A Closer Look at Ergonomics

If you’ve ever worked in an office setting, you likely went through some form of ergonomic training where you were instructed to sit properly, adjust your seat and computer monitor and get up to stretch now and then. While this is important as an employee, it’s also just as important to another key set of people in the casino industry—the players.

In an industry where your bottom line can depend on your customer’s bottoms being comfortable, the last reason you want to lose revenue is because of a bad seat. Luckily, ergonomics has become quite a trend in the seating industry, and that’s no exception for casinos. Many of the top casino seating suppliers are offering ergonomically correct chairs, giving you that advantage for better time-on-device and ROI on your gaming floor.

OSHA, an entity any employer is likely very familiar with, describes ergonomics as the science of fitting workplace conditions and job demands to the capabilities of the working population. Its website states that, “Effective and successful ‘fits’ assure high productivity, avoidance of illness and injury risks, and increased satisfaction among the workforce.” These are all good things, making ergonomics a no-brainer.

To delve into this topic and little deeper, we visited with four of the major casino seating suppliers to get their take on ergonomics and see what they each have to offer.

Gary Platt Manufacturing
One company I’m sure you’ve heard of because of their large presence at trade shows is Gary Platt Manufacturing. While explaining the company history, current president Skip Davis, shared that the predecessor company, a full-line hospitality furniture manufacturer that the three founders worked for—including namesake Gary Platt—had chosen to close its West Coast operation. Those three gentlemen then started Gary Platt Manufacturing to concentrate on a part of the industry they enjoyed, thought they could grow and not compete with their old employer. From that day on, they’ve focused exclusively on casino furniture. “If there’s a game in the casino, we make a seat for it,” Davis says.

He is confident that what sets Gary Platt chairs apart is quality, durability and service. “We took the mold and threw it out 10 years ago, and started making a completely different style seat built totally on ergonomics,” he explains. “We did it by looking at the office furniture industry and seeing what they were doing, and how they were addressing the need for office ergonomics. We said, ‘we don’t need to reinvent the wheel here, we just need to get away from the old traditional casino seats and introduce components that give the player comfort and keep people at the machines longer.’”

The two things Davis says they’re trying to do is make the foam soft enough to feel comfortable yet firm enough to provide proper support for the player, making sure there are no pressure points. This includes making sure the front edge of the seat isn’t at a traditional 90-degree angle by incorporating what they call a waterfall front edge to relieve pressure on the back of the legs. In the seat back, they build in lumbar support, as Davis says the majority of Americans have bad backs. “If we get those two things in the chair and build it so it’s nice and broad and balanced, we think we can keep people in the chair longer to play more,” he says. “They may leave for a lot of reasons, but our goal is to make sure that one of the reasons is not because they’re uncomfortable or fatigued. We try to take that one variable away from why someone may walk away from the machine.”

One fairly unique thing Gary Platt Manufacturing does is not just supply its chairs to casinos, but also to slot and table game manufacturers for their leased games. “Virtually all of the major players use Gary Platt seats,” Davis shares. That includes IGT, Aristocrat, Bally Technologies, WMS, Konami, Shuffle Master and more. It is a testament to the total value and performance of their product that OEMs are using Gary Platt seats to maximize revenue share on these games.

The most interesting thing I learned in talking to Davis is how they test their products to make sure they’re the best. It’s simply a sit test! “We always sit in chairs before they ship,” Davis says. “Bob [Yabroff] sits in them, I sit in them, the engineering department is out there. The ergonomics are built in to the components, and our quality control department inspect the components to make sure they are the proper contours, densities, strengths, etc., but the true test is sitting in the chair once all of the components come together.”

The most important thing Davis wants operators to know when it comes to casino seating and ergonomics is that the chair is an income-producing asset and an integral part of the game where revenue is being generated. He cautions operators to not get too distracted by designers’ tendency to focus on looks over function. Game performance is the goal and “Gary Platt seats deliver on performance,” Davis says.

Looking into his crystal ball, Davis says he doesn’t see ergonomics ever going away. “It’s comfort that helps keep people in the seats; it’s important and it’s here to stay. Durability is especially important in today’s tough economic environment because the chair needs to perform over a long period of time. We’re seeing trends like the use of sound chairs by OEMs to create a greater game experience for their players. I think that will continue to grow, and chair features will take advantage of new technologies.”

Gasser Chair Co.
Gasser Chair’s Players Choice PC100-158-A with armrests
Gasser Chair’s Players Choice PC100-158-A with armrests
Mark Gasser, president of Gasser Chair Co., says that casino ergonomics is “the relationship of the human body to the task it’s going to perform, whether that’s playing a slot machine or sitting at a table.” “Giving the body the proper support is important,” he says. “In the early days of slot machines, there were no seats—everyone stood. Standing for a period of time is healthy, but eventually you have to sit and rest those muscles. Even a simple stool with no back has some ergonomic value, but today it’s progressed to try and support the legs, back and lower back to the best of our ability to be supportive and comfortable. The value of ergonomics to casinos is if a customer’s comfortable, they’re not likely to leave because of discomfort.”

