Casino slot executives offer their takes on today’s top-performing games

IGT's eBay

Global Gaming Expo 2007 is a distant memory now, but the games that were shown at the Las Vegas show are making their way onto casino slot floors.

Slot Manager interviewed several casino executives regarding their impressions of the new crop of slot products to get a sense of which products are doing well.

It can be a difficult thing to measure, as many a slot manager can attest, and many games highly touted at G2E still are wending their way through the regulatory process waiting for approval in many jurisdictions.

Still, the comments of slot operators in the trenches provide a valuable snapshot into games that are pulling in favorable numbers. And they provide insight into which games and products operators might want to home in on May 7-8 at the Southern Gaming Summit in Biloxi, Miss.

“We’re just really surprised at the success of a lot of the products we’ve put on the floor from a lot of the manufacturers,” said Bob Sobczyk, vice president of slot operations, Ameristar Casinos.

The video reel is “very, very competitive right now,” with Bally, Konami, IGT, WMS and Aristocrat all stepping up to the plate, Sobczyk added. “We’re seeing that everyone has a competitive product, and it’s making our purchasing decisions a little bit easier.”

He noted that manufacturers have been hitting home runs with a lot of the new products. “And not just home runs; they’re putting out products that have legs,” he said.

Sobczyk praised the video product especially. “We’ve really been pleasantly surprised, and we’ve just ordered more,” he said.

Jeff Inman, general manager of the Dancing Eagle Casino in Casa Blanca, N.M., echoed Sobczyk’s comments.

“I’m actually very positive on them. There have been a lot of cabinets, a lot of new game types coming out,” he said. “This year should be a pretty exciting year to see how customers react.”

Todd Deremer, vice president of gaming operations for Excalibur on the Las Vegas Strip, said some gaming products that continue to impress him have been Bally Technologies’ Pair ‘Em Up, the nickel Millionaire 777s and its seven-reel CineReel product.

Deremer noted that the Pair ‘Em Up is similar to Bally’s Millionaire 777s, which features a tower cabinet presentation.

 “It’s a penny [product] that’s doing very well for us. It’s doing over double house average,” he said.

“They came out of the gate really strong, and we put them in not such a great location, and they’re still doing very well,” he said, noting the look of the tower game is appealing to players.

“I think the look of that is really appealing. It has Wheel of Fortune appeal in a lower denomination.”

That kind of draw is important for a property such as Excalibur, which depends greatly on foot traffic streaming through its doors.

With the economy in the doldrums, those customer counts have been down. “So for games to drive really strong numbers with lower foot traffic, I think, says a lot,” Deremer said.

The seven-reel product is exciting, he said, because it offers players a different experience. “They’re always looking for new ways to win. We’re really excited to see how that’s going to perform, to get them to play up to get the seven reels,” he said.

Another top performer at Excalibur has been IGT’s video multiline product, Deremer said. He’s been particularly happy with IGT’s Wolf Run and Coyote Moon video slots.

“They do pretty well for us. We’ve put in a considerable amount of that product,” Deremer said.

Frank Neborsky, vice president of slot operations for Uncasville, Conn.-based Mohegan Sun, also spoke highly of Wolf Run.

“They do great. That whole math model that they use for Wolf Run is very good. They’re starting to spin them off, and it’s doing very well,” Neborsky said.

Jean Venneman, vice president, product development, IGT, said the company has seen tremendous market acceptance of the Wolf Run games, as well as others based on the math of the game, but not the theme.

 “That game was just very special on many levels,” she said. “My theory with Wolf Run is if they see something similar, they’re willing to try it.”

She noted the success of games such as Wild Wolf and 100 Wolves.

Communal games, such as IGT’s Wheel of Fortune Super Spin and WMS’ Monopoly Big Event and Press Your Luck, also are crowd pleasers at Mohegan Sun, Neborsky said.

He said he’s thinking of adding one of IGT’s new five-station Wheel of Fortune Super Spin games, which take up a smaller footprint than the original or possibly one of AC Coin’s eight-station Super Pirates Bonus Island, a themed game with AC Coin-trademark Slotto-style “cannon balls” getting the bonuses going. “That might be pretty interesting,” he said.

Another communal gaming product Neborsky is looking forward to getting for his floor is the IGT eBay game. “If I can find a place for it, it’s going to be great. Just the name alone is going to draw people in,” Neborsky said.

“I think that’s going to have the same type of mass appeal and revenue potential that you get out of Super Spin,” he said, noting that the Wheel of Fortune Super Spin product consistently does well over house average at Mohegan Sun.

IGT was surprised by the overwhelming interest in the eBay game at G2E. “I think it made a much bolder impression than we initially anticipated,” Venneman said. That said, she noted, “it really does have a pretty impressive package.”

The game, offered via an 80-20 split on IGT’s new G22 slant-top cabinet and featuring a widescreen LCD and IGT’s EZ Bet buttons, offers “community-style gaming in the true sense,” she said. “If players are all playing actively, they will all participate in the same free spin bonus together, with the only variation being what their bet level was.”

“It’s still early days for community play,” Venneman said. “This is still a market niche we’re exploring.”

Bally's Quick Hits Platinum

Like communal-type products, games with a unique look or unique features - such as WMS’ immersive gaming products, Top Gun and Wizard of Oz - have shown promising power.

“It was phenomenal when they [Wizard of Oz games] hit the floor. We had people standing in line to play them,” Neborsky said.

