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Sunday, September 18, 2005

Midwest gaming

Little by little, every year, slot machines change. The rise of bonus rounds, the introduction of ticket printers for payoffs, the disappearance of handles on the machines --- there are new wrinkles all the time.

When Bonus Books asked me for a revised edition of my Slot Machine Answer Book, I knew some things had changed. I had, after all, been writing about slots all this time since the book was published in 1999. I thought I'd have to freshen the book a little, update a little information, but that it would more or less hold up.

But as I started going through the original book, I realized this was going to take a little more work. So the second edition of The Slot Machine Answer Book, now in bookstores, online at and at my site, has gone through considerable revision. I estimate I rewrote about 60 percent of the book. In fact, so much has changed, I found I couldn't get everything within the targeted page count. So while The Slot Machine Answer Book touches on video slots, a companion book, The Video Slot Machine Answer Book, will be out as soon as Bonus Books gets it back from the printer.

As in all the Answer Books in my series, it's set up in question and answer format. So let's focus on the slots this week with a few excerpts from the book.

Q. The largest slot jackpot ever hit in the United States is:
A. $9 million.
B. $19 million.
C. $29 million.
D. $39 million.

A. D. A record jackpot of $39,713,982.25 has hit on a Megabucks machine at Excalibur on the Las Vegas Strip in March 2003. The winner was a 25-year-old software engineer from California who was visiting family in Las Vegas and playing Megabucks at his uncle's suggestion. The jackpot broke the record of $34.9 million at the Desert Inn on the Strip in 2000.

How rapidly things change. When the first edition of this book was published, the record was $27,582,539.48, set in 1998 at Palace Station, west of the Las Vegas Strip. At that time, it nearly doubled the record of $14.4 million set in 1998 at Harrah's in Reno, Nev. The new record is nearly three times that amount. And the Desert Inn, where the 2000 record was set, is no longer open.

Q. True or False: An individual is more likely to hit a jackpot if the casino is crowded.

A. False. I once read a book in which the author advised slot players to play at peak times in busy casinos, because that's when the most jackpots are hit. And it's true. More jackpots are hit at peak times in busy casinos than when the casinos aren't so busy.

Why? Because slot machines are played more often at peak times. How does that affect my chances of winning? Not at all.

Let's say I'm in a casino with 1,000 slot machines, each programmed to pay off the top jackpot about once per 20,000 pulls. It's Saturday night, so every machine is busy, all with steady players spinning the reels at about 500 pulls per hour. In two hours the reels spin a collective 1 million times, and, if the machines hit right on the average, 50 jackpots are paid. One in every 20 players has a big payday. If I'm not one of them, I've at least seen a few jackpots paid.

Now let's say I return early Wednesday morning. Only 100 slot players are in the casino, playing the same 500 pulls per hour as those on the busier night. In two hours, the reels spin only 100,000 times, only 10 percent as much as on the busy night. If the machines hit right on the average, only five jackpots are paid.

Fifty jackpots on the busy night. Five on the slow day.

But with only 100 players in the casino, those five jackpots mean one in every 20 players has a big payday --- the same as on the busy night. My chances of being one of those to hit the jackpot are the same on the calm day as on the busy night.

Q. A reel-spinning game that adds an element of skill is: A. Wheel of Fortune. B. Jeopardy! C. Family Feud. D. Yahtzee.

A. D. A reel-spinning game that adds an element of skill is Yahtzee. There are both reel-spinning and video versions of Yahtzee with a roll-the-deice bonus round. On the video version, the round is played out on the screen. Reel-spinning games come with oversided dice in the top box, along with a lighted display showing bonus payoffs for Yahtzee rolls such as straights, three of a kind and four of a kind, wit the big payoff being for a Yahtzee --- five of a kind. First, all five dice roll. Then the player selects dice to hold and re-rolls the others, the does it once more --- three rolls, just as in the regular Yahtzee. Players who know which dice to hold and which to roll will get larger bonuses in the long run.

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Listen to John Grochowski's "Beat the Odds" tips Saturdays at 6:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 7:41 p.m. and Sundays at 8:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 10:42 p.m. on WBBM-AM, News Radio 780 in Chicago, streaming online at