John Grochowski, Casino Answer Man

Q. My park district group did a bus trip to a casino, and on the way a bunch of us got to talking about slot machines and how you see new games every time you go. That led to talk about the oldest games. Double Diamond has been around a long time, and we still see that, and sometimes there's Red, White and Blue, and some other games that have been around. Do you have any idea what the oldest slot is that's still being played in casinos?

A. I'd be surprised if it was anything other than Blazing 7s. Bally's Blazing 7s is not only older than Double Diamond or Red, White and Blue, it's been around longer than IGT, the company that make those two games.

Blazing 7s was developed in the mid-1970s by Bally Gaming, now Bally Technologies. The basic format has remained intact through four decades of technology changes. It was designed as a dollar three-reel buy-a-pay game, with each coin wagered unlocking a set of symbols. The third coin unlocks the 7s needed to win the rapid-hit progressive jackpot.

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The rollover value of the progressive was set at $1,000 so that most of the time it would hit before reaching the $1,200 threshold that requires players to sign a tax form before collecting. In its original configuration, the top jackpot hit an average of once per 4,096 plays. Anyone who played very often was going to hit the jackpot sometimes, and at a busy bank of machines, someone would win the top prize once or twice an hour.

With today's random number generators and virtual reels, and with no limits on the size of video reel strips, the math is different in today's games. But it remains a rapid-hit game, and maintains its place on the floor in three-reel versions and as an inspiration for 7s-based video slots.

Q. I was talking with a guy who was my host for a long time. He's out of the business now, but I told him my current comp offers weren't quite what some of my colleagues were getting with about the same play. He suggested that the others might be spending more away from the casino, eating in higher-end restaurants or going to the spa. I'd never given any of that a thought. I'm there to play. Does that really make a difference?

A. With even more sophisticated player tracking systems, there has been an emphasis in recent years on total customer value. Not every casino operator bases comps and bounce-back offers on the customer's spending total, but it's a growing trend.

Those with the most sophisticated systems are not only tracking what you spend in the hotel, restaurants, spas and other amenities as well as your casino play, they're using predictive analytics to spot customers who might be induced to spend their time and money in ways that increase the operator's profits.

I spoke with a maker of data warehousing and analytic solutions who said, "You're tracking not just worth, but behaviors. That starts to build the profile of what a customer is. And when you're looking at it, especially in real time, your goal is to kind of modify those behaviors while they're taking place. Maybe you want to transition someone from a less profitable channel to a more profitable channel, knowing what their behaviors are, knowing whether they have an inclination to go to your shows or to your spas. That type of information is critical in delivering a message or an offer that's going to resonate."

It's a huge change from the days when non-casino amenities were regarded as support services and loss-leaders, with profits to be made on the games. Now the amenities are expected to become profit centers themselves, and part of the goal of comps and bounce-back offers is to induce you to use the services that are most profitable for the resort.

That's a long, roundabout way of saying yes, it is possible that your colleagues are getting better offers because they spend more on non-gaming amenities.

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.

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