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Not Just Gambling: Las Vegas Is Becoming a Virtual Reality Hub

Walk into the Linq on the Las Vegas strip these days, and you might not immediately realize you just stepped into a casino. Instead, you’ll stumble across a series of living-room-like lounge setups, complete with leather couches, big-screen TVs, Xbox Ones and Oculus Go VR headsets. There’s also a bar with a massive wrap-around touch screen for casual social games, an augmented reality game of Rock Paper Scissors, and an esports lounge.

In the middle of it all are six virtual reality (VR) bays, operated by Los Angeles-based VR startup Survios, that offer access to VR games like “Creed,” “Raw Data,” and, coming soon, “The Walking Dead: Onslaught.” Equipped with high-end VR headsets, projectors and clear glass walls, these VR stations are designed to draw a crowd, much in the same way a craps table does on your typical casino floor.

The Linq officially unveiled the VR rig this month, but had been working on integrating new technologies into its space for some time, explained Caesars Entertainment executive VP Christian Stuart. “We started about 18 months ago, determined that we really needed to innovate the casino environment, and go after people that are digital in nature.”

The Linq isn’t alone in betting big on VR to keep Las Vegas interesting to the 42 million visitors flocking to the city every year. In recent months, Vegas has become a kind of virtual reality hub, with VR arcades and location-based VR entertainment centers opening up in casinos, shopping centers and new entertainment destinations.

One of the first casinos to embrace VR was the MGM Grand, which opened a free-roam VR arena in cooperation with VR startup Zero Latency in September of 2017. “Virtual Reality Powered by Zero Latency has been outperforming our initial expectations,” said MGM Grand VP of retail operations Matt Pina.

Key to the success has been to frequently update the games offered in the space, Pina explained. In June, the MGM Grand location offered guests tickets for four different free-roam games, each playable by up to 8 players at a time.

the void las vegas
CREDIT: Janko Roettgers / Variety

While Zero Latency’s titles are more geared towards traditional gamers, The Void is known to embrace story-driven experiences. The Disney-backed startup opened its Las Vegas outpost in the prestigious Venetian Grand Canal Shoppes in April of 2018, with attractions including “Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire,” Ralph Breaks VR” and “Ghostbusters: Dimension.”

Russia-based VR startup PlatformaVR opened a Las Vegas-based free-roam VR attraction at the Bally’s casino in January. And later this year, Vegas will get another VR center, with Bay Area-based Nomadic opening its doors in the new Area15 entertainment complex.

On the one hand, Las Vegas seems to be an obvious match for VR attractions. Tourists go there to have fun, and spend freely. “People do have some more time on their hands,” said Stuart. “They’re typically here for vacation, over a multiple day period and so they’re definitely using this as a time to visit attractions.”

On the other hand, there is a lot of competition, including gambling, shows, and a wide variety of themed attractions including shooting ranges, car racing and skydiving. And do you really need VR when the reality around you is already as over-the-top as Vegas?

Even with all the competition, Nomadic CEO Doug Griffin argued that there is still room for VR — especially if you cater to diverse age groups. “There’s a lot of opportunity for fun in Vegas, but much of it is aimed at adults,” he said. “By combining adult and kid-friendly content in our multiple play spaces, we’ll provide a better balance for families.”

Another challenge: While VR centers in other locations may attract gamers and others specifically seeking out these kinds of attractions, Vegas has a much more diverse audience. This means there may be more of a need to explain things. “People still aren’t very familiar with VR,” said PlatformaVR CEO Ilya Kuzyuk. “One needs to position VR attraction as experience, promote games itself rather than VR technology.”

However, Nomadic’s Griffin argued that this also could be a blessing in disguise. “I highly recommend operators in venues with lots of international tourists to consider the cultural nuances and translate the content to popular languages,” he said.

In other words: Vegas could be a good launchpad to get location-based VR ready for the rest of the country, or even the world. Coincidentally, that’s exactly how Caesar’s Entertainment plans to use the Linq. “This is, for us, an innovation center, it’s a lab if you will,” said Stuart. “We’re trialling things here. And as we see success, we’ll take that technology to the rest of our facilities.”

At the same time, casinos like the Linq also see VR as just one piece of the puzzle. As a way to appeal to a new generation of tech-savvy consumers, who may ultimately spend their money on other things as well — including good old slot machine games. “We think it’s going to retain people longer,” said Stuart. “We do plan to make income off of VR. But it doesn’t need to be the only thing that we’re capture dollars off.”

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