June 26, 2017

Foxwoods gambles on interactive gaming

PHOTO | Contributed
PHOTO | Contributed
Felix Rappaport, president & CEO of Foxwoods Resort Casino

Q&A talks with Felix Rappaport, president & CEO of Foxwoods Resort Casino, about interactive gaming. Foxwoods recently introduced skill-based video game gambling machines in partnership with New York City-based GameCo Inc.

Q: Foxwoods pioneered the use of interactive gaming machines in Connecticut. What are interactive gaming machines and how have they been received?

A: Interactive gaming machines, or Video Game Gambling Machines (VGMs), are the world's first skill-based gaming offerings. VGMs bring video game play to the casino floor, engaging a new generation of casino customers. Their proprietary arcade-style cabinets allow a player's skill to determine the payout and winnings while maintaining the same casino-based economics as a slot machine.

At this time, it's too early to have a complete understanding of how VGMs will perform over the long haul, and we therefore don't have the same expectations for them that we would for other slots. However, those that have used the machines enjoy the level of interaction and the fact that they can improve their chances of winning — and win bigger payouts — the better they play. We believe this will resonate with both Millennials and gamers of all ages.

Q: How important was it to be first in this market?

A: We live in an age when agility and speed to market are vital. I believe that skill-based gaming is here to stay, and if you look at all the major manufacturers represented at conferences such as the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) or ICE Totally Gaming, they are now all pursuing a skill-based component. We partnered with GameCo because they are ahead of the curve, smart and innovative. It's common knowledge that many Millennials and Gen Xers love playing video games, but video games are very different from typical slot machines and the industry has been trying to bridge that gap for years. We believe skill-based games are the first step in doing so.

Q: Are these games the future, or do younger people still embrace table games like craps and black jack?

A: At Foxwoods, we believe skill-based gaming machines are an important part of the future of gaming, but Millennials tend to gravitate towards craps, blackjack and poker too as those games also require a level of skill that they find appealing. I also believe they enjoy these games because of the inherent social aspect, whereas slots are a more solitary pursuit.

We feel confidently that skill-based gaming and electronic table games are a growing phenomenon, at least at Foxwoods. In fact, at the end of this month, we will be adding our first electronic table game arena, which will allow our guests to play baccarat, blackjack and roulette. This innovative arena will be monumental, comprised of 24 video monitors, and will be located in a hip area near The Scorpion Bar and Sugar Factory American Brasserie.

Q: How are these gaming machines categorized? Are they still considered slot machines in terms of revenue for the state?

A: Yes, VGMs are categorized as slot machines and are therefore subject to the 25 percent contribution to the state of Connecticut.

Q: As the Hartford Business Journal previously reported, younger generations are not interested in passive games, particularly slot machines, and casinos must find ways to cater to younger tastes. Are there traditional forms of gaming younger generations do like?

A: We know that the younger generation tends to veer towards fantasy sports, sports betting, poker and video games. However, we believe that skill-based gaming marries that technology with the slot machine product. We currently have two skill-based games — Pharaoh's Secret Temple and Nothin' but Net — but will definitely offer more in the future as these become regular offerings across the industry.

Q: What are the similarities and differences between Gen X and Millennial players?

A: The lines between Gen Xers and Millennials are often blurred, but we've found that Gen Xers still have casinos and gaming as one of their top entertainment choices. Millennials are more selective — gaming is only part of their overall entertainment experience.

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