Bally brings racing glory to the slot floor with NASCAR
by Frank Legato
Of all the variety of slot themes out there, sports are virtually absent from the discussion. Part of the reason, no doubt, is hypocritical anti-sports betting stance of the major sports leagues. But another reason is surely critical mass: Sports fans are loyal to one team; a Red Sox fan isn’t sitting down at a Yankees slot.
There is one sport, however, where that is not an issue—stock car racing. Racing fans follow Sprint Cup races and other events around the country, and if they’re fiercely loyal to anything, it’s not a team, or a city—it’s a driver.
This point has not been lost on slot-maker Bally Technologies, which has teamed up with the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, better known as NASCAR, to create a slot game that captures the excitement of the sport, as represented by the top drivers in the country.
NASCAR, the slot machine, features five drivers who might be called racing royalty, in a game that makes full use of the company’s “V22/32” cabinet—that’s the one with a regular 22-inch video monitor for the main game and the 32-inch vertical monitor popularized in its video roulette game used for the bonuses—along with the Pro Series Sound Chair. It’s the setup Bally used to such great effect in the Michael Jackson: King of Pop game.
It may work even better in this game than for the King of Pop. The sound chair roars and vibrates to simulate the roaring engines of NASCAR—the primary sound that has captivated fans since Bill France, Sr. founded the national sport in Daytona Beach in 1947—and the big screen provides a virtual vision of Daytona Speedway for the big bonus race.
Additional authenticity is achieved through the booming voice of the game’s “host,” NASCAR TV and radio announcer Eli Gold; and through the familiar NASCAR theme, which blares through the sound chair’s speakers during primary game play.
But the personalities of NASCAR drivers are what steer this game. “If you’re a race fan, you’re passionate about the cars, and you’re passionate about the tracks,” comments Dan Savage, vice president of marketing for Bally Technologies. “But you’re really passionate about the drivers. And we have the top-shelf drivers.”
According to William Wadleigh, director of game development for Bally, development of the NASCAR game started with the stars; the game was worked around the top names in the sport. “Through our agreement with NASCAR, we had a pool of drivers available,” Wadleigh explains. “For the first game, we picked who we thought were the five most popular. From a game design standpoint, we tried to highlight each individual driver, and to provide their fans with supporting visuals and game customizations.”
What that means is that the colors, the cars, the identifying numbers and the faces of each driver are woven into the primary game and the bonus events. At the outset, you pick your favorite driver—Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon or Clint Bowyer—and the game theme switches to highlight that driver.
“If I’m a Jimmy Johnson fan, I can touch the number 48 on the lower part of the upper screen, and the entire machine customizes itself to Jimmy Johnson,” says Wadleigh. “The same thing occurs with other drivers in the game, because NASCAR fans are really devoted to their driver, a big more than fans in other sports.”
Once your selection is made, you are playing as your favorite driver. Team colors, paint schemes, and details on the cars switch to reflect your driver. When you go into the bonus NASCAR race, you go in as your driver.
Aside from the trappings of your favorite driver, the primary NASCAR game—a five-reel, 30-line video slot with a wide-area progressive on top—reflects the racing world to the most minute detail. “The sport is so technically based these days that little changes to shock absorbers, minor changes to engines and things like that can have a great effect,” Wadleigh says. “So, in the base game, we decided to switch from royals (J, Q and K symbols) to one with thematic elements. Focus testing showed players were far more interested in the thematic elements, so we added engines, tires, shock absorbers and similar items to the game screen to give more of a racing feel to the base game.”
This attention to detail spills over into the bonus game, but the race itself is only one of three features there. This is a game with something for everyone.
Playing the Crowd
You may have guessed that a primary bonus event in this game is a NASCAR race. However, this is no one-trick pony. “We tried to create bonuses to appeal to different player types,” Wadleigh says. “So, we have a Pit Stop Bonus, which is an interactive picking bonus; and there’s the Burnout Bonus, which is designed more for people who enjoy the free-spin experience.”
