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Best of John G. Brokopp

Gaming Guru

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Don't Let Nickel Slots "Nickel and Dime You to Death"

5 November 2003

Video poker has been described by some groups that oppose games of chance as the "crack cocaine of gambling". I've never agreed with the analogy, although I suppose it derives from the addictive nature the game can have on some people who become obsessed with its perception as being "beatable" with skillful play.

If any genre of electronic gaming device deserves to be compared with a narcotic, it would have to be nickel multi-line video slots, which can at worst be characterized as the "ecstasy of gambling".

The insidious nature of the games is multi-fold: They come in a wide variety of game formats that are attractive to the senses and to the nostalgic inclinations of "baby boomers". They can cast a hypnotic spell on people who are lulled into thinking they are playing an entertaining game rather than gambling. They add an exciting interactive dimension that traditional reel slots never had.

Nickel multi-line video slots are huge money makers for the casinos. During the month of June, the 2,646 units in place at Illinois casino destinations produced adjusted gross receipts of $31.5 million, almost as much as the $33.6 million that the 3,043 quarter units generated.

The percentage "hold" that casinos impose on nickel slots dwarfs that of other slot games. During the month of June, Argosy's Empress Casino Joliet held 11.79 percent of the play on its 347 nickels. Harrah's Joliet held 12.68 percent on its 239 nickel slots. Hollywood Aurora held 12.66 percent on its 305 games. Elgin's Grand Victoria held 14.32 percent on 94 machines.

Compare those figures to the same holds on dollar machines during the same month: 5.84 percent on 350 units at Argosy's Empress; 5.32 percent on 375 machines at Harrah's Joliet; 5.31 percent on 385 machines at Aurora; and 4.82 percent on 428 dollar machines at Elgin.

Nickel slots, because of the unit of currency required to play them, are perceived by the gambling public as "affordable". Gambling neophytes and players on strict budgets are attracted to them, only to discover that they're not the one-coin-at-a-time mechanical antiques of yesteryear but rather computer-charged monsters with voracious appetites for nickels nine, 18, 27, 35, 45, 90 and even more at a time.

When you're subjecting a couple of dollars to a 4.8 to 5.8 percent hold on dollar slots that's one thing, but when you're taking that same couple of bucks and exposing it to a 11.7 to 14.3 percent hold on a nickel play, you can see that the theoretical value of your gambling dollar is weakened appreciably by the nickel game.

When you're playing quarters, halves, dollars, and five dollars, the percent hold is comparable to the house edge found at some table games, including roulette, Caribbean Stud Poker, and some bets at craps. The only difference is that you play slots at a must faster rate per hour, which increases the amount of time you are putting your money at risk and making it easier for the edge that's working against you to wear you down.

There are some proposition bets at the craps table, such as wagers on the hard ways, that the experts will caution you never to make. They'll tell you they're "sucker bets" that range around 9 to 10 percent (and even higher in some cases) against the player, mathematically speaking.

Even though house advantage at the tables and percent hold at the slots are not exactly comparable, they are close enough that one could infer from the above advice that betting on nickel multi-line video slots is a sucker game and should be avoided during your gambling ventures at all costs.

My advice is not to avoid them if you have fun playing them, because there is a certain price you must place on entertainment value. But don't be tempted to play inordinate amounts of money in them, or get trapped in what can be an obsessive pursuit of "bonus rounds", the Nirvana for nickel players.

Successful bonus rounds and the frequency with which they come can turn a twenty-dollar buy-in into a hundred dollars, two hundred, or even more in no time. It can be exhilarating, followed by the onset of the "greed factor". Then your winnings are destined to dwindle off to Never Land.

It's knowing when to stop chasing the bonuses, knowing when to cash out for a session profit, and knowing when to stop spending all that money on such a high volume currency vacuum cleaner that separates the good gamblers from the reckless ones.

John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp
John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp