Thursday, August 30, 2007

Guaranteed Video Poker Play Not So Popular

Stations Casino is going full boar to promote the new "Guaranteed Play" Video Poker machines. Here is the low down from IGT

Tonight I went to Red Rock Casino, and was immediately greeted by signage touting the Guaranteed Play machines.

All the floor personnel doing the grunt work were wearing Guaranteed Play polo shirts.

Large mylar helium balloons with the Guaranteed Play logo were attached to the machines.

Stations is also pushing a promotion with a million free hands of video poker, I'm guessing it is tied into these machines . . . but I am NOT a video poker player, so I doubt I'll find out. Not that I have never played it, I just prefer video themed slots. I'm not an idiot, I know if I master video poker play my odds are considerably better than the machines I frequent. But I digress . . .

For all the hoopla I did not see one player seated at these Guaranteed Play machines -- not one, and I was in the casino over three hours.

For IGT's and Station Casino's sake I hope this concept catches on, but honestly, it has one fatal flaw . . . it moves the gambler away from gambling, and tries to sell him or her entertainment.

They should have steered clear of the video poker player, and targeted morons like me, who actually do play for entertainment. Video poker has been called Video Crack, and apparently it is rather addictive. But there is a reason for it -- it actually does incorporate an illusion of skill. And of course nothing is more addictive than power.

Luckily for all of us, "Guaranteed Play" is only one of the hundreds of variations the major slot companies are cooking up for us slot jockeys. And due to a wonderful concept called "supply and demand" if we don't like the product, they will vanish from the casino floor.

The new technology that really has me worried is "server based" machines, that will allow the eyes in the sky to change the odds on our play at their whim. I already believe the house is reading my mind through the use of my player card, so for a conspiracy theorist like me, they ought to be designing George Orwell 1984 themed machines. How stupid do they think we are?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Fed to the Lions

I know I promised to return to slot related blogging, and trust me I've played plenty of slots the last two days, but dang it, if Las Vegas doesn't have so much to offer besides gambling. Everyday is a new adventure.

Today, I decided to venture down to New York, New York casino and resort. I had a fine time, played WMS' "Lucky Seals" and their widely popular (only a slight overstatement, they really are more popular than "Super Money Grab") "Super Grand Hotel." I even took a turn at IGT's "Star Wars -- The Empire Strikes Back." I also went old school and played a nine line nickel machine "The Price is Right Plinko." Then 'cuz I like to mix it up I tried Bally's "Hot Shot" machine.

Since I was right across the street from the fabulous MGM, namesake to the mega MGM/Mirage super corporate conglomerate, I tried my luck on the east side of Las Vegas Blvd.

MGM has a fascinating lion habitat (you know, because their logo/mascot is the roaring lion)display right off the main entrance. Two young lions were literally lounging around sleeping on the roof (their floor) of the clear plexiglass tunnel leading to (what else?) the obiquitous gift shop.

Two trainers were hanging with the lions, and they seemed slightly more alert than their supine canines. I suppose it is wise to let sleeping lions lie, but it is also wise to keep a close eye on their movements, should they unexpectantly spring to life.

This afforded us spectators some wonderful photo ops. But wait, there's more. Just in case we happened to be wondering what these lionesses (they were young, and I believe female.) did when they weren't getting their beauty rest, a roving commentator filled us in on the salicious details. Clad in Safari shorts, vest and hat, with a microphone headset this guide informed us that they would be feeding the lions in 35 minutes.

As if that wasn't enough information, he also kindly let us know that the lions are quite happy in their luxurious accomodations, costing millions (9, 14? I can't quite remember) of dollars.

Well, that was a comforting thought, but here's where his spiel ventured into the realm of TMI -- Too Much Information.

He wanted us to know that the lions are fed only the best -- NEBRASKA Brand Specially Formulated HORSE Meat!!!!

The lions love it so much, they consume between 8 and 15 pounds a day!

