Joystick nostalgia: Pac-Man Battle Casino joins fight for younger slot playersBy John L. Smith, CDC Gaming ReportsOctober 15, 2018 at 8:00 pmNot every column includes a confession. This one has two. First, my own.There was a time I was addicted.Not to booze or barbiturates. To Pac-Man.And Missile Command. And Centipede. And Asteroids a little bit. I didn’t need a 12-step program to break the habit, but I fell head over heels for those quarter-a-play video games back when you could find parlors devoted to such things. Looking back at it, they were sort of like slot bars for geeks.This was, of course, a time before the Internet and the explosion of digital gaming. This was back when Atari was a God-like force that absolutely everyone knew would always be around forever. Missile Command, Centipede, Asteroids, and Pac-Man (a Namco product) were all dreamed up in what must have seemed like a magical window of creativity from 1979 to 1981. Their images are burned into the psyches of a generation of people who grew up in that era.Eventually, I managed to tear myself away from the video games long enough to earn a living as a journalist. But I’ll never forget those video days.Fast forward to last week when I braved the synapse-sizzling sensory overload of the exhibit floor at the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas at the Sands Expo and Convention Center.Amid the endless gadgets and slot products, player and casino technology and marketing theatrics, I chanced by the Los Angeles-based Gamblit Gaming booth and came face to face with a double shot of nostalgia in the form of an interactive game called Pac-Man Battle Casino. The company’s clever casino games were featured earlier this year on the CNBC/PBS Nightly Business Report.Memories came rushing back as I watched a group of presumably sophisticated convention-goers lose their inhibitions. They worked the joysticks with enthusiasm and rolled up scores in a head-to-head competition at the four-person kiosk. They interacted with the game and with each other. And they laughed — a lot.The company also offers its interactive version of “Deal or No Deal” and a Zombie smashing game called “Into the Dead.” Although I don’t doubt the potential of such games, I still wonder whether all top casino industry executives share a keen understanding of their possibilities. Although I’m no video gambler, I immediately wondered if Pac-Man Battle Casino can attract new customers to the same old casino floor.Turns out I was right.Which brings me to the column’s second confession. This one is from Taylor Kenney, whom I met at the Gamblit booth. She’s the company’s events and social media coordinator.“I can speak from personal experience, that prior to working for Gamblit, I would come to Las Vegas all the time with my friends,” she said. They’d party, eat, go to clubs, shows, concerts and the like.But she didn’t gamble.“It didn’t feel social,” Kenney said. “It didn’t feel fun. I personally grew up on video games, mobile games. … I didn’t find that experience on the casino floor.”Pac-Man Battle Casino and several of the company’s other offerings are aimed precisely at a younger demographic that visits casinos but doesn’t gamble there. Gamblit, Kenney said, conducted some 6,000 interviews with customers who played their machine. By its count, the customers averaged 23 years younger than the age of the typical slot player, which is 58.More importantly from a business and marketing standpoint, a large percentage of those younger customers weren’t in the casinos’ player system. They weren’t carded or members of slot clubs.“These are games that I would actually sit down and play,” the company spokesperson said. “I’m very competitive, and this looks fun to me. It reminds me of the games I grew up playing.”I suspect there’s a lot of that going around.Contact John L. Smith at email@example.com. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.