Powerball takes the multiple progressive to the next level
by Frank Legato
We can all remember when shooting for a progressive jackpot on a slot machine was a fairly boring proposition. A progressive meant you played for the chance at a big, often life-changing jackpot—and nothing else. Outside of the potential big payoff, what you had was a tight slot that drained your money in a monotonous parade of losing spins.
Not now. These days, a different kind of parade is causing the latest buzz on the slot floor. It is a parade of multiple-progressive slot machines from several manufacturers. These games typically offer a shot at not one, but several different levels of progressive jackpot, and they all hit much more frequently than the older style of big-money slot.
Add in a frequent bonus round—often tied to the progressives—and what you have is an entertaining game that happens also to be a progressive slot.
Add in an ingenious multiple progressive set-up and a sure-fire winning brand, and you have the newest blockbuster from WMS Gaming: Powerball.
Powerball, as anyone not living in a cave knows by now, is the multi-state super-jackpot lottery which most recently awarded the largest lottery prize in history ($365 million to a group of working stiffs from a Midwest meat-packing plant). Powerball—a word you know and love, a word you hear all the time in the news, a word that inspires dreams of quitting that dull job and moving to Easy Street to bathe in riches.
A few years ago, every slot manufacturer in the business was after the rights to the Powerball brand, owned by the Multi-State Lottery organization. “Everyone was bidding on this brand,” recalls Larry Pacey, senior vice president of product development at WMS. “It is a really exciting brand. Even in markets that don’t have the Powerball multi-state lottery game, people know about it. It is a publicly talked-about, newsworthy item.”
When WMS won the rights to the Powerball brand, it fell on Pacey and Phil Gelber, vice president of game development, to create a progressive slot game that would live up to the potential of the brand. “Early on, we recognized through our research process that Powerball is a powerful brand,” says Gelber. “It is constantly in the public eye. When we acquired the brand, we wanted to duplicate the life-changing event, but we also wanted to duplicate the experience of smaller prizes in the lottery, like the scratch-ticket events. You’re playing for the million-dollar jackpot, but along the way you have these other jackpots, simulating the smaller jackpots in the lottery.”
The Powerball Game
The feat of duplicating the most famous lottery in the world within the confines of a video slot would be made possible for WMS game designers through the capabilities of the manufacturer’s “CPU-NXT” video gaming platform, a high-powered computer operating system that provides a vast palette for the creation of elaborate game features. The games in this new platform are featured in the “Bluebird” series, featuring an ergonomically designed, sleek and comfortable cabinet.
In this case, the center of what makes Powerball special is not the cabinet style, but the bonus feature—what is called the “matrix.” It is a matrix of nine local-area progressive jackpots, displayed in a three-by-three grid. The local-area progressives range from reset levels of $5 all the way up to $1,000. Above the grid in the display—in the top box of both video and reel-spinning versions of the game¬—is a multi-site progressive jackpot resetting at $1 million in Nevada, and at half a million in Native American jurisdictions. (A non-progressive version of the game sets this top prize at $10,000.)
When the player triggers the bonus round in either the video or reel-spinning versions of Powerball, the resulting progression of events on the top-box bonus panel leads to the awarding of an amount from $5 up to all nine of the progressive jackpots displayed on the board.
Launched in denominations of two cents to a dollar, Powerball features four base games, and the Bluebird LCD monitor in the top box displaying nine progressive jackpots. On every bonus, players will have the opportunity to win one, two, three, six or even all nine progressive jackpots.
The Powerball progressive feature displays nine available progressive prizes, up to the hundreds and thousands of dollars, with the million-dollar prize at the top. All nine progressive meters will increment constantly with coin-in across the network. The prizes are marked as red, white and blue across the top and “Mega,” “Super” and “Grand” on the side. When the Powerball bonus is initiated, a reel-spinning or video sequence begins to award one prize, two prizes, all three prizes in a row or column, or ultimately, all nine prizes.
“If you think the idea of multi-level progressives is exciting, this is the next generation,” says Pacey. “With the ability to win multiple progressives simultaneously, and have that life-changing jackpot on top, Powerball just becomes a fun lottery game. It’s more about chasing these progressives than the games themselves.”
Video and Reels
Powerball is being launched in four versions—two video, two and reel-spinning versions. The five-reel video versions, called “Powerball—It’s America’s Game” and “Powerball—Millionaire,” include both game-specific bonus features and the common Powerball bonus game. The reel-spinning Powerball entries, called “It’s America’s Game” and “Double Powerball,” are each four-reel slots—three primary reels plus the fourth reel for the bonus.