I had considered returning for the feeding, but this information really disturbed me, especially since the Lion Habitat is right across from the SPORTS Book! One glance assured me that many beautiful horses were running their hearts out, trying to avoid the horrible fate of being FED TO THE LIONS!

I was so upset, I had to play some Elvis Quarter slots. Luckily I won a couple bucks, and I hightailed it out of the MGM.

Note to the person in charge of the MGM Lion Habitat -- delete the word "horse" from the commentator's script.

The thought of Trigger or Secretariat being devoured by your lions is just more than I can bear, and really, really bad for business.

And Then Came the Flood

You might think that a place called "Sin City" would have more than it's share of "acts of God" and nature thrust upon it.

Actually life in Las Vegas can be relatively stress free for those of us who are used to contending with earthquakes, tornadoes, ice and snow, and hurricanes.

Sure it's hot, but as the cliche goes -- it's a dry heat. When the mercury tops 113 in the shade in mid-July, you may think you're living in hell, but heck, that's why God invented Air Conditioning and Casinos. Lovely places to cool off and lose your shirt.

Las Vegas does have a few fault lines running through it, capable of mid-size earthquakes and it can get cold enough for a few snow flurries in the winter, but other than that, there is really only one major threat to life and property to speak of.

The Monsoon Season. Okay, go ahead and laugh. It sounds sort of ridiculously ominous --- ooo, the dreaded monsoon . . . in a desert that get an average rainfall of less than 5 inches, I mean, how bad could it be?

Well, if 3 of those inches of rain fall in less than 3 hours it can be very bad indeed. And that's exactly what happened early Monday Morning. Most folks were asleep at 3a.m. when the worst of it started. This being a 24 hour town though, some poor souls were on the roads for whatever reason, on their way to or from work, or trying to make it home after a long gambling session.

The temps had reached well over 100 degrees on Sunday, and the humidity had risen, with a 30 percent chance of overnight thunderstorms. What we got was as intense a storm as I have ever experienced, and I lived 12 years in tornado ridden Tennessee. The lightning was so intense, I was certain my very complex had taken at least a few direct hits.

At 4a.m. I got up and looked out the window. The water was fast, but as a car drove in, I could see the torrent did not yet reach it's hubcaps. I head sirens very close, and in the back of my mind I wondered if my ground level garage would flood. As I lived on the second floor, I was in no immediate danger, and so I went back to bed. The storm eventually died down, and I was awaken again around 8a.m. as another round of thunderstorms passed through.

I slept late, and began my day with my usual routine. Around 4:30p.m. I ventured out to the post office. As I walked outside my door I was met with disturbing sights and sounds. Carpet guys with pumps working on the first floor apartments. As I turned the corner to check on my garage, the people across from me were cleaning theirs out. They were transferring what they could from soggy cardboard boxes to plastic bins. This did not bode well for me, who uses my garage as storage, half my belongings on the floor in cardboard boxes.

It wasn't good. But then again, it could have been so much worse. I was somewhat spared, as only about 2/3 of my garage got wet, and no more than a quick inch at that. My neighbors had both their apartment and their garage flooded, and as I would soon learn those downhill from me saw some devastating damage.

A retaining wall was completely destroyed, and some saw their garages fill with 2 feet of water. That siren I heard was someone being rescued from their stalled water drenched vehicle at an intersection very close to me.

The Review Journal interviewed people at my complex -- here is a link to the article.

Note the bolt of lightning that came through the roof of a house at Hualapai and Sahara. That's some scary stuff.

Homeowners in my neighborhood had extensive damage as well.

And a link to an article about the flood of '03

So you see the "Monsoon Season" that runs from mid-July through mid-September in Las Vegas is nothing to sneeze at.

You may notice the billboards around town that urge motorists to use common sense when encountering water on the roadway. They are no joke. Luckily no one was hurt the other night, but plenty of rescues were necessary. Thank God for cell phones, or many of these people might have been simply stuck, their cries for help unheard in the cacophony of the storm.

