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Best of John Grochowski

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Penny Slots Stage a Comeback

18 September 2004

I've been writing this column for 10 years, and going to casinos a good deal longer than that, and the casino industry never ceases to amaze me.

When I first came up close and personal to slot machines, penny slots were a curiosity, a relic from the past. Downtown Las Vegas had penny machines at the El Cortez and the Gold Spike with an area called the Copper Mine, and there was a little throwback place called Little Caesar's, near the Aladdin on the Strip, that had penny games.

That was it. Penny games were on their way toward becoming extinct, and nickel machines weren't far behind.

Times change; technology changes. Nickel machines are among the most popular, plentiful, profitable slots around. And it looks like players are eager to see just how low they can go with their coin denominations.

Within the last few weeks, Hollywood Casino in Aurora and Empress in Joliet have added 2-cent slots. In Indiana, 2-centers are long-established at Trump and Majestic Star in Gary. Majestic Star also has had penny Hundred Play video poker for some time and is starting to sprinkle in penny video reel slots. A little farther afield, Blue Chip in Michigan City, Ind., has 2-cent slots and Par-A-Dice in East Peoria has both penny games and 2-centers.

What was it that has brought low-denomination games back from the near-dead?

Technology. If slot machines had never grown beyond traditional three-reel games, and if coins were still dropping into trays after every win, we wouldn't be seeing penny and 2-cent games today. Such games just couldn't earn enough money to justify their places on the floor.

Video slots have changed everything. Players have become used to the idea of having five, nine and sometimes more paylines on nickel games. Now, with penny and 2-cent games, most have 15, 20 or more lines. Just as important, ticket-in, ticket-out paybacks mean that casinos don't have to keep huge inventories of coins or tokens on hand, and they don't lose time to coin jams or hopper fills.

It's possible to play these games one line at a time, one coin at a time. A truly dedicated low-roller could spin the reels or deal hands of poker a penny or 2 cents at a time, but most don't. Most players at least bet all the paylines, even if they wager only one coin per line.

The bottom line has been low-cost fun for the players and profits that hold their own for the casinos. In May, Majestic Star and Trump earned more per machine on their 2-cent slots than they did on either nickel or quarter games. Illinois doesn't publish statistics that allow for the same comparison, but Tammy Couchman, slot director at Par-A-Dice, told me that her penny and 2-cent games are top performers.

That's by no means a local phenomenon. Andre Filosi, director of slot operations at the locals-oriented Sam's Town casino in Las Vegas, told me his penny games also are outearning his nickel and quarter machines.

Low-denomination games are the hot growth items in the casino industry of today, and in the next few years you'll see more games designed for low-denom games. Look for penny and 2-cent games to have more paylines and higher-coin maximum bets than nickel games, for starters.

On a recent walk through Empress, I took a look at its new 2-cent games. All the Empress slots now have ticket printers. Among the 2-cent games, most offer multiple denominations, allowing the player to touch the screen to choose among 2-cent, 5-cent and 10-cent denominations. However, Aristocrat, a pioneer in producing low-denomination games in Australia, has games such as Pompei and Wicked Winnings in 2-cent-only configuration on the Empress floor.

There are quite a lot of multiple-denomination games at Empress, and not just with a 2-cent base. I checked out several games on WMS' new CPU Next system and comfortable ergonomic Bluebird slot cabinets. Games such as Milk Money, Wild Wilderness and Jackpot Party Classic allow the player to choose nickel, dime or quarter play. Same with IGT games, including Dick Clark's Bloopers, Risque Business and Lucky Larry's Lobstermania.

Before long, we're likely even to see penny options in multiple-denomination machines in many Chicago-area casinos. Thanks to the technology, that works for both players and the casinos.

Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski