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Best of John Grochowski

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A shuffle through the gaming mailbag

14 July 2011

Q. I recently came away completely puzzled by an occurrence on a video slot machine. The machine offers exorbitant promises of large bonus jackpots. After about 25 minutes, the bonus feature finally arrived. The award was six free spins, and the net result was an 85-cent payout.

I have recently noticed that many of the newer slots offer free spins as the bonus and then proceed to hose you. Needless to say, I will never play any slots in the future offering free plays.

My questions: Is this concept a sign of more nonsense to come? Was this event normal? Are slot machines actually DESIGNED so this nonsense is normal?

A. It's obviously frustrating to get an 85-cent bonus "win," but yes, this is within normal probability for free spin games.

Free spin games are on the rise. They're among the most popular, most-played games in the casino, especially on penny denominations. The reason for their rise is that they put more volatility into the games than pick'em style bonuses. If you play a pick'em game, picking symbols to reveal a number of bonus credits, the possibilities are narrow. Maybe you'll win 25 credits, maybe you'll win 200, even 500, but it's a rare event that allows you to win in the thousands of credits.

That's fine on nickel games, where 500 credits is a $25 win. On pennies, 500 credits is only a $5 win. Manufacturers needed a different kind of bonus event to make larger payoffs possible.

They turned to Australia, which has had penny, and even half-penny games much longer than we have, and which has long had free spin bonuses. You would win a certain number of free spins, and then what you would win on the free spins would be up to the random number generator.

Just as on the main game, you can win thousands of credits on a free spin, but you can also win nothing. It's that possibility of winning nothing, even on a bonus event, that makes the large wins possible. There will be more small pays than large ones, but the big ones can be really big.

To attract players, manufacturers and casinos needed that possibility of winning $25, $100, or even more on a penny machine. Free spins made that possible and it has worked. Players have flocked to the games.

That's the upside. You got caught on the downside that makes the upside possible. That's all normal for free spin games. But it's apparently not a style that fits what you want out of a game, so if you're going to play video slots, you probably should stick to games with pick'em bonus rounds.

Q. OK, I know you can't count cards against a continuous shuffler. But what about playing a betting progression? Does that help at all? Is a non-counter any worse off against a continuous shuffler than in other games?

A. Raising or lowering your wagers without knowledge of the composition of the deck does not change the house edge. In that respect, betting progressions do not help regardless of whether the shuffle is continuous.

Progressions will yield more big winning sessions than flat bets will. The flip side is that they bring more frequent small losing sessions when small wins are followed by losses at larger bet sizes. On balance, the house edge holds up.

There is one aspect in which a continuous shuffler hurts a non-counting progression player: More hands are dealt per hour when there are no shuffle breaks. When you're spotting the house an edge, a faster game helps them, not you.

Q. My casino has a Diamond Days promotion, and the blackjack segment includes 2-1 blackjack payoffs if both cards are diamonds. How often does that happen?

A. Per deck, there are 64 possible blackjack combinations. Each Ace can link up with any of the 16 10-value cards in the deck to make a two-card 21. Of those 64 combinations, four will be all-diamond blackjacks — the ace of diamonds with the king, queen, jack or 10 of the same suit.

So one in 16 blackjacks will be all diamonds and bring you that 2-1 payoff. It's not a game changer, but it's a nice little bonus — especially given that it's just a bonus you're awarded that doesn't require any adjustment to strategy. The extra payoff knocks about 0.14% off the overall house edge.

I've seen similar promotions come up from time to time. I once played in a casino that had a Black Jacks promotion that paid 2-1 on either an ace of spades paired with a jack of spades, or an ace of clubs paired with a jack of clubs. That accounts for only two of our 64 possible two-card 21s per deck, so the bonus combos occurred only half as often as all-diamond blackjacks.

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:

> 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