Mother Nature unleashed her fury, but thankfully we haved lived to tell the tale.

I will now return you to your regular scheduled programming -- slots, slots, and more slots.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Sunday at the Suncoast

Yesterday I made a mistake, or as I like to call it "The Lesson I Never Learn." I did not quit while I was ahead. And to compound the problem, I ventured into a casino I do not enjoy. The excuse was simple, I always like to give casinos and slot machines a second chance. I'm generous, i.e. foolish, that way -- for as we all know, casinos and slot machines know no mercy. It's just not a fair fight.

The day started out innocently enough. I would go to Rampart casino at the J.W. Marriott in Summerlin to play my free $5 bonus play. I'll review the Rampart, it's Slot Club, and it's Slot Club at a later date, but suffice it to say they regularly send me lovely inticements to frequent their establishment including a $5 freebie about once a week.

I did quite well parlaying my free play into about $45 on IGT's "Carnival of Mystery" machine. I was quite pleased with myself, and should have left right then and there. Of course, I didn't. I had to keep playing "Carnival of Mystery" to see if it would stay hot (later I will debunk a myth of a debunked myth that slot machines are neither hot nor cold) -- naturally it didn't, and my win dwindled to below $40.

No worry, it was free money after all, so I decided to play IGT's new "Soul Train" bank of penny machines, where for a 25 cent bet, you get 50 lines of play. I chose "Cookie Jar" and it didn't do a thing for me.

I was stuck in the general vicinity as I had ordered a drink, so I sidled on down to WMS' "Fiesta something or other" and lost a little there until my drink arrived.

I should have left, but I had a full beer to consume so it was off to my old nemisis WMS' "Life of Luxury" bank. My favorite "Far East Fortunes" was occupied, so I chose one on the opposite side. I never win on this machine, but hey never, say never, right?

At this point I was down to $35 and decided to risk $10. It went in the blink of an eye, and still determined, but somewhat daunted I went for what I call my "piddlin'" machine IGT's "Cash King Checkers" -- a penny machine with nine lines. I love this machine, and the only two I have ever seen are at the Rampart. This seems natural as the Rampart caters to the locals, in this neighborhood retirees, i.e. old people -- and don't old men love to play checkers?

So I piddled, playing 9 cents a pop, jumping my checkers when I got them and even hitting a bonus round or two. I broke even, and thought I'd go back to where I started on "Carnival of Mystery." I broke even there after a short play, had finished my beer, and finally had the sense to leave the Rampart with $25. I was very proud of myself.

Across the street from is the Suncoast Casino Notice the Monopoly "Super Money Grab" link on it's homepage. Yep, I played it today, and yep, AGAIN I didn't win. Jeez, this machine and this online promotion really sucks. But back to yesterday. The Suncoast looks alright from the outside, but inside it is relatively small for a modern casino, and the floor is very, very crowded with slot machines. That wouldn't be such a bad thing, if the machines were the ones I like to play. They aren't. Too many IGT, and Atronic machines in relation to my favored WMS machines, but admittedly, the Coast Casinos are improving in this area. Still, there are way too many old machines in far too small a place.

I've never had any luck at the Suncoast, but like I said earlier I always like to prove myself wrong, especially when it involves luck. They were offering 2X points, and every now and again I like to remind casinos I'm alive and playing to keep the freebies flooding my mailbox.

I noticed a WMS "Hot Hot Super Jackpot" machine I hadn't played yet, I believe it was called "Mystical Fortunes" and had fortune telling characters. I did alright, in fact I was up about $10 and was quite pleased with myself. So what the heck, it wouldn't hurt to keep playing, and give the Monopoly machine another shot at redeeming itself.

