Penny for your slots?

Feb 5, 2002 8:59 AM

A penny for your slots? That’s the word at locals-oriented casinos, where red-hot penny machines are attracting more play these days.

“Pennies are on fire,’’ reports Rick Ronca, slot manager at Jackie Gaughan’s Plaza. And part of the reason is that these slots aren’t just a penny-ante game anymore.

The latest generation of slot and video poker games offers the chance to cash out real winnings by covering multiple lines with multi-coin play. Some of latest options carry jackpots that meet or beat bigger denominations.

“It’s created a lot of excitement and breathed new life into old games,’’ notes Dan Roy, corporate vice president for slot operations at Station Casinos, which has more penny slots than any other gaming company in town.

“Pennies make sense,’’ punned IGT spokesman Ed Rogich. “They’re driving numbers that are sometimes better than nickels.’’

Indeed, some Downtown clubs have carved out a lively niche with pennies. “Pennies knock out nickels and quarters here, hands down,’’ says Pat Jacobs, slot manager of the Western hotel-casino on Fremont Street. “Players see the advantage. Their $10 may last 10 times longer.’’

The Western is one of the few places where players can plug actual pennies into slots. The machines, in turn, will cough up as many as 1,000 of the copper-clad coins to winners.

But there are far bigger jackpots available, too. The Western once paid a Guinness Book of World Records $98,000 on a penny jackpot. Today, a five-coin progressive game is at $5,000 and growing.

To meet the robust demand, the Western has nearly doubled its bank of penny machines to 100. And Jacobs says more may be added ”” at the expense of nickel machines.

Roy says Station properties also have been steadily adding penny machines, using a ticket system. He said bets average about $1.30 a pull ”” which is hardly chump change. At that rate, credits and payoffs pile up quickly.

Multi-line penny games, Roy notes, boost the hit frequency from, say, 15 percent to 50 percent. That, on top of bonus features, generate games that are “a lot more interactive,’’ he adds.

“It’s an enticement, a traffic driver,’’ says Kathleen Harris, corporate director of slots for Harrah’s Entertainment.

Though Harris points out that penny slots aren’t widely used at the company’s larger resorts, she said smaller Harrah’s properties such as those at Lake Tahoe and Tunica, Miss., utilize them with good success.

Looking over the horizon, local slot directors see a trend toward still lower denominations ”” thanks in part to innovations coming out of Australia.

“We’re about 3½ years behind the Aussies,’’ Ronca says. “They’re now using one-tenth of a cent games.’’

Harris confirmed that observation, crediting Aristocrat with producing cutting-edge games that permit 200 lines or 1,000 plays. At this rate, 1/100th-cent games can’t be far off as IGT, Bally, WMS and Action Gaming scramble to cash in on denomination diversification.

Slot directors agree that flexibility is the key, and they say that increasingly sophisticated machines make that a reality. Though penny play may seem insignificant from a cash standpoint, players have the ability and, increasingly, a desire to cover all the lines, Ronca says. As their money goes farther on pennies, these players may ultimately step up to higher-stakes games ”” while continuing to pursue those multi-line tactics.