Slot Machine Cabinets: It’s More Than Just the Game

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Brian Christopher with Anthony Baerlocher next to Cleopatra Legacy at IGT
Brian Christopher stands with Anthony Baerlocher,VP of Global Product and Innovation at IGT, next to Cleopatra Legacy during the Indian Gaming Tradeshow & Convention 2024. The game is on IGT’s brand new DiamondRS™ 5R cabinet, which debuted at IGA.

This page was produced in partnership with our sponsor IGT. Learn more about our editorial policy.

When slot machine players are inside a casino, we’ll often look across the floor, eyeballing the various slot machines, and ultimately something will catch our eye. When we sit down, the game is front and center, but every game is housed on a slot machine cabinet. Cabinets can have physical or video reels, horizontal or vertical screens that are flat or curved, speakers in front of you or on the chair behind you. 

The end results that we see on the casino floor, like many things related to the games we play, go through a lot of research, design and implementation efforts. I’m sure we’re not the only ones who have noticed slot machines evolving over time. 

So, what goes into the process of developing and creating slot machines? We had the opportunity to talk with a group at IGT involved in the development of new slot machine cabinets, to discover more about how they come together. Here’s what we learned!

It’s All In the Family 

Slot machines come in a seemingly endless variety of sizes and formats. Walking around a casino floor, you might notice many slot machine cabinets that seem to have similar lighting or bet panels, but different sized screens, for example. As players, we often get acclimated to a certain format, and that familiarity can make playing games feel more comfortable. 

Slot makers recognize this, so they often create sets, or families, of different cabinets that all have common threads, allowing players to seamlessly enjoy their gaming experience across multiple cabinet formats.

“IGT creates a ‘family’ of cabinets,” said Anthony Baerlocher, VP of Global Product and Innovation at IGT.  “Each family covers different form factors that share common DNA.  Having a family helps establish familiarity with casino customers and techs, as well as players. After a cabinet generation fulfills all market needs, IGT begins the lengthy process of researching the next best thing in gaming hardware and a new family is created to address a new set of market needs.”

What are some of the visual similarities and differences between a cabinet family? The overall height and screen orientation is one of these differences you’ll notice around you on a casino floor. Next time you’re at a casino, take a look around. Some cabinets stand tall with large-format vertical monitors known as “portrait” screens, like IGT’s Peak65™ cabinet with a 65″ ultra high-def, multi-touch, curved screen.

To balance the floor, a casino needs variation.  Thus, some cabinets have two or three smaller, horizontal screens stacked with a seamless view known as “dual” or “multi-screen” cabinets. Some of the similarities that reduce player learning curves from cabinet to cabinet within a family are the bet panels, charging stations, volume buttons and other logistical play components. 

Graded on a Curve 

Curves, in addition to adding design flair and generally better ergonomics for the player, can also help in managing overall height of larger portrait formats.

Anthony Baerlocher, VP of Global Product and Innovation at IGT

Newer, more modern cabinets have introduced curved glass rather than a more traditional flat screen. There are several reasons for this. Two primary reasons are based on player comfort and ergonomics. 

“Curved displays work well on slots as compared to your living room because they are focused on a single person rather than trying to be viewable by many,” Baerlocher said. “The curved shape helps with ergonomics as it is more comfortable and engaging for a single viewer at a single focal point.” 

Another reason is that a curved display is a striking and dramatic feature unique to the casino environment that players often don’t get to experience anywhere else. “A curved display is not something customers generally have at home,” said Chris Carlisle, Product Manager, Hardware and Platform. “It gives players a chance to experience something different they can’t experience every day.” Curved lines create a more modern and attractive appearance on the gaming floor that pops more than simple rectangular boxes.

Curved screens allow for better player immersion in the game giving players an enhanced experience with an improved viewing angle. The PeakCurve™ 49, IGT’s latest and final addition to the Peak family of cabinets, features a player-tested and player-preferred C-Curve 49” LCD screen.

This innovative C-Curve screen was tested in player focus groups, ethnographic research, future trends analysis and operator discussions before making its way on to a new cabinet. Even this seemingly simple enhancement to the player experience was researched and tested thoroughly to ensure superior form and function before ever hitting the market. 

But curves have an additional benefit: creating the opportunity for more innovation in terms of the actual game design and enhancing the player experience. Curved screens allow game makers to combine player ergonomics with more gameplay innovation in the actual games themselves. “The taller single screen formats can offer some additional flexibility in terms of what the games can do and how they are presented to the player,” said Baerlocher. “Curves, in addition to adding design flair and generally better ergonomics for the player, can also help in managing overall height of larger portrait formats.” 

