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A big take-away from a recent visit to Blue Chip Casino, Resort & Spa in Michigan City had me marveling at the tremendous effort it takes to keep a casino’s inventory of slot machines vibrant and fresh to make players continue to come back for more.

It requires a delicate balance of product and marketing know-how to understand the game themes and brands that exhibit solid player loyalty, experimentation with recently developed products, and the courage to remove games from the floor that fail to attract attention.

This is no easy task for a property the size of Blue Chip, where approximately 2,000 machines of all denominations and brands are in place across the 65,000 square feet gaming floor.

Penny slots are a large component of the inventory with Blue Chip showcasing some 500 game themes that accept wagers in one-cent increments.

The competition among the globe's slot machine manufacturers is fierce. Their common goal is to see their product occupy as much space in casinos as possible, and the only way to do that is to convince the owners and operators of the casinos that their machines are the ones that people will want to play.

Blue Chip is not afraid to bring new penny slots to the floor. I saw some of the most trend setting themes in play there, including “The Big Bang Theory,” “The Walking Dead II,” “Game of Thrones,” “Bonnie and Clyde,” and three variations of Aristocrat Gaming’s red hot “Buffalo” franchise, including “Buffalo Grand,” “Buffalo Gold,” and “Buffalo Stampede."

Players must realize that today's slot machines are no more machines than home computers are word processors.

They are technological marvels more appropriately referred to as electronic gaming devices. Each and every game on casino floors around the world was meticulously researched and developed before it made its way into the company's new product line.

In addition to coming out with appealing themes using existing technology, a premium is placed on rolling out innovative concepts. Being "the first" is a distinction for which the brain trusts of the companies strive. Ideas are worked upon under top secret conditions so as not to give the competition a heads up.

Have you ever thought about the abundance of sensory stimulation in a casino that's purposely created to get you in the mood to gamble? The electronically generated chorus of the slots and the ornate and brightly illuminated signage combine to make a dance with Lady Luck almost impossible to resist.

Blue Chip has also hit the mark on keeping its video poker product fresh by bringing in some of the newest games from video poker king International Game Technology, holder of a portfolio of over 70 themes from which to choose.

One of the most entertaining that I observed was “Powerhouse Poker”, a penny multi-hand game in which up to 27 additional hands are awarded to a player when a winning hand is dealt.

Each bonus hand starts with a winning deal. Bonus hands, some of them with multipliers, are automatically triggered and displayed on a giant top-box screen.

The design of gaming floors and the placement of machines and tables is a perpetual work in progress for casino executives.

Emphasizing the fluid nature of gaming floor inventory and design, game conversions are made and new machines added virtually on a weekly basis to keep the casino on competitive footing. Upgraded computer systems make it possible to review the history of each machine from the time it was first placed on the floor.

Modern day slot machines of like denomination are a more homogeneous breed at casinos in NW Indiana and the greater Chicago area in respect to variations in long term payback percentage.

Slot hit frequency is the great differentiator, but whether a machine pays smaller amounts more often at the expense of jackpots, or jackpots more often at the expense of lesser awards, it's all the same to the casinos.

BONUS ROUND-UP

BLUE CHIP: Whether you are a beer connoisseur or you just love to drink it, the property’s 7th annual Blue Chip Brewfest Saturday (April 8) will be a guaranteed good time. More than 300 brews from more than 80 specialty breweries, including many local companies, will be showcased from 1:30  to 5 p.m. in the Stardust Showroom. There are two premium packages in addition to regular admission and designated driver tickets. Blue Chip will hold a silent auction during the event for premium items and other beer-themed collectibles. All proceeds will benefit a local charity. Live entertainment will be provided by the Allen Wronko Band. Food will be served, plus all Blue Chip restaurants will be open. Purchase tickets at Ticketmaster.com or at the Gift Box in the pavilion. Last year’s event attracted a sell-out crowd of more than 2,500 beer enthusiasts.

FOUR WINDS: The $50,000 “Go Off Road” event will be held Sunday (April 9). Hourly drawings from 5 to 10 p.m. (EDT) will be held at all three Four Winds casino destinations. Three guests will win $500 in instant credit/free slot play at each of the first four hourly drawings. At the Hartford and Dowagiac locations, a grand prize winner will be selected at 9 p.m. to win a 2017 Cam Am Outlander 450 ATV with a trailer. At New Buffalo, the grand prize will be TWO ATV’s with a trailer. The 10 p.m. grand finale drawing at all three properties will be a $1,000 instant credit prize to two people.

Opinions are strictly those of the writer. Reach John G. Brokopp at jgbrokopp1@gmail.com

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