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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Deal Me In: Contrary to popular belief

27 September 2013

Dear Mark: I mostly play slot machines. It seems on weekends they pay less than if I come mid-week. Does the casino have the ability to change the payback percentages on all their machines at will when the casino is busier? I was told by a slot machine employee that the $1 machines I normally play on return 95 percent of the money played. Am I wrong to believe that when I show up on a busy weekend that the casino has already made changes to the percentage payback? Marge G.

One of the most widely held falsehoods in casino gambling, Marge, is that casinos take a screwdriver to tighten their slots machines on weekends, Christian holidays, the Las Vegas Elvis Festival (July 10-13, 2014) or whenever it’s busy. Every slot machine has a built-in "payback" percentage set by the casino and approved by that state's gaming commission. So if the casino wanted to reset that percentage, it would have to tender a proposal to the gaming commission.

That said, I would be remiss if I didn’t state that altering a slot payoff percentage can physically be done. To change the return of the slot machine, all a slot manager would have to do is exchange the EPROM chip within. However, again, the change must be reported to that state’s powers that be. Exchanging hundreds, even thousands of EPROM chips along with the paperwork required to report the changes would be a whole lot of work for the casino to complete sandwiched between Thursday and Friday. Readers, e-mail me if any of you have ever seen this across-the-board swap done. I haven’t.

Also, Marge, you might be a little confused as to exactly what “payback percentages” means when it comes to “your” play. A 95 percent payback slot machine will pay 95 percent of the money back over time, but that doesn’t mean that if you put in $100, you are guaranteed a return of $95. It only means that the machine is set to pay back 95 percent over the machine’s extended gambling timeline, which is months, even years; not your brief four-hour stay.

Rather than “payback percentage,” which can be misleading, I much prefer the term "theoretical payout percentage" because the payout return is a calculated number based on an “infinite” number of pulls of the handle. In the meantime, each spin of the reels remains a random independent event.

Dear Mark: When looking over the multitude of blackjack variations, what are some of the better rules that I should be looking for and what are some of the worst? Marty D.

When it comes to the disparity of rules in blackjack from casino to casino, and even pit to pit, it is essential to know which rules are more significant than others, and which ones are unfavorable to you the player.

These are the key rules that are most favorable to the player in rank of importance.

• Early surrender
• Doubling on any two cards
• Drawing any number of cards to split Aces
• Doubling allowed after pair splitting
• Surrender

In order, here, Marty, are the rules that are most hostile to players.

• Two or more decks
• Dealer that hits a soft 17
• No soft doubling
• No re-splitting of Aces

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: In 1933 Wilson Mizner lay dying. He was fifty-eight and all his life he had been a gamester. "Do you want a priest?" he was asked, during an interval of consciousness. "I want a priest, a rabbi and a Protestant clergyman," he managed to flash back. "I want to hedge my bets." – L. J. Ludovici, The Itch for Play (1962)
Recent Articles
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.