As I passed the bank all slots were full, so I ventured on over to WMS' "Top Gun" machine with their new "Sensory Immersion" Technology. Later in the week, I'll fill you in on this machine. Long story short, I lost. This began my rather swift decline, as I tried a few other machines until I could give "Super Money Grab" my attention, and my money.

I can report a few new things. I forgot to mention that these machines have old fashioned handles, which is a good way to get out your frustrations and work your arms at the same time -- let's call them "Slot Jockey Curls." Also if you get four Chance cards in a row, you have a better shot at the Money Grab or Top Box bonus, and five Chance cards (in an active pay line) gets you straight into the Top Box. Now I didn't learn this by winning, mind you, I read the Pay Table carefully. I couldn't win to save my life.

My neighbor and I chatted about the machine. She agreed with me that it wasn't all that, and noticed that the Monopoly "Super Grand Hotel" machine appeared more popular. I agreed whole-heartedly, and will review "Super Grand Hotel" later. She also made the astute observation that whoever developed the penny machine concept was a genius, who deserved a huge promotion and raise, as she loses much more on "penny" machines, than she ever did on nickels. Again, I noted that great minds think alike, as I also have suffered this phenomenon.

Her drink came, Champagne in a tumbler, served by a surly waitress, which I didn't think showed much class on Suncoast's part, but it did make for a generous amount of alcohol. She also got a Money Grab bonus, and the woman next to her got into the Top Box bonus. Their opinions of these machines may have been looking up, but mine was pretty much set in stone.

I left with no bonuses, and considerable less cash, and limped off to lick my wounds with IGT's "Gem Wild Tiles." I noticed that the Suncoast was offering a 75% off deal on the Buffet when you pay with your points, so I thought at least I could get a free meal out of this deal. Alas on Sunday, their dinner buffet closed at 8pm, and at 7:45 there was a long line with patrons nervously looking at their watches. I left hungry and frustrated.

Just to add insult to injury I threw some more money into machines, before I sulked out of the Suncoast, downtrodden and $40 lighter from what I had when the day began.

So much for the Sunday at the Suncoast, perhaps good for a free buffet from time to time (before 8pm), but otherwise a casino to avoid.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Betting the Max Vs. Budgeting your Play

A common school of thought on slot play is to always bet the max. On my preferred penny machines, that is usually 200 - 300 credits, or $2 to $3 a pop. I'm not exactly sure how this theory of max betting permeated the casino floor, but it is popular.

Let me just say up front - I do NOT bet the max. I bet early, and I bet often, so my goal is to maximize my play. I'm your basic low roller. I drink cheap beer (Budweiser, thank you) and you may find me camped out at the buffet (if I can pay with slot club points) from time to time, but if you want to dine in the steak house buddy, you're buying.

I want to make this clear, as I review the play of new slot machines.

I do usually bet all the lines possible (up to 100 these days), but commonly I will bet one per line. Sometimes when I am chasing my losses (one of the cardinal sins of gambling, but I'm no angel.) I will go two or three lines, and when I am truly desperate, or have my eye on a progressive, I have been known to go higher and even press the Max Bet button.

But for the purpose of my reviews, you can assume I am playing all the lines at one credit per line. For instance on yesterday's blog I forgot to mention that the Monopoly "Super Money Grab" machine at Station's Red Rock Casino is a penny machine with 25 lines of play. The max bet is 8x or 200 credits ($2 dollars.)

I apologize if the title of this blog is a little misleading. I don't intend to completely analyze the subject in a blog -- to quote Rodgers and Hart "If you ask me, I could write a book." and many folks already have.

In the future I will delve into many aspects of the many ways to win and lose at slots.

I've sat next to many folks who bet the max, and I usually remark to them something along the lines of "I wish I had your guts." More often than not, I'll get a response like "It's not guts, it's more like stupidity!" I've never had a player encourage me to bet the max, and the reason is obvious. It's expensive. $100 can go in the blink of an eye when you're betting the max. It's great if you hit a win, but if not, you can lose your bank roll real quick.

