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It’s a celebration of slots!

Oct 17, 2001 2:46 AM

Hollywood celebrities, game show hosts, movie classics and ”” believe it or not ”” the perplexing canned meat, Spam, have all found a place among the brand new slots to be unveiled this week at the World Gaming Congress & Expo.

Branding has obviously taken on a life of its own as slot builders scurry to land licenses for what they believe will be the next Wheel of Fortune, Monopoly or Double Diamonds.

“People feel comfortable with certain brands, whether they be television stars or household items,” said the CFO of one slot manufacturing company. “We’ll keep licensing them as long as the focus groups show strong player responses.”

The focus group has become the new tool for slot builders in their quest to find out what the public will embrace. Of course, there’s a difference of opinion as to how much the manufacturer should invest in a recognizable brand.

One group feels “branding” is important in that it has an immediate recognition factor that can attract players. A second group, however, feel the game will “make the brand,” and thus it is more important to create a compelling game that players will flock to.

“A good game creates its own brand,” said one slot producer.

With that in mind here are some of the new slot games conventioneers will be examining this season.

The vintage celebrities, TV game show hosts and other Hollywood stars have become hot items for IGT.

“We don’t know which of these will take off, but players seem to be willing to try anything these days,” said Ed Rogich, vice president of marketing for International Game Technology (IGT), the industry’s biggest player with more than 50 percent of the market.

IGT’s offerings this year included machines featuring the likenesses of Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Humphrey Bogart and ol’ blue eyes himself, Frank Sinatra.

For the younger crowd, a slick Regis Philbin host of the “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” hit TV show is featured on the new Regis’ Cash Club machine.

All the machines feature the voices, music and film clips of the stars, in a few cases ”” such as the Regis machine ”” recorded specially for IGT.

One innovative product that breaks new ground on the sensory edge is a smell-producing Lucy machine, featuring the late comedian Lucille Ball.

On tripping the bonus round, players can watch an animated Lucy in the famous chocolate assembly line scene desperately stuffing candy into her mouth. Players get to watch their bonus candy box fill up with point-labeled candies as the odor of chocolate wafts through an opening on the machine.

One of the most daring machines from IGT is Risque Business, a still-conceptual game where the bonus round features a male or female stripper taking off his or her clothes to a crowd of money-waving members of the opposite sex.

WMS Industries Inc., the industry’s No. 2 company, hopes to make a splash No. 2 company, hopes to make a splash with its new “Survivor” themed game, featuring an exterior of plastic jungle vines and a simulated flame with model tribal members sitting around it on top.

In that game’s bonus round, players get to choose between the jungle cook out, river crossing and fire walk, each of which produces a “Survivor-esque” experience that racks up bonus points depending on how far the player gets. None of the actual “Survivor” cast is featured on the game, however.

“In the tests we did, most people didn’t care about the real players,” said John Giobbi, head of WMS’s product development. “They didn’t know the real players.”

WMS’s other big hopeful is a slot machine version of the TV game show “Hollywood Squares,” which features a tic-tac-toe board peopled with nine real-life celebrities and their voices.

Actress Whoopi Goldberg ””an avid gambler herself ””occupies her usual center square and can be heard to call out such lines as “Nice win, honey, nice win,” when four of her pictures come up in a row on the five-reel machine.

The list of other titles is long and features such other themes as the games Pictionary and Monopoly from WMS and Uno and Checkers from IGT, which also has a new Spam themed machine that plays the Monty Python song “Spam” during the bonus round.