The Rise of Penny Slot Machines ONE-CENT FUN

When the ingredients are all stirred together --- ticket printers or tokenization; video slot games with 15 or more lines; volatile payouts driven by bonus rounds featuring free spns and multipliers; and, at some casinos, multiple-denomination wagering; what games have the players in a copper rush frenzy?

Games from Aristocrat, such as the Reel Power series and Cash Express.

Games from Atronic, in both the e-Motion and Towerline series, such as Atlantica, Xanadu and Sphinx Gold.

Games from IGT --- “The new programs just keep coming from IGT,” says Couchman --- such as Kenny Rogers: The Gambler, Money Storm and Phone Tag.

Games from Konami --- Carlson at Chip-In mentioned Rocky as doing well.

Games from WMS in the comfortable new Bluebird slot cabinet, such as Milk Money, Rich Little Piggies and Jackpot Party Classic.

Interestingly, although WMS had the breakthrough game in Reel ‘Em In that spurred the nickel video revolution in the late 1990s, several slot managers say they’re not using WMS game on their penny or two-cent machines.

“WMS games, we’re not putting in the lower denominations, because they’re doing really well on nickels,” says Majestic Star’s Clausen.

WMS’ Pacey says all its games on the CPU-NXT platform used in the Bluebird cabinet are available with enough paylines to satisfy the penny market, but that operators were choosing to use them in nickel play instead.

Still, WMS had the penny market in mind when it designed its latest Hollywood Squares game, Prize Spin. Prize spin is available in 15- or 20-line versions, with maximum bets of 300 or 400 coins --- tailor-made for penny players. There are multiple bonus round. In the Prize Spin round, the player chooses from among seven pie-shaped wedges to reveal bonus awards and multipliers. Borrowing from a popular feature of the Hollywood Squares TV show, the Secret Square bonus has the player choose a celebrity to reveal a multiplier after a winning spin that includes three or more Secret Square celebs. And there’s a twist on free-spin bonuses whenever the player lines up three or more television sets. That starts the celebrity squares reeling for three to 10 celebrity spins. Whenever a celebrity stops to reveal a prize, an X is placed over that celebrity. Three Xs in a row wins bonus credits.
Couchman says her top game is IGT’s Kenny Rogers: The Gambler, which uses Old West symbols, Rogers’ image and sounds of his hit song “The Gambler.” There are multiple bonuses, including a second screen whenever three “Gambler Bonus” symbols appear in any position on the middle reels. The player picks a poker chip to see how many hands the onscreen gambler will be holdin’ or foldin’. And there’s the Free Spin Express, on which players pick boxcars to collect free spins and multipliers --- just the kind of free spin volatility that keeps penny games interesting.

Atronic uses the full bag of tricks --- second-screen bonuses, free spin-and-multiplier events, and left-to-right/right-to-left payoffs and progressive jackpots on its penny games. The popular e-Motion game Atlantica has a multi-tiered second-screen bonus in which players enter the Mermaid’s chamber and choose one of three doors. The door may reveal a bonus amount, or it may show mysterious symbols. Those who choose well can make it into the secret treasury room for an extra bonus. On a first-screen bonus, an octopus will sometimes appear to reach out for winning symbols from other reels.

Konami also went strong for the low-denomination market in making Rocky a 20-line game. Using sights and sounds of Sylvester Stallone’s rags-to-riches boxing story, Rocky incorporates two bonus rounds.

As a leader in the Australian market where penny games using free spin multipliers reign supreme, Aristocrat is finding the rise of pennies in the United States right up its alley. “Aristocrat has really driven the two-cent market,” says Treasure Bay’s LaVenture even as he’s preparing to see if Aristocrat games do the same with penny players. Mr. Cashman and Cash Express, with the Hyperlink four-way progressive jackpot, is a player favorite. And when asked, several slot directors singled out Reel Power games as among those that fill up first. In Reel Power games, wagers “buy” reels rather than paylines, turning symbols into scatter pays that don’t have to line up to win.

Expect more surprises, more volatility, more ways to play as penny slots take over more and more of the slot floor. With the way their popularity is growing, it only makes cents.

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