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Seneca casino bets big on technology Payoffs can be huge from video slots

The Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel is on a high. High stakes and high rollers grease the wheels of the casino. High times rock the hotel, restaurants and bars. And everywhere throughout the multimilliondollar facility, there's high technology.

One of the most popular games among the 4,289 slot machines and 99 table games is a computerized Wheel of Fortune video slot machine.

Standing 12 feet high and 15 feet around, it commands the casino entrance from the hotel lobby.

"That machine is particularly popular," said Philip J. Pantano, the public relations manager. "It involves group activity gaming, which is a growing trend in casinos."

For the dozen players huddled around its girth, the payoffs can be huge. There are four denominations for coins, ranging from nickels at the lower end to $5 for higher rollers. Depending on which coin size a patron chooses, jackpots range from $200,000 to $1 million.

International Game Technology, the nation's largest slot machine manufacturer, was the first company to introduce video screens to casino games with its video poker machines in the early 1980s.

The company's Wheel of Fortune machine is a relative newcomer, with only 100 units nationwide so far and back orders for more than 100, said Ed Rogich, vice president of marketing for IGT in Las Vegas.

"It's a unique, hand-assembled unit," Rogich said, and is manufactured by IGT in its facility in Reno, Nev. It is a "not-for-sale item that we provide to casinos on a revenue-sharing basis."

The Wheel of Fortune is part of IGT's mega-jackpot production line, where multiple bettors play in unison with other players and also between other casinos for the big jackpot. For a shot at a bonus prize, the bettor must hit three or more spin symbols, aligned left to right. The player then looks up at the Wheel of Fortune as it begins to spin. Where it stops indicates the bonus prize.

The multitude of video slot machines that are springing up in casinos nationwide and around the world don't receive the same hands-on manufacturing attention as the Wheel of Fortune.

"We build video slot machines on an assembly line," said George Stamos, marketing manager for Bally Technologies, the nation's oldest slot machine maker.

Stamos said it's impossible to preset a machine in favour of the house or a player.

"When a customer hits the button, at that instant in time the machine spits out a series of random numbers, which is converted into a mathematical formula," he said. "There's no way they can be rigged."

Additionally, the Seneca Niagara Casino has 515 video poker machines, which account for 12 percent of the total number of slot machines.

High tech is also found in the resort's 8,000-square-foot spa and fitness center that takes up the third floor of the hotel. Computerized treadmills and weight machines are lined up from mirrored wall to mirrored wall.

Flashing panels on the treadmills show the person's heart rate, the number of calories being burned off and other health-related data. A press of a button can change the pace of the treadmill. Each treadmill has a small television mounted at eye level, the channels operated by a control panel on the right armrest.

The water in the swimming pool and the two whirlpools is kept at a cozy 84 and 82 degrees, respectively, said James Hademan, a lifeguard.

"Everything we do, from investing in new gaming technology to outfitting the hotel and spa, is geared to providing our patrons the full resort treatment," Pantano said.

And there's more to come, he hinted. "We're currently putting together a master plan of what's next."

Pantano wasn't about to reveal any secrets, but what they have so far is paying off big time.

The 6 million patrons who visited the Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel made 2006 was a very good year.

The complex raked in $105.7 million, up 35 percent from the previous year. The increase was largely due to revenue from the 604-room hotel, which opened a year ago.

The Seneca Players Club - where every point equals $1 towards a variety of products and services - welcomed 21,000 new members a month for the year, bringing the total to 1.2 million members.

The majority of contributors to the Seneca coffers were patrons from the Buffalo Niagara region, which accounted for 26 percent of the patronage, with 19 percent each from Pennsylvania and Ohio and 21 percent from other areas of the state. The remaining 15 percent of patrons listed as coming from elsewhere were mainly from southern Ontario.

What's good for the casino also benefits the Buffalo Niagara region. About 90 percent of the 3,000 employees come from Western New York and more than 60 percent live in Niagara County, Pantano noted. The economic spinoff to the region is in the multimillions of dollars.

The casino is constantly hiring people for jobs that run the gamut of employment listings, including management positions, dealers, security guards, chefs, restaurant and hotel staff.

"People are excited to work for a growing company," Pantano said. "We're a 2 4/7 operation and we need people."


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