Not my cup of Tea

Sep 19, 2005 11:56 PM

Over the 20 years or so that I’ve been going to casinos, I’ve on occasion played the slots. There, I said it. It hasn’t been often, and I don’t recall ever playing more than nickel slots, but once in a great while, I’ve found myself playing the game I tell everyone else to avoid.

Of course, I’ve never sat down to play for an hour or two. Generally, I’ve played as a mindless distraction for 15-20 minutes either after a nice win (or bad loss) at video poker. I’ve played them while waiting on line for a buffet or while waiting for a friend or relative to finish up their session.

I’ll admit that there is something tantalizing about all the near misses of watching two bars line up, but not the third. Or, seeing the machine’s special symbol show up, but just one line up or down from the payline. As long as you get past the idea that you have little chance of winning and that you’re simply playing for the entertainment value, slots can be a nice distraction.

Of course, these were the slots of 10 years ago. While you can find a few in some of the casinos today, most machines don’t have handles anymore. Instead, you press a button.

Very few use mechanical reels anymore, as most use a video screen to show the symbols. The first generation of these video slots mimicked the mechanical ones. There were a few different variations of games. You had the type that paid on one line, but you had to put in more than one coin to qualify for all winners. Then there was the traditional five-line machine that required five coins.

Generally, you were shooting for bars or fruit. There was some excitement as you saw the bars line up in the window.

I just arrived home from the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas and, once again, I found the occasion to throw five dollars into a nickel video slot machine. I had about five minutes to kill while I was waiting for my wife.

I played a game called Texas Tea, which I believe is a rather popular video slot. I consider myself a fairly bright guy. I’ve got strong math and computer skills and a sharp analytical mind. Well, here comes the real confession. I have no idea what was going on in this video slot machine! All I know is that there were five columns of symbols, which somehow translated into nine paylines.

I have no idea which symbols were more desirable than others, except for the obvious special symbols that the mircrochip inside is programmed to tease me with, while never actually winning with it.

I would spin once and the machine would start making all these noises and I’d win 25 coins. It would blink and light up the lines I had won on, and I again had no idea why I had won. I didn’t appear to have three of the same symbol in a row. I’d spin again, and it seemed like some sheep symbols lined up, yet I only won six coins instead of 25.

There is no other way to put it — I had absolutely no fun playing this video slot machine. And, it’s not just because I lost my five dollars quickly. On my last trip, I also put five dollars into a different nickel slot. In that case, I walked away in 10 minutes with about $20.

I haven’t a clue as to what I hit or why I won. I still had no fun. (Okay, obviously it was more fun to win than to lose!) I found no entertainment value for my money.

I walked away from the video slot shaking my head wondering how these things have survived all these years. Thank goodness for the inventor of video poker! I obviously still have a long way to go to get everyone to kick the slot habit, but I think the latest version of video slots is making my job even easier.

Not only does video poker offer significantly higher paybacks, it apparently also offers the player the ability to know what is going on at all times. Right there on the machine are all the winning hands and the payouts, which immediately tell us the overall payback of the machine. Anyone can learn poker rankings, so they’ll know when they’ve won or lost, which is more than I can say for Texas Tea.