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Stacked symbol slots ramp up volatility

John Grochowski

John Grochowski

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Updated: August 15, 2012 7:54PM

Video slots are the most popular, most played and most widely available games in modern casinos. They’re also the games with the most variation, full of little wrinkles that affect gameplay.

One of those wrinkles introduced in recent years has been the use of stacked symbols. When symbols are stacked, a reel can show three of the same symbol, from top to bottom. That symbol is part of the mix on all paylines.

The effect is to add volatility to the game, which was apparent in a session during an overnight stay at Ameristar Casino in East Chicago.

Ameristar guarantees new slot games every 90 days, and something new seemed to be the theme of the night. Wife Marcy and I had dinner in Bugatti’s Steak and Pasta, and the chef made sure there was something new on the table, sending up small tastes of chopped shrimp and avocado, and a grilled sea scallop in an onion relish. The folks at the next table were getting unexpected tastes, too — a nice surprise.

Then I went to try a new game, IGT’s Cherry Mischief. It was a 40-line penny game, so I was wagering 40 cents a spin. All symbols were sometimes stacked in the IGT Super Stacks feature. Among the symbols were young women with fairy wings, and a butterfly symbol that if stacked on reels 2, 3 and 4 launched a free games feature.

I slid a $20 bill into the validator, and quickly ran into the down side of stacked symbols. Symbols in a stack can block potential winning combinations, as when blonde fairies on reels 1 and 2 were separated from the match on reel 4 by a stack of red-headed fairies on reel 3.

Before long, my 2,000 credits were down to 85.

But my luck turned. The “Q” for “Queen” symbols stacked on all five reels, a screenful of Qs for a 520-credit win. A few spins later, I got the butterfly stacks on the middle three reels. In the free-spin bonus, a dark-haired fairy stacked on the first three reels, bringing an all-payline win, and another spin brought three stacks of the redhead.

The free spins put 1,860 credits on my meter, briefly putting me into the profit zone by a couple of dollars. I played down to my original $20 and moved on.

When you play stacked symbol games, that’s the kind of experience you expect. There will be fast losses, and there’s a fair chance of big all-line wins. You’re just hoping the balance falls in your favor.

John Grochowski is a local free-lance writer. Look for him on Facebook (; Twitter (@GrochowskiJ) and at

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