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HOME > > Ask the Slot Expert: Are real slot machines gone forever and only video game machines are the future?

Ask the Slot Expert: Are real slot machines gone forever and only video game machines are the future?

9 September 2020

By John Robison, Slot Expert™

Question: Are real slot machines gone forever and only video game machines are the future?

Answer: When you enter any casino today, you see a sea of video slot machines as far as the eye can see. It may seem like real reel slot machines are gone, but many (most) casinos still have some on their slot floors. I'd guess that video was about 10% of the slot floor around the turn of the century. Twenty years on, traditional reel-spinning machines are maybe 5% of the slot floor with video taking up the remaining 95%.

Casinos still have reel-spinning slots, but you may have to go on a scavenger hunt through the casino floor to find them. This may not help, but one place you can usually find some is in the high limit room. The locals casinos that I visit have dollar reel-spinners in their high limit rooms. You probably won't find any dollar machines in the high limit rooms in the casinos on the strip, though. Years and years (and years) ago I expected to find $5 and $10 machines only in high limit rooms and I was surprised to see them on the main slot floor at Bellagio. The definition of high limit depends on your clientele.

I remember some of the tricks that manufacturers used to try to make their reel-spinning machines as entertaining as the video slots. These are tricks such as reels that spin in different directions, reels that light up, and special glass that displays animations in front of the reels.

Moving parts tend to wear out and break. Reel-spinning machines have spinning reels (duh!) and stepper motors to spin the reels and stop them at the precise location to display the result of a spin. Video slots have no moving parts to display their results.

That is not to say that video displays never have problems. You used to frequently see image burn-in on older machines. You don't see it as much today because machines go into attract or demo mode when they're not being played, so machines aren't sitting there displaying a static image for hours and hours.

Still I sometimes see new machines with image burn-in. The most extreme case I've seen was on a machine that started as a Monopoly-themed game in Scientific Games's huge TwinStar cabinet with a 75-inch ultra-high-definition, 4K display (I copied that from SG's website). After a few months, the machine was converted to another game theme. All it usually takes to convert a machine is changing some chips and maybe some graphics on the cabinet -- and some paperwork for the gaming commission. After this machine was coverted, you could still see the ghost of some of the images from the Monopoly game in the duller pixels on the display.

We've all seen displays with interference lines or shimmering images, probably due to a bad power supply. And I'm sure we've all come across touchscreens that are out of alignment so the only way to select the icon you want is to touch the screen to the left or the right or above or below the icon. (I've recently found that using a stylus designed for capacitive touchscreens makes it easier to deal with mis-aligned touch screens.)

The strangest video defect I've seen on a monitor was on a video poker machine. The red elements on the cards had a black shadow line on their right sides (Ringing artifacts).

I was lucky enough to get a handpay on the machine. After being paid, I pointed out the flaw to the attendant. A couple of slot technicians came to check it out a few minutes later.

They verified that I wasn't seeing things and there was a difference between the crisp black elements and the black-shadowed red elements. They said they would see what they could do.

They came back after a while and told me there was nothing they can do. They said that the display could be used for 3D-like game titles and something to do with that capability was causing the shadow lines on the red elements. I'd guess also that the flaw wasn't affecting game play and I was probably the only one who saw it. If it wasn't something that they could fix with an adjustment, it wasn't worth replacing the monitor.

Speaking of adjusting monitors, there was one video poker machine I liked to play because it was in a quiet area and had absolutely no glare on the screen. The only problem with the machine was that the very bottom of the display was cut off, so it was difficult to read the messages displayed on the bottom like "Good luck, John" and "You have earned xxx points".

I flagged down a slot tech who was walking by and asked him if he could shrink the display so all of it could fit on the screen. He said that he could only move the display up and down, not shrink it. Futhermore, he said that he couldn't move the display up because that would cut off part of the paytable, which had to be fully displayed. At some point, someone was able to shrink the display a bit because the machine doesn't have the problem anymore.

Video is the future. The day isn't on the horizon yet, but at some point manufacturers will stop producing reel-spinning machines. If you want to play one of those machines, you'll have to search out the casinos that still have some of them the way some people do now for coin-operated machines.

Oh, one more thing. Depending on your jurisdiction, video may be the only type of machine allowed.

There's no reason that the exact same reel-spinning game (symbols, paytables and math) can't be played in a video version, but I will admit that it's more satisfying to see and hear three physical reels spin and click into place to reveal three jackpot symbols.

Your options for buffets in Las Vegas just became more limited. Wynn has closed its buffet again. Apparently people didn't like the restaurant-in-the-buffet procedure where you ordered from a server who would then bring you the food.

My publisher, Anthony Curtis, put his finger on the problem. One of the main attractions of the buffet is having it your way, to steal a slogan. Anthony said, "You can't make it perfect unless you do it yourself." Who hasn't rummaged around in the pan trying to find the perfect piece of meat or put just the right toppings on a salad.

