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Best of Pam Droog

Gaming Guru

 

Seven Intense Minutes in a Slot Tournament

18 July 2004

The first time I saw a slot tournament was on a Las Vegas program on cable TV. I was shocked to find out that all that's involved is banging on a button until it's time to stop. Despite that, slot tournaments are among the most popular contests at a casino. I wanted to find out why, so I recently entered the noon edition of the Wild Winsday Slot Tournament at Ameristar Casino in St. Charles, Missouri. And I'm here to tell you it's the second most fun you can have in seven minutes (after eating a hot fudge sundae, of course!).

The sign-up

I'll admit I was a little nervous about the whole thing. What if I don't hit the button correctly? What if my finger gets tired? What if I can't concentrate? What if I actually WIN?!

Thankfully, Ed Mignano was there. Ed's an Ameristar regular who plays in both Wild Winsday tournaments every week--that is, when he's not playing slots three days a week. Ed had won the top prize, $250, the previous week and he had some advice for me. "Concentrate on pushing the button properly when the last reel stops," he said.

Does that really make a difference? I asked. Well, no, Ed replied. "Playing in a tournament requires no skill, no nothing. Speed doesn't matter and neither does how hard you hit the button," he said. "Just try to get a lucky machine."

As I checked in and showed Ameristar employees DeeDee and Miranda my $10 registration receipt, they offered their advice: "It depends on the stamina in your hands." I started clenching and unclenching my fist in both hands and shaking my fingers to loosen them up.

Finally I was an official contestant, assigned to round number three.

Waiting and watching

I chatted with Ed (he always plays in the last round) while we waited for the tournament to begin. He told me he loves to play the slots. "It's an amusing pastime," he said. "I could play a penny machine for a dollar. But you can't be cheap," he warned. "You have to play the maximum. The machine tells you what you need to play to win the top prize. People who play one coin at a time, they're wasting their money!"

Ed also explained to me how the tournament works. The slots are 25-cent IGT Double Diamonds equipped with a special tournament chip so they hit winning combinations frequently.

"You don't pull a handle or put in coins or player's cards," Ed said. He pointed out that the "700" on the total-credits box means seven minutes. Total points won appear in the Winner Paid box. The magic button you hit is the "Spin Reel."

At Ameristar, the winner from each round is the person with the highest point total for that seven-minute session. When all the rounds are finished, the winners are ranked and the top winner takes home $250. There are no finals or playoffs.

"It's a one-shot deal," said Ed.

3-2-1-Go!

As it got close to noon, more people started arriving. Miranda and DeeDee said the 6 p.m. tournament always sells out but the noon one is getting more popular.

"There are all ages, and a lot of regulars," Miranda said. "Heck, for $10 if you win $250 it's a really good deal!" Players included friends and couples and a few singles. Everyone had a nametag on his or her back so Scott the host could make comments about the players as they competed.

At 11:55 Scott announced it was time to line up for Round 1. As the players filed in to the roped-off slot bank, each took a chip numbered 1-14 out of a bucket to match up with a particular slot. Scott told everyone to sit down and not touch anything and reminded them the goal is to get two or three Double Diamond symbols as often as you can--as if your button-punching "skill" has anything to do with it.

"Lift up your arms, three, two, one, go!" Scott said and the game began, complete with bells and whistles, whoops and hollers. When the crowd occasionally shouted, "Double! Double! Double!" they sounded like crazed Thanksgiving turkeys.

Tourney technique

Since I didn't have to play for a while I had a chance to study the various techniques being used. There was the index finger, the index-and-second-finger combo, the three-, four- and five-fingertip methods and the fist. There was the pinky finger sticking up. The left-hand-right-hand switchoff. The overlapping fingers and thumbs. Some players' elbows were up, others were down.

A few players waited until the reels stopped before they hit the button again. Others keep a steady, sometimes neurotic, rhythm. Certain players stayed very focused on the button and didn't even look at the reels. Others looked around and laughed with their neighbors.

Ed pointed out one player had 2000 points after three and a half minutes.

"She has a very good chance at the top," he said. "You gotta get over 3000 to be in the money."

As the time wound down, I could tell some players were getting tired while some were getting frantic. Finally the round was over. High score: 3240. The players signed a form on a clipboard and a slot tech reset the machines. As they filed out it was obvious some contestants were not happy.

"You gotta understand some people get highly emotional about it," Ed said. "Some curse, some cry."

He pulled out a folded piece of paper and a pen from his pocket and made a little chart. He said he likes to keep track of winning point totals for himself and his friends.

Slot stories

Waiting for my round to begin, Ed shared some slot tournament war stories. He said the strangest thing he ever saw at a tournament was a guy in wheelchair competing.

"He used his chin to hit the button," Ed said. "He won some money but not a lot."

I talked to a couple of other players. Carla told me she'd never been in a slot tournament before.

"There wasn't much of a line so I figured this would slow down my regular slot play a little!" she said. As for technique, she said she planned to hit the button as fast as she could.

Edna said this would be her fourth tournament.

"It's exciting," she said. "I won $40 last week." She said she doesn't have a technique--she just hits the button.

Then there was Mike, who said he plays in slot tournaments "a lot" because his money lasts longer than on a regular slot. Regarding technique, he said, "None is required. It's just plain luck."

And he's had his share. He said he won $1000 at a slot tournament at Harrah's St. Louis Casino--and he also met his wife at a slot tournament there.

"All her friends and relatives were there, asking me a lot of questions," Mike said. The "slot junkies" (his term) have been married two years.

My round

At about 12:30 p.m. it was time for Round 3--my round. I got in line, got assigned to slot number 8 and got settled in, flexing my fingers a few more times.

"Arms in the air! Three, two, one, go!" Scott shouted. No turning back now!

It took a few seconds to get into it and find a comfortable beat. I ended up alternating my right and left hands, using my second, third and fourth fingers to apply a steady pressure. I didn't lift my fingers off the button except to switch hands. My elbow kept sticking up in the air like I was about to fly away.

And I noticed it was getting noisy! The lady next to me yelled "Double! Double! Double!" nonstop, occasionally whooping when one or two Double Diamonds hit. Every now and then, the man on the other side of me would say, "Come on baby! Yeah!"

I didn't talk to my machine but maybe I should have said, "Gimme some points!" I'm certain it was the world's slowest slot! I hit hardly any Double Diamonds. Bad machine, bad!

The last few seconds were pretty intense, as the meter counted down and we all were at the mercy of these brainless machines. When it was all over, I exhaled and looked at my total--a mediocre 2120. Then I realized my face really hurt--I had been goofily grinning throughout the entire round!

Parting words

Ed and two other men played in the final round, number six, then all the totals were tallied. The winners ranged from $22 for 3105 points to the top $250 for an impressive 3801 points. The lady who won that practically skipped away down the slot rows, shouting "Woo hoo!" and waving her check in the air.

But Ed had the last word. Before we parted, he said, "Always treat a slot machine like a woman. Stroke it gently and get it heated up!"