There are many new machines where your odds actually improve toward winning progressive awards if you bet the max, and all the old favorites like Megabucks, where your only chance to win the progressive is if you bet the max. I certainly wouldn't argue with anyone who has ever hit a major progressive, that they were playing recklessly!

But those are the lucky ones, and then there is me.

You'll find me at the penny slots, swiggin' beer and placing conservative bets.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

WMS partners with Station and Coast (Boyd) Casinos to push new "Transmissive Technology"

In an ever eager attempt to fuse traditional mechanical reel simplicity with video reel bells and whistles, WMS rolled out their new "Transmissive Technology" machines this month with great fanfare, and online sweepstakes.

So far, with only one machine in the casinos, a new "Super Cash Grab" Monopoly machine, the technology doesn't seem so new, as it does old -- meaning it does one old fashioned thing really well, i.e. taking your money.

With only one bonus round (with three different games possible) when three "chance" cards line up farthest left to right on active play lines, this machine can be quite frustrating and downright stingy, if you pick a chance card with, say 75 credits as your reward. If you are lucky enough to advance to a bonus round with some action, you may activate the "Money Grab" or "Top Box" bonus.

The "Money Grab" bonus makes the best use of the aforementioned "Transmissive Technology" which is basically a video screen superimposed over traditional mechanical reels. Thich can make the mechanical reels somewhat grainy and gray to view at all times, the bonus round being no exception. As the bonus begins, dancing "Money Grab" characters, such as Scotty, Marvin Gardens, Virginia Avenue and the Monopoly Man start to dance at the bottom of the screen. During your five free spins, when the mechanical reels stop if a money grab symbol shows up, the corresponding character at the bottom of the screen jumps up to grap a Monopoly money bill with random credits. The farther to the right the symbol appears (Monopoly Man is far right) the better your chances for a bigger payoff.

I'd tell you all about the "Top Box" bonus, but I've dropped over $60 in these machines and I have yet to hit it. I have lived vicariously by watching my neighbors' lucky turns (remember one of the slot players' ten commandments "Do Not Covet Thy Neighbors' Machine"), and the bonus involves picking either Mr. Monopoly's left or right hand to continue or end the bonus, which consists of the top boxes (duh) lighting up to reveal your award. With my luck I can't imagine I would last very long in this bonus, and basically that's my beef with all machines where a bad pick ends a round. Damn those "Collect" icons!

But enough about my take on these machines -- here is the official line straight from the horse's mouth WMS -

On WMS Gamings home page they exclaim "Mechanical reels meet video reels - endless winning possibilities are born!"

Honestly, It's just another slot machine with decent line pays (if you are lucky) and a bonus round with one of two different games (again if you are lucky). I have yet to tap into the endless winning possibilities they are touting.

There is a cutesy little animation of Mr. Monopoly and Scotty jauntily walking down the street and ditching into storefronts to change their hats periodically that is mildly amusing, and plays over the video screen at all times, but when I'm losing money, cutesty animation doesn't really help my mood.

The technology is not that different from WMS Super Super Hot Jackpot series that incorporates mechanical reels with a video screen (albeit a very small one in this case.)

The whole idea, I believe, is to wean players who prefer a traditional mechanical reel to a video screen. I'm not sure why this is necessary, personally the more options on the casino floor, the better I like it! Viva la difference! Viva Las Vegas!

Don't get me wrong -- I am a big fan of WMS, they truly are innovative, their graphics are superb, and I actually feel like a have a chance to win on their machines. They produce a far superior product to IGT (International Gaming Technology), althought for some reason Wall Street analysts still seem stuck on the idea that IGT is leading the pack. But more on that later . . .

So to wrap up, I will rate the "Super Money Grab" machine with Transmissive video 3 out of 5 cherries. Not bad, but not my first choice when I hit a fully stocked casino floor.