Some of the COVID-related changes to gaming floor segmentation could well be here to stay…
With or without physical distancing regulations in place, customer enthusiasm for greater space on the gaming floor means that venues may decide to factor this into room design permanently.
‘Keeping a distance’ of 1.5 metres between people has been one of the defining factors of the COVID-19 pandemic. And those signs reminding us of its necessity will doubtless be something we remember in the decades to come, in the same way, that ‘loose lips sink ships’ will always bring back memories of World War II to those who lived through it.
The ripple effect of the 1.5-metre distancing rule has been felt throughout Australia, in shops, workplaces, and entertainment venues. And gaming floors have been no exception.
However, this has merely exacerbated a trend that was already growing, says Gerard Kinsella, Project Manager, MAX. “Over the last 20 or so years we’ve been increasing the size of the standard gaming machine base,” he explains. Gaming machines now sit on a base that is 750 millimetres wide. And the common machines themselves are getting bigger too. “They’re almost encroaching on that total width of 750 millimetres,” says Kinsella.
What this means is that if you have two machines next to each other there is no room between them and this leads to the ‘cinema effect’. “If you walk into a movie theatre and there’s someone sitting in a seat, you don’t automatically sit directly next to them. You’d sit at least one seat aside,” he adds.
To mitigate this gaming floor designers have been creating more space with, for example, 200 millimetres of infill.
Add in COVID and the issue has become more pronounced. But of course 750 millimetres is exactly half of 1.5 metres, which fitted with the Government’s solution to simply remove every second machine. Preferable to this has been to increase the infill, says Kinsella.
“Over the last 20 years we’ve been increasing the size of the standard gaming machine base.” – Gerard Kinsella
Victoria followed the lead of New South Wales, which was able to reopen its gaming rooms earlier. “Instead of a machine next to another machine there would be an infill of joinery, top and front, about 750 millimetres wide,” adds Kinsella.
The advantage for patrons was that they didn’t arrive at a venue to find their favourite machine turned off but were still able to sit at a machine with plenty of room between them and other players. “The customers were loving it,” says Kinsella. Their comfort has been sometimes augmented by the installation of decorative screens between machines – providing privacy and social distancing at the same time.
Along with having more elbow room, customers are responding positively to the round style bank. Over the last 25 years the carousel configuration had fallen out of favour as venues instead opted to fit more machines on the floor. Now it’s back, again as a result of the 1.5-metre regulations. “It’s in a circle so you’ve automatically got that distancing,” notes Kinsella.
“Banks that curve inwards can give the illusion of less space for some people,” adds Greg Haynes, Head of Data and Insights, MAX. “We’ve seen a lot of performance drop in those, when there’s that enclosed space.”
Previously banks would often comprise a group of similar machines, to satisfy customer preferences. “With five Dragon Cash machines in a row, for example, they may have a jackpot between the five,” explains Kinsella. So that customers could still access the most popular machines with the 1.5-metre rule, the machines have been put into playable positions, rather than being switched off.
Benchmarking after a few weeks, and again after a few months, will show which of these new machines have staying power and are getting repeat visitation, he adds.
The results in the first half of 2021 have been informative. “We’ve done a lot of correlation work in Queensland, where we can see the age of the floor versus its revenue and there is a strong correlation between a younger floor and high revenue,” says Haynes. There is a strong customer
appetite for new products. “It’s recently skyrocketed,” he adds, “because there were no new releases last year and no way to get new products onto the floor.”
This is particularly true in Victoria, which had longer lockdowns than the rest of Australia. One of the other significant factors in the state is the rollout of ticket-in, ticket-out technology, adds Haynes. “This functionality is important for venues too.”
“Where there is space that isn’t highly trafficked, try and promote the idea of giving lots of visibility to new products.” – Greg Haynes
Naturally, the factor that has to be taken into account with all of this repositioning and reconfiguration is the need for space. It’s the larger venues or the ones with a greater capacity in their gaming rooms that have found the challenges of COVID’s new normal easier to navigate.
The average space needed per machine has risen from around 3.3 or 3.5 square metres to 4 or 4.5 square metres.
What to play?
Extra space to play in is not the only development on the gaming floor. There have also been some other notable trends in machine preference. Aaron Cassidy, Senior Product Analyst at MAX, says that multi-denominational games have seen a rise in popularity at the expense of single-denominational
games. Again, this was already happening pre-COVID. “Multi-game and multi-denomination were previously popular, but have become the cornerstone and after COVID even more so,” says Cassidy. The $1 to $2 options have been increasingly favoured, with the Hold and Spin feature a drawcard. “It’s not revolutionary, but it has definitely changed the landscape of gaming in Australia,” he adds.
Cassidy agrees that increased space in the gaming room is going to be a feature in the short, medium and possibly long term too. But venues will need to do more than increase space to keep their customers happy. “It’ll be important to cater for players in a different way, whether this be through benefits or
ambience, in order to give them an incentive to come to your venue,” he says. “I think you’ll see the venues that have enough space creating more opulent gaming rooms and services and benefits within that room.”
This article was first published in State of Play, Issue 8, 2021