The Burnout Bonus features the back tire of the official NASCAR Bally car—yes, they actually created a real Bally car—as a wheel for the popular “U-Spin” function, in which the player touches the screen to physically spin a bonus wheel in either direction, with the wheel speed matching the force applied. (Bally was the first with this style of touch-wheel, by the way.) The wheel stops on one of five free-game features, with various numbers of spins, with multipliers, extra wild symbols, locking wilds, stacked wilds or a high re-trigger rate.
The Pit Stop Bonus awards five picks from various points on the image of a NASCAR vehicle. “It is an interactive picking bonus with five picks and standard credit awards, but also nested within the pick field are upgrade items,” Wadleigh explains, “which upgrade the car of your driver. So, rather than just receiving a credit award, it triggers a larger secondary pay.”
The U-Race Bonus, the game’s central feature, allows the player to choose five maneuvers to attempt to pass other cars. You start in fifth place, and touch one of three arrows to “drive” your car at critical turn points in the race. When the video race is finished, you receive a credit award for each maneuver selection plus a special “place” award for where your car finishes.
While casinos in California and Connecticut had installed the NASCAR game at press time, by the time you read this, the game will be rolling out at major casinos across the country. Watch for them at Caesars Entertainment (Caesars, Harrah’s, Horseshoe, Bally’s, Showboat) and Boyd Gaming (Sam’s Town, Orleans, Gold Coast, Suncoast, Borgata) early on.
According to Savage, major operators like Caesars and Boyd typically launch games like NASCAR with a lot of fanfare, including events featuring the stars of the show. The properties arrange appearances with the agents of the stars, so don’t be surprised if your favorite casino hosts Boyer, Johnson or one of the other stars in an event introducing the slots. “We’ve provided the casinos with photo-ready artwork of the drivers’ faces and names so they can make their own NASCAR events,” Savage says.
Savage sums up the game’s appeal by saying that the variety of bonuses appeal to a wide variety of players, but the way the theme is communicated will reel in the NASCAR fans immediately.
“The game is authentic to the brand,” Savage says. “If you’re a race fan, you’re going to love this game.” •
Slot Type: Five-reel, 30-line video slot; second-screen and free-spin bonus events; multi-site progressive jackpot; penny denomination
Payback % Range: 85.21%—88.22%
Average Hit Frequency: 44.97%
Top Jackpot: Progressive; $400,000 reset
Availability: CA, CT at press time; other states pending
The NASCAR slot machine is one of two uses of the stock-car organization’s brand by Bally. It is also the theme of the latest “Virtual Race” offered through the manufacturer’s iVIEW Display Manager and Elite Bonusing Suite, a system that networks an entire slot floor over Ethernet connections to create a community bonus.
A really big community bonus. In fact, on May 11, Bally set a Guinness World Record at Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun for the World’s Largest Virtual Race—every one of the 6,000-plus machines on Mohegan’s floor was linked to create several Virtual Races throughout the day.
The NASCAR Virtual Race takes the five top drivers depicted on the NASCAR slot machine— Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon or Clint Bowyer—and adds three—Matt Kenseth, Mark Martin and Martin Truex Jr.—for a total field of eight. Players across the casino who earn a minimal number of points playing slots are asked to pick their favorite of the eight drivers, and what follows is a virtual race beamed right to the video screen of the slot (or to the small iVIEW LCD display on reel-spinners) and to monitors throughout the casino.
Everyone who picks the winning driver splits a cash prize pool, in the form of credits downloaded right to the games. The first NASCAR Virtual Races were held in October, and they’ve been a hit.
“The South Point in Las Vegas was so confident of the NASCAR brand that they gave away $250,000 in prizes over the month of October in Virtual Racing NASCAR,” says Bally Marketing VP Dan Savage. “Mohegan Sun is giving away $100,000.”
Start your engines. •