2008 Global Gaming Expo, part 7

20 January 2009

It was the night before the opening day of the Global Gaming Expo, and I found myself at the Sahara, at the north end of the Las Vegas Strip.

The attraction was the "Locals Lane" area of the slot floor. That's where the Sahara keeps its best video poker games. You won't find the 100%-plus games that dot some locals-oriented casinos, but the Sahara's Wheel Poker games do have Not So Ugly Deuces Wild at the quarter denomination, and that's a 99.7%-return game with expert play. Throw in cash back and comps, and it's a game worth playing.

Wheel Poker is a multihand game, and when I'm playing a good game like NSU Deuces at quarter denomination, I skip the extra-coin bet on the wheel bonus. For $3.75 a hand, I could play Triple Play Deuces, where it would cost $4.50 to add a chance at the bonus wheel to the regular payoffs.

Still, I wanted to check out the wheel, so I dropped down to nickels to play a little 7-5 Bonus Poker. That's not as strong a game, returning 98% with expert play, but each four of a kind would bring a spin of the bonus wheel that towers above the main game. The wheel is marked off in segments from 100 credits to 2,000. Wherever it stops spinning, that's what you get.

When players see wheel games, they tend to think the large majority of spins will bring the lowest amount possible. So I had a pleasant surprise when my first quads brought a spin worth 400 nickels. Then 250. Then 250 again.

Finally came the shocker: 2,000 credits. Even playing for nickels, that's a nice $100 hit. The next one: 1,000. Not a ton of money, but I'll take it.

I mentioned those back-to-back 2,000- and 1,000-credit hits to John Daley, IGT's director of video poker, when I saw him at G2E. Daley grinned, gave me a finger gun, and promptly showed me the new version of Wheel Poker, called Wheel Poker Deluxe.

Wheel Poker Deluxe takes those who make the sixth coin per line wager to the bonus whenever they have three of a kind, full house or four of a kind on the initial deal. Instead of the wheel being divided into bonus amounts, it's divided into starting hands. If it lands on Triple Play/Four to a Royal, you then get three hands on the screen, each starting with four cards to a royal, and you draw for your bonus. With Hundred Play two pair as a start, you get 8-8-7-7 on screen, and 100 draws. Your bonus depends on the number of successful draws.

I liked it a lot at first test. You get to the bonus more often than in the original Wheel Poker, and the bonus itself has a stronger tie to video poker.

IGT remains the unchallenged king of the video poker field, and showed another intriguing game at G2E. Dream Card is another multihand game, offering Triple Play, Five Play and Ten Play versions at the touch of the screen.

To get the Dream Card feature, you must bet 10 coins per hand instead of the standard five. The maximum bet on Dream Card Triple Play is 30 coins instead of 15, but winners bring standard five-coin per line payoffs.

What could make that worth it? The Dream Card itself. When it comes up, it automatically morphs into the card that will give you the best possible starting hand. Let's say you start with king-9-7-2 of mixed suits plus a Dream Card in a Jacks or Better-based game. The Dream Card will become a King, meaning you start with a paying high pair going into the draw. In Deuces Wild, the Dream Card almost always will become a Deuce.

The Dream Card comes up often enough to make it an intriguing game. The game's help menu will tell you how often to expect the card. In the version I tested at G2E, Bonus Poker Deluxe brought a Dream Card 59% of the time, and Deuces Wild brought one 31%.

As always, we'll have to wait to see what pay tables operators put on the games, but given decent returns, IGT has given us a couple fun video poker options.

** * ** * **

IGT has been a video poker company since its beginning, long before it also became the world's largest slot machine manufacturer. But for many years, other companies tried hard to keep up. Sigma Game, which is no longer with us, had its video poker niche. CDS, which has been absorbed into Aristocrat, had its Reel Poker games. Bally has long had a foothold in video poker, with its Pick'Em Poker a strong entry.

Looking around this year's G2E, though, the only new video poker product I saw outside the IGT booth was at WMS Gaming, with the Big Event Video Poker game I mentioned a few weeks ago in looking at community-style slot games.

Big Event gives players the option of making a two-coin side bet to be eligible for the bonus round shared by all eligible players at a bank of machines. Those extra bets for bonus features are THE major trend in video poker, from the sixth coin per line at Wheel Poker Deluxe to the double bet at Dream Card to the two-coin side bet at Big Event.

Related Links
Global Gaming Expo (G2E) 2008

This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at fscobe@optonline.net.