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# It IS what meets the eye

9 January 2014

QUESTION: I came across a slot machine that had both free-spin and second-screen bonuses. To get the free spins, you had to have special symbols and the first, third and fifth reels. For the second screen, the bonus symbols had to be on the second, third and fourth reels.

Is that a way to make sure you get the bonuses less often? It seems like I have more chances if I need three bonus systems and they can come on any of the five reels.

ANSWER: Probably not. It’s possible to work the math so that it’s possible to have as good or better a chance of going to the bonus round if the symbols have to be on three specific reels compared to needing three symbols spread across any of the five reels. And if the goal was to reduce the frequency in bonus events, the designer could do it just as easily working with all five reels by reducing the frequency of bonus symbols.

When a gamemaker uses bonus events, the goal is to build anticipation and excitement that keeps players in their seats. That only works if the event occurs often enough that players know they’ll get to experience it. Some bonus events with bigger potential payoffs will occur less often than others, but players have to know there’s going to be some kind of payoff in credits and entertainment for the time and money invested in the base game.

The most likely reasoning behind the design of the game you describe is that the gamemaker thought the difference in display would be eye-catching, and would enhance player anticipation every time the first and second free-spin or bonus symbols came up. As for the frequency of bonuses, that can be taken care of in the math of the game no matter how many reels are involved.

QUESTION: I saw a Big Six wheel for the first time. My husband said they used to be more common, but said it was a bad bet and he hustled me away. I guess he thinks I’m a sucker for bad bets!

I didn’t get a good look, so could you explain it to me? Do you have to bet \$1 to win on the \$1 bill and \$20 to win on \$20? All I really saw was the wheel.

ANSWER: You can bet whatever you like on any of the dollar denominations or other symbols. A bet on the \$1 bills pays even money, so if you bet \$5, you win \$5. A bet on \$2 pays 2-1, a bet on \$5 pays 5-1, and so on. Special symbols such as jokers, casino logos and American eagles pay 40-1.

There are a couple of different configurations for the proportions of money in the wheel, and the Las Vegas and Atlantic City versions tend to be slightly different, but there are 54 spaces on the wheel. The last one I looked over -- and this is some time ago -- had 24 \$1 bills, 15 \$2 bills, seven \$5 bills, four \$10 bills, two \$20 bills and two special symbols.

With that configuration, the house edges are 11.1 percent on \$1, 16.7 percent on \$2, 18.5 percent on \$10, 22.2 percent on \$5 or \$20 and 24 percent on the special symbols. For every \$100 you wager on the \$1 spaces, you lose \$11.10 -- and that's the best bet on the table.

Average blackjack players face a house edge of 2 percent or so, and basic strategy players can take that down to about a half percent, a bit more or less depending on house rules. There are bad bets at craps with house edges up to 16.67 percent, but if you stick to pass (1.41 percent) and place bets on 6 and 8 (1.52 percent), you’re doing far better than anything offered at Big Six. Even double-zero roulette, with a house edge of 5.26 percent on most bets, is a much better game.

Bottom line: I’m with your husband. Big Six is an awful bet.
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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.