Slot players are gravitating to games with intricate play, crazy action and comfortable seating

Multimedia Games’ horse-race-themed Sport of Kings has proven popular with players

Slot players, while frequently fanatical, also can be slightly fickle in that they are looking for the next big thrill. While they latch onto favorite games, they are always daring slot floor managers to go them one better – to offer them new challenges, greater playing excitement and more fun.

Mindful of these desires, slot machine manufacturers develop hundreds of new games each year, which will be evaluated by casino slot managers as to meeting the tastes of their customers, and thus assuring plenty of profitable play.

“We’re constantly adding new slots games and shuffling the mix to produce a competitive environment for customers,” said Robert Allen, vice president of slot operations at the Grand Casino in Mille Lacs and Hinckley, Minn.

“I’m always looking for slot games that are visually interesting, but also offer exciting play,” said Chad Dugger, director of slot operations at the Island View Casino Resort, in Gulfport, Miss. “Today’s customer wants more bang for his buck. To get him back on a regular basis, we try to introduce new games at least once every three months.”

“We try to purchase a little of everything from a broad selection of manufacturers,” said Frank Kennedy, vice president of slot operations at the Four Winds Casino Resort in New Buffalo, Mich. “According to our customers, the big winners of last year were Aruze Verdiali, Konami Advi5 Poduri, WMS Bluebird Transmissive Reels and video slots, IGT MLD machines. Bally’s Cinereels and Cinevision games. I especially liked the Monte Carlo spin ball machine.”

IGT’s Sex and the City product, which allows players to play four games at once, was a hit right out of the gate

At present, slot managers report that players are gravitating toward those games offering advanced technology, new ways to play, and generally have a lot of ongoing action.

“There is some concern that games may be getting too complex,” Kennedy said. “But it seems that lately, the more complex and crazier games get, the more people seem to like them.”

Allen agreed, noting that the most popular new slots game introduced at the Grand Casino in the last year has been IGT’s Sex and the City with the SurroundSound chair.

“This game was masterfully conceived, offering broad parameters in the game with a mix of sounds, music and clips from the TV series,” Allen said. “Players seem to really like the ability to play four games simultaneously and enjoy the five-level progressive bonus games, each built around a character from the series that enable players to select from a group of boxes that provide either credits or a progressive award.

“And best of all, it attracted women players, a market demographic we’re trying to grow,” Allen added. “Women have become avid players, and, if they get a machine like Sex and the City, they’ll play longer.”

Sex and the City also has been a big winner at the Island View Casino in Gulfport, Miss. “With its four-games-in-one format and volatile bonusing situations, we always have a crowd around this game, many rooting on the player,” Dugger said.

But IGT’s Wolf Run Video Slot has been almost as big at Island View, which Dugger described as play-based and theme-driven. Players enjoy the volatile game play, stacked Wild symbol action, and the retriggering free spins bonus, he explained.

Slot executives say The Wizard of Oz games from WMS rank among the top games preferred by players

At Station Casinos in Las Vegas, WMS’s The Wizard of Oz games have been tops, said David Frankenhouser, corporate director of slots. Familiar characters, the Transmissive Reels,with an LCD-video bonus game overlay appearing on the mechanical reels, exceptional graphics, and wild playing action are a great attraction.

Four Winds’ Kennedy agrees, adding that all WMS Transmissive Reel games have been big winners at his casino. Players find this technology intriguing, he noted. Among the more popular games using this technology are Lucky Penny and John Wayne, the latter playing clips of the movie icon’s best scenes, while Wild symbols seem to jump off the reels. These games also can be offered as wide-area progressives.

A good slots cabinet also can help make for winners on the casino floor.

“The WMS Bluebird 2 boxes are comfortable to sit at. And they have content that players enjoy, along with different themes and bonuses. The Goldfish machine, with its five color-specific randomly triggered bonus round, has done exceptionally well on our floor,” Station Casinos’ Frankenhouser said.

“Aruze did everything right with its slant-top machines,” he added. “They have a unique look, but are also comfortable to sit in, making for longer play. The design is very ergonomic. The LCD screen is more upright, so there are no glare issues.”

“The top Aruze game has been Shen Long, which has extremely popular with our customers,” Frankenhouser noted.

Island View’s Dugger said he was very impressed by the portfolio of games currently offered by Aruze.

“They are very innovative, but have not yet been approved in Mississippi. We’ll get them when we can,” he said.

Aruze is creating anticipation among slots managers nationwide. Several said they are looking forward to adding the company’s Rock You Queen slot game, built around the music of the popular English rock band, during the next year.

Grand Casino’s Allen likes many new games from Konami Gaming, but was especially impressed by Full Moon Diamond.

This KonXion 4-5-4-5-4 series game is based on hexagonal symbols, with how they connect determining the payout. Players, he noted, find this game easy to play, with the staggered reels providing more ways to win.

Mirror reels that operate during the free games, also have a unique way of coming to a halt, with the first and fifth reels stopping first, then the second and fourth reels, with the third reel stopping last to finish the game and determine any wins. This, Allen noted, builds excitement among players, always an important factor to building longer play times.

Four Winds’ Kennedy also sings the praises of Konami games, which he describes as “bold, bright and colorful with fast-hit progressives that keep players interested and on their toes.

“Konami is doing a lot of things right that our customers find both intriguing and fun, so I take a careful look at every new game they introduce,” he said.

A big surprise for Allen last year was the emergence of Multimedia Games Inc. as a supplier of Class III games. Doing exceptionally well is The Sport of Kings, which includes a horse race, community betting and a 30-cent top bet. Horse race is displayed in 3D animation. Anticipation among players grows when the Power glass timer appears in the upper corner of the system, and triggers additional betting on the color-coded virtual steeds.

Multimedia also is promoting Casino Commander, an innovative slot tournament system that enables casino operators to quickly and seamlessly create entertaining tournament environments. The system features eye-catching real-time leader boards and countdown displays on slot machines and on overhead displays.

A main benefit of Casino Commander is how easy it shifts slot machines from “in-revenue” to tournament mode and then back again with minimal/no interruption of the slot floor. The system also features the Control Center technology, a multifunction kiosk located at the tournament bank, which provides advanced tools for casino operators to more efficiently manage active slot tournaments as well as advertise upcoming tournaments when units are placed in “in revenue” mode.

WMS' Rome & Egypt game is popular with players, partly because it offers plenty of chances to win free spins

WMS G+ 5x4 slots have proved popular at Island View and other Gulf Coast casinos. The biggest of the big for Dugger has been the Lancelot 5x4, with its stacked Wilds that can generate up to 50 free spins and the option to bet 50 and 100 lines. Other popular games in this genre include Mayan Sun and Rome & Egypt.

Players seem to enjoy these games for the easy playing rules and the ability to win lots of extra spins, Dugger said.

These machines have achieved similar success at the Grand Casino, which Allen credits not only to the ingenious game play that can produce bigger wins, but also to “the fabulous artwork, especially on Mayan Sun, which is eye-catching and attracts people to the games.”

Customers are further gathering around Aristocrat Reel Power and Xtra Reel Power games, Dugger said. The former offers players the ability to purchase reels instead of lines, while the latter offers games in a 5x4 format where a maximum 40 credits can be bet on each reel.

Some emerging trends include the rise of community slots. The more casual player likes the idea of alternately playing with and against other players amid a battery of connected machines.

Another trend has casinos converting more of their floor to penny slots.

“It’s the economy. People have less discretionary cash, so they gravitate to the lower denomination machines,” Dugger said.

“As a result, penny machines now account for 75 percent of our slots. But such games offer extensive betting options, so players (some of whom wouldn’t touch a quarter slot) end up betting more than that per pull on a penny machine,” he added.

But as some slots managers noted, penny machines don’t necessarily mean lower bets. Some penny machines offer so many betting options that players can easily bet $1 per play.

“I found so many great new games in 2009 that I’m looking forward to 2010,” said Four Winds’ Kennedy.