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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Deal Me In: A shorter timeline is no predictor of winning

29 April 2016

Dear Mark: Any time I start playing slots, I always seem to win at the beginning, but end up going home a loser. I should just quit while ahead, but I do not because it takes me an hour to drive to the casino, and I do not want to play for just 15 minutes and leave. Is there any chance that the slot machine senses a new player has not been at a particular machine for a specific period, and then pays off initially, then stops paying? Joy C.

First off, Joy, slot machines do not have an onboard motion detector or operate with artificial intelligence. Slots are preprogrammed to pay out a certain percentage on a random basis with streaks — both good and bad — appearing at any time. The slot machine doesn’t reason that “Let’s give Joy a bunch of loot on the front end so that after we’ve hooked her, we’ll snag all that money back.”

The grind is that the casino is capable of eventually winning your entire bankroll due to the huge built-in advantage it has over you when you play slots. And your willingness to keep playing these cybernetic one-armed bandits is the reason you will eventually be relieved of your hard-earned money.

Actually, Joy, when you begin playing, it doesn't take much to prove a winning session because you have not been playing long enough to lose a sufficient sum of money to the machine — at least, not YET.

That doesn’t take away from the fact that slot machines are rigged – I think that’s a good word – so that they pay back less money than you invest in them. Therefore, Joy, the longer you play, the more likely you are to give back whatever winnings the machine provided you at the outset.

By the way, Joy, I believe you might be the victim of of selective memory here and somehow seem to have forgotten all those sessions that you struggled from the get-go, where you never did get ahead.

Another factor, Joy, is that the casino knows that you, as you stated, won’t stay for just 15 minutes and play through your money just once, but keep playing your credits over and over again during your stay. So, for example, on a 93% return machine, if you were to play your entire $100, you can expect back, “in theory,” $93. Of course, the casino anticipates your playing the $93, so expect a return of $86. Put in the $86, and your return will be $80. Play through the $80 and you will get back $74. Can you see, Joy, how the casino is grinding away at your initial $100, and why coming home a winner after a lengthy session is an unlikely outcome for any slot player?

The bottom line here, Joy, is that the result of every spin is an independent event. What is for sure is that you lose less money when you play for a shorter time, but a shorter timeline is no predictor of winning.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “This is the third time; I hope good luck lies in odd numbers . . . There is a divinity in odd numbers, either in nativity, chance or death.” – Sir John Falstaff, in William Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor (1592)
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Best of Mark Pilarski
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.
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.