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Best of Mark Pilarski

Gaming Guru

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America's favorite machine

14 June 2004

Dear Mark,
By far my favorite slot machine is the Wheel of Fortune. It's so popular where I play that sometimes I have to wait an hour to get a seat. Do you know what the payback percentage of this machine is, the frequency of any kind of payoff, and how often do you get a bonus spin? Quinn A.

You're right, Quinn, International Game Technologies' (NYSE: IGT) Wheel of Fortune is probably the most successful slot machine theme ever developed, and the bread-and-butter machine of their fleet of one-armed bandits.

The Wheel of Fortune machine is a nine-line, 45-coin (bets up to five coins per line) machine resembling the popular TV game show, with the primary symbols on the reels being your traditional fruit symbols and prize images from the television show, like a car, diamond necklace, etc. The wheel resembles the original Wheel of Fortune, minus the "LOSE A TURN."

Payback percentages range from 89-94% (depending on your gaming jurisdiction), with the average hit frequency of 50%, i.e. a hit of some kind every other spin. The bonus wheel is divided into 22 compartments, and your chances of getting a bonus spin is, on average, once in every 42 plays.

Based on its payback, I wouldn't call the Wheel of Fortune a sound casino play. Predictably, Quinn, I tend to recommend wagers that have less than a two percent house advantage. However, as for fun factor, well, suffice it to say that Yours Truly has been known to pump some pocket change in the machine.

Dear Mark,
It is said that the kings in a deck of cards represent famous rulers; king of spades is King David, the king of clubs is Alexander the Great, the king of hearts is Charlemagne, and the king of diamonds is Julius Caesar. Do the queens also represent historical persons and if so, who? John F.

For starters, John, a little historical background on cards as an appetizer.

France had the greatest influence on the creation of the modern deck of cards. They combined the knight and page, reduced the size of the deck to 52 cards, and simplified the suit symbols to red diamonds and hearts, black spades and trefoils (clover leaves). The four suits reflect the structure of the medieval society. Hearts—priesthood; spades—nobility; clubs—peasantry; diamonds—the wealthy merchant class.

As to your question, John, the queen of spades, the only armed queen in the deck, represents Athena, the Greek goddess of war. The queen of diamonds is Rachel, wife of Jacob and mother of the twelve sons who founded the twelve tribes of Israel. The queen of clubs is an anagram of Regina, signifying queen. The queen of hearts is Judith of Bavaria, daughter-in-law of Charlemagne.

Gambling quote of the week: "When I count the number of spots in a deck of cards, I find 365, the number of days in a year.
There are 52 cards, the number of weeks in a year.
There are four suits, the number of weeks in a month.
There are twelve picture cards, the number of months in a year.
There are thirteen tricks, the number of weeks in a quarter.
So you see, Sir, my deck of cards serves me as a bible, an almanac and a prayer book." – T. Tex Tyler, DECK OF CARDS (Also recorded by Pee Wee King; Redd Stewart; Merle Travis; The Persuasions; Dick Curless)

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Best of Mark Pilarski
Mark Pilarski

As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.