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Deal Me In: The Great Whamerooney, but it still slices like baloney?

8 May 2009

By Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: Do the large progressive slot machines offer the most potential with the least risk? Dan O.

Not a bit, Dan, because for the life-altering big score that a machine like Megabucks offers, you are looking at beating the odds of 30,000,000 to one.

Sure, area progressives are usually the only machines that pay the really big bucks, but the long-term paybacks on these machines are usually the lowest in the casino, and at 30 million to one odds against, your chances of hitting the big one are a teensy weensy bit better than zilch.

If you're looking to maximize potential and minimize risk, your best bet is to play one coin at a time on what's called a "straight multiplier." By popping in just one coin on these machines, you're playing at the maximum payback and hit frequency with the lowest risk per spin.

A "straight multiplier" or "equal distribution" machine, usually has one pay line and pays according to the number of coins you play. For instance, if you hit the jackpot having played one coin, the machine will pay 250 coins, but if you were to play two coins, you'll win 500 coins, three coins, 750, four 1,000 and five coins, 1,250.

Playing the full coin amount on machines of this type is an unnecessary expenditure, because the average return never changes, based on the number of coins played. Progressives, Dan, shake you down on the smaller payoffs, whereas playing a straight multiplier keeps you in play longer by doling out more low-end jackpots.

Although your question requests an answer regarding maximize potential/minimize risk, don't get confused with a "bonus multiplier" machine. A bonus multiplier simply tacks on an additional amount of money (a bonus) to the jackpot if you've played the maximum number of coins. Using the example above, let's say the maximum number of coins is three. If you can win 250 coins with one coin, 500 coins with 2 coins, the bonus jackpot — if you play with the maximum 3 coins — would be 4,000 coins, a much larger amount than a straight multiple. The bonus, Dan, is in the bonus.

Dear Mark: Are the odds any different when the casino uses continuous shuffle, machine shuffle that is not continuous, or hand shuffle? Tom H.

Although automatic shufflers do not affect the odds of the game for the typical player, continuous shufflers do hurt you and all other players because of the increased number of hands dealt per hour, yielding a richer opportunity for the built-in house edge to gnaw away at all your wallets. Losing is bad enough, Tom, but losing at a quicker pace, set by a giddy-yap machine, is far worse.

Allow me, Tom, to put you down as a strong basic strategy player where the house holds a 0.05% edge on your play. On a $25 minimum blackjack table, the difference between 70 dealer-shuffled hands per hour and the 90 hands per hour that you would see with an automatic shuffler, is in your expected hourly loss, which would go from $8.75 to $11.25.

My suggestion here, Tom, is to slow the assault on your bankroll by seeking out only hand-shuffled games. Don't let your "seat time" cost you more money than it should.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "My heart goes out for these Senior Citizens who take a handful of quarters, a roll of dimes, a five dollar bill, two singles, and eight stamps to the slot machines and live or die by every pull of the handle." --John Patrick, So You Want to be a Gambler

Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.