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BLENDING IDEAS

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Mergers bring exciting new games to the casino floor

By John Grochowski

 

It was the first day of Global Gaming Expo, the casino industry’s annual fall conference and tradeshow at the Sands Expo and Convention Center in Las Vegas, and my first appointment was to see what was new in the world of slots from Multi-media Games.

Problem: Multimedia merged with Global Cash Access, the combined company was rebranded earlier this year, and I couldn’t remember the new name. It’s not difficult to find online, and a helpful person in the media room knew the company was now known as Everi, so it was just a small hurdle. I was on my way to the appointment in plenty of time.

Still, it’s getting to where you can’t tell the players without a scorecard in the slot machine industry. A whole slew of mergers have reshaped the business. The world’s largest slot maker, International Game Technology, has merged with GTECH, which itself built a presence partly through acquisition of the companies formerly known as Atronic and Spielo International. Scientific Games, known mainly for casino management and monitoring systems, suddenly is a powerhouse on multiple fronts after acquiring slot giants Bally Technologies and WMS Gaming, along with WMS’ sister company Williams Interactive and new table games leader Shuffle Master.

American Gaming Systems, a major presence in Class II bingo-style slot machines as well as Class III random number generator games, acquired another Class II leader in Cadillac Jack—it took some getting used to, seeing the Cadillac Jack logo on games at the AGS booth. And then there’s Everi, involving two companies that competed in separate realms: Multimedia in the slot business, with its TournEvent tournament system being a huge hit, and Global Cash Access, with its focus on cash handling solutions.

The booths of those merged companies were all on my rounds at the Expo. Here are a few impressions of things we’ll see from them in the coming year.

International Game Technology

As always, big-name licensed titles drew big crowds at the IGT booth. Without doubt, you’ll want to check out TMZ, Orange Is the New Black, House of Cards and Breaking Bad as they make their way into casinos.

But what I found intriguing was the blend of technology as IGT welcomed GTECH’s 3D imaging with open arms. Branded as True 3D, it is spectacular. When Sphinx 3D was introduced two years ago, I found myself reaching out to try to catch the gold coins as they flew off the screen—it’s that good. In fact, it’s so good that some players find it a little too intense. For them, there’s a touch-screen control to ramp down the 3D effect. One thing GTECH found was that some players turned down the 3D setting for regular play, but took it back to max to fully experience the bonus events.

There’s a happy blend of IGT tradition and GTECH imaging in the new Wheel of Fortune 3D Puzzle Bonus. The virtual wheel really pops off the screen, and so do the letter spaces at puzzle-solving time.

But the game that really had me oohing and aahing was the pirate-themed Reef of Riches game. It’s a 3D spectacular, with lots of animated little extras that aren’t part of game play, but add to the atmosphere—look for the giant squid reaching over the railing for the pirate. Reef of Riches takes customer interaction right into the periods when no one is playing. The machine has a motion sensor, and when an empty game senses a potential player in the vicinity, it goes into attract mode.

The main characters in the game are a black-bearded male pirate and a buxom blonde female buccaneer, and it’s the blonde who takes the lead when the machine senses someone nearby. As I stood just off to the left of the game’s chair, she strode forward and called out, “This is your lucky day. I’m looking forward to playing with you! Yo, ho, ho! Come here and sit down!”

How could I possibly not take a seat? That the game was fun, with plenty of bonuses to go with the pirate imagery, kept me lingering, but I just had to check it out.

Scientific Games

With both Bally and WMS under the Scientific Games corporate umbrella, there were lots and lots of slots, with plenty of creative touches. The star of the show was The Simpsons, with so many extras no one will be able to pass by. Whether you choose to play or not, you’re at least want to stop to see what’s going on.

It’s a big, beautiful game, loaded with features based on Simpsons characters. I was intrigued by the motion sensor that’s incorporated into bonus events. When you land Homer symbols on the four corners of the main screen—and there are five screens in this game, if you include the video button panel—you start off by moving your hand over a motion sensor to guide Homer’s hand to catch sprinkles falling from a doughnut above.

The Simpsons was one of the leading attention-grabbers at the show, but again, I was intrigued by something that’s not quite ready for market. Space Invaders has a skill-based bonus event based on the old arcade game, and it’s part of a new frontier for casino gaming.

Earlier this year, Nevada legalized full skill-based gaming. Just what shape that will take when implemented was a hot topic at G2E. Once regulations are in place, we’re likely to see both hybrid games with video slot reels but skill-based bonuses, and fully-skill based games that look nothing like today’s slots. Instead, they’ll more closely resemble game apps that appeal to the millennial generation.

Space Invaders is a natural entry point for Scientific Games, give that Bally has previously marketed games with skill-based bonuses under older regulations that allow up to four percent of a game’s payback to come from tests of skill.

Under that regulation, Bally was one of the first companies to market skill-based slot bonuses in Pong and Breakout. Once the gaming commission sets new parameters, Space Invaders will give Scientific Games an easy early entry into the market as manufacturers ponder how best to use the new law to appeal to younger legal gamblers.

One other thing: Scientific Games is looking for some synergy between its slot and table games business. Some grand old slot names are being brought to the tables.   Last year, we saw a Blazing 7s progressive wager for blackjack, playing off Bally’s Blazing 7s slots. This time, it’s Jackpot Party Blackjack, named for the popular WMS slots.

There are no gift boxes or party poopers here, as in the slot machine. The Jackpot Party side bet pays off whenever your hand is a 20, or includes at least one Jack of spades. Payoffs start at even money for a single Jack of spades, and rise to 600-1 for two Jacks of spades plus a dealer blackjack.

Everi

The pronunciation is “every,” as in everything for everybody, whether the need is for slot games as Multimedia has produced, or cash handling solutions in GCA’s domain.

The slot games include a couple of new features sure to be hits with players. On Quad Burst Tiger Strike, any random spin can turn into a double spin, with a second set of reels in the top box for an extra chance to win.

In regular, single-screen play, if you collect enough bonus symbols to launch a bonus event, you get four reel sets on the main screen for your free spins. But if you’re in double-spin mode and launch a bonus, then both the reel set on the main screen and the reel set in the top box burst into four. Then you have eight sets for reels going four your free spins, and a shot at some monster wins.

Another fun innovation comes on Jackpot Inferno. Any time you win a progressive jackpot, you launch a pick’em bonus, where the prizes include a chance to jump a jackpot level. You with a five-symbol tier jackpot, you have a chance in the pick’em to jump all the way to the No. 9 tier. If you start at No. 8, you can jump all the way to the top. A small, frequent-hit jackpot can turn into a mid-tier prize, and a mid-tier prize can morph into the big one.

American Gaming Systems

AGC, incorporating Cadillac Jack, is bullish on its new Icon cabinet for Class III games, and Tiger Tiger is a great way to show it off. Tiger Tiger has a dynamic streaming stacks feature, with long rows of the same symbol. In the free spins bonus, there are only four different symbols—all the small-payers sit out the event, you see stacks for Bengal tigers, black tigers, huntresses and wild symbols. That opens the door to a screen full of the same symbol and the possibility of some roaring big wins.

Mergers always bring change as companies feel their way through blending corporate cultures. But they can bring opportunities, too, with a chance to blend ideas and technologies. What the newly merged slot makers are showing so far is that they’re hard at work in bringing us creative fun.

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