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Money Bags and Coins

Buy The Bonus Round?


Sue Dawson

What Are Bonus Buy Slots?

In a “Buy the bonus round” slot game, you can choose to pay a multiple of your stake (100x is common) to skip straight to the bonus round.

Buy the bonus round games as such are not allowed at UK facing casinos, but there are many ways in which slot game providers have managed to give UK players a similar experience to bonus buy slots while staying within the rules.

Big Time Gaming’s Big Idea

It all started in November 2017 when Big Time Gaming released a game with a new feature that would change the face of online slots. That game was White Rabbit and the feature was Feature Drop™ – aka buying the bonus round.  BTG were already well known for producing slots with insane bonus rounds but, as is the way with high variance slots, players were having to wait a long, long time to play them. White Rabbit short circuited that by providing a means for players to go straight to the bonus round for 100x stake.  In the original version of he game you also collected BTG coins as you played which gradually reduced the cost of buying the bonus round (eventually to zero).

White Rabbit - BTG Coin

Big Time Gaming weren’t just catering to impatient players by making it possible to buy the bonus round – they were also getting themselves masses of free publicity. Their earlier games Bonanza and Danger High Voltage had already established the idea of high variance slots as a spectator sport on the Twitch live streaming platform (back before Twitch cracked down on gambling content). Feature Drop™ meant that the streamers could make things much more exciting for their audience by missing out all that boring waiting for the bonus round – and it also meant that by buying the bonus round multiple times, they could get a REALLY good bonus round to post on YouTube without too much time and effort (just lots of money). The number of bonus buy videos that showed up on YouTube after that is a testament to the brilliance of the idea.

Just like BTG’s other big idea Megaways, Feature Drop™ was swiftly copied by other game providers.  Blueprint really went to town with it on many of their Megaways games and there were also bonus buy slots like Foxium’s The Great Albini that looked nothing like a BTG game.

It was Big Time Gaming again that took the idea even further in April 2018. In the Extra Chilli slot game, not only could a player instantly buy the bonus round, but they could then gamble the bonus round to try and get a better bonus round – not just once, but multiple times all the way from the basic 8 free spins up to 24 free spins.  Lost the gamble and ended up wth nothing?  Never mind, you could try again right away!  Other game providers very swiftly copied this idea too.

Vikings Unleashed Gamble
Gambling the bonus round in Blueprint’s Vikings Unleashed Megaways. Hit a red segment and you lost the lot.

Gambling Commission Action on Bonus Buy

The combination of buying the bonus round and gambling the bonus round enabled a huge amount of money to be gambled (and potentially lost) in a very short space of time. Even at the minimum spin value of 20p, the bonus round in Extra Chilli cost £10 to buy and because of the gamble facility, the £10 could be instantly lost and another £10 spent right away; at the top spin value of £40, that’s a huge £2000 that could be lost in less than a minute.

In October 2019 the UK Gambling Commission decided that enough was enough and wrote to game providers asking them to remove the feature from the UK market on the grounds that buying the bonus round is just too dangerous for players.

The Ones That Got Away

In the UK, then, you can no longer straightforwardly buy the bonus round (as this would open the door to being able to buy multiple bonus rounds in a short space of time and potentially losing lurid amounts of money).

You can still play many of the games involved, but in special UK versions without the bonus buy button; game providers have had to produce special UK versions of games anyway for a few years now, because of having to remove the autoplay button, so it’s no big deal to take the bonus buy button off as well.

Of course, games that are designed to have bonus buy can be very boring to play without it as all the exciting stuff tends to be saved for the bonus round.  For example, the UK version of Starburst XXXtreme does not include the XXXtreme Spins button which would guarantee one or more wilds on every spin, and because in this game wilds have random multipliers attached they show up a lot less frequently than in original Starburst (to keep the RTP similar).

There are, however, a number of strategies that inventive slot game providers can and do use to provide a similar player experience to UK players in other slot games.

Gamble the bonus round

OK, so you have to wait until the bonus round is triggered before you can do anything.  But then, you can gamble it in the hope of getting a better bonus round – and indeed, in BTG’s Who Wants To Be A Millionaire slot game gambling the bonus round is absolutely integral to the gameplay, from the initial 8 spins all of the way up to 50 spins.  As in most games where you can gamble the bonus round and in the TV show the game is based on, there are safety nets so that once you’ve passed 10 spins (and later 20 spins) that’s the minimum you can be left with.

Collect coins or tokens in game to trigger or buy the bonus round

This is still allowed and means that eventually you WILL get to play the bonus round but it could be a long time coming.  Perhaps the most innovative use of this type of feature is in Playtech’s Kingdoms Rise slot games, where you can save up coins through playing any or all of the games then spend them on a bonus round of your choice, potentially from a completely different game.

Pay extra per spin for an increased chance of triggering the bonus round

Sweet Bonanza and any number of other Pragmatic Play games have this option

Pay extra per spin to increase the potential of the bonus round if you do trigger it

This is seen in NetEnt’s Hotline slot, where betting on the extra Hotlines massively increases the chances of filling the reels with expanding wilds in the bonus round as well as enhancing the base game.

Pay extra per spin to apply a bonus round feature to the base game

In Fishin’ Frenzy Fortune Play you pay 20x stake, not to trigger the bonus round, but to play one spin on four sets of reels at the same time with the Fisherman bonus round feature active – so something that is very like a bonus round but isn’t actually one.

Pay extra for an enhanced base game feature or spin that has triggering the bonus round as one of its possible outcomes

The Big Bet option on various Barcrest games works like this. As long as the bonus round being triggered is a possible rather than a current outcome it is allowed.

Big Bet Example

Pay to respin an individual reel or reels to improve a win

This can include a respin to try and get that third scatter you need to trigger the bonus round. Games with this feature include Rebets Splendour, Goldaur Guardians and Break Da Bank Again Respin.

Slingo

In slot game themed Slingo games where all the prizes are bonus rounds, you can effectively buy a bonus round by buying extra spins until you complete enough Slingos

Maximum Stake Rules

Apart from gambling the bonus round and collecting coins to trigger the bonus round, all of these game mechanics are going to be affected by the slot game maximum stake rules that are due to be enacted in September 2024.  This will restrict UK players to a maximum £5 per spin when playing online slot games (and it has been made clear that this does include Slingo), with a lower maximum spin value of £2 for those under 25.

In the case of paying extra per spin to increase the chance or potential of the bonus round or apply a bonus round feature to the base game, it’s fairly straightforward – the option will need to be disabled for any base spin values that are so close to the limit that activating the bonus bet option would exceed the limit.  Here’s how that would work (assuming you’re over 25):

  • In Sweet Bonanza, you can up your bet by 25% to double the chance of triggering the bonus round, so the highest base spin value that this would be possible for is £4
  • In Hotline, choosing one extra Hotline doubles your bet and choosing two extra Hotlines triples it, so the highest base spin value that this would be possible for is £1.50
  • In Fishin’ Frenzy Fortune Play, the Fortune Play option is 20x bet, so the highest base spin value that this would be possible for is 25p

It remains to be seen whether the slot game providers will set the maximum base spin value in the UK feed of these games low enough so the extra bet option is always allowed, or set it at £5 (£2 for under 25s) and disable the extra bet option at some spin values.

Paying to respin individual reels is much more problematic and anything you stake in this way is very likely to be counted as part of maximum spin value as it’s part of a single game cycle.  The game loading screen for Break da Bank Again Respin already includes a notice that the Hyperspins (respin) feature is not available in all regions, and it will certainly be far easier for game providers simply to disable the feature in the UK feed rather than set a ceiling on respins that depends on initial spin value.  So don’t be surprised if this type of feature disappears from the UK market entirely.

Slingo games already have a mechanism for restricting what can be spent on extra spins (as part of player configurable safer gambling controls) and this could easily be used to put a ceiling on total stakes.  Even at the lowest initial stake, though, extra spins can quickly exceed the maximum (especially for players with a £2 limit), so the player experience for Slingo could end up being very different to what it is now.

As for Big Bet, that’s toast at its current price point (£20 – £50).  And that is almost certainly why Light & Wonder have already begun replacing Big Bet options in their games with Premium Play which is a multiple of the minimum spin value.  The £10 option is going to have to go, but the other two options are priced just right for under and over 25s!

Premium Play screen

 

 

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