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Best of John Grochowski

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The Future of Video Slots: Skill

3 July 2001

When I visit a casino, I make it a point to try out anything that's new and different. A trip to Trump Casino in Gary, Indiana, was my first in a few months, and that meant I had to try out the new two-cent slot machines.

No one else in the Chicago area has two-centers, and Trump's have proven to be a big draw. On the end of one row, there was an open Fortune Cookie machine, so I took a seat.

Before long, three take-away carton symbols showed up on a pay line, launching a second-screen bonus. My task was to choose one dish from each of six categories. Should I take hot and sour soup, or sizzling rice? Should the chicken dish be kung pao, sweet and sour, cashew or General's chicken?

An older woman stopped to watch. "Does any of that make any difference?" she asked.

Yes, it does, I told her. There's no way to know which dish has the higher bonus value, so there's no real skill involved, but choosing the rib appetizer instead of the pot stickers will give you a different bonus.

"I thought that was all for show," she said. "I thought it would give you the same bonus no matter what you picked."

As I finished making selections, the screen showed that my seafood choice--baked fish with brown sauce--was worth a whopping 100 credits, while the other seafood choices would have been worth 10, 30 or 50 credits.

That's the way it works with video slots. They are designed to be interactive, to give the players choices, and to make players feel as if they have some control over the outcome. That interactivity is the main reason video slots have become the fastest growing segment of the casino market.

What video slots have not done up to now is give the player the opportunity to show any real skill or knowledge. We don't get to solve word puzzles in Jumble or Wheel of Fortune, or answer trivia questions in Jeopardy, or guess what the audience answered in Family Feud.

But that's changing. I've mentioned several games with a difference in this column. The player decides what moves to make in IGT's Cash King Checkers, and those moves can make the difference between winning and losing.

In Mikohn's Battleship slots, players can use strategy to zero in on the ships in the bonus round, and in Mikohn's Yahtzee slots, it does make a difference which dice you hold and which you re-roll. (Mikohn executive Olaf Vancura, who has written a book on strategy for the Yahtzee home game, has promised to send me a strategy to play the Yahtzee slots bonus round. When he does, I'll pass it on to you.)

Mikohn also has on the way a Ripley's Believe It or Not video slot that involves a real test of knowledge. I tested it at Mikohn's headquarters when I was in Las Vegas in April, and I'd never had more fun with a slot machine bonus round.

The second-screen bonus asks players trivia questions and gives multiple-choice answers. If you answer correctly, you get a bigger bonus than if you choose an incorrect answer.

Video slots and their bonus rounds are designed to give the player a feeling of control, but Ripley's Believe It or Not takes a giant leap forward and gives the player real control of the size of the bonus. Naturally, bonus sizes and payoffs on the regular video reel portion of the game are calculated to give the house an edge on the game. But as slot designers look for new ways to keep players interested as they grow used to older games, tests of knowledge or skill seem like a promising area to explore.

To this old trivia addict, the Ripley's game felt almost like shouting out the answers during a game show.

VIDEO POKER SELF-DEFENSE: I've received a couple of e-mails lately from players bemoaning the scarcity of single-hand quarter video poker machines. There are few really good one-hand options remaining for quarter players, although Majestic Star in Gary has 9-6 Jacks or Better and other decent games on some single-hand IGT Game King machines.

One option is to seek out quarter Spin Poker and Fifty Play Poker machines. They'll permit the player to bet five coins on one hand at a time and get the full pay table. On a recent visit to Harrah's Joliet, Illinois, the best games I saw available to single-hand quarter players were on Spin Poker and Fifty Play games.

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:

The Craps Answer Book

> More Books By John Grochowski