One major value Gasser boasts is that its chairs are durable. In fact, they’re “Marine proof.” The oldest company we spoke with, established in the ‘40s after World War II in Ohio, began by fabricating aluminum into durable products, and in the post-war boom they realized the need for high-quality commercial seating. At the time, gambling wasn’t on their radar, but one of the industries they did serve was the military. A few decades later, when casinos became more popular, they shifted focus, and now serve the hospitality and casinos markets.

“The customer has a business to run, and he has customers he needs to satisfy,” Gasser says, demonstrating an understanding of the full business cycle. A high-quality product and good service is sure to lead to good business. Recently, Gasser Chair replaced most of Boyd Gaming’s slot stools, which previously were plain, barely padded seats with straight backs. When they upgraded their customers to four inches of luxurious, high-resilient foam and padded backs, the difference was like night and day. Other customers are turning to Gasser as well, such as a new Caesars property—Horseshoe Casino Cleveland—and the upcoming property in Cincinnati has also shown interest. Gasser is preparing a shipment to the new SKYCITY Casino in Auckland, New Zealand.

In fact, Gasser shared an interesting fact in relation to that order. “One of the things we’ve seen in not just the players’ comfort, but in the ease of casino employees’ moving the furniture, there’s more interest in making the stools easily movable,” he says. “Several of the orders we’re filling for Australia and New Zealand are because they had an excessive amount of employee injuries from moving stools that were not made with that in mind.”

Gasser says the first order of business in making the best seats is getting the dimensions correct. Seat height must be just right based on the height of the slot machine or table game, next is the angle of both the seat and back and then contouring those surfaces. Adjustable seat height, he says, has become a popular feature, though it does bring with it more maintenance as things that move need more care.

Getting one seat to perfectly fit each and every size of player is near impossible, but one way Gasser Chair works to ensure it’s close is by surveying 10 to 20 players of different statures. “Because we cater to every type of customer, we try to guide our customer after we learn what their customer base is, to get the most effective seating comfort,” Gasser says.

Gasser Chair offers a variety of ergonomic options in the chairs they sell, including the new “Coltrane” chair debuting at this year’s G2E. Gasser also hints at some “top secret” new things to see at their booth at the show.

Last, he shares an option for customers that is a good “green” practice—taking back old products to re-manufacture them and add the new ergonomic features, offering them at a significantly lower cost than a brand-new stool. “Instead of going to the landfill, they’re being renewed and finding a second life,” Gasser says.

KGM Gaming
KGM Gaming’s Comfort Series Elite Collection. Comfort-Technology-Ergonomics
KGM Gaming’s Comfort Series Elite Collection. Comfort-Technology-Ergonomics
KGM Gaming, whose motto is “We’re everything casino,” has their hand in seating and much more. Based in Philadelphia, they supply, distribute and repair gaming machines, manufacture casino chairs, slot bases, casino signage, bill validators and ticket printers. And, KGM is the exclusive distributor for Ainsworth Game Technology on the East Coast.

Chief Executive Officer of KGM Gaming Howard Weiss told us that KGM’s components are most all fabricated in-house, or for specialized components, they use local vendors to provide customization. “We utilize a three-pronged approach to the design of our chairs,” Weiss says. “We first must satisfy the casino’s decorative preferences and will customize a chair to meet the specifications of the operator’s needs. Once aesthetics are agreed upon, we focus on the ergonomic design of the chair. Third, we strive to maintain affordable pricing by achieving better proficiency in manufacturing and assembly of component parts.”

KGM produces its own seat cushions to provide their customers with different styles of chair back options to control the comfort and density. “By doing the majority of work in-house, we are able to streamline the manufacturing process, which removes the added costs associated with outsourcing,” Weiss explains.

“Our ongoing design development and education keeps us on the leading edge of the ever-changing field of ergonomics,” he continues. “We recognize the human body comes in many different sizes and shapes, and the contour of our spinal columns are as unique as our fingerprints. KGM excels in comfort design in the human-machine interface, which increases productivity and time-on-device.”

Weiss shares a recent study by the University of Texas Health Institute, which found that implementing simple ergonomic designs increased productivity by upward of 18 percent. What casino wouldn’t want that?! “Simply put, we believe if you want customers to enjoy the casino experience longer, we have to keep them comfortable, and the definition of comfort we live by is how pleasing and non-fatiguing an item feels to a player,” Weiss says. “In essence, the chair becomes as important a revenue generator as much as the game being played.”

How KGM’s chairs specifically work is by supporting the spine to reduce stress on the neck and shoulders and increase overall circulation. Generous molded foam seat cushions distribute weight over a larger area, reducing tension and flexion of the hip flexor muscles. The shape of the seat allows for better venous return in the players’ legs over a long period of time, reducing discomfort and decreasing postural hypotension. “This allows the player to enjoy the game over a longer duration than with conventional bar-style seating,” he says.

