Casino Answer Man, John Grochowski


A shuffle through the Gaming mailbag:

Q. Please tell me about a slot called Tulley’s Treasure Hunt. When I went to a bonus round, it gave me a choice to take either free spins or the treasure hunt. I decided to try the treasure hunt, and it had me use a joystick to take a sea turtle around the ocean, picking up objects to get my bonuses.

Does it really matter what you do with the joystick, or is your bonus pre-determined? If I never touch the joystick, will it just pick up the bonuses I was supposed to get anyway?

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A. If you choose the treasure hunt, your skill with the joystick does matter in Tulley’s Treasure Hunt. It’s part of International Game Technology’s Reel Edge series, with skill-based bonus rounds.

If you never collect any objects, you still will collect some bonus. There is a base bonus level, but a skilled player will collect bigger bonuses than an unskilled player.

Every state with legalized gambling has its own regulations on how much of a machine’s payback can be based on skill, or whether skill elements are permitted at all. In jurisdictions that permit skill on the slots, it remains a minor portion of the overall return. Nevada, which sets the tone for the U.S. casino industry, allows a maximum of 4 percent of return to be skill-based.

The last thing IGT or any manufacturer wants to do is drive potential customers way from the games, so the non-skill option is added. If you’re not comfortable with the joystick, then you can choose the free-spins bonus instead.

Q. I recently made my first trip to Atlantic City, and at the urging of friends, I played a lot of Joker’s Wild, two pair or better, with the big jackpot on five of a kind. The natural royal, wild royal and straight flush all paid 500, and the 4,000 payout was on five of a kind. What does that do to jackpot frequency? Is this a good game to play?

A. That version of Joker Poker has had a long run in Atlantic City, though it’s not as common as it once was. A quick check at shows it still on the floor at Resorts in 25-cent and 50-cent games.

The top jackpot hits more much more often than you get royal flushes in non-wild card games such as Jacks or Better or Double Double Bonus Poker. With expert play, you’ll get five of a kind about once per 10,994 hands, compared with once per 40,000-plus for royals in other games. Top jackpots account for 7.28 percent of the overall payback, compared with roughly 2 percent for royals in most other games.

That’s the upside. The downside is that with the pay table starting at two pairs, 69.9 percent of hands are losers. Compare that with 54.5 percent losers at 9-6 Jacks or Better.

Given an 8-5 pay table, where full houses pay 8-for-1 and flushes 5-for-1, this version of Joker’s Wild, two pair, returns 97.2 percent, about the same as the 97.3 percent on 8-5 Jacks or Better. It’s not a money-making opportunity by any means.

Gambling author and columnist John Grochowski’s weekly newspaper column began at the Chicago Sun-Times and is now syndicated nationally. He also regularly makes TV and radio appearances about gambling. His column appears weekly.

Look for John Grochowski on Facebook (; Twitter (@GrochowskiJ) and at Casino Answer Man runs every week.

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