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Video, Video, and More Video

11 October 2000

When slot machine manufacturers rolled out their latest and greatest attraction for display last fall at the World Gaming Congress and Expo, there was video, video and more video.

Since then, there has been controversy galore, with questions from regulators causing IGT to pull back on South Park and other animated, character-driven games it was feared might be too appealing to underage gamblers.

Guess what's left?

Video, video and more video.

Even without some of the pop-culture tie-ins that might have caught the eyes of those too young to play, video slots keep on rising. In a survey of manufacturers and operators that asked which games that were introduced last fall now are performing best in the casinos, all but one of the games mentioned are multiline, multicoin video slots.

And pop-culture tie-ins haven't been eliminated completely. The hottest of the hot new games is video Wheel of Fortune, and the one new reel-spinner to make the list is Betty Boop's Love Meter. Both have been deemed adult-themed enough to make to casino floors, and both are thriving.

Now that many of the games introduced last fall have made it to casino floors, let's check out the biggest successes:

VIDEO WHEEL OF FORTUNE, IGT/Anchor: Anchor Gaming developed video Wheel of Fortune in conjunction with IGT. Asked to name their hottest new games, both companies led their lists with this one. Slot executives agree.

"Absolutely, video Wheel of Fortune has taken off," says Adrianna Reyna, director of slot operations at the Flamingo Hilton in Las Vegas. "It's taken the whole video craze to a new height. It has the wheel on top of the game, and when you add the bonuses and options on the screen, the players love it."

Charlie Lombardo, vice president for slot operations at Caesars Palace says flatly, "Video Wheel of Fortune is kicking ass."

This is IGT's second go at adapting its Wheel of Fortune reel- spinning success to a video platform. The original video game survives as a nickel niche game, but it never has been an enormous hit. It lacks the eye-catching wheel at the top of the machine, and its bonus for solving an on-screen puzzle by hitting the right letters on the reels occurs too infrequently to hold player interest.

The new Wheel of Fortune is really two games. One is called Wheel of Fortune Classic, and the other is Lucky Spin. Both are nine- line games that accept up to five coins per line, and both involve onscreen and wheel bonuses. Not only do the bonuses keep players interested, but so will the hit frequency on the video reels. More than half of all spins bring some return, and even though that return is less than the wager on most spins, it keeps the player coming back.

LITTLE GREEN MEN, IGT: Until the expo last fall, it would have been difficult to characterize IGT as a major player in the video slot segment. As long as it looked like a minority niche segment, IGT seemed content to leave it to Williams, CDS, Atronic, Aristocrat, Bally Gaming and anyone else who might be interested.

Now that video is the fastest-growing segment of the slot industry, IGT is interested indeed. In its video reel line, it lists Indigo Swing, Leopard Spots, Elephant King and Little Green Men as hits.

Of those, the hottest of the hot is Little Green Men. The space-themed nine-line game seems to have struck a chord. There are two second-screen bonuses. In one, players kidnap an Earthling for bonus awards, and in another they try to blast alien ships out of space.

"When you looked at IGT video product in the past, they didn't have bonus rounds," Reyna explains. "The customers are very into the bonuses, and other manufacturers were very successful with them. Now IGT has taken a very aggressive stance and has gone right after the video market."

IGT's video product also seems to be a hit outside Las Vegas: "IGT finally realized the need to put out good video reel games," says Tammy Couchman, slot director at Empress Casino in Joliet, Illinois. "That's a major change for them."

In addition to Little Green Men, Couchman lists Indigo Swing as a strong game. That nine-line video game incorporates the Big Band music of Louie Prima, along with a bonus round that starts when three dance couples land on a payline. Reyna points to the jungle-themed Leopard Spots as a surprise hit.

WHO DUNNIT?, Williams: The leader in the video games market ever since Reel 'Em In hit four years ago, Williams has several new big earners, with slot directors pointing both to the mystery game Who Dunnit? and the auction-bonus game Winning Bid.

In Who Dunnit?, the second-screen bonus takes the player to a crime scene, where the player then must solve the crime to earn a bonus. In Winning Bid, the second screen is a garage sale. The player selects an auction item, and animated characters then bid up the bonus.

"Players like the hit frequency and just how much fun it is to play," Couchman says. "There's an incredible amount of fun designed into these games."

Those player decisions send both nine-line games high on the interactivity list.

"The funny thing is," says Lombardo, "that even though it was a big loss up front, the best thing that ever happened to Williams is when they had to back off the expanded reels format" (because of court rulings that Williams' platform violated IGTs Telnaes patents). "That forced them into video, and they found they could do things with hit frequency and bonuses that the people like."

REEL 'EM IN CAST FOR CASH, Williams: Cast for Cash is an expansion on the original Reel 'Em In, a departure from Williams' other video product in that it includes two video screens. When it's time for a second-screen bonus, players still see the old scene of fishermen on a pond on the top screen, but below they can see the hook dropping below the water and the fish attacking it. There also are bonuses-within-a-bonus built into the game, taking interactivity up another notch.

"Pretty much all the Williams video product does very well," Reyna notes.

Adds Lombardo, "Our Cast for Cash games do very well. People like that big double screen, and it's an easy conversion. One things Williams is able to do is take its themes that have been very successful and piggyback on that."

