John Grochowski

John Grochowski John Grochowski John Grochowski John Grochowski

A shuffle through the Gaming mailbag:

Q. All of these poker games you see now, like Three Card Poker and Mississippi Stud, do you think any of them would work as video poker games? I have fun at Three Card Poker, but sometimes I think I'd like to play it by myself on a machine for quarters instead of having a $5 ante and then more if I want to stay in the hand, and another $5 if I want to play Pair Plus.

A. Such games don't have the draw element that gives five-card draw video poker its interactivity and feeling of player control over results. On top of that, a combination of speed of play and house edge make it difficult to see poker-based table games working on a video format.

Poker-based table games have multiple rounds of betting, while in video poker you bet only once per hand. In Three Card Poker's ante-play portion, you ante to start play, then have the option to bet or fold after you see your cards. In Mississippi Stud, you might bet as many as four times — the ante, then three betting opportunities as you see more cards.

The extra betting rounds slow the game. From a house perspective, that means rules and payoffs must give the house a higher edge to generate the same average profit as on standard video poker games.

Experienced video poker players already choose games based on pay tables and average payback percentages. If they tried poker-based games and found their money disappearing faster than usual, they wouldn't stick with the games for very long.

That's something we saw a while back with video versions of Caribbean Stud Poker. It also had an extra betting round, and the house edge of 5.2 percent of the ante or 2.6 percent of total action was higher than the edges on most video poker machines at the time. Players gave it a whirl, but quickly abandoned it and the game disappeared.

Q. Why do video slots lose their popularity faster than reel slots? If I want to play reels, I can still play Red, White and Blue or Double Diamond like I did 20 years ago. But if I go a couple of months without going to the casino, the video slots I liked are gone, or at least there are a lot fewer of them,

A. There's a difference in emphasis. Reel slots traditionally put the emphasis on winning money, with almost every winner bringing a payback of multiple times your bet.

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Video slots shift some of that emphasis to entertainment through animation, video clips, music, sound effects, special effects through motion chairs¸ and most of all, through bonus rounds.

The idea is to keep you entertained and having fun, enjoying the games as games, regardless of whether you win or lose.

That change of emphasis brings a shortened shelf life. Once you've seen what a bonus round does a few dozen times, the entertainment factor is reduced considerably.

Game makers try to extend that shelf life with multiple bonus events on some of their glitziest games. Maybe they have a free spins bonus with extra wild symbols, another free spins bonus with random multipliers and a pick'em bonus. Maybe there's a wheel spin that could lead to any of several bonuses.

On such games, you can play for hours and still not see everything the game can do. But eventually, slot players see it all, do it all a few times and are ready to try the next big thing.

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