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Best of John Grochowski

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A shuffle through the gaming mailbag

4 March 2008

Q. Can you explain "mystery" jackpots to me? You know, the slot machines like Fort Knox or Cash Express where you can win a jackpot or go to a bonus round even though it doesn't look like you have a winner on the reels. How do you actually win on those games? Do you have to play for a certain amount of time?

A. Mystery jackpots link several slot machines to the same feature, and play on all machines on the link help determine when the feature is triggered. IGT's Fort Knox, Aristocrat's Cash Express and WMS Gaming's Monopoly Big Event are among the many mystery games on the market. Machines of different types also can be linked to a mystery jackpot. That's what happens at Four Winds Casino in New Buffalo, Michigan, where anyone using their W Club rewards card while playing is eligible for a mystery jackpot determined by an Acres bonusing system from IGT.

Most mystery jackpot systems are programmed so that a dollar amount within given parameters is randomly selected, and when play reaches that target, the mystery feature is triggered. If you happen to make the wager that hits the mark, then your machine launches the mystery.

You can see clearly how this works on the Four Winds players club system. There are three jackpot tiers — Small, Medium and Windfall. A percentage of play in the casino is added to the jackpots until they hit. The Small pot must hit at $500 or sooner, the Medium at $10,000 or sooner and the Windfall at $100,000 or sooner. For the Small jackpot, for example, the Acres system randomly selects an amount of $500 or less. The player whose wager causes the progressive jackpot to reach that amount is the winner, independent of the results of any spin on their slot machine.

That's essentially the way mystery jackpots work on systems tied to specific games, too.

Though mystery jackpots have become one of the fastest-growing segments of the gaming industry in the last few years, they've been with us for quite a while. American players got their introduction to mystery jackpots in 1997 with MoneyTime, a Mikohn system that linked a bank of $1 reel-spinning slot machines. At randomly selected times, lights would flash, sound effects would blare, and it would be "MoneyTime." During the MoneyTime period, active players would randomly be awarded bonuses — one player might get $10, another $5, another $50 — and a player could win multiple bonus awards.

Around the same time, Acres, then independent of IGT, was introducing its bonusing system. Casino operators could link any group of slot machines, and they could configure their own parameters — they could decide that a jackpot would be awarded at a randomly selected amount between $1,000 and $2,000 for example, or a randomly selected time between two fixed times. The history is a bit fuzzy, but the Acres system was first used in the Crown casino in Australia sometime in 1996 or '97.

It's all grown exponentially from there, and it's rare to find a casino today that doesn't have several different mysteries for players to solve.

Q. I don't understand why you keep saying there are six ways to make 7 using two dice. I only count three ways — 6-1, 5-2 and 4-3. For that matter, I don't understand why you say there are 36 possible combinations. I've tried writing them all down, and I count a lot less than that.

A. The key here is that the two dice are separate entities. Rolling a 4 on the first die and a 3 on the second is a different combination than rolling 3 on the first die and a 4 on the second.

That matters — a lot. Craps would be a very different game if there really were only three ways to make 7. By the same reasoning, there would be three ways to make 6, with 5-1, 4-2 and 3-3. You'd make 6 as often as you'd make 7.

But that's not what happens. We have six ways to make 7 — 6-1, 5-2, 4-3, 3-4, 2-5 and 1-6. We have five ways to make 6, with 5-1, 4-2, 3-3, 2-4 and 1-5. With six ways to make 7 and five ways to make 6, we roll more 7s than 6s. The house edge relies on 7 being the most frequently rolled number.

As for the 36 combinations, no doubt you've made the same mistake, not counting 4-2 and 2-4, for example, as different combinations. The shortcut, instead of writing out every combination, is to multiply the number of sides on each die. With two six-sided dice, there are 6 times 6, or 36, possible combinations. If we used eight-sided dice, there would be 8 times 8, or 64, combinations.

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 www.wbbm780.com.

Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

The Craps Answer Book

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski