In the five years since Australia’s Ainsworth Game Technology opened its North American headquarters in Las Vegas, the supplier has honed its ability to churn out high-earning slots, and has perfected the art of designing one style of game in particular: the high-denomination, traditional-style video slot.
Ainsworth has released a parade of high-denomination offerings, from basic volatile three-reel games in five-line and nine-line configurations to five-reel games taking advantage of the most popular game mechanics of the day.
The company’s high-denom games definitely are big earners. A glance at the Eilers-Fantini Game Performance Report on any given month will reveal anywhere from five to 10 high-denom Ainsworth games among the top 25 revenue performers. Surveys by ReelMetrics and other industry gauges reveal similar results.
Lower-volatility, low-denomination games, including a few carefully selected brands, have rounded out the company’s product library with offerings that, again, utilize the game features that have proven to be popular with players.
For the past few years, Ainsworth also has concentrated on creating the hardware that will best exploit the appeal of its game content. Last year, the Covid-19 pandemic interrupted a major hardware rollout as the A-STAR Curve, a sleek cabinet featuring a 43-inch floating infinity monitor and dynamic LED lighting, gave Ainsworth game designers a powerful new development tool kit.
This year, as the A-STAR Curve is hitting its stride, Ainsworth takes its product library to yet another level with the launch of the A-STAR Curve XL, a massive new premium cabinet featuring a 55-inch, 4K curved infinity monitor, a 27-inch, high-definition topper, and the same dynamic LED lighting and LED touch-screen button deck that distinguished the A-STAR Curve.
First introduced at the Indian Gaming Tradeshow in July, the cabinet is designed for the premium player.
“We couldn’t be more excited about the A-STAR Curve XL,” says Mike Trask, Ainsworth’s director of product marketing and strategy. “We’re really trying to reach a true gaming ops premium space with this cabinet. We think the game content has a few of the things that have made Ainsworth very successful over the past five to 10 years.”
The launch series for the A-STAR Curve XL mines the company’s high-denom appeal with a game series called Take It or Leave It, with inaugural games Super Hot 7s Classic and Solid Gold 8s Classic. Both are three-reel, five- or nine-line games with traditional bar and 7 symbols, and multiplying wild symbols including 2X, 3X and 5X. The top of the huge monitor is occupied by a giant bonus wheel.
The wheel bonus provides the game’s hook—the player gets up to four wheel spins. The wheel blacks out while spinning, and lights up one or more slices for the bonus award. The player can take the first result or try up to three more times for a better wheel result. (The game even advises the player when the bonus offer is “hot.”)
The games are offered in a multi-denomination package with a recommended menu of $1, $5 and $10. According to Trask, the top-performing configuration on Ainsworth’s three-reel high-denomination offerings has been a $1 denomination with nine lines, with a max bet of five credits per line—a $45 maximum bet.
“We’re seeing average bets on those come in well above $9; people are really chasing the wheel feature,” he says.
In fact, according to Cody Herrick, Ainsworth’s senior director of game design, the latest statistics show that average bets on games offered in this configuration are around $22—between two and three times the minimum cover cost.
“It’s built for gamblers,” Trask says of Take It or Leave It, which was developed by high-denom master Terry Daly. “There are no free games. There’s no fluff to it. This is a chase for a progressive or a massive win on that wheel.”
The two launch games on the A-STAR Curve XL will be “front and center” at Ainsworth’s G2E booth, Trask says, adding that there are a number of follow-up games for the format that are in the pipeline that will be introduced at the show, including linked, branded versions of some of Ainsworth’s classic high-denom titles.
The A-STAR Curve XL is expected to launch in the California, Oklahoma and Nevada markets by Q4 of this year.
Meanwhile, Ainsworth’s G2E exhibit will showcase a wealth of new content on the A-STAR Curve. The cabinet launched last year with new versions of games from the family that has been one of Ainsworth’s biggest success stories, the QuickSpin series. At G2E, Ainsworth will introduce a new game family in the series, called QuickSpin Growing Wheel.
Both launch games in this series carry drinking themes—Bier Bier Bier and Mai Tai Money, both low-denomination, five-reel, 40-line games. The themes are played out through a persistent-state feature involving four drink glasses perched above the reels. The bar symbols on the reels each have a character attached—the beer maiden in Bier Bier Bier and the tiki character in Mai Tai Money.
