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Best of Pam Droog

Gaming Guru


What's Your Preference: Traditional Reels or Trendy Videos?

17 October 2004

I'll admit, I was a fairly late convert to video reel slots. I was curious about them but they intimidated me. However, once I took the plunge and figured out how to play video reels, I was hooked. The games are fun, clever, colorful and highly entertaining. And you can win money! Of course, you can do that on a traditional reel slot, too. But when that bonus round hits on a video reel, you KNOW you're going to win SOMETHING. A traditional reel just doesn't have that guarantee.

So now you know my preference in slot machines. What's yours?

To find out what some slot players prefer, I talked to slot managers at several casinos. Here's what they had to say.

They play them all!

"People mostly like to play the new video-reel games, but we still get a lot of players who like the old, traditional reels," said Jamie Pritchard, casino manager of slots at the President Casino in St. Louis. Specifically, his guests like IGT nickel games, like Risque Business and She's A Rich Girl.

"They really love to play Lucky Larry's Lobster Mania too," he said.

Aristocrat nickel games also are big at the President Casino, including Boot Scootin', Double Dolphin and Scatter Magic. Pritchard also said players like quarter games like Bonus Frenzy and All American Poker (one of the Game Maker titles), and, he added, "They still like to play older games like The Price Is Right, The Price Is Right Pyramid, Bewitched, Harley Davidson, Spooky Slots (Addams Family, Elvira), Wheel of Fortune and the Playboy traditional reel game.

"Plenty of people still come in for the old reel games like Red White & Blue, Double & Triple Diamond, Hot Peppers and Blazing 7s reel game," Pritchard said. He assumes a lot of guests "just like to play three coins instead of up to 90 on video reels."

60/40 balance

Pritchard said he keeps a balance of about 60 percent traditional reels and 40 percent video reels on the President's gaming floor. Pritchard, the President's production manager and general manager constantly review new machines. They meet with vendors and travel to gaming shows.

"Often players will come back from Vegas and tell us about a machine they played. We'll check it out and if it's approved for Missouri we might try it," Pritchard said. He gives a new machine at least 90 days to see if it gets enough play to justify keeping it. "We had Betty Boop here about a year, and the Price Is Right has been here now more than two years."

In general, though players may prefer traditional reels, "they also like to try something new," Pritchard said. "Take the Double Diamond reels. We've had them for years, and now they're coming out with newer versions."

The move to video

Over at the Isle of Capri Casino in Kansas City, Slot Manager Jeff McKain said, "There is a huge movement toward video reel slots. In fact, most of our capital next year will be involved with the video reels. They're just fun."

He attributes a large part of video reels' popularity to Aristocrat's new Mark VI series, which includes Boot Scootin' and Magic Mask. McKain said those games feature sharper graphics and faster action.

McKain said a good way to gauge the success of a new slot machine is through "WHAM" tesing. He didn't explain what that stands for, but he said a slot manufacturer will put its new machine in a bank of games at a casino and measure the new game against the tried-and-true ones.

"We'll tap the occupancy and coin-in rates and test the new themes against the proven themes," he said. However, he noted, "probably the most important feedback we get is on customer comment cards guests fill out. They'll write, 'Get more of this machine' or 'Get more two-coin machines.'" Also, employees walk around and ask customers what they think about a particular machine.

Isle faves

At the moment, McKain said, "the low denomination games are the most popular ones out there." One, five and ten-cent games that do well include Aristocrat's Boot Scootin', Magic Mask and Sweet Liberty; IGT's Deep Pockets, Lucky Larry's Lobster Mania and Risque Business.

McKain said in the 25-cent reel category, IGT's Triple Double Red White & Blue and Ten Times Pay both have new artwork and are doing very well. So is IGT's Triple Stars.

"It's a great product, just a good looking machine," McKain said.

Progressives stand alone

Other popular games at Isle of Capri KC as well as at Ameristar Casino St. Charles are stand-alone progressives--where just one machine, not several, will offer a progressive jackpot. At the Isle, they're Bally-based, customized "Isle Style" machines that pay between $350-$400, McKain said.

Mike Mueller, slot operations manager at Ameristar Casino St. Charles said the stand-alone progressives at his casino are available on several titles.

"People say that's their own progressive because they don't have to worry about someone on the other side of the slot bank winning the jackpot," he said. "We had these slots in our old facility but not at first in the new one and we really heard about it from our guests!"

Mueller added, the most popular games at Ameristar are those that offer ticketing. With these games, the player inserts tokens, money or a ticket and gets a ticket when he or she cashes out.

"There's no coin handling, no having to wait on jackpots or fills," Mueller says. "It's an instantaneous transaction."

The games themselves

Mueller agrees with McKain that "a lot of the focus is on lower denom games, especially pennies. You can actually win a nice jackpot." He says most players start slow, and as they win, increase their bet up to the maximum of $4 or $5 per spin. Favorite penny-game titles at Ameristar are IGT's Spam, Cleopatra, Sphinx and Sphinx II.

Mueller added, Ameristar offers several progressive penny and nickel games that can give lucky players jackpots worth several thousand dollars.

Mueller also mentioned IGT's new Triple Stars dollar game is very popular in the traditional reel category; it's also an in-house progressive. He believes people like it for its timely, patriotic theme. Triple Double Diamond is another favorite dollar reel game.

In video reels, Ameristar players prefer IGT's Super Cherry, Tabasco and Enchanted Unicorn (Question: Why do so many older men like to play Enchanted Unicorn?).

Mueller also said the multi-hand poker games are still going strong, like IGT's Triple Play line with 50- and 100-play games. These games revolutionized video poker overnight, he said. Multi-Strike Poker is also getting a lot of attention from players.

"We also have more than one thousand games where you can start low and change the denomination," Mueller added. "Players like them because they don't have to get up and move to another part of the casino to play a different denom."

Video reels boom

Mueller said one reason he believes video reels are gaining in popularity is because of the bonus rounds: "You're playing for something then, not just for a jackpot," he said. "You're playing to get to a bonus round." Still, a small percentage of the older Williams games remain popular, like Life of Luxury and Jackpot Party, "but their life spans are getting shorter because they keep coming out with new and better games," he said.

Some slots do well in the St. Louis market that bomb in Kansas City and vice versa. Why? "It's just personal preferences," Mueller said. "We'll tell Kansas City such-and-such is a great game for us and they'll tell us they took out that same game months ago."

Hundred or Nothing

While video reels continue to get more elaborate and complex, IGT also has created the simplest traditional three-reel game imaginable and it's drawing steady crowds at Sac & Fox Casino in Powhattan, Kan. for three months.

In this "straightforward gaming experience" (sez the sales literature), players bet $1 for a chance to win $100. If the three red 7s don't line up on the payline, that's it. Over and out.

As basic as the Hundred or Nothing machine may be, it's not completely old-fashioned. It does have enhanced digital sound and backlit reels.