Slot games, like any other form of gambling, can get tedious after a while if there is little variation from spin to spin with the same symbols coming up over and over again. When the earliest slot machines first appeared on the scene, the prospect of inserting coins and watching three spinning reels with about 10 different symbols, hoping that matching combinations of fruits and bars lined up, was exciting. Back in the days when it was illegal to play for money prizes, the prizes were candy and gum (which explains the fruit and bar symbols). Probably not only the initial novelty of the game itself, but the forbidden nature of it, contributed to its appeal. But it was only a matter of time before the novelty wore off. There had to be more exciting prizes and more exciting games to maintain players’ interest, especially when it did not take long for most of them to realize that the winning spins were few and far between.
History and Basic Features of Bonus Round Slots
The introduction of bonus round slot machines has proven a win-win addition for everyone. The slot manufacturers and casinos love them because they keep players gambling a lot longer, plunking more and more money into the machines. However, players love the bonus games, too, because they add variety and excitement and any more ways to win. Of course, they add more ways to lose, too, but diehard slot players, caught up in the action and entertainment, tend not to think about that.
The first American slot machines to offer a “second screen” bonus round was created by WMS Industries, Inc. in 1996. The machine was aptly name “Reel ‘Em In.” A similar slot game called “Three Bags Full” had already appeared in Australia in 1994. The differentiating feature of these slots is the second screen. The display changes to reveal a different game or, more precisely, game within a game, where lucky players have an option to win additional payouts. The bonus round becomes “unlocked” in the course of regular gameplay when certain designated combinations show up on the reels.
Since these early versions, bonus round slot machines have come a long way. Modern technological advances have made it possible for these games to be highly interactive with all the bells and whistles that can keep a player riveted to the screen. Some of the most successful bonus games have a familiar theme or are based on a popular TV show, movie, or fictional character. Many have an intriguing plot or entail following the main character on an adventure. The makers of these slots are more than happy to add these exciting extras, knowing that can keep a player happily entertained indefinitely, thereby diverting attention away from the initial focus simply to win. Players, meanwhile, are enjoying themselves so much that, whatever the outcome, tearing themselves away from these machines is very difficult.
Bonus games, just like the main game they are a part of, range from very simple to very complex. Some have an element of skill while others entail no skill at all and are simply random luck. Either way, there is no skill involved in triggering a bonus round. Whether it happens sooner or later is randomly determined, but if you play a bonus round machine long enough, betting at least the minimum amount required to activate the bonus game, you will experience it.
The Wheel of Fortune Slot Game
One of the most popular bonus slot games of all time is the Wheel of Fortune from IGT. Even though the game first appeared back in 1996, just like the TV show it was patterned after, it is still enormously popular in land-based casinos all over the world.
The slot game comes in many different versions, so the one in your favorite casino might not be identical to the following illustrative game in every respect. However, the basic structure is the same. Part of the game’s widespread appeal, other than the exciting bonus rounds, is that it accepts a large range of bet sizes, so anyone who wants to can play it for real money, from the penny player to the high roller. The game can also be played for free.
Wheel of Fortune has 5 reels and 5 paylines. Even though 5 paylines is not a lot by today’s standards, there are still plenty of winning combinations, and the irresistible, though sometimes exasperating, bonus game gives you many more ways to win. The minimum bet per line is usually 5 cents (though it can be higher) and the maximum can also vary. For example, some games take only one to three coins (i.e., quarters or dollars) at a time, while others take up to 9 coins per payline. On a machine accepting 5 cent to $5 betting units with a minimum bet per line of one unit and a maximum of nine units, the minimum bet per spin would be 5 cents and the maximum (to activate all five paylines) a whopping $225 ($5 x 9 x 5).
The lower paying symbols on the reels are traditional fruit symbols like oranges, grapes, and watermelons. There are also single, double, and triple gold bars. Higher paying symbols correspond to prizes that might be given out on the TV show like a diamond ring, cruise ship, and tropical beach, returning 750, 1,000, and 1,200 coins respectively. Wild symbols and scatter symbols produce additional winning combinations, but for most players, the real fun and excitement begins when three Wheel of Fortune logos line up on the reels at once to trigger the Wheel of Fortune Bonus Round.
At that point, the screen becomes animated and you feel like you are actually being teleported to a live game show. The lighting and sound effects are incredible. Much like on the TV show, a wheel is spun to determine what prize you will win, although it is possible you will win nothing if the wheel lands on “bankrupt.” After a win, you have the option to quit the bonus game and lock up your winnings or keep playing to try to win more, but risk losing everything if “bankrupt” turns up.
Don’t despair though because when you land on “bankrupt,” you still get a consolation prize. You can either choose to take the token prize and return to the main game or try to parlay it into a bigger prize on the “Double or Nothing Wheel.” As long as you avoid landing on “bankrupt,” you can keep spinning, up to 6x on the first wheel and up to 5x on the “Double or Nothing Wheel.” However, there is a much greater chance of landing on “bankrupt” in the latter; in fact the odds of doubling your money or winning nothing are 50/50. Should the “Double or Nothing Wheel” land on bankrupt, the bonus round is over, and you do indeed walk away with nothing.
Another reason why the bonus game generates so much excitement is that during the course of regular gameplay, each time a color-coded (yellow, orange, or red) Bonus Jackpot symbol appears anywhere on the reels, the corresponding number of credits, based on your bet ,is added to the same color Bonus Jackpot Accumulator. However, you do not get a chance to win any of this prize money, until the Wheel of Fortune Bonus feature is activated. After quitting the bonus round and returning to the regular game, if you did not win a bonus jackpot, tough luck. All three of the bonus jackpot accumulators are reset.
Should You Play Bonus Round Slots?
Bonus round slots look like they are here to stay. Hundreds of varieties are available to choose from, not only in land-based casinos, but also online. You can also play these games on your mobile device.
These machines are big moneymakers for the casinos. Contrary to the expectation of many players, that their odds of winning are improved, the money that the player is spending on the base game is directly contributing to the prize money that might be won in the bonus game. Adding more paylines is another gimmick that effectively makes the game more expensive.
The bottom line is that bonus round slot games are not inherently better or worse for the properly bankrolled player than slots that lack this feature. However, the extra entertainment value they provide is not free, and it can add up substantially over time if you are not careful. By limiting yourself to machines with a good rate of return and affordable bet levels and being careful not to get too greedy or play too long, playing these games can be a lot of fun and maybe even profitable.