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The Truth about 'Bonus' Slot Machines

22 March 2000

Do you remember when the fortunes of slot machine play depended upon how symbols depicting oranges, plums, cherries, lemons, bars, and bells were arranged on the pay line? I do. Those mechanical versions of slots are to today's computer-driven electronic marvels as the typewriter is to the word processor.

Today we're not going to discuss the technological revolution that slot machines have gone through. Rather, we're going to examine the monumental changes in visual aesthetics that have taken place in a relatively short period of time and what impact this has on people who play slot machines.

After all, we all know what we're up against when we play the slots: A computer program that guarantees a profit for the casino in which it is located. Players as a collective group are guaranteed to be returned a majority of what the machine takes in, but only a select few share in the wealth. Remember there are thousands of people who play the machine over the course of a year. There is only one casino operator.

What a slot machine possesses in the way of eye appeal is vitally important to both slot machine manufacturers and casino executives. The colors, the sights, the sounds, the name of the game, and the jackpot symbols and how they are depicted play a major role in attracting potential players to sit down and try their luck.

The previously mentioned symbols of the antique mechanical reel slots gave way to red, white, and blue sevens, double diamonds, triple diamonds, and other exotic symbols.

A couple of years ago slot machines went commercial when International Game Technology/Anchor Gaming introduced Wheel of Fortune, a slot format based on the television game.

The popularity of Wheel of Fortune paved the way for Williams Gaming to enter into a licensing agreement with Hasbro Inc.'s Parker Brothers unit and unveil machines with a Monopoly theme, taking advantage of the board game that has been an American institution since the Great Depression.

The so-called "bonus game revolution" in the slot machine industry rages on. IGT proceeded to license the rights to Elvis Presley. Machines depicting the entertainment giant appear in casinos across the nation. The gaming public's response to Wheel of Fortune has triggered manufacture and distribution of slots with a Jeopardy theme. Right now there's no end in sight to bonus game technology.

Even though bonus games give players the illusion they are getting something extra for their slot machine play, it is in reality just that, an illusion. As much fun as it may be to watch the Wheel of Fortune wheel spin for a "bonus" pay out, as excited and filled with anticipation as a player may be, that player is still paying for it, often times in a way he or she may not realize.

For example, all of the money paid out in bonuses comes from the base game itself. If a machine is programmed to return to players 93 percent of what it takes in, any bonuses are paid out of that amount. There is no "extra" money put aside for bonuses. The price can be hefty, too. Casinos have taken as much as 40 percent from the base game and put it into the bonus feature aspect! That means the amount of money the machine is programmed to pay for winning combinations outside the bonus feature suffers dramatically.

For that very reason, many serious slot players avoid the gimmicky bonus game formats. They remain loyal to the traditional games, such as Red, White, & Blue Sevens and Double Diamond. There's no bonus money taken out of the base game in those machines.

The bottom line with casino owners and operators is which games generate the most profits, and right now the bonus games are red hot. The traditional three-reel games still account for 70 percent of slot machines in the United States, so there's no danger of their becoming extinct. But their numbers will probably diminish in coming years.

Yet another means to extract more money from slot players in a faster period of time is the proliferation of multi-line games. Slot machines that give you the option of putting in larger of amounts of coins per spin are gaining in popularity. The lure, of course, is for the player to win more money and/or participate in bonus features based on the amount of coins he or she plays. The lure works. It has been estimated that average amounts wagered per spin on traditional quarter and dollar slot machines are 55 cents and $2.10, respectively. When you're talking about the maximum wager per spin on multi-line games, the figures soar to $1.25 and $6.25, respectively.

The lesson to be learned from all of this is to not let the casino industry dictate to you how you should spend your wagering dollar. Don't be tricked into thinking you're getting something extra, or that you're getting a bonus in addition to what you're legally entitled to get. You're getting what YOU pay for and not what the casino pays for.

Also, don't be tempted to spend more than you can afford, or to play more than what you want to play. The bonus lures and "eye candy" appeal of slot machines are designed with one thing in mind: To get a bigger share of your bankroll faster.


For more information about slots and video poker, we recommend:

Break the One-Armed Bandits! by Frank Scoblete
Victory at Video Poker and Video Craps, Keno and Blackjack! by Frank Scoblete
Slot Conquest Audio Cassette Tape (60 minutes) with Frank Scoblete
Winning Strategies at Slots & Video Poker! Video tape hosted by Academy Award Winner James Coburn, Written by Frank Scoblete
The Slot Machine Answer Book by John Grochowski
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