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Penny slots, coinless slots, poker hot trends at the casinos

What’s hot at the casinos?
With current popular televised poker tournaments, there has been renewed interest in that table game, but table games in general are continuing to decline in popularity.

“There was a time in the industry when table games earned significantly more than slot machines,” said Curt Follmer, senior vice president and general manager for Rainbow Hotel Casino in Vicksburg and the 2004 president of the Mississippi Gaming Association. “That reversed itself in the early 1980s. Since then it has been a slow downward movement as far as table games are concerned. There is an exception to that. Poker is starting to show some resurgence due to all the television tournaments.”

Video comes of age

The trend towards increased popularity for video games has been going on for approximately the past 15 years. Follmer said part of the move is attributed to the video generation coming of age.

“The video is more sophisticated these days,” Follmer said.

Another trend is coinless slot machines. Players use tickets in lieu of coins. Follmer suspects that in a year or two there won’t be any major facility that still use coins.

“We have a few coin games left,” Follmer said. “But by this time next year, we will probably have zero. Beyond that, I suspect in the next five years, you will see electronic fund transfers. You will just transfer everything on and off the card. You won’t even have tickets.”

Coinless slot machines require less labor and maintenance, and aren’t down so long waiting for hoppers to be filled. Follmer said there are no negatives to it; once customers get used to it, they like it better, too.

Another change on the horizon regards the internal workings of slot machines. Currently, all of the slot machine games are on a chip. Follmer said in the not-too-distant future, the slot machines will run on hard drives so it will be possible to change the games pretty easily. Currently if it turns out one type of slot machine is increasingly popular, a chip as well as glass and possibly reel strips have to be ordered to convert another slot machine to the game. Slot machines running on hard drives would allow games to be swapped out more quickly.

A full circle?

IGT, the nation’s largest manufacturer of gaming machines, is seeing increased interest in penny games. According to IGT, slot machines began as penny amusements and now, a 100 years later, penny games are once again one of the hottest trends on the casino floor.

“Of course, times have changed,” said Connie Fox, public relations manager for IGT. “More than a century ago, a lucky player was treated to a gimcrack as reward for a penny investment. Today, the very lucky ‘penny’ player could win hundreds of thousands and maybe even millions of dollars on a penny machine. Penny slots encourage play and add to the excitement of the game.”

Ticket technology is credited with reviving the penny slot machine. “Tickets are the great enabler when it comes to low-denomination games,” said Ed Rogich, IGT’s vice president of marketing. “First and foremost, ticket-in, ticket-out makes penny slots practical from the casino operator’s point of view since jackpots are paid in tickets rather than in buckets of coins.”

Ticket technology has given operators the freedom to offer their players a multi-coin betting option without the headache of coin handling.

“The rapid acceptance of video slots prompted players to ask for lower-denomination games,” he said. “And finally, video slot technology allows for machines to be programmed for multi-denomination play. This expands the choices even further since a single machine can offer one- or two-cent play, on up to $5 or more.”

Valuable real estate

Rogich said since casino floor space is valuable real estate, multi-denomination games offer the operator an assurance that every machine will appeal to a variety of players. The advantage to players is the convenience of being able to instantly adjust the level of their play without ever leaving their seat.

IGT believes the future will bring even more game themes adaptable to penny and multi-denomination machines.

“Low-denomination slots are evolving, and there are lots of possibilities,” Rogich said. “We might see a sliding scale of game bonuses where the payback varies with the amount wagered. Plan on all of us — manufacturer, casino and player — continuing to experiment with what makes the most sense.”

Fox said IGT has also developed a sort of hybrid slot called Reel Touch that combines a spinning reel base with a video slot “top box.” This gives players who prefer the more traditional spinning reel machines the opportunity to enjoy the video bonus rounds.

Another trend is toward more reels.

“We are introducing a lot of five reel machines,” Fox said. “And lastly, we are rolling out machines with more computing power such as our ‘advanced video platform’ that delivers streaming video, stellar graphics and outstanding audio.”

Ocean Springs-based freelance journalist Becky Gillette writers regularly for the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact her via e-mail at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

About Becky Gillette

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