Pennies from heaven
knows where or why

Apr 4, 2005 11:11 PM

I recently read an article encouraging gamblers around the country to make video poker the national game of chance. If nickel machines have not yet accomplished that feat, then penny games certainly will.

So how then does a casino reel in more and more players to play the most addictive game on the planet? Why not offer the game in pennies? Certainly, a few pennies here and a few pennies there can’t possibly make THAT much of a difference in one’s limited bank account, right?

Well, to put this all in perspective, I’ve got to tell you about a radio DJ I heard while on a trip back east in Washington recently. I think the guy’s name and show was called Elliott In The Morning, or something like that. It seems he had quit smoking a few weeks earlier, but was always craving a cigarette like there was no tomorrow.

He asked listeners to call up and discuss the torture of quitting smoking. To several who did say they had quit but started up again, he talked them into believing their weakness was not really due to an addiction at all, but rather only because they WANTED to smoke again.

Being an avid anti-smoker, I could only snicker at how a person like this could manufacture such a feel-good position in order that he may justify doing something that was just not right for him.

And it was not difficult to separate that situation from what video poker players who lose go through all the time. If someone always and vows not to return to the game, how good do you think playing pennies would sound? Innocent enough, right? Not because of an addiction — but because they WANT to play.

But wait a minute. Take another look at those penny machines and compare them to almost every quarter, dollar, or higher denomination machine around. Notice anything unusual?

Just a few weeks ago I read about how there was a new penny mega-jackpot game available. At first glance, I was confused at how in the world a penny game would ever generate enough play to account for the millions in jackpot money to be handed out.

Another look, however, showed from one to three hundred credits could be played on each game, and the maximum HAD to be played in order to qualify for the jackpot. In layman’s terms, that’s $3 per game, and strangely enough that’s the same exact amount needed to be played per game on the DOLLAR mega-bucks to win the big pot. Well, what do you know.

It’s not bait and switch, but it’s pretty darn close. All it takes is a frustrated quarter or dollar player to see the words penny slot on the machine, and the player somehow believes (or talks himself into believing) he has gone DOWN in denomination — thereby doing once again what gamblers are best at doing: creating a feel-good position that justifies playing far more than they should.

On the newest penny video poker machines, many of them allow between one and one hundred credits be played per hand. That’s up to a dollar a hand, so is it really a penny game in the normal sense of the phrase, in which the norm is five credits per maximum bet? I know quite a few players who write me saying they’ve downgraded to pennies because they just can’t seem to get it going on quarters. I’m willing to bet that they also can’t help themselves as they hit "max bet" on each and every hand — $1 a hand for penny video poker? What do you think?

To a player such as myself, it’s really not all that difficult to decipher what the casinos and manufacturers are doing. They’re simply attempting to make players THINK (or at least talk themselves into believing) they’re going down in denomination, but with the poor pay tables the penny games are famous for comes poor results. In effect, people lose more, they feel a little better about it, but at the end of the day their bank accounts are as empty as ever.

For now, it seems this type of creative thinking has to come to a halt, because there is nothing less than pennies in our monetary system. But I’m not one to look the other way when the game seems to be over. If you do that then they’ll always see you coming. It’s my business to stay a step ahead if I want to keep on winning. Of course, if all you’re interested in is achieving special slot club status, then none of this matters to you. Take a guess which side of the street I’m on.