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Beat it -- or not -- Vegas to unveil Michael Jackson slot machine

By Michael Martinez, CNN
updated 10:17 PM EDT, Sat October 1, 2011
A Michael Jackson slot machine will be released in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Tuesday.
A Michael Jackson slot machine will be released in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Tuesday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bally Technologies Inc. will unveil next week Michael Jackson King of Pop game
  • The release occurs as Jackson's physician is on trial for manslaughter
  • The timing is coincidental, Bally executives say
  • The slot machine features Jackson's videos and music

Los Angeles (CNN) -- As the trial surrounding Michael Jackson's death gets underway, Las Vegas is about to make a revelation of its own: A Michael Jackson slot machine, to be unveiled next week.

It's just a coincidence that the release of the Michael Jackson King of Pop slot game on Tuesday is occurring along with the trial of the performer's physician, Conrad Murray, who's charged with involuntary manslaughter in Jackson's death, said a spokesman for Bally Technologies.

The Los Angeles trial, exposing stark details of Jackson's last moments, began this past week.

With iconic images of his sequined glove and dancing shoes, the Jackson slot machine exemplifies state-of-the-art gaming, with a surround-sound chair that even vibrates to the pop legend's music, the manufacturer said. The machine also has four high-definition screens for wagering and displaying his videos such as "Beat It."

A University of Nevada Las Vegas gaming analyst who reviewed the machine Friday predicted it is "going to be a popular game for a lot of people" -- though it is "unfortunate" that the game is being unveiled during the manslaughter trial, the analyst said.

Another expert on Vegas gaming noted how slot machines are programmed to guarantee a return for casinos. "Slot machines generally speaking are the most profitable for the casino, and they are the most cynical in their design," said Marc Cooper, an associate journalism professor at the University of Southern California and author of "The Last Honest Place in America: Paradise and Perdition in the New Las Vegas."

"That the manufacturers of these machines would extend the cynicism from math to popular icons should not be surprising to anybody," Cooper said.

The Jackson game is being introduced Tuesday at the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas. Bally plans to show 150 games in total, with the Jackson slot machine among its top features, the firm said.

Bally executives said Saturday that the timing was accidental.

"We started the process about a year ago," said Mike Mitchell, vice president of game design at Bally, adding that's when the firm negotiated the licensing of Jackson's music and videos with several parties, including Jackson's family and estate.

The game will be in casinos by early 2012, he said.

Added Bally spokesman Mike Trask, referring to the manslaughter trial: "It's a sad story for everybody. No matter what you think of Michael Jackson and what you think of everything going on, there's no question that he was an amazing entertainer and he was an icon of American pop culture. It's going to be a fun and thrilling game that millions of players are going to enjoy playing all over the world."

The game emphasizes an immersion experience in which players sit in a chair with Jackson's music piped into speakers behind the headrest, and the tunes are intensified with subwoofers and thumpers, said Bally video game designer David Schultz.

The music list is composed of six songs: "Billie Jean," "Beat It," "Smooth Criminal," "Bad," "Dirty Diana" and "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough," according to Bally.

The game is designed so that during bonus rounds, Jackson's sequin glove shows the player where to touch the screen to spin a gaming wheel, designed like an album, to try to win a credit, Bally spokesmen said.

A celebrating Jackson also moonwalks across the screen and gives the player wild symbols, spokesmen said.

The game targets people who grew up to MTV and recall Jackson's original videos, Bally executives said.

"These were groundbreakers, and they still hold up," said Bally game producer Chris Guerrero about the Jackson videos. "It's amazing to watch them each and every time."

Said Trask: "The person who was 18 when 'Beat It' came out is now 40 and now has more discretionary income and is excited about this game."

The minimum bet is 40 cents, with a maximum of $4, Bally officials said. Because the game will be networked with other Jackson machines across Nevada -- a so-called wide-area progressive game -- the jackpots will start at $750,000 and extend into the millions, Bally officials said.

Mitchell deemed the game a "blockbuster."

"We think the Michael Jackson brand, along with the energy and entertainment value, combined with the jackpot, will give us a huge hit," Mitchell said.

David G. Schwartz, director of the center for gaming research at University of Nevada at Las Vegas, said the game is being rolled out just as the global audiences are watching the televised manslaughter trial and learning the stark circumstances of Jackson's death. Jackson died at age 50 in 2009 of an overdose of the surgical anesthetic propofol, in combination with sedatives.

"It's kind of unfortunate because there's people talking about the last hours of Jackson's life," said Schwartz, "but I don't think there's too much they can do about the timing of it because of the expo next week."

Schwartz tested the game Friday at Bally's invitation, he said.

"I've never seen anything that integrates that kind of video content right into the game," Schwartz said. "It's just a fun game because you basically got Michael Jackson, the music and the dancing that is part of the game. That's why I think it's going to be a popular game for a lot of people.

"It has an 'immersive' aspect that is coming out in a lot of games now," said Schwartz, who reviews gambling trends for Las Vegas publications and on his blog and dgschwartz.com website.

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