Casinos Bet on Pop Culture Icons

13 December 2004

LAS VEGAS — As reported by the Seattle Times: "Although Ron Popeil has appeared in dozens of movies and is as recognizable a presence on television as Oprah Winfrey, rarely is the master inventor and pitchman placed in the same celebrity orbit as Clint Eastwood or even Pamela Anderson.

"Yet there he was at the annual Global Gaming Expo (G2E), staged earlier this fall at the Las Vegas Convention Center, pushing the buttons on a slot machine inspired by one of his most noteworthy contributions to American pop culture: the Ronco Showtime Rotisserie and BBQ Oven. Eastwood and Anderson attended as well, promoting slot machines of their own.

"Although Popeil's presence may not have sparked the same hysteria as the A-list celebrities, International Game Technology's preview version of "Ron Popeil's But Wait, Win More!" game, with its rotating-chicken bonus feature, easily stole the show. (The machines will make their debut in casinos sometime next year.)

"…Among other iconic figures represented on the firm's long roster of slot machines are Dick Clark, Mickey Mantle, Elizabeth Taylor, Laverne and Shirley, Gilligan ( Bob Denver), Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Rodney Dangerfield, Frank Sinatra and the Munsters.

"…Celebrity worship has reached epidemic proportions, not only on Madison Avenue but along Las Vegas Boulevard South. Bravo, NBC, ESPN and the Travel Channel air shows exploiting the gambling skills — or lack, thereof — of such amateur poker players as Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Kevin Pollak and Dave Foley.

"…Large Strip casinos, which cater to the broadest spectrum of tourist, convention and gambling business, tend to maintain a balance between those traditional three-reel slots familiar to longtime players, and the more technically advanced multi-reel games popular with newer players.

"…Although celebrities have been endorsing products for as long as there have been celebrities, the lucrative branding and licensing deals are recent additions to the arsenals of slot machine manufacturers.

"The concept was introduced less than a decade ago, when modern computer-chip technology was added to traditional mechanical-reel platforms to create the possibility of bonus rounds, apart from the usual jackpots. It was the same technology used in computer games, and it guaranteed faster play.

"…A generation of Americans raised in front of their television sets ate it up. To combat against mass outbreaks of over-familiarization, however, manufacturers soon realized they would have to keep coming up with elaborate new ways to keep the excitement level up.

"Ever more powerful chip technology freed designers to upgrade basic platforms almost at will, and simultaneously ratchet up a game's entertainment value. Gamblers were given the illusion, at least, of being able to determine the outcome of fanciful new games.

"…As the television- and cartoon-based games gained acceptance, Hollywood studios started re-thinking their policy of remaining at arm's length from the casino industry. The floodgates finally burst at last year's G2E, drenching even the phenomenon that was tournament poker…"


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