Stacking bar symbols fill the drink glasses above the reels to add multipliers to wheel slices that are the same color as the drink. Wheel slices can grow up to 25X before a spin occurs.
“The free games are very similar to our original QuickSpin titles,” says Herrick, “but those free games still give you a chance for that wheel spin, which is where the real money is coming from in this game.”
A new game family to be showcased on the A-STAR Curve is Lucky Stars, with launch titles Emperor’s Lucky Stars and Blazin’ Hot Lucky Stars. Both games highlight a collection feature that grows a metamorphic pot on the monitor. “The more of a special star symbol you collect on reels 2, 3 and 4, the bigger the visual representation (of the pot) will grow,” says Herrick, whose team designed the game. Flames and shooting stars appear when the pot is close to full, which leads to a a free-spin feature.
In the free-spin feature, the player collects stars, each bearing a credit prize. If 15 stars are collected within the feature, it triggers a spin of the bonus wheel, which includes large credit amounts and each of two progressive jackpots. “If you’re playing at the 10-cent denomination (it’s a multi-denom game), and you’re able to get into that wheel spin, it’s a guaranteed taxable amount in the U.S.,” says Herrick, referring to the $1,200 slot tax threshold.
Other new games to be launched at G2E for the A-STAR Curve include Cards of Cash, a family of three games with a unique card pick-em bonus activated with an ante bet; Jie Jie Gao Sheng, another collection game that employs a persistent-state feature; and Star Hit, a four-game family of linked and stand-alone progressives featuring a nine-level progressive.
Also on display will be A-STAR Curve games that already have proven themselves in the field, including Tiger’s Throne and Panther’s Throne, both released in the summer. These games employ a mechanic similar to the legacy Sweet Zone titles, which designate random groups of reel spots in the array in which wilds, multipliers and other bonus features are applied to wins.
Overlays on the four-by-five reel array appear in a persistent-state feature. “Eventually, those overlays become wild for the player,” explains Herrick. “When you land a special symbol within that overlay you get an expanding wild. The more overlays you get, the more expanding wilds you get, until eventually the tiger (or panther) roars. He’ll drop down wilds and wild multipliers into your held overlays, and that will combine for a win and reset the feature.”
The free-spin feature doubles the reel array, from four-by-five to eight-by-five, and “sticky” wild symbols remain in place for the feature. “This is mid-to-high volatility,” Herrick says. “It fits very well with some of those original Sweet Zone titles, which we had a lot of success with.”
Other established A-STAR Curve games on display will be two rare Ainsworth licensed-brand slots, George Lopez Neighborhood Tour, released in March; and PAC-MAN Wheel, released in May. “These are nice IP pieces that really round out our library and give customers some additional options,” says Trask.
The A-STAR family of cabinets is expanding with the A-STAR Dual Screen, launched at the NIGA show; and A-STAR Slant, which makes its world premiere at G2E.
“A large part of our effort in this is refreshing our high-denom content library,” Trask says. “Most of the top-performing games in high-denom will be available on these cabinets—titles like The Enforcer, Eagle Bucks and Dollar Chief, all of which you see on the Eilers-Fantini reports every month.”
Trask says the company is phasing out the old A-560 cabinet, since at eight years old, it becomes more difficult to procure parts. “So, we’re very excited to use (A-Star Dual Screen and Slant) as a means of keeping that classic, traditional Ainsworth content alive, and hopefully giving it a little kick.”
Finally, the casino slots display will include a lineup of Class II games, products of the South Carolina studio of the former Nova Technologies, which Ainsworth acquired in 2016.
The other advantage of the Nova acquisition was that company’s Class II central determinant system, which has fueled one of Ainsworth’s most successful new ventures, its move into the historical horse racing market.
Ainsworth used the Nova technology to develop a proprietary HHR platform, after which the company signed an agreement with Churchill Downs, Inc. that resulted in the slot-maker’s largest-ever single order—nearly 1,000 machines to populate CDI’s Derby City gaming parlor, opened in 2018 around five miles from the operator’s flagship racetrack.
