Nickel slots no longer domain of ‘low rollers’

March 13, 2001 5:11 AM
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Nickel slot machines are the hottest new wrinkle in the casinos. If your friendly neighborhood gambling joint hasn’t already refurbished a whole gallery for these li’l devils, it presumably has started construction or has plans on the drawing boards.

And not a musky corner with tattered carpets where they squeeze the last ounce of blood from the great unwashed and other low rollers. You’ll find nickel slots in elegant salons, fit for fine folks who are close friends of their favorite hosts.

Slot buffs not yet in the know about novo-nickel niceties may doubt the idea of upscale ambience for downsized wagers. The change evolves from computers and video screens that let solid citizens preload credits by feeding in folding money and betting as much, in typical versions, as 10 coins on each of nine-play lines. That’s 90 times five cents, or $4.50 a pop. True, patrons can while away the hours in posh punting parlors on small bankrolls at a nickel a spin (a rate at which the bosses can’t earn enough to buy their silk suits). Few bettors do.

Another factor helps make these machines attractive. Think about multi-coin play on traditional slots. On the models you probably prefer, the chance of a hit isn’t affected by how much you bet. Just the amount you win. With one coin, 3-for-1 gets you three; with two coins, it gets you six.

Lines on the new nickel devices are by and large independent. You might risk one coin on each of nine lines, winning three and losing six. This round might yield a net profit, a push or a loss, depending on what the three wins return. But even if you pick up four units and drop six, losing a net of two, the machine flashes "Winner! Winner!" and increments your credit meter. Voila! The illusion that you’ve scored.

Sure, you can go whole hog on the nickel slots and bet $4.50 every try. Then you won’t kick yourself when a line you skipped would have paid off royally. And you’ll earn whatever bonus goes with a maxi-coin jackpot on one or a combination of your lines. But barring some remarkable luck, experience tells you that a stake that will buy a day of action on a two-coin quarter machine at 50 cents will evaporate quickly at $4.50 ”” undoubtedly leaving you wondering how you can win almost every round and still go broke.

It would make more sense to bet less. Say, roughly the same total per spin you found comfortable on the ho-hum machines you once considered the cat’s meow. You’re then faced with a choice concentrating more money on fewer lines, or the converse.

To keep the comparison straightforward while bracketing the possibilities, consider a nickel on each of nine lines versus half a buck on one line. The slightly different totals, 45 cents and 50 cents, have a minor impact on your prospects. The real contrast involves the swings you can expect your bankroll to take during a session with nine separate low bets as opposed to one high wager. Here, the approaches diverge markedly.

No single parameter characterizes all nickel slots. Even machines that look identical can be set up differently. As a good rule of thumb, though, estimate bankroll fluctuations betting 10 coins on one line will be three to four times greater than those with one coin on each of nine lines.

The classic gambling dilemma holds. You’d prefer small swings when the game is running cold, big jumps when it’s sizzling ”” but can’t have it both ways. With the alternatives given, spreading rather than concentrating the money will make the same bankroll last three to four times as long when fate is frowning on your fight, but will earn only a third to a quarter as much when fortune favors your future. Another way to picture the give ”˜n take is that spreading offers a three or four times better chance of winning a third or fourth as much, or vice versa.

Players aware of the trade-offs can choose betting strategies on these machines that match their gambling goals. Keep in mind, of course, this caveat from the poet Sumner A. Ingmark:

Man-made systems have their quirks,

Nothing real always works.