QUESTION: I’ve liked the video slots for a long time now. I noticed right away when that one with the fishing lures (Reel ’Em In) came out on nickels that it gave me a little something back a lot more often than I got on the reel slots. I could keep going and going, where on the reels if I didn’t hit something good I’d sometimes lose my money really fast.
With the penny games now, that seems to have changed. I have longer losing streaks than I remember on the nickel games, and it’s back to where I can lose money pretty fast. That’s not just my imagination, is it? Have they changed how often you win?
ANSWER: Most modern video slots, especially in the penny denomination, have been designed with more volatility than the early nickel games of the late 1990s and early 2000s. More volatile games give you the possibility of larger wins, but also longer losing streaks.
That was done to give penny players prizes worth playing for. On an old nickel Jackpot Party game with nine paylines, a nickel player betting one coin per line wagered 45 cents per spin. If a bonus event brought 200 credits, that was $10, the equivalent of 22 spins with a dime left over. On a modern 40-lines slot, a penny player betting one coin per line wagers 40 cents. A 200-credit bonus is only $2, the equivalent of five spins.
The late 1990s player who won a 200-nickel bonus could use if for lunch at the buffet. A 2014 player, betting nearly as much at a penny machine, might be able to cash a 200-credit ticket for enough to buy a couple of bags of chips or a candy bar at the snack bar.
Games that use free spin bonuses – the majority of the slot floor nowadays – tend to be more volatile than games that use pick’em-style bonuses. Game designers also have added volatility by adding paylines or using Reel Power-style games where all connecting symbols can form a payline, leaving hundreds of possible ways to win. They’ve added volatility by using expanding wild symbols, stacked symbols, double symbols, with two of the same symbol in one square, and much more.
On games with stacked symbols, if several of the same stack line up, it can mean wins of thousands of credits. But when the stacks are interrupted by non-winning symbols on the second or third reels, it’s just a losing spin. You can have 12 of the 15 symbols on the screen match, and not win a penny.
That leads to large wins, but also long losing streaks and fast losses. The games aren’t quite as volatile as the three-reel slots that dominated slot floors before the video revolution, but they’re much more volatile than the pick’em games you were playing in the late 1990s.
QUESTION: One of my old college friends now lives in Paris. I visited him for a little European vacation, and we went to Monte Carlo. One thing I noticed was the busy roulette tables, with the single zeroes. It started me wondering why single-zero roulette is so rare in American casinos. Wouldn’t they get more players with the better odds?
ANSWER: Casinos probably would get more players at roulette tables with single-zero games. The question is, would they be new players, or would they be players transitioning from games with higher house edges? It does the casino no good to add a roulette player on a game with a 2.7 percent house edge – 1.35 percent if the European en prison rule is in effect – if it takes a player away from the slots, or takes away a craps player who makes the higher-edge bets such as placing 5 or 9 (4 percent), placing 4 or 10 (6.67 percent) or – gasp! – any 7 (16.67 percent).
There’s even some question as to whether customers would really flock to single-zero wheels if given a choice between single-zero and double-zero games. A general manager in the Midwest once told me, “I’ve been thinking about adding single-zero roulette, but when I tried it in Las Vegas, I got complaints from some good customers. One told me, ‘Double zero is my lucky number.’”
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