by James J. Hodl
New innovations in bonusing technologies expand to where rewards can be offered while zeroing in on individual patrons
Bonusing, which began not too long ago as a way for casinos to add a little more fun and excitement to their gaming floors—not to mention boost players’ chances of winning—has succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. The addition of bonus games and bonus levels to slot machines has proven so popular with gamblers that casinos even use the expectation of bonuses as part of their promotional efforts.
To keep up with player demand, manufacturers are finding it necessary to ramp up the technology to offer newer and even more exciting gaming experiences. They also are expanding bonusing technology into the table arena. And current bonusing systems can even be targeted toward certain customers or machines within the casino, and during certain hours.
While there are still players who like their games straight, “bonusing has become a know commodity that patrons look for,” said Steve Miller, product line director of network systems at Reno-based International Game Technology. “The promise of bonus payouts, both big and small, brings players in and gives them reasons to play longer.”
But John Acres, president of Las Vegas-based gaming systems developer Acres-Fiore, feels bonusing touches even more of players, going beyond their wallets to their souls and egos. Winning bonuses makes players feel as important as a high roller, and while they may not leave with all their winnings, they’ll long remember that they had that sum in their hands, if only for a short while, he explained.
Manufacturers are taking varied paths in reaching the player’s soul through bonusing. One way is to build greater unpredictability into slots games.
Five different bonus screens giving players opportunities to increase initial winnings could come up on the new “Cashman Tonight” and “Outback Jack” slot games introduced by Las Vegas-based Aristocrat Technologies Inc. This keeps the games fresh longer as players face new ways to win.
Aristocrat’s “Bank Buster” offers a four-level jackpot that is played out on six different bonus screens, noted Sean Evans, senior vice president of sales.
Also new for play on the OASIS platform are two new bonus award games. Aristocrat’s “Splashdown Countdown” offers the opportunity for players to win a second jackpot if they hit a certain screen combination within a few minutes after winning the first jackpot. “Ricochet Rewards” is a linked bonusing system that shares the bonus reward, with the player who triggered the bonus getting $100 while perhaps 50 other players at machine along side him each get $5 bonuses.
Las Vegas-based Bally Technologies continues to build onto its Bally Power Bonusing suite, which provides casinos with an extensive package of bonusing, gaming and promotion systems that can be tailored to fit any casino. And these options will increase as Bally rolls out its new Networked Floor of the Future, which links all games on the gaming floor through an Ethernet system that will enable server-based gaming.
“With the Networked Floor, bonusing programs will be directed by software in the central computer rather than individual slots cabinets,” said Tom Doyle, vice president of product management at Bally. “This will provide increased flexibility in the Bally Power Winners progressive jackpot.”
As before, casinos can use Bally Power Winners to create player excitement across the entire floor or only a specific section of it. How—and how often—the ever-growing award is distributed is up to the casino. For instance, the jackpot can be awarded to a single player, or spread out, where the top winner might get a large reward (maybe $1,000) while other customers playing slots at that time could each get smaller bonuses (maybe $10 each).
In a networked system, casinos also can set the times of day when the progressive jackpot is in play, such as an advertised special between 10 p.m. and midnight, Doyle noted. And Bally Power Winners can be programmed to offer the progressive jackpot during special hours to specific customers through their player card, such as persons attending a convention on premises.
“These attendees will enjoy competing for their own jackpot,” Doyle said.
IGT continues to introduce new games on its NextGen interactive touch screen that offer a variety of bonusing scenarios. These include “Lucky Coin®,” which selects a special bonus a winner from qualified players on designated machines based on a randomly preset “nth” coin dropped into these machines, and can be applied to single, multiple or all slots on the gaming floor. “Lucky Time” delivers bonuses of any size—cash or even a car—within time parameters set by the casino.
At last November’s Global Gaming Expo, IGT expanded these bonusing technologies to the table game floor through the computerized Table iD system.
“Lucky Draw works with Shuffle Master’s Intelligent Shoe, which includes card recognition technology that improves game security by recording the cards in the order they leave shoe,” said IGT’s Miller. “This bonusing program is triggered by the first two cards out of the shoe at each playing position. Casinos can select which two cards are the trigger, be they a pair of fours, a six and an eight, or any other combination. When the recognition system detects the designated pair, the player is automatically put into a virtual drawing with other players receiving the same pair over a specific time period, with one player being randomly selected for a nice bonus.”
Miller noted that Lucky Draw also can be a big labor saver, doing the recording of bonus-worthy pairs automatically, instead of manually by pad-and-paper-wielding pit workers, as some casinos do.
Meanwhile, Lucky Seat lets casinos set specific times for random drawings to reward player-carded patrons with open ratings by randomly designated one of the seats where they are playing, Miller said.
