Bonus Spin Blackjack Side Bet Not All That Unlike Lottery-Style Sit & Go's

Hollywood Casino At Charles Town Races Adds A Lottery-Style Spin To Its Traditional Blackjack Games

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On Dec. 7, Hollywood Casino At Charles Town Races went live with a new blackjack innovation that will metamorphose the primarily even-money game into one where players can parlay a small investment into a titanic jackpot.

Bonus Spin is a fixed $5 blackjack side bet that gifts players who are dealt a natural with a spin on a virtual wheel. Payoffs range from $40, all the way up to a $25,000 grand prize.

With the new side bet, Hollywood is embracing a popular trend by online and land-based operators that sees them add lottery-inspired nuances to somewhat skillful games — a strategy that appears to be paying dividends.

A new way to engage

The Bonus Spin wager is completely optional, although given its predominant placement on the table, it’s easy to see casual gamblers being drawn to it.

There are two ways to cash in:

  • Players that receive an Ace in their first two cards will receive an even-money return.
  • As mentioned, those who are dealt blackjack will get to press the Bonus Spin button upon conclusion of the round. Payouts are determined by a random number generator, but players are guaranteed at least 8-to-1.

There is no added benefit of being dealt two aces, nor will any aces drawn on player hits trigger the Bonus Spin.

As far as the return-to-player, sources suggest that its comparable with other blackjack side wagers.  Generally speaking, the house edge for blackjack side games ranges from 2-20 percent, which is markedly higher than the house advantage for the main game under optimal playing conditions.

However, the most a player can win on a $5 investment playing traditional blackjack is $7.50 (3:2 for a natural), rendering it one of the least attractive table games to players with big payouts on the mind.

The introduction of Bonus Spin is likely to alter that perception.

Bonus Spin is based on technology developed by casino games manufacturer AGS.

Parallels to lottery sit & go’s

As an online poker player, it’s hard not to notice the resemblance between Bonus Spin and the mechanic that drives lottery-style sit & go’s.

  • Both start with a game that denies substantial payouts as their basis, and add an element that increases top-end payoffs dramatically.
  • As a result, they become more appealing to the action-oriented crowd. Bonus Spin even more so, as there is a collective camaraderie among players that doesn’t exist at the lottery-SNG tables.
  • The odds of hitting a top prize are exceedingly low. The top Bonus Spin jackpot of $25,000 will hit with a frequency of 5,000-1, while top Spin & Go multipliers on PokerStars only hit once per one million games.
  • The house hold is higher, on average, than if the games were played in their traditional form. And the top-end payout constitutes a significant portion of the return – a portion that most players won’t ever see. In this respect Bonus Spin is similar to video poker and slot games.

Emphasis on ‘big payouts’ an increasingly popular trend, but a good one?

While generally successful at drawing players, jackpot-driven games may also serve as a repellent, especially when the top-end payout is set too high.

For at least one lottery-SNG variant, the jackpot contribution constituted so much of the rake, that the operator was forced to reevaluate its strategy.

As reported by Poker Industry Pro (paywall), MPN recently slashed the rake for its Fish Party progressive jackpot from 5.17 percent to just under 1 percent. The change was attributed to player complaints that the game had become unbeatable.

Then again, Spin & Go’s continue to be a boon for PokerStars, counterbalancing the marketed decrease in popularity of its cash games over the past several years. All this, despite an alarmingly high effective rake. (Effective rake is defined as the house advantage assuming a jackpot won’t be hit).

Casinos too, have instituted an array of increasingly glamorous side bets and carnival games, most of which boast a significant house hold, with some success. Bonus Spin would certainly fall under this category.

And slot machines are growing more sophisticated and flashy, yet on average, are more volatile and return less. But that hasn’t stopped players from frequenting them.

There is undoubtedly a tipping point, where the effective house edge becomes so great that its met by a loss of clientele. That point does not appear to have been reached yet, but the threat looms.

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Bonus Spin among the better blackjack side bets, for now

In my estimation, the Bonus Spin jackpot is set just high enough to serve as a consistent draw, yet low enough so that the other prizes still carry significant weight. It’s this balance, combined with the enticing randomized element, that should lead to it becoming a staple of the casino floor.

But if the jackpot were increased to $100,000 or $1 million, and the other prize values diminished, then perhaps the narrative would change. In this scenario, players who don’t defy the nearly impossible odds stand almost no chance of walking away a winner.

As is, Bonus Spin is an exhilarating and creative twist on an old standby that should be popular among players looking to increase their fun, and possibly their bankrolls, at the blackjack tables.

- Robert DellaFave is a game designer and avid poker player. He writes for several publications centered on legal US online poker and the regulated online gambling industries in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
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