by John Grochowski

Let’s take a look at what is in store for slot players in 2020 as manufacturers and casinos make changes to their mix of games to better appeal to the players. 
Slot machines have paid higher percentages back to players on higher denomination games for decades. 
Game manufacturers and casinos would love to be able to signal that to players, who can’t tell from the outside which games pay more than others.
Perhaps IGT will kick off a trend with its Fortune Link progressives, which started rolling into casinos in 2019 and should reach nationwide distribution in 2020. With initial themes Feline Fortune and Egyptian Fortune, Fortune Link games show players on their welcome screens just how playing higher denominations can benefit them.
A word of caution: Even though slot machine payback percentages are higher at higher denominations, you put more money at risk and have higher average losses. Don’t bet more than you can afford in the quest for higher payback percentages.
That aside, Fortune Link games tell you up front that if you play higher denomination games, you trigger the Fortune bonus more easily. One configuration was spotted that takes you to the bonus with six Fortune Link symbols on 1- or 2-cent games; five symbols on 5- or 10-cent games, and a mere four symbols on $1 and $2 games.
Each machines has multiple denominations. You touch the screen to choose your coin denomination and your Fortune Link trigger requirements.
In the feature, the Fortune Link symbols lock in place and you get three respins to try to add more to the collection. If a respin adds on or more of the symbols, the respin meter resets to three – you can go on respinning until you either fill the screen with Fortune Links or go three respins in a row without adding any.
At the end, you get a bonus for every Fortune Link symbol on the screen.
During bonus rounds on video slots – and on those newer reel slots that have bonuses – you have the opportunity to win credits without risking extra money. Needing fewer symbols to trigger a bonus means higher-denomination players have more bonus play and less time when they are risking money.
If all else is equal, the difference in bonus triggers would mean higher payback percentages at higher coin denominations. We don’t know that all else is equal, but while some players may think that there are secrets to winning on slot machines, revenue reports in various states consistently show higher paybacks at higher denominations. It’s as simple as that.
Fortune Link games are among the latest and greatest to look for in 2020, but the slot machine landscape is ever-changing as manufacturers engage in a constant game of “Can you top this?”
As you explore slot floors, check out these new offerings:
Clinko games, Incredible Technologies: Clinko: King of Bling and Clinko: Winning Wall both feature the Clinko bonus trigger. A Clinko ball falls from the top of the screen on random spins, drops peg to peg, and if it lands on an icon for a game feature, it could bring pumped up symbols, added wild symbols or multipliers – all good news for your credit meter.
The first is the latest version of King of Bling, a longtime Incredible Technologies favorite with a nod toward hip-hop. The base game in the really gets hopping in the Pump Up da Club bonus, where players and a DJ can scratch the record for bigger wins. With three progressive-levels, it’s a thrill-packed game.
Winning Wall also has three progressive levels. It adds to the intrigue by enabling you to win on the wall. Here, the Clinko pegs include jackpot icons. It takes only one Minor peg to win that pot, while you win the Major by accumulating two and the Grand by accumulating three pegs.
Asian themes, multiple manufacturers: The growth of games featuring the sights and sounds of the Far East is among the hottest trends going, and not just because of the enormous growth of overseas markets such as Macau. Americans flock to Asian-themed games, too. Here are some to watch:
Sky Dragons and Fireworks Festival, Incredible Technologies: Fireworks Festival is a 50-line game that makes explosive use of Incredible’s Stack 2 Stack game dynamic. When two stacks of fireworks symbols touch, they pop, bang and sizzle to reveal instant credit awards. Players could also win up to 20 free spins.
The Red Envelope feature offers the chance to win credit awards. When Red Envelopes scatter on the reels, players may pick all but one, with a prize behind each. So if there are five envelopes on the screen, you have four picks to boost your bankroll.
Sky Dragons starts with a typical grid of five reels, each three symbols deep, but when dragons appear in the sky, they can expand the reels, with 5-by-7 as the maximum. All those extra symbols create extra opportunities to win on a game with three progressives and up to 20 free spins.
Jin Ji Bao Xi – Rising Fortunes, Scientific Games:  The No. 1  game in Asia, Jin Ji Bao Xi making its North American debut with 5-reel, 243 ways game. Rising Fortunes includes the popular ALL UP bet structure where players can make an extra wager to buy higher-paying symbols. 
One game highlight is the Jin Ji Bao Xi Feature where players pick icons to win one of four jackpots.  
If six or more Red Gong symbols displaying credit prizes land on the reels, a Feature Selection is triggered and you can choose your bonus. The sum of the credit prizes creates the Shou Bonus, one of the feature selection options.  
Players also can choose between a Top Up Bonus and Free Games Bonus where eight  free games are awarded. During free games, players can win additional free games while each Gold Gong symbol that lands on the reels award the Shou Bonus. 
In the Top Up Bonus, a lock and spin feature, Gold Gong symbols award the Shou Bonus and lucky Green Gong symbols award the sum of all Gong symbols, resulting in a rising fortune. 
Shou Hu Shen Xtreme Jackpots, American Gaming Systems: The Asian-themed Shou Hu Shen is based on the good luck and guardian lions along with four progressive jackpot levels. Together, they  promise fun and the chance to win big. 
Featuring fireworks and sparks animations that add excitement to gameplay, Shou Hu Shen can award massive progressive jackpots. The Jackpot Pick Bonus is randomly triggered any time a Wild symbol lands on the reels during base-game play. Players touch and pick from 12 Lucky Fu symbols until they get three matching progressive symbols to win one of the four jackpots. 
During the Free Games Bonus, the number of free spins that can be won depends on the reel configuration selected by the player – 243 ways to win gets 15 free spins; 1024 ways to win gets 10 free spins; and 3125 ways to win gets five free spins.
Pop culture themes: Slot makers have been mining TV, movies, music and board games for decades, with themes including Wheel of Fortune, Monopoly, Elvis and the Beach Boys.
Every year brings new Wheel of Fortune games, and slot players should be sure to look for the likes of Penn and Teller and The Game of Life, too.
Wheel of Fortune 4D Featuring Vanna White, IGT: No new year would be complete with out a new spin on Wheel of Fortune This 75-payline video slot comes on IGT’s new CrystalCurve True 4D gaming machine.
The fourth dimension in “True 4D” is touch. You can reach out to three-dimensional images and get a touch sensation. Instead of touching the screen or pushing a button to spin a prize wheel, you can reach out to the 3D image in front of the screen and give the wheel a spin. 

