Bally mines cable TV’s hottest reality series with “Pawn Stars”
by Frank Legato
For many decades, the pawn shops of Las Vegas were a familiar site to tourists—the “Cash for Gold” signs have always been a common site in the Downtown area, and Vegas has always been a prime location for pawnbrokers.
But when Rick Harrison opened the World Famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop on Las Vegas Boulevard in Downtown Las Vegas in 1988, he probably didn’t expect that the shop would one day be, well, world-famous. Enter reality TV. In 2009, Harrison’s shop made reality TV history with the debut of Pawn Stars. Since that debut, the shop’s employees—Harrison, his father Richard “Old Man” Harrison, his son Corey “Big Boss” Harrison and Corey’s childhood friend, Austin “Chumlee” Russell—have become international stars, and the shop itself has become a major tourist attraction Downtown.
And the show? Well, it not only has been the History Channel’s most-watched show; it has become the No. 1 cable TV show in the world.
The premise is simple: Viewers are invited into the world of pawn-shop negotiations involving a variety of fascinating items brought in by customers off the street. Most of the items have some historical significance, and are typically brought into the shop by people looking to cash in on their family treasures. The banter among the staff is a sideline to tough negotiations with customers over price, and Harrison has a stable of experts on whom he calls to verify the authenticity of things like a gun once used in the Hatfield-McCoy feud, a 1930s toy, an antique guitar, a classic muscle car—you name it.
Viewers have gotten to know each of the pawn shop’s characters—the no-nonsense Rick Harrison, the grumpy Old Man who heaps verbal abuse on everyone, the tough negotiator Corey, and the goofy comic relief, Chumlee. Along with the fascinating items up for sale from people off the street, it all makes for great entertainment.
It also happens to be a perfect theme for a video slot machine.
Jean Venneman, vice president of product management and licensing for slot-maker Bally Technologies, knew Pawn Stars would be a slam-dunk as a slot. “Our general philosophy at Bally when looking for brands is to meet a couple of objectives,” Venneman says. “One is that it be something the player knows and loves. Two, there should be something about the brand we think can make an interesting slot experience. Pawn Stars hit the nail on the head both ways.”
On the popularity front, it helped that the show is known worldwide. “It’s a very, very popular show,” Venneman says, “not just in the U.S., but globally. It’s popular in Latin America; it’s popular in Europe. It has a broad reach.” She says the fact of the show’s popularity was driven home at the recent Global Gaming Expo trade show, when three of the four “Pawn Stars” made an appearance at the Bally booth. “They were mobbed,” she says. “It was fun and crazy how many people wanted their autographs and pictures.”
Venneman’s team at Bally mined the popularity of the show itself with a lot of help from the four stars themselves—all of them agreed to film full video segments for the slot machine. (It was handy that the now-famous shop is about 15 minutes from Bally headquarters in Las Vegas.)
“They’ve been a joy to work with,” Venneman says. “Chumlee, who is definitely a fan favorite, is also game for a lot of fun and craziness. We had him dress up in various costumes. For instance, if the player gets a certain slice on the bonus wheel, they’ll see Chumlee dressed up like an Egyptian. He’ll say, ‘Oh, you’ve won a bonus,’ and hand the player a gold bar. Players will get a chuckle and win money at the same time.”
It was all part of an effort to capitalize on the fact that Pawn Stars has all the elements of a great slot game—elements of risk, entertainment and gambling that are inherent in the show were easy to translate into slot features.
“What goes on in the game is very similar to what happens on the TV show,” Venneman says. “In the game, the player collects objects, brings them into the store, and meets one of the cast members. Then, they either sell the object, or they may negotiate. The play experience is very similar to what goes on in the actual show.”
The Pawn Stars slot calls on some great Bally technology to recreate the TV show. It’s on the Pro Wheel cabinet, which houses two 22-inch video screens in a curved ergonomic setup with an integral bonus wheel on top.
The five-reel, 25-line base game can be changed to reflect your favorite character from the show. Similar to what Bally did with the “NASCAR” game, you can select Chumlee, Rick, the Old Man or Corey at the outset and the colors, pictures and symbols will change to reflect that character. Also, all line wins formed by that character’s reel symbol in the base game are doubled.
Also during the base game, an “Item Selection Feature” allows the player to pick one of 20 spots to reveal a credit award and an item to be pawned later. The player stores any items collected in an “inventory” for use in the main bonus event.
The game is packed with bonuses, chosen during a spin of the central wheel. When “Diamond Wheel” symbols land on the first and fifth reels, the player spins the wheel. (You can either touch the screen to spin the wheel or use the “iDeck” LCD button pad.) The slices on the wheel relate to all the various bonus events—Free Games, the Chumlee Video Bonus, the Treasure Bonus, or the core feature of the game, the Negotiation Feature.
The Treasure Bonus displays a video from Pawn Stars, and then awards a multiple of the player’s total bet, from 4X to 60X. The Chumlee bonus features Chumlee in one of his costumes awarding a multiplier from 2X to 20X. The Free Games feature awards 10, 15 ort 20 free games with a random multiplier from 3X to 6X.
The Negotiation Feature is where the show really comes alive within the slot game. One of the Pawn Stars appears on the screen, and invites the player to pick one of the items earned during the base game. If no items have been earned, one appears for the bonus.
“In its simplest form, the character says, ‘Hey, that’s a great-looking item; I’ll give you 10,000 credits for it,’ and you’re done,” Venneman explains. However, it’s usually much more fun: The Pawn Star will say the line with which fans of the show are very familiar: “How much were you looking to get out of it?” The player is shown several amounts, and picks one. Then, the negotiation begins. “Oh, I can’t pay that. I’ll give you….” The player has the choice to accept the amount, or offer an alternative from several choices on the screen. Eventually, you’ll reach a bonus award somewhere in the middle.
Another possibility drawn directly from the show is verification by an expert of an item’s authenticity. If the Pawn Star says, “I’ll call in an expert,” the player has a choice to accept the previous offer or allow the expert to come in. If the expert decides the item is authentic, the player is awarded double the last offer. If the item is bogus, the player gets nothing—a classic gambling feature drawn directly from a typical Pawn Stars episode.
“One of the exciting things about the game is that the outcome is so varied,” Venneman says. “The player never knows how far he’s going to get into the bonus, or what’s going to happen. There’s a lot of player decision-making. Do I want to take my grand piano in, or my guitar or diamond necklace?”
The game is approved in several markets, and according to Venneman, Pawn Stars should be out in the casinos by the time you read this. “We thought this would be a good game, but we were pleasantly surprised at the reaction it’s getting,” she says. “It is really resonating with people; so many people have come up to me and said, ‘I’m really a fan.’ I think we have something really good on our hands.”
By all indications, Chumlee agrees. •
Five-reel, 25-line video slot; multiple second-screen and free-spin bonus events; top-box wheel bonus; all denominations available to casinos
Payback % Range
Average Hit Frequency
18,400 credits times total bet
AZ, CA, CO, CT, FL, ID, IL, IN, IA, KS, LA, MI, MN, MS, MO, ND, NM, NV, NY, OR, OK, PA, WI, WY (Approvals pending at press time)