John Grochowski

John Grochowski John Grochowski John Grochowski

It’s been a long time since three-reel slots were the most popular games in casinos. Video slots took over that title more than a decade ago.

But just because a game is no longer No. 1 doesn’t mean it disappears entirely. When blackjack overtook craps, craps didn’t just go away, nor did blackjack when reel slots started to draw more play. OK, you can no longer play faro, which was once the top gambling game in the U.S., but that’s from another age.

There remain players who make slots with mechanical reels their game of choice. I asked a few to tell me why they haven’t make the video changeover like so many have. Some said it was what they were used to or that they’d had big wins on reel slots or, “I don’t know, I just like them better.”

Eddie, on the other hand, was in a talkative mood, and he spun a yarn of a lifetime of slot play, as I took a seat next to the Wheel of Fortune game he was playing.

“My wife and I started taking a yearly trip to Las Vegas, oh, it must have been close to 40 years ago,” Eddie began. “We tried everything. We played roulette, because that was easy. I played craps and she wouldn’t, because that was hard. We both tried blackjack, and that became our main game for a while.

“Sometimes we’d play together, sometimes go to different games then meet up in an hour. But we always took time to do casino hopping where we’d play slots together.”

By “together” he meant at neighboring machines. Each played a separate game, but they pooled their money.

“In those days, whatever you won on a spin came right out with coins failing into a tray,” he said. “What a joyful noise that was! I miss that, with the meters and tickets today.”

If one ran out of coins, then those in the slot tray or coin bucket of the other were fair game — a sharing that’s harder to pull off in the days of credit meters and ticket payoffs than it was when coins dropped after wins.

“We used to grab those plastic coin buckets and walk from one joint to the next,” Eddie said. “Unless we hit something pretty big and the coins were too heavy, we didn’t cash them in until we were back at our own hotel. We just carried our playing money as we’d go.

“Always, what we played were the three-reel slots. Mostly we played quarters, but there were a lot of nickel games then, too. Not the nickel video with all those lines like you see now, but nickel three-reel slots with one or three lines, just like the quarters or dollars. Maximum bet was three coins, and you could go a long way if you were only betting 15 cents on a nickel game or 75 cents on quarters.”

As is typical on slots, sometimes the wins came, sometimes they didn’t.

“One trip we’ll always remember, I had a $250 jackpot on a quarter machine, so we decided to splurge and play dollars. My wife won $1,000 her first time out on a dollar game! That’s excitement.

“That’s still where the excitement is for us. To this day, we mostly play quarter three-reel games, when we can find them. We don’t lose too much, sticking to quarters, and when we win, it’s enough for a nice dinner at least, and sometimes a lot more. I don’t think you get that so much out of video, but that’s what we want.”

Look for John Grochowski on Facebook ( and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).