“When you get into something that’s so unique, that definitely creates excitement for the area around it,” he said.

“Wizard of Oz has been arguably the best game we’ve ever launched,” said Rob Bone, vice president of marketing, WMS Gaming. “The coin in that’s getting put in this game, I think it’s a testament to how well we executed on this brand.”

Neborsky said he also was surprised at how well the new Ainsworth Gaming product is performing since it was recently put on the floor. “They’re doing very well,” raking in above-average numbers despite a so-so location, he said of the 14 games, half standard and half featuring a mystery jackpot. “It’s a really pretty game,” he said. It features a portrait-format screen and sleek cabinet.

“It was amazing how many people gravitated to them,” Neborsky said. “I think it’s the look of the game. They’re new. They’re different.”

And players, he said, “want something different as long as they find it entertaining.”

Neborsky hopes to showcase some of the new slot product not in the market yet at Mohegan Sun’s 650-slot Casino of the Wind opening in August. “We’re going to have a whole slew of new cabinets,” he said.

“There’s a lot of new stuff. They [the manufacturers] are doing very well. The graphics are phenomenal. The player appeal’s been really good,” Neborsky said.

He said he expects to showcase IGT G20 and G22 cabinets, WMS’ Bluebird IIs, the new Bally spinning reel games and Aristocrat’s new Viridian cabinet.

Neborsky said Mohegan has had good success with its half-cent five-reel steppers and quarter-cent video slots from IGT. “It’s not as much about what the denomination is, but what the potential wager per game is,” he said. “You’ll see people playing 500 credits, which is a great bet at a dollar and a quarter.”

Traditional slot players like the five-reel stepper product because it gives them a little more bang for their buck, without taking them out of their comfort zone, Neborsky said, citing Konami’s Advantage 5 as one of the products that is doing well.

Across the country, Lee Skelley, assistant general manager at Barona Valley Ranch Resort & Casino near Lakeside, Calif., said WMS seems to have the right combination of game theme, play features and math.

“What they’re putting out there, players like,” he said. “They just have it all together right now.”

Bally, through strong performing product, has increased its percentage on Barona’s floor. “They’re doing very well,” he said.

Aruze Gaming also has shown some staying power, with its games at Barona, Skelley said. “They’re doing well enough to stay on the floor,” he said.

Konami also has shown strong performance in the mystery jackpot category, he said. “The Konami Mystic Temple progressive games are matching up very well with IGT and Aristocrat games,” he said. “They’re holding their own, and I have had them three or four months. Their performance has maintained. This game seems to have some legs to it.”

Skelley said he’s looking forward to seeing the IGT Wheel of Fortune five-station Super Spin, which has a more vertical wheel and the flexibility of being able to be positioned against a wall.

IGT’s Wheel of Fortune products continue to maintain their prominence in the highly competitive slot world, said Jerry Roed, director of slot operations at Ellis Island Casino in Las Vegas.

Roed noted “it’s the top game in numerous categories,” of the slot report produced annually by the Goldman Sachs investment firm.

That staying power is one reason why Ellis Island is filling its old sports book area with Wheel of Fortune products, including the five-station Super Spin, he said.

Skelley said he’ll also be keeping close tabs on the Bally GameMaker HDs and Aristocrat’s updated Cash Express, both of which will allow multiple games on a platform.

“It’s an intermediate step to server-based gaming,” Skelley said. “It’ll be very interesting to see how my guests react. I’m positive my customers will like to see a number of games on a single unit.”

Skelley said he wants to find out if there is a maximum or minimum number of games, or what denominations make sense. “It will give us a chance to evaluate that before server-based gaming comes.”

Other products he’s interested in include WMS’ Dean Martin-themed Money Burst game. “I’ve heard it’s been doing very well, and I’m looking forward to getting some of those,” he said

Bob Stewart, senior vice president, casino operations, Las Vegas Hilton, said he tries to get a jump on some of the new product even as G2E gets under way.

“During G2E, since we have a lot of [attendees] who stay here, one thing I try to do is I try to get some of the vendors to put some of newer products on my floor the week before the show,’ he said. “They get a chance to see some of the new equipment in live action. I get to try the new product, and [the vendors] get to showcase their product live action.”

One of the products Stewart showcased beginning the week before G2E was Bally Technologies’ Quick Hit Platinum multilevel progressive.

“It’s a beautiful box. It has a lot of eye appeal. The customers love it,” he said, noting it is performing above the house average for that area of the casino - near the convention area - even after several months of operation.

Stewart scored another first when WMS Gaming debuted its “Star Trek” game at the Hilton, which also is home to the Star Trek the Experience attraction.

The game is unique because WMS has incorporated an episodic gaming experience into the product, he said.

“If you are a customer and sit down and begin playing that machine, you’ve earned a certain amount of medals, you’re able to actually key in a code specific to you as a player, print out a ticket, and it’ll print out your personalized code, so you can resume play where you left off,” Stewart said.

“We’re the only casino to have those,” he said just two days after installing the games in late March. “Honestly, the seats have not been empty since we put them in,” he said. “You have to see it.”

Overall, he said, he’s very pleased with the “stellar performance” of WMS, and its “Wizard of Oz,” “Top Gun” and “Star Trek” games.

“They’re doing things that are more unique and different,” Stewart said. “I think a lot it has to do with eye appeal. They catch a lot of people’s attention, then they stop and sit down.”