Weiss also shares that in the last three years, KGM has seen an insurgence of business. “The comfort, quality, and design of our chairs have led to the development of new customer accounts and have increased sales to our already established customers,” he says. “Customers find our Comfort series seating to be more comfortable and overall more supportive compared to traditional seating, not to mention more aesthetically pleasing. As a result, our customers feel the players are more relaxed, which translates to extended play at the machines.”

Some of KGM’s happy customers include the newly opened Valley Forge Casino, SugarHouse Casino, Fallsview Casino Resort, Dover Downs, Ocean Downs, Delaware Park, Presque Isle Downs, The Borgata, Rivers Casino, Tropicana, and various Ontario Lottery and Gaming sites.

KGM performs field trials with sample chairs to obtain the most important feedback—that of the player—in its testing. “Often, ergonomics and comfort are decided in an office off the gaming floor,” Weiss states. “We believe that the players who spend eight to 10 hours a day or more at their favorite machines can provide some of the most instrumental feedback. We work with player development to qualify this information and fine tune the chair so the ultimate result exceeds all expectations.”

Moving forward, Weiss says he sees the future of ergonomics considering the relationship between the player’s posture, reach requirements and focal requirements. “All must be considered to achieve the maximum in comfort and duration of the playing experience,” he says. “Casino chairs of the future will incorporate asymmetric adjustable lumbar support. This allows for a 4-inch height adjustment and the ability to independently adjust support on either side. Arm rests to reduce static exertions on the muscles of the upper back, shoulders and neck may also become future fixtures.”

StylGame USA
One of StylGame USA’s chairs
One of StylGame USA’s chairs
The one company we spoke with that has foreign-based headquarters was StylGame, who is based in Italy and was founded in 2001. StylGame produces the Royal Stool line of products and the Play in Comfort™ system, which is ergonomic and specific to casino gaming.

What’s most notable about this company is how far they went to explore ergonomics. DeAnna Franklin, managing director of sales and development, explains that StylGame conducted the first ergonomic study and research to specifically study, define and solve the postural issues linked with gaming chairs and machines. “They wanted to be able to prove that they can increase revenue if a person was sitting at the correct position without additional pain to the neck and lumbar region,” she explains.

How they did it was by bringing in four experts in specific areas in the field of ergonomics to study actual gamblers in Venice and in labs for 6,600 hours. “The casino in Venice actually asked these players to become involved with the study,” Franklin says. These experts studied the players and took more than 3,000 photographs and 500 videos as well as medical testing, having the players sit for an extended period of time and take X-rays. They’d then study the film to see at what point the players started getting uncomfortable. “Usually after being placed in one position for over 20-30 minutes, they player would start to experience discomfort, whether in the neck, back or lumbar region,” Franklin explains. They then tried to make the person more comfortable, leading StylGame to come up with a certain type of chair that would place that player in a certain ergonomically correct position to make them more comfortable. The local university took the study to review to validate that every test was conducted in a scientific manner and the outcome was declared scientifically correct.

Play in Comfort’s ergonomic configuration.
Play in Comfort’s ergonomic configuration.
This study obviously gave StylGame a firsthand insight into player comfort and, because of it, they believe their chairs are the most ergonomically correct. Franklin also shares that some casinos have done their own testing of StylGame’s chairs by setting them up at a bank of machines to test the results of those machines against the same set there prior, and they see positive results of coin-in when comparing the outcome. “Once they see that, they change out their chairs and slot bases to ours,” Franklin says. The most recent casino to do this is the SBM Group for their four properties in Monte-Carlo.

Having leaders with the right mindset helps any company, and at StylGame, the founder—who has an engineering background—wanted to design a chair that had something behind it scientifically, not just a standard chair. “He wanted to believe in the product he believed would help casinos make more money,” Franklin shares. “That hardest thing we have to overcome is that a lot of casinos think it’s just a piece of furniture, but it can actually enhance the player and their coin-in.”

StylGame has recently teamed up with Konami Gaming Inc. to provide chairs for their trade shows, which you can see at their booth at G2E. They are also supplying the slot bases and chairs for the Slot Summit in Paris, and are participating in classroom lectures at UNLV to speak about their ergonomic study.

As to why it all matters, Franklin says: “Numbers are showing that people who come to Vegas are spending less money, so we need to find a way to comfortably keep a player at the machines longer. The importance of ergonomics is definitely going to show itself as casinos and gaming rooms are paying much more attention to the people who are coming to the casinos. As far as ergonomics, we do know that it’s very important to comfortably keep people in the seat longer to increase revenue.”

Her final thought? An excitement that casinos, manufacturers and customers in general are starting to pay closer attention to ergonomics. Definitely a good thing for all!

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