Ainsworth has ported many of its most popular titles into HHR versions using the platform. “Ainsworth has created more than 100 unique titles in the HHR market,” Trask says. “We’ll show probably close to a dozen HHR units at G2E. We believe in the business. We have more than 2,000 units in operation across the U.S., and I want to be very clear that those 2,000 units are Ainsworth games. Much more than that run via our HHR system.”
Ainsworth created a development kit allowing other manufacturers to use its HHR platform to place their games and cabinets on the Ainsworth system, and so far, partnerships with IGT, Scientific Games, Konami and Aristocrat are bringing games from those manufacturers to venues in Kentucky and elsewhere.
As far as Ainsworth titles, in addition to 1,000 at Derby City, there are another 600 or so around Kentucky, and others in Alabama and Richmond, Virginia.
According to Deron Hunsberger, Ainsworth chief commercial officer, more HHR expansion is on the way.
“New Hampshire recently passed HHR legislation; they’re in the rule writing stage,” Hunsberger says. “Louisiana recently passed legislation allowing HHR games in the OTB market. Churchill Downs is the largest operator of OTBs in Louisiana, so we’re confident we’ll have the lion’s share of installations in that market.
“We’re still imminent on going into Wyoming. We’re in negotiations with an operator there. And then, we’ll enter Oregon around November.”
A more recent acquisition has opened up another new market for Ainsworth—video lottery terminals. Early in 2020, the company purchased the assets of MTD Gaming, Inc., a major route supplier of VLTs in Montana that recently added route supply in South Dakota and Louisiana.
“They produce a few poker games and some very simple slot games, but we believe the true gem within this package is five unique keno games,” says Trask. “These are the kind of very, very volatile keno games which have definitely become popular in the local Las Vegas market.”
The five MTD keno games currently in the market offer keno titles featuring free games, multipliers and other familiar slot-style mechanics. The games recently were installed in a few California casinos, and are awaiting tests in Nevada, with plans to launch some units in other markets across the U.S.
One particular advantage for MTD games in Nevada will be the fact that the company has a longstanding exclusivity agreement with Golden Entertainment in Montana—Golden also is one of the major route operators supplying bars and other non-casino venues in Nevada.
In Montana, the multi-game MTD units are branded Montana Gold. Under Ainsworth’s new markets, they will be branded Gambler’s Gold.
“Montana Gold is the top-performing product in the (Golden Entertainment) route,” says Hunsberger. “That’s a market where keno is the primary game being played, so the game really centers around a really unique keno offering in that market.”
Shortly after the Ainsworth acquisition, the company entered VLT markets in South Dakota and Louisiana.
“It’s performing extremely well in the South Dakota VLT market,” Hunsberger says. “South Dakota is not as much of a keno market as the others, but our slot product in the mix is performing best there. In Louisiana, everything is a poker derivative in the VLT market. Our poker product performs extremely well there, and we’re able to utilize some of the reel concepts to do bonus sequences in the poker games in that market.”
Hunsberger says there is definitely demand in Nevada for the Gambler’s Gold product. “We’re very excited to get it out,” he says. “We plan to go on field test with some large local operators in Nevada, and of course, we’ll utilize our relationship with Golden in their route.”
The other emerging business for Ainsworth is in the online gaming space. In May, the company signed an exclusive agreement with iGaming aggregator GAN, which has been porting Ainsworth content for the growing U.S. internet gaming market. The company’s goal is to port all A-600 and newer games to the GAN platform for introduction online.
The company’s games already are live on close to a dozen iGaming sites in New Jersey, and recently entered the Michigan market. The Pennsylvania market is next.
“We’ve opened a small group here in Las Vegas to focus on porting over our land-based content to the real-money online side,” says Herrick. “They have a large number of games they’ll continue to work on and port over to the online market—real-money and social. We’ll look to continue to expand that team as more markets open up, eventually getting to the point where we’re going to develop original content for the online space just like we do for land-based.”
For Ainsworth, it all comes back to the high-earning content the company continues to introduce to all markets. There will be more than 100 titles across Class III, Class II and HHR on display in the company’s G2E booth, and Ainsworth’s customers can rely on one fact: the games will earn.