JUMPIN' JOEYS, Aristocrat: With most manufacturers, the first place a new slot game reaches the floor is Nevada. Not so with Aristocrat, which still has Nevada licensing pending. But Aristocrat is very strong in newer gaming jurisdictions, and it shows off its Australian roots in Jumping Joeys.

Jumping Joeys is available in nine- or 20-line versions. Australians already are playing games with 20 or more lines taking 100 or more coins at a time. Now it seems it's Americans' turn. The bonus round around involves animated joeys -- baby kangaroos -- hopping along the video reels. The joey stops at every position on every payline, and acts as a wild card. The player collects a bonus for every winner created by the wild-card joey.

"Aristocrat does very well for us, and so does Jumping Joeys," Couchman explains. "But their strongest games are still two of the earlier games, Wild Cougar and Penguin Pays."

MONKEY BUSINESS, Anchor: Monkey Business is a slot environment as much as it is a slot game. It feeds off the eye-catching jungle structure and big video screen above a bank of machines.

Anchor is the king of the wheel games -- it devised the Wheel of Gold game that brought the bonus wheel to slot floors and worked with IGT on Wheel of Fortune. Monkey Business also includes a wheel with segments matching video reel icons. The game includes both onscreen and wheel bonuses. Some spins of the wheel result in no bonus, meaning the frequency of wheel spins can be very high.

"Monkey Business is doing very well," says Reyna. "It has a different look, and I like to get as much variety on the floor as I can."

EASY STREET, CDS: The showpiece in CDS' Bandit line includes a two-level bonus round involving trips around an onscreen game board. On the first level, the player spins a number wheel to advance Chance the Dog around a game board, accumulating bonuses on each stop.

If Chance gets all the way around the board without landing on "Go Home," or if the player gets three Easy Street Symbols on the reels of the basic game, the next level bonus kicks in, this time with Chance taking a drive down Easy Street. The player chooses one of Chance's hangouts for a bonus payoff.

"It's drawn a lot of initial interest," says Lombardo. "Of course, a lot of games get strong initial play, then don't have the staying power. But the bonus round on Easy Street is really nice as you move along the squares. It's a game I'm looking for to take off."

VIDEO YAHTZEE, Mikohn/Sigma: Both the video and reel- spinning versions of Yahtzee have drawn attention, but while the reel- spinners are more than holding their own, the video games draw more action per unit, says Lombardo.

Aside from the hit frequency and bonuses that have brought video games to the fore, Lombardo says video Yahtzee "has been able to do some cute things with graphics and animation, even the cup that holds the dice. There's name recognition, and the game plays well besides."

A nine-line game, video Yahtzee has two bonus rounds. One is a round of Yahtzee, similar to the home dice game and to the bonus round on the reel-spinning version of Yahtzee. Players roll video dice up to three times as they attempt to roll winning Yahtzee combinations. The other is a mystery bonus, with animation on the reels.

SPIN POKER, IGT/Action Gaming: Spin Poker takes video poker and puts it into a nine-line, reel-spinning format. Players hold cards in an intial hand, just as in video poker, then the discard positions spin through the remaining 47 cards, as in a video slot. Odds remain dependent on the pay table, just as in regular video poker.

"Spin Poker is an interesting concept," says Reyna, "and we've had good initial success with it. We put it on the floor as a multidenominational game, from quarters to $2.

Others also have used it to ease into multidenominational games. The Reserve in Henderson, Nevada, uses Spin Poker as a nickel-dime multidenominational game.

"I think it is getting some crossover play from slot players," Lombardo says, "but most of the players are poker players. We're taking some Triple Play Poker out to sample Spin Poker, just to find out what works."

That results would be strong enough to displace any Triple Play machines shows Spin Poker has some appeal. Triple Play, introduced two years ago, has been an enormous hit. Couchman says Empress has had "enormous success with Triple Play, Five Play and Ten Play. Our customers love those games -- I love those games. I've ordered Fifty Play [which was introduced at the expo in September] as a nickel game."

BETTY BOOP'S LOVE METER, Bally Gaming: Bucking the video trend is Bally's latest Betty Boop offering. Although it's a real spinner, it incorporates two other industry trends by using a pop- culture icon in Betty Boop, and by offering a bonus round.

The Love Meter is a colorful, lighted, flashing tower atop a slant-top reel-spinner. When a symbol activating the meter lands on the payline, the player pushes a button and lights run up and down the tower. When they stop, one lighted bonus amount remains, ranging from 10 coins to 2,000. (At 2,000 coins, Betty Boop rates the player "a love machine.")

The concept is the same as in Bally Gaming's Bell Ringer slots, in which the tower was set up as a test-your-strength meter. A change of graphics, and the strength meter becomes a love meter. Bally has been innovative in marketing the game to the casinos, making it available for purchase as well as offering it as a revenue participation game.

"Betty Boop's Love Meter appears to be doing very well," Lombardo says. "In our initial look, returns on the game have been well above the casino average. All the Betty Boop games do well."

And they do well even though they're spinning the reels in a market that's looking more and more toward video.

For more information about slots and video poker, we recommend:

Break the One-Armed Bandits! by Frank Scoblete
Victory at Video Poker and Video Craps, Keno and Blackjack! by Frank Scoblete
Slot Conquest Audio Cassette Tape (60 minutes) with Frank Scoblete
Winning Strategies at Slots & Video Poker! Video tape hosted by Academy Award Winner James Coburn, Written by Frank Scoblete
The Slot Machine Answer Book by John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski