The Rise of Penny Slot Machines (Cont.)

More Paylines

When nickel video slot games started to creep into casinos in the 1990s, operators feared that even though they had 25-coin or 45-coin maximum bets, players would make them unprofitable by playing a single payline, a nickel at a time. That didn’t happen --- while there are players who will sometimes make single-coin bets, the vast majority at least cover all the paylines. Even at one-coin per line, on a nine-line nickel machine, that’s a 45-cent wager.

With penny games, the line has gone up steeply. Look for the one-centers to have 15, 20, even 25 paylines, with maximum bets of 20 coins per line.

 "To get the win volume (the casinos) need off the game, a 45-coin game does not  work for us," Majestic Star’s Clausen says. "To get the return we need, we can't look under 90 coins, or a 15-line game."

At Par-A-Dice, Couchman uses high line counts in Penny Lane.

"They have 15, 20 lines," she says. "We have a penny progressive, and a progressive with a 45- or 90-coin maximum bet just isn't going to work. We had a lady win a $2,500 jackpot on a penny game."

The high line count makes it easy for game designers to offer a high hit frequency --- players will get some return on a high percentage of spins, even if that return is often for less money than is wagered. The challenge for designers is to come up with games that in addition to that high hit frequency, can offer big enough wins to interest a penny player. A penny isn’t much money. Neither is a win of 5 pennies, or 20 pennies, or even 50 pennies. To make the game interesting, wins of the high hundreds, or even thousands, of pennies have to be realistic.

That’s why penny players see more games with free spins and free-spin multipliers than do nickel players, who more often see playing time extended with second-screen bonuses and guessing games.

“With 20 lines, the math perspective allows designer to come up with a lot  more volatility,” says Aristocrat’s Young. "Pennies give (players) more of a run for their money. Most stay on the machine longer than on a higher denomination machine.  They're seeking more  entertainment, more excitement, more value for their money. Second-screen games are less volatile. A higher percentage  of penny slots use free spins. Penny  players want to have a good win, not spend time on the second screen."

At WMS, a front-runner in designing fun, entertaining second-screen bonuses ever since video slots made their big U.S. breakthrough in the late 1990s, the challenge to meet the penny volatility of Australian penny games has led to a melding of second-screen and free spin bonuses. WMS maintains an Australian staff in addition to its American employees in the Chicago area, and has a staff in Australia, developing games for that market. Some of its Australian product has made it back to the U.S. for low-denomination machines here.

"The Aristocrat model, free spin plus multiplier, drives the Australian market, says Larry Pacey, vice president of game development at WMS. “Players are motivated by how often they win free spins, and what the multiplier is.  It's not even how much they win. One game that has come back to us in the U.S. from our experience there is Jade Monkey. It's a great marriage, with  free spins and a classic WMS pick-'em screen, where you can win five more free spins, or two more free spins. Every time you play the experience is  different with a different number of free spins. Australians like that  volatility."

Some of Atronic’s most successful games at low denominations have been able to take advantage of its two-way wagering --- players can bet one way, and win on reel combinations reading from left to right, or bet two ways and win left to right or right-to-left. That effectively doubles the line count --- a 21-line games becomes a 42-line game at one fell sweep;

 “ ‘Win one/two ways’ allows players to choose the way they play and pay --- it gives them more control over their betting strategy, says Atronic’s Stage.  “It also allows us to offer games with a high max bet --- up to 420 credits (21 lines, 10 coins per line, and “win two ways”), which has proven popular in the penny denominations. E-motion games Sphinx II and Xanadu and all of our Towerline games utilize “win one/two ways” payloading.”

Multiple Denominations

The last few years have seen the rise of multiple-denomination games, in which players can touch the screen to choose their betting units.

“Obviously, we’ve never been able to offer two-cent games before,” says IGT’s Rogich, “because there is no two-cent coins. Now we can offer odd denominations like three cents. Our screen  can be set up to select one cent, two cent, three cent, five cent, 10 cent  denominations. An operator might choose to have a 1-2-3-5-cent group, then  a 25-cent, 50-cent, $1 area. They can be configured for one cent to $100 wagers. Of course, not all games work on all denominations.”

Multidenomination games are especially useful and popular at riverboat casinos, where the size of boats and barges limits the number of machines.

“We put our pennies on multidenoms,” says Couchman. “Penny, two-cent, nickel, 10-cent on the same machine. Of course, the guests can play one penny at a time, but most don’t. Most at least play all the lines.”

Not all operators are using multiple-denomination units just yet. At Treasure Island, LaVenture says, “Right now, we’re using single denomination. Multiple denominations could be confusing to some players. I’m sure as they get used to more paylines and ticket printers, we’ll start adding multidenominations, too.”

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Copyright 2006 John Grochowski's material. It may not be published, broadcasted, rewritten, or redistributed.