The ABCs of SLOTS

To have any pull in a debate over slots, first learn the lore and the lingo, from Atlantic City to zip.

March 08, 2003|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

A - Atlantic City. Right up the road and home to roughly 38,000 slot machines. The casinos' pay-out is reportedly about 91 percent - based on an average annual return, for every $1 you play at slots, you lose 9 cents. At Vegas casinos, you lose an average 5 cents on the dollar, but it's a longer drive. Nickel slots, by the way, have lower pay-outs than $1 slots. Higher denomination equals higher pay-out.

B - Bandit, One-Armed. Traditional nickname for slots because of the handle, which is pulled to spin the reels. Most modern slots function electronically - just press a button, save your strength. But handles remain on most slots for old-time sake.

C - Cherries. And plums and lemons - the famous symbols from the original, three-reel slots machines developed in the early 20th century. In 1910, a gum vending machine was attached to the slot machine. Cherries, lemons and plums were displayed on the reels to imply the winner was playing for fruit-flavored gum. No one cared about the gum. The machine paid out winnings - but since it also offered gum, it wasn't considered gambling. Some slots still use fruit symbols.

D - Double Machines: Very popular, especially the Double Diamond. Pays double with winning combinations when certain symbols line up. Triple Diamond is also popular.

E - Electric Horseman. Sydney Pollack's 1979 film starring Robert Redford. Before Redford rode a stallion through Caesars Palace, the horse listened to tape recordings of slot machines for hours in his stall. The scene worked - although the horse developed a craving for gum.

F - Fey. In 1898, German immigrant Charles Fey introduced the first three-reel slot machine. His "Liberty Bell" slot became a fixture at San Francisco saloons and cigar stands. His winning symbols were Liberty Bells, and the jackpot was 20 nickels. The inventor of the handle and three reels, Fey tried to patent his machine, but two court decisions at that time ruled slots were not "useful devices." The Liberty Bell soon spawned countless imitations.

"He loved mechanics," says Fey's grandson, Marshall Fey. "He was not a gambler. He liked to drink - I remember that."

For 44 years, his grandson has run "The Liberty Bell" in Reno, a restaurant and slots museum that features the Liberty Bell and other antique machines. "My grandfather was considered the Thomas Edison of the industry," says Fey, 75.

Marshall Fey rarely plays the slots. Video poker is his game.

G - Glass. Where the posted pay-out of each machine can be seen.

H - Hit and Run Winner. Pros advise that if a slot doesn't pay after three to five coin spins, take a hike.

I - Internal Revenue Service. "All gambling winnings - regardless of the amount - are taxable. But it's ultimately the winner's responsibility to let the IRS know how much was won," according to Bankrate.com. Gambling winnings from slots are not generally subject to withholding. One could go out on a limb and say small jackpots are not usually reported.

J - Jackpot.

K - Keno. Who cares?

L - Loose. Slot machines programmed to have a higher pay-out. Although standard places vary, pros say loose slots can be found near casino entrances and restaurants, so people can hear those winning bells and drop what they are eating. Change booths can be good spots. Machines on elevated carousels are generally looser. Then again, some casinos place loose slots randomly.

M- Megabucks. Introduced 1986 in Nevada, the Megabucks machines are progressive slot machines, meaning they are linked by computer to other slot machines statewide. Coins played in one slot increases jackpot of all machines.

In January 2000, cocktail waitress Cynthia Jay won the world's largest slot machine jackpot. At the Desert Inn casino, the Megabucks symbols lined up in a neat row on her ninth pull. She had won nearly $35 million. She had gambled $27.

Two weeks later, she married her fiance. Two months later, while Cynthia Jay-Brennan and her sister were driving to a casino, a man with 16 drunken-driving arrests plowed into her car, killing the sister and shattering Jay-Brennan's spine. The driver, Clark Morse, was sentenced last June to at least 28 years in prison. Jay-Brennan remains a quadriplegic.

"I would give everything back to go back to my regular job and be able to walk around," she told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2001. "I'd give every cent I have."

N- New York. Long before Vegas, New York was a gambling town that featured slots. In the 1920s, New York mob leader Frank Costello equipped his slot machines with small, wooden chairs so children could be comfy while pulling the handle. It's been estimated that the slots earned Costello $18 million a year during the Great Depression. His luck ended in 1957 when he was rubbed out.

O- Ocean's Eleven. Movie original and remake feature prime background slot machine viewing.

P- Patent #5,657,688. "Slot machine-shaped can crushers."

Q- Quiet. The worst sound a slot makes.

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