MILLION DOLLAR MADNESS
Everi’s fourth national TournEvent of Champions slot tournament crowns its first millionaire
By Frank Legato
Call them the Coin Heads.
When slot manufacturer Everi—the former Multimedia Games—held the finals for the fourth National TournEvent of Champions in Las Vegas last month, most of those attending were among the 182 finalists of the months-long, national slot tournament centered around the innovative TournEvent tournament system.
After all, each of those finalists had a free ride to Las Vegas for two—airfare, hotel, spending money—just for winning a satellite tournament at one of 100 participating casinos. Each finalist also is guaranteed prize money from the tournament itself, with no finalist walking away with less than $500 in winnings.
But there was another group of onlookers at the finals last month—held at the XS Nightclub at Wynn Las Vegas—a small group that had paid their own way from Washington state to cheer on the finalists.
“We have a group of about eight folks from our Washington area who actually paid their own way to come down and come to the championship,” comments Linda Trinh, who as Everi vice president of marketing and promotions runs the event. “They didn’t make it to the finals, but they wanted to be on hand to root for all their Washington casinos.”
Trinh says the onlookers are from a larger group of TournEvent of Champions devotees who follow the familiar TournEvent Bus around their state competing in all the satellite tournaments. The bus contains Everi marketing people—often including Trinh herself—and, of course, the well-known mascot and symbol of TournEvent, the coin-topped “Money Man.” It goes from casino to casino presiding over the preliminary tournaments.
A group of players follows the TournEvent Bus like Dead Heads used to follow Grateful Dead tours. In fact, Trinh says the similarity is pointed out by many.
The Coin Heads are indicative of how much players love the TournEvent tournament system, and the national contest that has built up around it. Developed as an instant tournament for dedicated banks of slots, TournEvent quickly became one of the former Multimedia Games’ biggest products. A dedicated bank of games includes a giant overhead monitor that also acts as a leaderboard, with a video screen beaming live-action footage of contestants while the tournament is going on. (There’s a camera on each machine.)
The games themselves include special features like floating balloons that boost your score if you touch them—it engages players like the dull button-pushing kind of slot tournament never could. For added excitement, at any point, any contestant can be awarded a random “Jump to First.” If that happens, you can have the worst score in the room two seconds before the end and win the tournament.
The contest can be hosted by an animated version of the Money Man, or by a live host, as it is in the national contest.
That live host so far has been Michael Conway, Everi’s creative director who, as a professional stage and TV actor, is a natural for the game show-like events. The appeal was evident early on, as the former Multimedia began staging multi-casino tournaments, first in California, then Washington, and finally, for the past three years, a national version with winners of the preliminary events flown to Las Vegas for the finals, first held in the Lagasse’s Stadium at the Venetian, and last year moving to the XS at Wynn.
The prizes have gone up each year—the winner took home $200,000 from the first national event, $500,000 in the second, and finally, this year, for the first time, the $1 million prize, with $400,000 spread among the other finalists.
There also is a popular second-chance feature in the finals. A field of 182 plays an all-day first round, which results in 100 winners. The top 100 play the finals next day, along with the winner of a Wild Card Round among the 82 eliminated the first day.
The event’s first $1 million winner was Rita Kellerman, representing the Ho-Chunk Gaming-Wisconsin Dells casino, besting the field of 182 after six rounds of competition at the XS on September 30.
“I can’t believe I won,” said Kellerman. “It’s all so surreal right now. This is the biggest thing that’s ever happened to me, except for getting married, of course.”
Something for Everyone
The rapid growth of the TournEvent of Champions is due to a structure that has been built so all who participate get a great experience. Trinh, who has run the national event from its conception, notes that the early decision to make every finalist a winner in his or her own right has been one of the biggest factors in the way the contest garners loyalty and excitement among players.
TournEvent’s following also has grown because of the annual tour for the qualifying events at casinos across the U.S., plus this year, three in Peru. Everi has two buses bedecked in the colors and symbols of TournEvent, each equipped with sleepers for a complete crew of Everi marketers and creative staff.
Trinh has been on a lot of those bus rides. Since the inception of the program in 2012, she estimates she has taken the bus to more than 200 casinos, for preliminaries where Everi’s own personalities join the Money Man in hosting the local qualifying events.
And then there are the players who follow those buses around, entering all the preliminary contests. Twice now, spouses have won consecutive qualifying contests—the wife winning the trip for two to the finals one year, the husband winning the next, for a repeat trip for two to the finals.
“We have a lot of great stories,” says Trinh. “This year, we had about 220%