South Point bets that virtual horse races will keep gamblers playing

Slot player Babs Duncan celebrates with her husband Jack after picking the winning horse and winning $70 in bonus credits in a virtual horse race at the South Point Thursday, July 26, 2012. The South Point is the first casino in Nevada to implement the virtual race by Bally Technologies. Winners split a total prize pool of $30,000 in bonus credits.

Virtual Horse Racing at the South Point

Slot players watch as horses are displayed to the side of their slot game during a virtual horse race at the South Point Thursday, July 26, 2012. The South Point is the first casino in Nevada to implement the Virtual Race by Bally Technologies. There are four races every Thursday and slot players qualify for the races by obtaining 25 points, playing with their club card, within two hours of each race. Winners split a total prize pool of $30,000 in bonus credits. Launch slideshow »

When someone is on a roll at a craps table or roulette wheel, groups of people often huddle around the player and cheer, creating a buzz that carries across the casino floor.

It’s far less common to find that same kind of energy at the slot machines.

South Point executives hope to change that. They have invested millions of dollars on a new technology they hope will replicate the excitement and community feel of table games at slots.

The iView system, created by Bally Technologies, brings virtual horse racing to slot and video poker machines at South Point. Video screens added to the casino’s existing machines allow everybody playing to see, and potentially participate in, a horse race bonus round. Players can pick from a field of animated horses on a touch screen and win extra playing credits if their pony comes in first.

To engage players, the casino will trumpet “First Call” over a loudspeaker, and an announcer will call the minute-long race.

“It was wild in here the other night,” South Point owner Michael Gaughan said of a test run last week. The technology debuts today.

Gaughan would not disclose the exact amount the casino spent installing the software, servers and computer screens but said it was one of the largest technology purchases South Point has made since opening in 2005. He expects the investment will pay off by attracting more players to the property.

“This is primarily supposed to bring in new people and keep them here longer,” Gaughan said. “And nobody else here has it.”

South Point is the first to install the technology in Las Vegas. Bally, however, has launched iView in casinos in Reno and Verona, Calif.

Slot machines have come a long way from the spinning reels of one-armed bandits, and players are increasingly turning to machines with interactive video animation, surround sound music and virtual bonus rounds.

Click to enlarge photo

South Point is unveiling a new poker machine gambling feature called Virtual Horse Racing by Bally's Technology on Thursday, July 26, 2012.

“These days, (the only reason) the people play the penny machines are for the secondary cartoons,” Gaughan said.

The anticipation of launching a bonus round or high-tech feature keeps people playing longer. South Point hopes the virtual horse racing will have the same effect.

To enter a race, gamblers must have a player’s card and earn at least 25 points in two hours. That’s the equivalent of playing with about $5, Gaughan said.

Races will be held at 4, 6, 8 and 10 p.m. every Thursday. Winners will split bonus credits worth $30,000.

And the technology isn’t limited to horse racing.

“We’re starting out with horse racing, but you can change to racing geese if you want to,” South Point General Manager Ryan Growney said. “It really is limited only by your imagination.”

The system also can convert a slot display into a virtual touch-screen portal that allows players to order drinks, make restaurant reservations or book show tickets without leaving their seats. South Point plans to roll out those types of features gradually.

“There’s so much this system can do,” Gaughan said. “You don’t want to overwhelm people.”

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