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Deal Me In: Brightening the cloudy slots scene

16 March 2012

By Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: On a three-day casino trip, I was playing quarter slots and was down to my last $200 dollars. Instead of playing nickels, I played dollars, losing the remaining two hundred in just a few minutes. I thought that by increasing to dollars, especially on a machine with a sign above touting “best paybacks in the house,” I would get a better return. The result, I pretty much had nothing to do for the last 24 hours except watch others lose. Kurt B.

Your letter lacked an inquiry, Kurt, but my guess is that what you’re looking for is a “what did I do wrong” answer. As an appetizer, you are correct that in general, $1 slot machines pay more than quarters, quarters more than nickels, which, in turn, pay more than pennies. The problem, Kurt, is that when you climb the denomination tree, you bet more, and can lose more, at a much faster clip. Bad luck aside, even if the machine returns a decent percentage to the player when playing dollars, you might effectively be cutting the house advantage, but you are betting more of your hard-earned cash (example: $3 versus $.75) per spin.

This upping the ante strategy with limited funds is akin to lambs being led to slaughter. When taking a beating, I advocate a move to a reduced denomination machine, not an increased one. Otherwise, Kurt, you are either playing with money you can't afford to lose, or scared money, which makes for poor playing decisions. I will note here that you do deserve some kudos for NOT using the convenience of getting quick cash from a teller machine to chase losses with a double-up-to-catch-up strategy.

This leads me to urge sound money management techniques. Money management is your life-line to getting home with some semblance of your starting bankroll and not, as in your case, with a pocket featuring a couple two-for-one drink coupons decorated in lint.

For starters, Kurt, on a three-day casino excursion, never bring your entire bankroll to one gambling session. You need to have a daily gambling budget. Start by dividing your bankroll by the number of days you'll be gambling. Then divide each daily bankroll into the number of sessions you will be playing that day. This will result in your single-session bankroll. Don't bet Friday’s money on Thursday.

Set a goal of winning between 50 to 100% of a single-session bankroll. Then set aside your original bankroll plus half your winnings. Now you can play with the remainder and continue to set aside additional winnings.

When you cash out your winnings into credit slips, take a moment and carefully think about the exchange. Always treat credit slips as hard-earned legal tender.

Set loss limits and win goals. Example: On losing half your session bankroll (loss limit) you walk, and on doubling your money (win goal), consider doing the same.

Identify the profitable opportunities in gambling by shopping for the best odds, rules and playing conditions. In most cases, that doesn’t include slot machines. You knew that already, right?

Finally, money management will not affect the house advantage the casino has at slots, nor will it guarantee that you will win additional money. What good money management principles will do is to minimize your losses and in most cases protect your winnings.

Dear Mark: Some slot machines offer free bonus spins. Is the random number generator also working on free spins? Gerry J.

The RNG is still at work when determining the results of free spins. The only difference, Gerry, is that a free spin is just that, FREE.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “It has been generally observed, that the loss of one hundred pounds shall do you more prejudice in disquieting your mind that the gain of two hundred pounds shall do you good, were you sure to keep it.” ?- Anonymous, The Nicker Nicked; or the cheats of Gaming Discovered 1669
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.