Editor's Note: With the 2006 Global Gaming Expo set to open next week in Las Vegas, we thought it would be a good idea to republish one of John's articles to gauge how well the market has respondedJohn Grochowski is the author of six gaming books including the "Answer Book" series -- The Casino Answer Book, The Video Poker Answer Book, The Craps Answer Book and a revised edition of The Slot Machine Answer Book. His articles cover blackjack, slots and video poker strategy as well as casino etiquette and getting the most bang for your buck in Vegas. John's website is www.casinoanswerman.com to the slot products that were unveiled at last year's show. The buzz at that time was about penny slots. Here were John's observations.
Penny slots have been the hottest gaming industry trend this side of poker, and at the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas, leading slotmaker IGT wanted to make sure I saw its hottest of the hot.
"You have to see this," IGT vice president of engineering Kaminkow called out. "You have great urban markets in Chicago and Gary. Isn't this a great game for those markets?"
Kaminkow was talking about the new Soul Train slot, based on the long-running TV dance show. He cued up the bonus round, featuring an introduction by "Soul Train" host Don Cornelius, with disco hits of the '70s and a dance floor where animated characters with platform shoes and big hairstyles strutted out their best 1970s dance moves. A crowd gathered to watch, laughing and pointing, perhaps recognizing a bit of their younger selves.
Kaminkow grinned. He knew he had a winner in a segment that's becoming ever more important in the slot machine market. Most players cover all the paylines --- usually 15, 20 or 25 --- and enough bet more than one coin per line that penny games earn more money per machine for the casino than quarter games. Bet 20 coins per line on 25 lines, and that one-cent machine is taking a $5 bet --- a pretty penny indeed.
To make penny games attractive to players, most are more volatile than the nickel video slots
with second screen bonuses we've come to know and love. Penny slots emphasize free spins and multipliers, and those free spins sometimes yield wins of thousands of coins, making worthwhile wins possible even at the low coin denomination.
Not all penny games are on video. At the expo, IGT showed a line of games called Perfect for Pennies. These are five-reel, reel-spinning games with themes including Great White and King Cheetah. One cool addition: There's a volume control feature. Operators can set maximum and minimum volumes, but players take it up or down to their liking within those limits.
Video offerings from IGT include two Star Wars games, The Empire Strikes Back and The Dark Side. Both are 30-line games --- perfect for pennies. The Dark Side game features a bonus wheel with alternating dark and light spaces. It almost stops, but clicks back and forth momentarily between two spaces --- if you get a Light Side multiplier, the round continues. A Dark Side credit amount ends the round.
At the Bally Gaming booth, Hot Shot, a penny game with a five-level progressive jackpot, drew big attention. Available both in video and reel-spinning formats, Hot Shot has an eye-catching launch to its bonus round. Among the reel symbols are representations of Blazing 7s-bearing reels --- on the video version, the reels within reels start spinning and build excitement as they land on the paylines. It's designed as a quick-hit progressive with a low "Blazing" jackpot that builds through the Double, Triple, Diamond and Blazing Times Seven levels.
Atronic wen the penny route in introducing Miami Vice, a progressive video slot
that uses the imagery of the old TV detective show. The starting jackpot is about $5,000 and should hit every couple of weeks, leaving a game where players feel they have a shot to win. Among the symbols are boats, palm trees, flamingos, "Miami Vice" stars Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas, along with the letters M-I-A-M-I. It's landing five of the letters on the reels that launches the progressive round that can lead to the jackpot.
The penny market is also the aim of the "Win One/Two Ways" 42-line games. Players who bet both ways win on symbols reading either left to right or right to left across the pay lines. In Mistress of Egypt, one game in the line, the Scarab bonus allows players to choose their volatility --- do they want to take a bonus that could range from 270 to 2,700 credits, or take a higher guaranteed floor in exchange for a lower potential ceiling?
A pioneer in penny games and multi-tiered jackpots, Aristocrat Technologies introduced its new double standalone progressive line, with titles including George Lopez, Agassi and Zorro. In these dual-screened games, players don't have to bet maximum coins to be eligible for the two-level progressive jackpot. They just have to bet at least one credit per payline, and also make a 10-credit ante bet. In the 25-line George Lopez game, that means a 35-coin bet instead of the 500 that would be needed to bet 20 coins per line.
Penny games demand more volatility than nickel games, and George Lopez, featuring the animated image of the actor and comedian, provides it with both free spins and a second-screen bonus. Images of Lopez can trigger up to 50 free games. In the bonus round, players become eligible for either the "Major" or "Grand" jackpot, with starting values of about $100 on the Major and $1,000 on the grand.
For the penny player, the competition among manufacturers can only mean added fun. So take your pick --- get ready to ride the Soul Train, laugh with George Lopez, follow the trail with Miami Vice or watch those 7s blaze.
Listen to John Grochowski's "Beat the Odds" tips Saturdays at 6:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 7:41 p.m. and Sundays at 8:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 10:42 p.m. on WBBM-AM, News Radio 780 in Chicago, streaming online at www.wbbm780.com