You can bet from 100 to 500 coins, so on a penny machine your bet range is $1-$5. With a bet of at least 300 credits, you qualify for a big-money wide-area progressive jackpot. For those unfamiliar with the terminology, wide-area progressives link multiple casinos so that portions of wagers at different casinos help build the same pot.

Among the game features are original audio and video featuring TV show hostess Vanna White. When you reach out to that 3D wheel to give it a spin, Vanna cheers you on.
The Game of Life – Career Day, Scientific Games: WMS Gaming, which now is under the Scientific Games corporate umbrella, had success with it’s the Game of Life slots a while back, Now, under license from board game owner Hasbro, Scientific Games creates a new slot adventure with a new three-reel game, The Game of Life – Career Day.
Players spin the reels and travel through life while collecting credit prizes, bonuses, and jackpots. Career Day is a 3-reel, 9-line game on the TwinStar J43 with iReels cabinet. The game boasts a life-changing single-level, wide-area progressive jackpot that can be won in the base game and is part of Scientific Games’ Cash Connection or Reel Adventures links.
The game’s centerpiece is the Game of Life Bonus where players are assigned one of four careers – a firefighter, pro athlete, construction worker or culinary chef. You then spin for paydays, raises and spins of a wheel that award moves around the game board.  
Stops along the way award credit prizes, additional spins of the wheel, and extra bonuses such as the Weekend Getaway with free spins where reel 2 is Wild and all pays are multiplied by three; or the Groundhog Day Bonus where the reels spin and stop until a winning combination is awarded.
The goal is to reach the Retirement Island Bonus board game where even more prizes, multipliers, and bonuses  are available.
Penn & Teller,  Everi:  The magical duo team up in a 9-payline slot with three mechanical reels, targeted at 25-cent and $1 play.
Loaded with an innovative feature trigger and eight interactive bonuses, players get constant assistance from famous stage magicians Penn & Teller as they wonder what  will happen next. Game play incorporates some of Penn & Teller’s most famous tricks, including Vanish a Rabbit, Miser’s Dream, and Shadows. And Everi has added some magic of its own. 
In a nudge bonus, a reel nudge may be triggered after any losing reel stop where one “Penn,” “&” or “Teller” lands one position away from a winning progressive combination or where one wheel symbol is one position away from awarding the wheel bonus. Then presto! The symbol nudges into place. Sometimes players may think a “near miss” is programmed into the results, but those in the industry would consider that a slot machine myth.
Smokin’ Hot Stuff Wicked Wheel, Everi: Hot Stuff, the little devil of comic book fame, was a red-hot winner in the original Smokin’ Hot Stuff slot. Now the mischievous imp with his asbestos diaper and trusty trident returns in a 243 ways to win slot, perfect for pennies, packed with multipliers, a progressive pick bonus and progressive jackpots available at all bet levels.
The progressive pick bonus is triggered randomly after any base game spin. Players pick from 25 coins to reveal either a progressive jackpot or pitchfork symbol. Hot Stuff removes the lowest remaining jackpot each time his pitchfork is revealed, thus guaranteeing higher prizes. 
Extended game families: When a slot theme really resonates with players and becomes a popular favorite, you can rely on the manufacturer developing a follow-up game. Sometimes they develop into whole families of games. 
Here are some newer games that follow up on player favorites:
Mayan Chief Great Stacks, Konami Gaming: Mayan Chief, a Konami favorite, gets a fresh look with six reels, each five symbols deepo, on the curved Concerto Crescent and tall Concerto Stack cabinets.  