When we talk about variation on the floor and player visibility, the open back design seen on the PeakCurve™ 49 and PeakDual™ 27 is a differentiating factor even among the same cabinet family that opens sightlines and minimalizes space while keeping an impressive yet sleek appearance. These screen considerations work together throughout a casino floor to deliver an exciting and appealing gaming experience for players. 

Getting the Picture 

Brian Christopher stands with Chris Carlisle at a bank of machines during IGA 2024.
Brian Christopher stands with Chris Carlisle, Product Manager, Hardware and Platform at IGT, with a bank of machines during IGA 2024. They are standing in front of the PeakCurve™ 49, the latest-and last-cabinet release as part of IGT’s Peak hardware family.

Like many things rooted in technology, part of the evolution in cabinets centers around improving display quality and processing power. Even though we’ve already seen advancements in picture resolution like 4K definition displays, technology is constantly evolving. 

“We’re always looking for new things to enhance that gaming experience, and it’s about finding those things and applying them, and then partnering with the right game,” said Cindy Hovey, Senior Director of Hardware Roadmap. 

She added, “We always design cabinets with the player in mind. The player is a key priority and picking those innovations or those features that best fit the players’ needs and wants, as well as partnering them with a specific game, is an exciting process. Bigger screens for big brands, large jackpots for fun and excitement, lots of places for personal items, button deck ergonomics. We want the players to feel comfortable.” 

Sound also plays a big role in slot machine design, and it focuses on more than just making a game come to life. Sound design is crucial in centering the gaming experience on the player, both during active gameplay and when deciding what games to explore on the floor. Hovey noted: “We really focus on the player, so we angle and project sound towards the player. We give them the option to turn it up or down as well, allowing them to manage their own volume. We make a conscious effort not to have the sound of one machine interfere with the sound next to it, and vice versa.” 

In addition to the in-game sound, cabinets also feature an “attract mode” with specially designed audio for the unique purpose of highlighting the game before you ever start to play. 

Making An Impression in the Casino 

Floor arrangements are usually at the discretion of the casino operator, but IGT will often give recommendations based on the cabinet type and what we feel will give the highest performance.

Anthony Baerlocher, VP of Global Product and Innovation at IGT

In addition to the design of individual cabinets, game makers also consider how multiple cabinets will look when combined together on the floor. With many casinos shifting from long rows of slots to other formats like circular pods, cabinet design keeps up with these trends. Baerlocher shared, “Floor arrangements are usually at the discretion of the casino operator, but IGT will often give recommendations based on the cabinet type and what we feel will give the highest performance.” 

Carlisle added, “There’s additional consideration taken during the initial design phase to think about how these might look when they’re brought together, either in a line or in a pod in different configurations, so that overall, we’re taking up less footprint and creating a more impressive presentation. Some products include additional bank-wide attract signage called “merchandising” designed specifically to emphasize certain configurations and enhance floor presence and excitement.” 

Consideration is also given to sightlines throughout the entire casino – that is, the visibility of cabinets across the entire floor, while still highlighting other casino amenities including featured restaurants, bars, or even artwork. Height restrictions due to low ceilings or certain architectural features are considered as well. IGT tries to ensure that both cabinets and merchandising will fit under standard ceiling height limits of 9 and 12 feet.

Multiple cabinets that are grouped together can also pump up the excitement on the floor as players can experience the action going on around them. Ultimately, this can make for more fun and thrills on the floor, Hovey said. “For players, it’s about being able to see what’s going on around you and the excitement of the game. Even though you may not be experiencing that excitement yet, you know what’s to come! Players being able to see the bonus play out, those types of things, they all get thought of as we are designing these products.” 

The Best Bang (and Slap) for the Buck 

We offer a Tournament product, and if a cabinet’s button can survive a slot tournament, then we have done our job correctly.

Cindy Hovey, Senior Director of Hardware Roadmap at IGT

One topic that constantly comes up is those button bangers and screen slappers. It seems like slot machines have to withstand a lot of use and abuse.

Baerlocher notes that in addition to meeting baseline requirements, as new products and technology become available, they are always evaluated to see if further improvements can be made. “Minimum requirements are sent to suppliers to test their screens and buttons for aggressive use.  Force and speed of touches, number of uses before wearing out, etc. Protective films for screens are evaluated frequently as new technology develops.  As an example, the trade-off of glare and less clarity versus more durability are weighed before making a decision. In the end, an unwavering principle is to make sure the player is protected from anything that can injure them, even if it impacts some of the design and materials used.”