On the video side, the primary slots “It’s America’s Game” and “Powerball—Millionaire” each feature two game-specific bonus events. In “It’s America’s Game,” five “Power” bonus ball symbols on an active payline trigger the “Power Bonus Sequence.” The player chooses from several bonus balls displayed on the screen to reveal a bonus award.
In the main “Scratch Ticket Bonus,” the player chooses spots on a video lottery ticket to reveal bonus credits and multiplier amounts in a multi-leveled bonus game.
In the “Powerball—Millionaire” game, there is a scratch-ticket game called “Millionaire Dream” and a pick-a-tile, symbol-matching game called “3 Fast Match” in which players select from lottery balls to match bonus amounts and multipliers.
On either video game, three bonus symbols on a payline activates the “Powerball Matrix Bonus.” A field of blue lottery balls appears, alongside a video “hostess” by a game board displaying the grid of bonus prizes. The player selects balls to reveal credits toward a jackpot in the red, white, or blue aisles; or in the “Mega,” “Super” and “Grand” rows of prizes.
Special symbols in the grid reveal prizes of “All White” rows of prizes, or “All Grand,” “All Mega,” etc., levels of prizes, which give the player a combination of three of the progressive jackpots displayed on the board. There also are three “Award All” spots on the board, which award all nine progressive jackpots on the board in one lump of credits.
The reel-spinning games “It’s America’s Game” and “Double Powerball” each feature classic three-reel primary games along with a fourth bonus reel. A bonus symbol on the third reel activates the fourth reel, with symbols corresponding to the jackpots displayed on the three-by-three Powerball grid. As with the video version, symbols can reveal individual bonus awards, combinations of rows or colors of awards, or all nine progressive awards.
The top million-dollar progressive is hit by lining up Powerball bonus features on the indicated pay lines.
The jackpot opportunities on this game are plenty, and this is communicated in simple and exciting terms by the vision of 10 jackpots—the nine on the game-show board and the big-money top prize—all incrementing simultaneously with each wager on the network.
“As coins are wagered and the jackpots individually increment, it is the most exciting thing you’ve ever seen,” says Pacey. “If you think the idea of multi-level progressives is exciting, this is the next generation. The ability to win multiple jackpots, and simultaneously, and to have that life-changing jackpot on top, makes Powerball just a fun lottery game. It’s more about chasing the progressives than the primary games. And to be able to award these jackpots regularly is a different twist to the progressive game.”
According to Gelber, the odds of winning all nine of the local-area jackpots in a bonus spin actually are comparably good for the player. “During the course of a good Friday night in a casino, someone’s going to win all nine of those jackpots,” he says. “It is fairly common to win four jackpots in a bonus round, and there are multiple ways of hitting more than one jackpot. Winning all nine at once is not as common, but it will definitely happen. Local-area jackpots of $5 to $1,000 are going off all the time. That’s why these games are really popular in casinos today—because you can win on them often.”
On a bank full of players on the new Powerball game, says Pacey, it will be typical to see players winning progressives left and right, in various levels of richness. “What’s great about it is that you have an opportunity at any time to win more than one progressive jackpot,” he says. “You can actually win all nine progressives, which makes this game the first of its kind. You will actually be able to clear the board of progressives in a single bonus round, and the mechanic of how you unlock the progressives makes players feel they have a sense of control on the video version, and gives them a high level of anticipation on the reel-spinning version.”
According to Gelber, Powerball is being launched at the beginning of April in all Native American jurisdictions served by WMS, including California and Connecticut. After that, the game will appear in Nevada, by the end of April or early May. Harrah’s Entertainment has a 60-day exclusive on the introduction of the game in most markets where the company operates, and Harrah’s casinos will be designing various promotions connected to the launch of Powerball.
“This will probably be the largest launch in gaming history,” says Pacey. “It is the next level of excitement on the slot floor, and when the casinos begin to ratchet it up, everybody’s going to move to it.”
Fifteen-line, 100-coin video slot or four-reel, two-coin buy-a-pay mechanical slot; second-screen and mechanical top-box bonus events; nine-level local-area progressive and million-dollar, multi-site progressive jackpots; two-cent through dollar denominations.
PAYBACK % RANGE
Video: 88.01%, 88.28%
Reel-spinning: 89.01%, 89.06%
AVERAGE HIT FREQUENCY:
Video: Approximately 50%
Reels: Approximately 20%
Progressive; resets at $200,000—$1 million
AZ, CA, CO, CT, IL, IN, IA, KS, LA, MI (tribal), MN, MS (tribal), MO, NM, NV, NY, ND, OR, SD, WA, WI