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Youngstown's 'best kept secret' seats gamblers around world

| Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016, 9:00 p.m.
Gasser Chair Co.
Gasser Chair Co. is one of the world’s top suppliers of seating for casino table games and slot machines.

Gamblers at the Monte Carlo in Monaco, the Aria in Las Vegas and Caesar's properties around the world hope for a big win while settled in chairs designed and made in Youngstown, Ohio.

Gasser Chair Co., a family-owned business marking its 7 0th anniversary in February, is one of the world's top suppliers of seating for casino table games and slot machines.

The low-key company's first products were aluminum dinette tables and chairs. It branched into casino seating after company co-founder George Gasser, on a business trip to Lake Tahoe, Nev., noticed that slot players had no place to sit. According to company lore, Gasser convinced casino boss Bill Harrah that players who borrowed stools from a nearby bar stayed at the machines longer than those forced to stand.

The company's first casino product was a basic stool with a flat cushion that was 15 12 inches square. Much has changed in the 30 years since.

“Our standard slot stool has evolved into an ergonomic seat where it's tapered so it comes out at the front at almost 19 12 inches,” says Christine M. Dravis, Gasser account manager. The increased size is mainly for comfort, but a contributing factor is that today's players have more to put on each chair.

The attention to detail and emphasis on comfort illustrate yet another way that casinos entice players to stay as long as possible.

“Way back in the gaming market, the majority of people would stand in front of a slot machine,” Dravis says. “When seating came on the scene, it was very basic. It was just to put something in front of that machine.

“It's become much more for the comfort level, the ergonomics. It's all what's going to make that player feel really good sitting in that chair and continue to put their money in that machine.”

Chair height varies with the game. Blackjack seats are 27 inches from butt to floor, while roulette seats are 24 inches; seats for slant-top slots are 22 inches, and for upright machines, 24 inches. As slot-machine designs change, the seats do, too. Many now have lifters that give a 4 12-inch range in height.

Slot stools typically cost $300 to $400 each, Dravis says. For a casino with 3,000 slots, the cost can easily top $1 million. �

Advertising director Kevin Smith notes that chairs must withstand 24/7 use from “various sizes of people and various roughness.” Gasser employs about 160 people at its corporate headquarters and manufacturing plant in Youngstown, plus about 30 at Mastercraft Industries in Berlin, Ohio. About half of the company's revenue comes from its casino lines, Smith says. Gasser also makes chairs for restaurants, banquet halls and offices. The company is an example of the wide-ranging financial impact of the casino industry. The American Gaming Association says that in addition to directly employing 734,000 workers in the United States, purchases from casino suppliers such as Gasser support another 383,000 jobs.

Gasser chairs are found at commercial and Native American casinos throughout the country, as well as on cruise ships, in casinos in Macau and at sporting clubs in Australia.

Smith touts Gasser's ability to cover every stage of development, from individual design to manufacturing in a 100,000-square-foot plant. The company makes its own foam and can adjust the firmness. In the research and development room, machines test new chair glides, a swivel mechanism and how many times a seat can survive being plopped on.

Casinos often want unique touches for their chairs. Gasser supplied the Bellagio in Las Vegas with “corset” chairs, which had laces crisscrossing the back. For its 1997 grand opening, New York New York casino in Las Vegas ordered chairs with hand-upholstered backs featuring a three-dimensional tuxedo sporting black-velvet lapels and a red tie. Dravis says the company does custom embroidery, as well.

“Everywhere you go … there's furniture, there's chairs,” Dravis says, and in casinos many of them originate in Youngstown. “Gasser's one of the best-kept secrets” in the industry.

Mark Gruetze is the Tribune-Review gambling columnist. Reach him at players@tribweb.com.

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