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Players take a spin on not-yet-released slot machines

Payout rates continue to fall

The statewide slot payout rate for fiscal 2013-14 was 89.9 percent, marking the sixth straight year it has declined.

For every $100 bet, the machines returned an average of $89.90. The highest payout rate was 91.3 percent in 2007-08, Pennsylvania's first full year of casino gambling. Here are key slot figures for the fiscal year, which ended June 30:

Statewide slot players' loss: $2.32 billion, down from $2.43 billion in 2012-13.

High and low payout rates: 90.77 percent at Lady Luck Nemacolin, Fayette County; 89.2 percent at Penn National near Harrisburg

Rivers: 89.7 percent; revenue $277.1 million, down from $283.3 million

Meadows: 89.93 percent; revenue $220.8 million, down from $240.8 million

Presque Isle: 89.45 percent; revenue $123.5 million, down from $138.5 million

Lady Luck Nemacolin: 90.77 percent; revenue $23.3 million; open for only two test nights in 2012-13

Source: Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board

More local players cash at WSOP

Four Western Pennsylvania players finished in the money at the first “Monster Stack” No Limit Hold 'Em tournament at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. The tournament, with a $1,500 buy-in, attracted 7,862 players, the second highest total for any event in WSOP history. Each player started with $15,000 worth of tournament chips. The top 792 finishers got paid, including:

• Daniel Steen of Pittsburgh, 229th, $7,429

• Ronald Gagnon of Pittsburgh, 382nd, $5,412

• Sean Newsham of Erie, 692nd, $3,077

• Alan Hendrickson of Corry, Erie County, 770th, $2,759

In Event 56, a $1,000 No Limit Hold 'Em tournament, Carl Misera of Natrona Heights, Harrison, received $2,272 for finishing 171st of 2,525 players.

In Event 58, a $1,500 No Limit Hold 'Em Mixed Max tournament, Jack Schanbacher of Reserve got $2,708 for finishing 140th of 1,475 players. It was his third cash at this year's WSOP. In Mixed Max, the maximum number of players at the table changes from day to day.

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Sunday, July 6, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Joyce Phillis of Cranberry knows what she wants in a slot machine.

“I like interaction, where you have to pick something to get extra money,” she says. “I like noise. I don't like anything with a reel.”

She and about 540 other slot fans had plenty to choose from in a recent showing at Rivers Casino.

In the first such exhibit in Pennsylvania, five top slot manufacturers — Aristocrat Leisure, Bally Technologies, IGT, Konami Gaming and WMS Gaming — showed off their newest machines and got feedback from players.

Each slot maker set up five to seven machines in the casino's second-floor ballroom. Invited guests roamed around, test-driving titles such as Rolling Stones, featuring the tongue logo and music of the “greatest rock and roll band in the world;” Titanic, based on the blockbuster movie; Dungeons and Dragons, tied to the role-playing game; and Fabulous Fifties, which had players bopping and singing along to malt-shop hits.

Some machines, such as IGT's Jenga, have not been released, while others are on casino floors in Nevada or elsewhere. None is available in Pennsylvania yet.

Players got to spin as much as they wanted at no cost, but with no possibility of winning money. The machines were in demonstration mode, allowing bonus rounds to come up at will.

“Spin the rock and roll steel wheel,” the voice of Mick Jagger repeatedly yells from the Rolling Stones machine.

“We like to hear feedback,” says Patty Crescenzo, manager of corporate gaming for Aristocrat. The company spends about $20 million a year in slot-machine research and development, releasing 50 to 60 titles per year. She says players like the $2.50 per spin maximum on the Stones machine, which costs a penny per credit.

Pete Wichterman, Eastern region sales representative for Bally's, says the company generally gets customer feedback through focus-group testing in Las Vegas, where the company is headquartered. Bally's is “very rarely” involved in casino shows like the one at Rivers.

Getting player viewpoints is valuable.

“We'll add more bonus features, take some away, tweak some — it's all based on customer feedback,” Wichterman says.

Developing and designing a game such as Titanic can take 12 to 18 months, with player testing done at several stages, Wichterman says. Bally's releases 100 to 125 unique themes per year.

Butterfly Fairy from Bally's, which is not released yet, gives players the option of buying an instant bonus round for $20 to $100, depending on the number of bonus spins.

“It's a new concept. We're always trying new things and seeing how they take off,” Wichterman says.

It's meant to appeal to players who have gambled for a while but have not hit a bonus level.

Players like bonus rounds, and manufacturers incorporate several types so gamblers are less likely to get bored with the machine.

Rick Shrupp of Ross enjoys games with bonus rounds.

“Those can be generous, but oftentimes they're not,” he says. “If I'm going to gamble, I like to win a little bit.”

The Dungeons and Dragons machine in the Konami exhibit attracted Mary Moore of Penn Hills, who played the original game on early computers.

She enjoys slot machines with good graphics and lots of color — but not loud sounds.

“I grew up with six kids. I've had more than enough noise to last,” she says.

Customer feedback from the show will help Rivers officials decide which slots might be popular with customers. The responses also help manufacturers because “No game is ever beyond the tweaking stage,” IGT account manager Andre Brunette says.

Phillis poses the ultimate customer question:

“Is this a loose machine?” she asks at the Konami display. “That's the machine I'm going to give really high marks for. We have enough tight ones.”

Mark Gruetze is administrative editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7838 or



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