the heavy theming of SiP’s Slot Race, Mr. Denisov also believes that to keep the attention of the player, such tournaments have a life-span of around six months, before new themes, animations and attractions should be refreshed.