The do-it-yourself buffet isn't returning anytime soon. The two models in use in Las Vegas now are: individual small plates handed to you by a server at The Cosmopolitan and staff-served at South Point.

I'm not concerned with buffets now, but I am concerned with being able to get a spot at good video poker machines now that available positions are limited due to social distancing restrictions.

I thought I might have a problem getting a spot on one of the six NSU machines at the casino I visited today, so I got there a bit earlier than I usually do. There were very few cars where I park in the garage, so I was optimistic.

I didn't get there early enough.

At most four of the machines can be playable at one time with proper distancing. The machines are back-to-back, three on each side. All but one machine has significant glare.

A couple was playing at positions 1 and 2 on side A and another person was playing opposite them in position 1 on side B. That left one machine playable, position 3 on side B. That machine's candle was flashing (I admit I didn't check the screen to see if the cause was an error that would clear with play), but I wasn't keen on trying that machine. It wasn't able to validate tickets when I tried to play it a few days ago. I did a lap of the casino hoping that one of the other machines would open up by the time I came back.

The lady in the couple moved to the machine that didn't work for me, leaving the man playing the center machine and making it impossible for an unrelated person to play on side A. Three people were playing when four could have been playing. That was frustrating for me because I was the fourth person who wanted to play. If the middle machines had been disabled like they were before the casinos shut down, I would have been able to play.

I did a few more laps around the casino. No one had moved, so I gave up and left. I had stuff to do -- like this column.

Are you finding it difficult to get a spot on the machines you want to play now? Do you think that machines should be disabled to force social distancing? Or do you prefer having all the machines enabled and depending on players to social distance and slot floorpeople to enforce distancing?

Here are the latest figures from https://www.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#cases.

Totals Weekly Increases
Date Cases  Deaths Cases Deaths Cases Deaths Cases Deaths
 09/08   6,287,362   188,688   72,218   1,426   282,919   5,638   2,734   92 
 09/01   6,004,443   183,050   69,484   1,334   251,790   5,291   3,237   104 
 08/25   5,752,653   177,759   66,247   1,230   330,411   7,889   4,076   125 
 08/18   5,422,242   169,870   62,171   1,105   358,071   7,463   4,973   114 
 08/11   5,064,171   162,407   57,198   991   365,353   7,203   5,776   117 
 08/04   4,698,818   155,204   51,422   874   418,683   7,532   7,367   109 
 07/28   4,280,135   147,672   44,055   764   460,996   7,042   7,130   91 
 07/21   3,819,139  140,630  36,195  674  463,682  5,395  8,181  57 
 07/14   3,355,457   135,235   28,744   617   422,861   5,102   5,607   57 
 07/07   2,932,596   130,133   23,137   560   351,367   3,394   5,006   24 
 06/30   2,581,229   126,739   18,131   536   278,941   6,406   4,367   26 
 06/23   2,302,288   120,333   13,764   510 

A college friend who moved to Australia decades ago called last week. He worked in IT for 30-something years before quitting that field and going back to his first love -- aviation. He worked on the ramp and worked his way up to being one of the guys who tows airplanes at Sydney airport until Covid-19 virtually shut down operations there.

He told me that Australian citizens and permanent residents are banned from leaving the country and they are also the only groups allowed to enter the country. Arriving passengers have to quarantine for 14 days -- at their expense (A$3000 in New South Wales according to some articles, but the fee includes meals and transport to the quarantine hotel). Oh, and there's a limit of 350 international passengers per day in Sydney.

There are restrictions on interstate travel, too. The Australian state with the most severe travel restrictions is Victoria.

A "state of disaster" was declared in the state of Victoria (pop. 6.3 million) on August 2 after the state recorded 671 new infections in a single day. Daniel Andrews, the premier of Victoria, said, "We have to do more, and we have to do more right now." He instituted a curfew in the state and moved the city of Melbourne to the most severe restriction level. Only one person per household is allowed to leave the home once a day to pick up essential goods and that person must stay within a 5-kilometer radius of home. As of August 2, the state had 123 deaths due to Covid-19 and 11,557 confirmed infections.

As of September 7, Australia (pop. 25 million) has had 26,322 cases and 762 deaths. Comparing Australia's stats with those of the US, cases per 100,000 are 105 versus 1,198 and deaths per 100,000 are 3 versus 57.

Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert™, at slotexpert@slotexpert.com. Because of the volume of mail I receive, I regret that I can't reply to every question.

Copyright © John Robison. Slot Expert and Ask the Slot Expert are trademarks of John Robison.

John Robison
John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming's leading publications. Hear John on "The Good Times Radio Gaming Show," broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoons. You can listen to archives of the show online anytime.

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