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Wheel-spin bonuses skew to low payouts

John Grochowski

John Grochowski

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CASINO NOTE

Club Victoria members could win a $5,000 winter ski vacation for two in Lake Tahoe in the Spin to WINter Giveaway at Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin. In drawings each Wednesday in January, winners will spin a wheel to claim $500, $750 or $1,000, and each will receive an entry in the Jan. 30 grand prize drawing. Visit www.grandvictoria
casino.com.

Updated: February 12, 2013 6:10AM



Slot machines with wheel-spinning bonus events have been with us since Anchor Gaming introduced Wheel of Gold in the mid-1990s. The original wheel was affixed on a tower atop Bally slant-top slot machines and was a sensation. When the tone sounded signaling an upcoming spin, everyone in the vicinity stopped to watch.

International Game Technology knew a hit when it saw one, and quickly licensed the wheel for its Wheel of Fortune slots. The wheels have been turning ever since, in expanding numbers from multiple manufacturers.

In December, I received an email from a reader wondering why he and his wife always seemed to win the lowest amounts on the 22-segment Wheel of Fortune.

“There are 22 equal spaces on the wheel, but the low ones come up over and over, and you hardly ever see the big ones,” he wrote. “Why is that?”

The reason is that the wheel is not programmed so that every value has an equal opportunity of occurring. It’s programmed just like a slot machine reel, with numbers mapped onto a virtual wheel. I’m not privy to the exact numbers IGT uses, but I can make up an example to show you how it works.

Let’s say you and I are setting up a game with a wheel divided into 22 segments, ranging from a $20 payoff to $1,000. We don’t want to be paying out $1,000 once per 22 spins, so we program a virtual wheel with 1,000 numbers. We map it so that every time our random number generator spits out number 1, the wheel stops on the $1,000 space. We map four numbers that will make the wheel stop on the $500 space, and so on until we use 100 numbers to make it stop on a $20 space.

Now instead of paying out $1,000 once per 22 spins, it will pay the grand only once per 1,000 spins. And instead of paying $20 once per 22 spins, it’ll be one out of 10. The game is random, but it’s skewed toward smaller payoffs.

If game manufacturers were not able to program virtual wheels in that way, the wheel spins either would have to come A LOT less often in order to keep payoffs within profitable parameters for the casino, or would have to offer much smaller payouts. With the virtual wheel, the spins can come up often enough to keep the game fun and interesting, while leaving the possibility of a big payday.

John Grochowski is a local free-lance writer. Look for him on Facebook (http://tinyurl.com/7lzdt44) and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).



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