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Best of Barney Vinson

Gaming Guru

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Barney Vinson's World: Global Gaming Expo

6 October 2003

I just got home from the Global Gaming Expo.  What a blast!

It started with a cocktail party at the Las Vegas Hilton, up on top of the hotel in the Conrad Villa Sky Suite.  The party was hosted by gaming writers Jeffrey Compton (who was actually wearing a suit) and Bob Dancer.  I've always loved those guys ever since--well, ever since they invited me to the cocktail party.

Let me tell you about this suite.  It was two stories high, with a formal dining room, living room, master bedroom, outdoor terrace, and private swimming pool on the first floor.  You could either take a winding staircase to the second floor, or the private elevator.  That's where the other bedrooms were, along with bathrooms everywhere, a workout room, a study, and some breathtaking views of Las Vegas from all the windows and outdoor balconies.

I got to be pretty good friends with the bartender, especially after the fifth vodka tonic, and he told me this high roller suite rented for $17,500 a night!  There was another high roller suite upstairs, he said, which rented for only $15,000 a night.  Must be a real dump.

A lot of well-known gaming writers were at the party, including my good friend John Grochowski, who writes a column for the Chicago Sun-Times.  He promised to do a review of my novel "The Vegas Kid," but I think that was after he'd had a few vodka tonics himself.

The next day, after three cups of coffee and two pain pills, I headed to the Las Vegas Convention Center for the State of the Industry panel moderated by TV personality Larry King.  I won't bore you with a bunch of names, mainly because I forgot to take notes, but those on the panel included the CEO of Harrah's, the president of the Indian Tribal Council, the head of I.G.T., and the president of the American Gaming Association.

I learned some interesting things.  One: Most Vegas resorts now generate one-half of their income from non-gaming.  Two: The majority of casinos make up to 90 percent of their profit from slot machines.  Three: Never sit next to someone with a cellphone.

Larry King regaled the audience with some anecdotes concerning his friend Yogi Berra.  The former baseball great is noted for his unique articulation of the English language.  Some examples:

Friend: What time is it, Yogi?

Yogi: You mean now?

Or: Nobody goes to that restaurant anymore because it's too crowded.

Here's another one.

Friend: Yogi, did you hear that a Jewish man just got elected mayor in Dublin, Ireland?

Yogi: Well, that's America for you.

Now it was on to the show floor, where more than 750 exhibitors were demonstrating their latest gaming products.  Most of them, of course, were slot machines.

When I first moved to Vegas, slot machines were ho-hum.  You stuck in your nickel, you cranked the handle, and the three reels clunked to a stop one by one.  If you were lucky, you might win a $25 jackpot.

The machines today practically hypnotize you.  I saw one machine, manufactured by Optical Products Development Corporation, which featured 3D images floating in space.  You didn't have to wear those goofy glasses, either.  There you are, standing in front of the machine, and here come a pair of dice, dancing so close you could almost reach out and touch them.  You couldn't help yourself; you had to play that machine.

That's what slot machines are all about today: having fun.  It's like paying money to watch television.  Plus there's the outside chance you'll actually win money, and that's what gets the old adrenaline pumping.

There's also the non-intimidation factor, whereas at the table games it's a whole different story.  "DON'T DO THAT."  "HEY, PUT THAT BACK."  "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?"   Casinos are to blame, too.  Now they're hitting soft 17s (which raises the house edge by a whole percentage point) and paying 6-5 for a blackjack instead of 3-2.  That may not sound like much, but suppose you're betting $500.  Instead of getting back $750, now you're getting back $600.  No wonder slot machines have become so popular.

The new ones that are coming out now are absolutely amazing.  Here are just a few that were previewed at the Global Gaming Expo:

Elizabeth Taylor Dazzling Diamonds.  On this machine, you're not playing for money; you're playing for diamonds.  Line up the winning diamond symbols and that's what you win.  Don't like the diamond necklace?  Then spin the top reel for a different piece of jewelry.  Or go for the big prize--an exact replica of the George Washington Bridge made out of toothpicks taken from hors d'oeuvres served at Elizabeth Taylor's last seven weddings.  All right, so I made that last part up, but you get the picture.

Frank Sinatra's Diamond Cinema.  This 5-reel machine combines gambling with the music of Ol' Blue Eyes.  "And now you've paid your dues, you lost your home, your car, your driveway.  But yet, please don't forget, you did it My-y-y Way-y-y."

The Twilight Zone.  Play up to $1.50 in pennies on each spin.  You're traveling through another dimension, a dimension of sight, sound, and spellbinding video effects.  There's a signpost up ahead.  Your next stop?  The ATM machine.

Rodney Dangerfield's "Reel Respect."  Make it to the bonus round and you get a Rodney Dangerfield joke.  "My wife told me I was going to drive her to an early grave.  I had the car out in two minutes!"  Where the heck's the cashout button?

The Terminator.  Arnold Schwarzenegger backed out of this game when he decided to run for governor, but you still get the action and excitement of the movie.  There's also that great line, "Hasta la vista, baby," which is what you'll be saying to your bankroll.

In fact, anyone who has made it big in movies or televison now has his own slot machine.  There's "That Girl," "Marilyn Monroe," "Drew Carey," "M*A*S*H," "Saturday Night Live," "The Honeymooners," "I Spy," "Bewitched," "Laverne and Shirley," "Jeff Foxworthy," "Star Wars," and "Alien."  Food junkies can pig out on "Hot Dogs Deluxe," "Popcorn Slotto," and "King of the Grill," where each steak, burger, or chicken that's perfectly cooked gets you bonus points.

What it all boils down to is the fact that we're all kids at heart.  Now we've got a chance to blend nostalgia and gambling in one push of a button, just by playing the slot machines.

And what a fun way to lose our allowance.

Barney Vinson

Barney Vinson is one of the most popular and best-selling gaming authors of all time. He is the author of Ask Barney, Las Vegas: Behind the Tables, Casino Secrets, Las Vegas Behind the Tables Part II, and Chip-Wrecked in Las Vegas. His newest book, a novel, is The Vegas Kid.

Books by Barney Vinson:

> More Books By Barney Vinson

Barney Vinson
Barney Vinson is one of the most popular and best-selling gaming authors of all time. He is the author of Ask Barney, Las Vegas: Behind the Tables, Casino Secrets, Las Vegas Behind the Tables Part II, and Chip-Wrecked in Las Vegas. His newest book, a novel, is The Vegas Kid.

Books by Barney Vinson:

> More Books By Barney Vinson