Hovey noted that one product in particular can provide a lot of insight as to whether a machine will hold up: the slot tournament. 

“We offer a Tournament product, and if a cabinet’s button can survive a slot tournament, then we have done our job correctly,” she said. 

Above and beyond the slaps and bangs, slot cabinets also go through a very thorough testing process. Stewart Thoeni, Senior Director of Mechanical Engineering, shared some of the aspects that must be verified before a cabinet is available to casinos for the public to play.

“Testing includes thermal, gaming regulations, ElectroMagnetic Conformance, FCC, Safety, Handling, Packaging, and Installation,” Baerlocher said. “Gaming Regulations require us to discharge 20,000 Volts with the machine having no effect and 27,000 Volts where the machine self recovers.  Machines are designed so that if they power down unexpectedly, they will completely recover to the exact state they were in prior to the power down.  This is pretty amazing.” 

If you ever wondered what happens to a slot that has a power surge, this is part of the process – it is designed to pick back up exactly where it left off. 

Baerlocher and Thoeni shared some of the elements the team has to think about when designing a new cabinet: 

  • What each jurisdiction requires a slot machine to incorporate 
  • Input and feedback from customers (like casinos), product and studio teams designing the games, and players 
  • Complexity of components and technology 
  • Sourcing the parts and looking into new technology options 
  • Considerations that make it easier to build and service cabinets 
  • Any other regulations that slot cabinets must follow 
  • Ensuring that all the lighting, graphics, sounds, progressives and player tracking all work smoothly together 

Plus, comfort factors like ergonomics are discussed throughout the design process! To us it may look seamless, but that’s thanks to the countless hours of work done by those designing the cabinets. 

And then there’s longevity – cabinets can last for many years, depending on whether players continue to enjoy the games that are placed on them, so maintenance considerations are an important part of the process too, including the long-term availability of spare parts. 

Where’s the Spin Button? 

Through player testing, the right side is generally preferred, and the specific location is optimized through ergonomic modeling and best practices.

Chris Carlisle, Product Manager, Hardware and Platform at IGT

Finally, we took advantage of our conversation to ask a question you’ve had for game makers since Flip The Switch launched – why do you sometimes only find a spin button on the right side of the machine? 

When designing a slot machine, considerations have to be made to ensure the limited available space is maximized to include everything players desire. As players look for more comforts like larger bet panels and phone chargers, manufacturers like IGT look for an optimal layout that can check all the boxes. 

“Through player testing, the right side is generally preferred, and the specific location is optimized through ergonomic modeling and best practices,” Carlisle said. “Oftentimes, there can also be some minor tradeoffs resulting in other features such as the device charger, screen size and shape, or aspect ratio of the Dynamic Player Panel.” 

Player feedback is also solicited, along with that from the casino, to find the right balance, Baerlocher added. “Typically, surveys and questions to casino executives and different markets give input into what is required in their market.  Everything is a trade off as for where they go and how many, based on need, cost, and available space.” 

Takeaway 

As you can see, a slot cabinet is a complex device with a lot of moving parts (and not just those shown on the screen or reels). But major effort goes into making a cabinet that can be fun and comfortable to interact with bringing your favorite and soon-to-be-favorite games to life! We thank IGT for giving us a look behind the scenes into how their hardware comes together. And if you have questions about slots you’d like answered, be sure to submit them for answering in the future! 


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4 Replies to “Slot Machine Cabinets: It’s More Than Just the Game”

  • Louise Handelsman says:

    Except when you are short..the constant looking up gives me a neck or head ache!. altho the cabinets may be pretty!

    • FlipTheSwitch.com says:

      Now see, we would have argued some of their choices work against taller people – it’s always a challenge to find a one-size-fits-all solution!

  • Cheryl Moore says:

    IGT needs to get away from a “right side spin button only” concept on their cabinets. There is room for design growth with this. It seems there are companies looking into this and installing spin buttons on not only the right side but the left and a spin bar below the bet areas for all customers to enjoy the games; right or left handed, those with only a left arm because of physical restrictions and wheel chair bound. I say, Pro-active instead of re-active.

    • FlipTheSwitch.com says:

      To be fair, Cheryl, some of IGT’s machines do indeed have buttons on both sides, like other manufacturers. But not all do, and it’s certainly an aspect of slot machine development that should continue to get consideration given the audience that is drawn to casinos.

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