Creating surprise, excitement
“The next trend of bonuses will come from a strong coupling of the progressive jackpots to the player loyalty clubs and ultimately to the players themselves. In this sense, it is as if the player gets his own personal set of progressives,” said Terri Cooper, chief operating officer of Crystal Lake, Ill.-based Paltronics Inc.
Moving in that direction, Paltronics has introduced Random Rewards, which Cooper described as a dynamic bonusing system that is not tied to an event related to the base game.
“Random Rewards is a flexible progressive system that can be widely distributed across many different platforms, including slot machines and table games,” Cooper said. “On the slot floor, it can be linked to a large number of machines, resulting in the progressive building of larger jackpots that hit with greater frequency.”
An advantage of Random Rewards is that it’s completely configurable, providing the operator with complete control of winning events on the floor. Casinos can set the jackpot size and frequency of hits. Rewards can be in cash or prizes. Casinos also can determine where on the floor bonusing occurs, if prizes will be awarded to carded or uncarded players, and if certain levels of players club membership will receive higher awards than other levels.
Random Rewards is designed for operation through Paltronics’ One Link Table System®, its networked platform that centralizes control of table games throughout a property.
Duluth, Ga.-based Cadillac Jack Inc. continues to add to its line of slot machines, incorporating its SpeedPLAY and PlusPLAY technologies.
With SpeedPLAY, the game starts off at a moderate pace but grows steadily faster until it reaches an exciting crescendo. PlusPLAY further enlivens games by providing assorted rewards and bonuses, often when least expected. These include rewards based on the length of play, free spins, bonuses when specific symbols appear on the screen, and occasional offers to triple the value of coin drops, explained Mauro Franic, slots product manager at Cadillac Jack.
At Acres-Fiore, the recently unveiled Halo system provides a mystery bonus, but with one difference. The slot machine includes a “proximity meter” that provides a visual estimation of how close the player is to playing for a bonus jackpot.
Halo combines a video slot reel with a top-mounted jackpot wheel. Designed for use in Bally’s CineVision slot cabinets, Halo includes a mystery trigger device that constantly changes the jackpot trigger number (one to 100) with each series. As customers play the slots game, the Halo Wheel Bonus Meter provides an estimation of how long before the jackpot wheel is activated by gradually changing color from sapphire blue to a vibrant red. When the wheel spin bonus is reached, players press a separate button to spin the top wheel to determine their bonus. When a player leaves the machine, it resets for the next player.
Halo adds a new level of interaction and anticipation to slots play, Acres said. The machine’s color shifting LED lighted crown serves the both attract and dazzle patrons.
Bally also is working anticipation of bonuses into its slot games. “Castle Crasher” depicts an animated group of knights working a catapult. As a customer plays, the catapult arm is cranked further and further back into position until the arm springs and tosses the rock at the castle. Depending on what destruction the rock causes on impact determines the bonus a player earns at that moment, Bally’s Doyle said.
With the coming of server-based gaming systems, the games and the bonusing technology can be more intricately merged in a way that will not only create more chances to win, but enable casinos to better reward specific customers, Acres said.
Casinos will be able to target bonusing opportunities on the basis of who the customer is, as identified through his player card. He can be a high-value customer, thus giving him reason to continue his patronage of the casino.
Or he can be a first-time customer.
“A player’s relationship with a casino is usually based on how the player does during his first visit,” Acres said. “With server-based gaming, casinos can change the play of a game to provide additional winning opportunities. A winning customer is four times more likely to return to that casino.”
Players can earn bonuses online too
Bonusing opportunities are not only available on the gaming floor of casinos. They can also are offered on casino Web sites. Waltham, Mass.-based GameLogic Inc. offers the PlayAway system to casinos to put simulated casino-style games online for free play to entice new and seasoned customers to visit the casino and play the real thing.
“To enter these sites, customers register as a guest or player club member. After selecting the game of their choice, they are issued virtual points with which to wager. The idea is to let customers try out games where no money is involved to see if they like them,” said John E. Taylor Jr., president and CEO of Game Logic.
But while online play is free, players can still earn bonuses, Taylor said. With the system’s Bonus Play feature, players who do well can parlay their virtual points into prizes that include free play at the host casino, club points, or eligibility for a sweepstakes drawing for a special prize. Winnings can be redeemed by visiting the host casino within a certain time period after the online win, he noted.
“The bonusing system works to turn online players into on-site players,” Taylor said.
PlayAway also includes programs to provide online registration for the host casino’s player club card, and to rate the play and skill levels of online visitors, he added. On the basis of these ratings, players can be offered additional incentives to visit the casino. A person rated as a Tier 1 player (and thus a very valuable customer) might be offered more free club points to get him to visit the casino than a person rated as a Tier 4 player.
—James. J. Hodl