BY RACHEL KONRAD
The Associated Press
REDWOOD SHORES, Calif. - Engineers at PureDepth Inc. spent years developing tools for helping the military plot 3-D maps of war zones, eventually licensing top-secret technology to the U.S. Air Force and Navy.
But the Silicon Valley startup hit the jackpot in October when it inked a deal with International Game Technology Inc., the world's largest maker of slot machines.
Industry experts say a realistic digital video display is the final hurdle that will completely digitize one-armed bandits. The new displays by PureDepth and others - set to debut later this year - could profoundly change the $85 billion U.S. gambling industry and how it's regulated.
When high-tech slots are in place, programmers will be able to control nearly every aspect of the game - cost, payout, even the images that line up on the payline. Casino operators will be able to make changes in real time through back-end servers that talk to computer chips inside the slot machines.
"This is the last piece of the puzzle," financial analyst Aimee Marcel Remey, who follows the gaming industry for Jefferies & Co. "These new systems are so different from the slots out there now. You feel like it's an exact science, every time you pull."
If the Beach Boys are playing the Luxor in Las Vegas, next-generation slots could display images of band members instead of cherries, numbers or other symbols. If band members' faces line up, an embedded printer could spit out front-row tickets.
Digital slots, however, are vulnerable to the same bugs and malfunctions that plague personal computers. Regulators say they'll be seductive targets for hackers, who have been trying to rig games for decades.
Video slots with an authentic feel are the holy grail for manufacturers.