Mayan Chief Great Stacks is a 60-line game that features Action Stacked Symbols and top free game awards. Action Stacked Symbols are hidden at first, but once all reels are stopped they transform into matching symbols – part of the fun is waiting to see if your Action Stacks will match symbols already on the reels to form winning combos.
A free games feature gives you up to 15 free spins with a 2x multiplier. And for extra bonus excitement, players get to choose their event in the Balance of Fortune feature. When  Balance of fortune launches, you can choose regular free games, a random credit prize, or super free games combinations with different combinations of more or fewer free games matched with lower or higher multipliers.
Lightning Zap Jackpots, Everi: With no reels, no paylines and no pay tables, Everi creates a new play experience that builds on the original Lightning Zap game.
Everi calls the jackpot games “innovation on video slots,” available on three game themes: Electric Rush, Power Burst and Super Charge. Each has varying volatility levels and different features, and the series incorporates five linked progressives. 
How does it work with no pay tables? Your prizes can vary. Check out the Electric Rush feature where an orb zaps everything to increase prizes by a random multiplier, then zaps away at prizes. In the Power Burst feature, the orb turns into a magnet and sucks in anywhere from four to 22 prizes. Each prize can be upgraded by a random multiplier. In the Super Charge feature, the orb selects four to eight prizes and increases them up to 1,000 times.
Latest innovations: Looking for new ways to play? Try these recent developments:
Blazing X Game Series, Scientific Games: With two game themes – Blazing X – Asia and Blazing X – Las Vegas, this innovative series ramps up player anticipation for the possibility of Blazing X Multipliers on each spin.
Both themes are five-reel, 40-line video slots. There are four progressive jackpot levels available in a jackpot pick feature in which players touch the screen not only to determine their jackpot level but also for a multiplier that can put jackpot winnings into hyperdrive.
The Blazing X Feature, triggered when a Wild Banner symbol lands on reel 3, awards a 2x multiplier for three spins.  For every Wild Banner symbol that lands during the three spins, the Blazing X multiplier increases to 3x, 5x, 10x and up to 25x. Blazing X also can be triggered during a Free Games Bonus. And if the Free Games Bonus is awarded during the Blazing X Feature, the current Blazing X multiplier is applied to all Free Games wins. During the free games, additional Wild Banner symbols achieved within three spins increases the multiplier. A Blazing X multiplier streak can really set your credit meter soaring
Rakin’ Bacon Xtreme Jackpots, American Gaming Systems:  A cherubic pig in a gold coin-filled room is a central figure in this five-reel game with a multi-level progressive that’s packed full of player-favorite features, including free spins, multipliers and scatter pays. 
As the wins add up, the golden pig gets fatter and fatter, until the player wins the Free Game Bonus and the golden pig explodes to reveals a pick screen. That screen gives you  the chance to choose three different reel layouts for up to 3, 125 ways to win. Additional free spins can be won during the Free Game Bonus, making this game even more potentially lucrative. During the randomly awarded Jackpot Pick feature, you  touch and select icons until you match three of a kind, which awards a guaranteed jackpot pay.

John Grochowski has been covering casinos and casino games for nearly 40 years. He is the author of six books and
his work appears in newspapers, magazines and websites around the world.

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