The Horseshoe Casino Baltimore won't open until August, but the woman warrior's face on Sky Rider already glows alluringly on the second floor, offering the chance at "Silver Treasures."
The slot machine stands among a sea of recent arrivals at the Russell Street casino: Lucky Larry's Lobster Mania, A Win for All Seasons, Whales of Cash, Ultimate Sevens, Super Monopoly Money. Many remain wrapped in plastic. Hard-hatted technicians tend to the electronics of others. Some like Sky Rider are fully lit up, their wheels spinning for no one for now.
The 2,500 slot machines being installed at Horseshoe incorporate the latest technology and pop-culture themes, ranging from "The Walking Dead" to the retro 1960s-era "Batman" television show. Unlike yesterday's one-armed bandits, today's machines are more akin to video games and some even mimic arcade rides, rocking your chair like a mechanical bull.
Everything from the flashing lights and sound effects to the pace of payouts and the placement of machines on the floor are designed not only to maximize the profitability of the machines but the fun and excitement for gamblers.
Whatever the dazzling effects, the result for the casino is written into Maryland law: The house can keep up to 13 cents for every dollar bet on slots — a take it splits with the state. The rest must be paid out as winnings.
"We expect slots to be incredibly important for us," said Tom Yorke, marketing director for the Horseshoe, a $442 million project being developed by CBAC Gaming, a group led by Las Vegas-based Caesars Entertainment.
The machines started arriving at the Horseshoe Casino near M&T Bank Stadium last month. While Yorke declined to say how slots would compare as earners to about 100 table games such as roulette, blackjack and 25 tables in Caesar's trademark World Series of Poker room, the machines have been huge revenue drivers in Maryland's burgeoning casino industry.
In the past 11 months, slot machines have brought in 64 cents of every revenue dollar at the Maryland Live Casino in Anne Arundel County, where table games have been a bigger hit than some expected.
At Hollywood Casino in Perryville and Rocky Gap Casino Resort near Cumberland — the other Maryland casinos offering both slots and table games — the machines made about 85 cents of every dollar. The Casino at Ocean Downs on the Eastern Shore offers slots only.
Players buy "credits" on the machines, starting at a penny and going way up. On a penny machine, for instance, $5 buys 500 credits. On the low-priced machines, the minimum bet is rarely just one credit, and the more a player wagers, the larger the potential payout.
For the gambler, penny machines pay about 80 to 85 cents on the dollar, and dollar machines pay up to 95 cents, said Alan Woinski, president of Gaming USA, which publishes industry newsletters.
Yorke said the casino plans to install two machines that cost $500 per spin as the highest possible wager.
Asked how often he would expect such a machine to actually be played, Chad Barnhill, the Horseshoe's general manager, replied, "More than you might think."
But the Horseshoe Casino's mix of machines won't be tailored for high rollers. Barnhill said more than half of the machines would be 25 cents per credit or less, adding that the mix of values would be "very similar to what Maryland Live will have."
The two casinos — separated by about 13 miles along the Baltimore-Washington Parkway — will be Maryland's two largest for now and are expected to compete for customers.
Rob Norton, general manager of Maryland Live, which opened two years ago, said more than half of the 4,200 slot machines there play for a penny per credit.
Barnhill declined to go into detail about the arrangement of the machines on the Horseshoe Casino floor. Norton and Penny Parayo, Maryland Live's vice president of slot operations, made the analogy to the strategic merchandise placement one might see in a supermarket.
As staple items — bread, milk, eggs — are way in the back of a supermarket, meaning that customers have to walk through the store to reach them, so casinos place the most popular machines far from the entrance, Parayo said. That's where you'll find the Wheel of Fortune machine, for instance, a mainstay in casinos since 1996.
Up front in the casino you'll find the machines that pay out more frequently, with their various bells, music and visual effects, all in hopes of ginning up excitement, Parayo said.
"What you typically want as an operator is an energy, and to build that energy on a floor," Parayo said.