Invent a better glove for slot machine players and the world may beat a path to your door.
The U.S. Patent Office has issued at least two patents for gloves designed to improve slot hygiene. The explanation for one of them sounds like it might have been written by that fastidious Las Vegas icon, Howard Hughes.
“Because the coins contact numerous other individuals and because the coins can transmit dirt and contaminants between players, it would be a benefit to such players to have a glove that could be worn while playing to protect the hands and fingers from contamination,” wrote the U.S. Patent office upon issuing Patent 5,881,388 on March 16, 1999.
The patent was issued to Henderson resident Kevin Pratt, and his invention, with its finger-grip inserts, apparently is more sophisticated than a glove patented two years earlier by Thomas and Patricia Soter of Oxford, Mass. But the motivation for both inventions seems the same.
“Taking the time to frequently wash costs recreational time from the floor of the casino, and costs the casino money for extra cleaning supplies in the lavatories,” the patent office said about Soter’s invention. Learn more about Sg Online Casino
It’s not just individual inventors contributing to a surge of patents in the gambling industry. Competitive pressure is forcing casinos to innovate more than ever, and they see patents as the tool to protect their new ideas or intellectual property. Patents, after all, are a form of legalized monopoly.
With a patent, a casino can maintain exclusive use of a product for 20 years. If a competitor seeks a license to use the product, the company with the patent can name its price or simply refuse.
Perhaps no other gambling product symbolizes the push toward patents as much as the slot machine. The average tenure of a slot machine on a casino floor is 18 months and sinking, according to Brooke Dunn, senior vice president of Shuffle Master, a Las Vegas company that provides gambling equipment.
As the attention span of slot customers goes down, the demand for flashy new games goes up.
“We absolutely have to protect our intellectual property, and a patent is one of the strongest ways to do that,” Dunn said.
Founded in 1991, Shuffle Master already has applied for about 40 patents, Dunn said.
Providers of casino products and services like Shuffle Master have established departments to create new concepts for slot machines and casino games. Many of these companies have in-house patent attorneys.
Besides the competitive pressure, the rise in gambling patents can be traced to the growing acceptance of casinos as a legitimate industry.
In 1976, slightly more than 20 gambling patents were issued. By 1998, there were more than 250. Estimates on the total number of gambling patents range as high as 25,000. The average wait from application to issuance of a patent is two to three years.
Casinos, with their growing reliance on computer software for everything ranging from video gambling to hotel security, also are becoming more aggressive in protecting their technology.
A transaction last December illustrates how large the stakes can be. MGM Mirage patented a coinless slot machine system, which International Game Technology wanted. IGT obtained a license from MGM Mirage, and although terms were not disclosed, the price was reportedly $30 million.
“These activities portend the start of a long and sustained patent licensing and litigation effort by casino operators,” said Alan Fisch, a Washington, D.C., attorney who worked as a U.S. Patent Office examiner before becoming a patent litigator.
So far, most of the courtroom action has involved providers of gambling equipment. On March 28, Acres Gaming won $1.5 million from Mikohn Gaming Corp. for violating two of Acres’ software patents used to determine bonuses in games. Technology was the issue again June 1 when IGT settled a lawsuit against Shuffle Master, which was accused of improperly using IGT’s system for calculating odds on slots.
Among casino companies, Harrah’s Entertainment is considered an industry leader in patents. Harrah’s obtained four patents just to protect its Total Rewards program for loyal customers.
Last month, Harrah’s sought an injunction against Station Casinos in U.S. District Court, arguing that the locals gaming giant has violated the Total Rewards patents.
On the other hand, Mandalay Resort Group has few, if any patents. Yvette Landau, Mandalay’s general counsel, declined to be interviewed for this story.
“It is still too early to name winners and losers (among casino and manufacturing companies with gambling patents),” Fisch said. “But time is fleeting for operators not yet focused on this issue.”