Spin the Wheel

With few exceptions, bars have a different strategy for attracting video poker players. Whereas the casinos are all about offering the best pay schedules, bars offer lesser schedules with lots of add-on promotions. The bar promos take many different forms, but most common is probably the ETT wheel from IGT. You know the one. It’s big and colorful and you know when someone’s about to spin because Blood, Sweat & Tears’ “Spinning Wheel” comes on.

A spin is usually triggered for hitting a specified four-of-a-kind. The bartender brings over a contraption with a big button on it, you punch it (or she does), and the wheel spins. Then, whatever money spot it lands on is added electronically to your machine credits. The lowest is $10, and it goes all the way up to a $1,000 payout.

As you’d expect, the minimum bonus is by far the most common, but that’s still $10, and higher rewards are paid fairly regularly. I’ve never seen internal numbers that would allow me to determine exactly how often the higher pays hit, but I’ve watched a lot of wheel spins and estimate that the average value of a spin is about $12.50. Others I’ve talked to and a few who might even be in a position to know have indicated that $12.50 “is definitely in the ballpark,” so now we can make some assumptions about what a wheel-spin promotion is worth.

Any promotional add-on of this type is good for the player, but some are more generous than others. Typically, a bar will let you spin the wheel when you hit a quad in the card of the day (e.g., four 6’s). And lately, double cards of the day have become common (e.g., 6’s and 7’s). Something is better than nothing, but this doesn’t dent the base disadvantage by much. Some places award a spin for 5’s through K’s. That’s nine of the 13 possible four-of-a-kinds, which is significantly better than one or two—but you can do better yet.

At any given time, multiple bars around the Valley let you spin the wheel on any four-of-a-kind. This deal adds about 2.35 percent to your result, which means that even playing the bad games that are common in the bars, you’re still bumping up around a 99 percent payback. Best of all, this is a no-brainer bonus, meaning you don’t have to do (or know) anything special to improve your results by 2.35 percent.

Actually, there are a couple things you have to do. You need to be logged into the system to spin the wheel, so be sure to get a key from the bartender before you play. You also need to know which places offer spin-for-all and when—which is a subject for a future installment of The Deal.