Pennies falling from
slot machine heaven!

Dec 2, 2003 7:00 AM

Although penny slots aren’t even listed in Nevada gaming revenue reports, they are beginning to make a significant impact on Nevada casinos.

In about two weeks, Jerry’s Nugget will open a new slot area, Pennies from Heaven, dedicated exclusively to penny slot games.

"It’s quite astounding the appeal of penny slots," said Judy Catha, Jerry’s Nugget’s slot director. "Our customers can’t seem to get enough of them."

Among the games to be found will be Aristocrat’s Jeff Foxworthy’s You Might Be a Redneck, Mr. Cashman’s Jail Bird, African Dusk and Louie’s Gold.

Other new releases in the one-cent denomination include Money Tree, Seal the Deal, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Most of the new video slot games feature scatter wins, bonus rounds, free spins, random credit awards and second-screen events ”” virtually all of the same enhancements found on their higher-denomination cousins.

"We listen to our customers and respond," Catha said. "And today’s trend is definitely penny slots."

Indeed, the penny slot trend has been building for the past 12 to18 months. For decades, most of the penny slots in Las Vegas were found downtown, at "sawdust" joints such as the Western Hotel, Gold Spike and to a lesser extent, the El Cortez and Plaza.

Those machines were mostly progressive reel slots and penny keno games that offered significant jackpots (often in the tens of thousands!) for a few pennies bet.

Moreover, the original penny slots actually accepted pennies and paid off in pennies, much to the dismay of slot attendants weary of handling the huge volume of coins.

But last year, casinos began adding more modern penny games in earnest. The Gold Coast, for instance, raised a few eyebrows when it added entire carousels of penny games that offered progressives for both slot and video games, such as poker and keno.

Manufacturers responded with multi-game machines such as Bally’s Keno Plus and IGT’s Game King, which offered a variety of games in a variety of denominations.

More recently, the Emerald Island Casino opened a few months ago in downtown Henderson, where virtually all of its 370 gaming machines offered one-cent and two-cent games, as well as nickel and higher denominations.

The Emerald Island slots are a mix of video reel slots, video poker, video keno and multi-game machines. There are no high-tech ticket-in, ticket-out machines, but there is a staff of about 90 who are always ready to cash out players. (Modern penny slots rarely pay off in coins.)

In addition, the El Cortez recently added a bank of Game King machines that feature a variety of keno games, including Power Ball Keno, Caveman Keno and 20-Card Keno, all in penny and two-penny denominations.

Australia-based Aristocrat Technologies, the world’s second largest slot manufacturer behind IGT, is one of the leading manufacturers of penny machines.

In addition to the aforementioned Jeff Foxworthy slot machine, Aristocrat will soon introduce into Nevada casinos is its newest progressive, Millioni$er, which gives players a chance to win $1 million on a penny slot.

The Millioni$er game is not an anomaly — penny denomination games represent a significant component of Aristocrat’s marketing strategy.

"Over half our games debuted at September’s G2E were one-cent denomination, a direct reflection of the industry’s move to penny slots as a way to increase time on a device and create more winning excitement for players," said Kent Young, Aristocrat’s vice president of marketing. "As pioneers of the penny slot, we’ve committed significant resources to developing products for that niche."

Young said he someday expects that "eventually, the majority of slot games" will be penny-denomination games.

"In some markets we serve, 90 percent are penny games," Young said.

Young points out that penny slots are unlike the reel machines of the 1960s and 1970s, when players plunked pennies into reel-spinning games.

Today’s machines often feature multi-line, multi-coin options that can involve betting hundreds of credits at a time.

"The penny machines offer lots of entertainment value and lots of volatility," Young said.

So far, Nevada gaming regulators have not listed penny slots in its monthly gaming revenue reports. Instead, penny games are currently "lumped" in with all multi-denomination machines.

Currently, multi-denomination machines account for about 15 percent of all slot gaming revenue. Quarter machines win the most from gamblers, about $1.9 billion or 30 percent of the $6.4 billion won by all slot machines this year.

Nickel machines rake in another $1.4 billion or 23 percent of all slot revenue, while dollar machines win about $1.2 billion annually, or 19 percent.