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Deal Me In: Is stretching your bankroll by betting one coin at a time a good idea?

5 July 2008

Dear Mark: I am a senior citizen on a very limited budget, but I do enjoy my monthly bus trips to the casino. In the past, you have written that you should always play the maximum coin amount when playing slots, but if I do, especially on a quarter machine, I'm sitting, waiting and coinless long before the bus leaves. I'm just there to have some fun, so does always mean always? Betty G.

There is a reason, Betty, why I recommend playing the maximum coin amount. For most multiple-pay and multiple-play slot machines, when you play the maximum coin level, the machine yields its best percentage payback.

It's easy to spot these proportional differences among payoffs by looking at the machine's paytable. For example: One coin could pay 500 coins, two coins 1,000, and three coins, KA-BOOM, 4,000.

So, Betty, if you can afford to play the maximum coins allowed, I recommend you do so. And if quarters are too rich for your blood, switch to nickels.

But, Betty, because you want to extend your playing time, plus you seem to be sticking within your budget, and yes, we do have to include the fun factor here, I have decided to make you a candidate for an exemption.

Although returns vary from one gaming jurisdiction to another, let's look at a typical Red White and Blue slot machine that pays back, say, 92% when you play one coin at a time, and 95% if you play the maximum three coins. You are better off playing three coins at a time if you play a specific amount of action. For instance, if you run $2,000 through a machine that has a 95% payback, your expected loss would be $100 whereas your expected loss would be $160 while playing one coin at a time at 92% payback.

Betty, you may have a shorter gambling timeline before catching the Greyhound back to Hackensack. So let's look at playing one coin versus three in a slightly different manner, that of playing for an hour, which is about 800 spins. At one coin per spin, you'd wager $200 (800 x .25) and have an expected loss of $16 with a 92% return. But playing three coins per spin with a 95% return, you'll wager $600 (800 x .75) and expect to lose almost double, $30. Even though playing the maximum coin amount with a higher payback, you will lose more because you're wagering more.

Naturally, Betty -- No I'll put it this way: If you take the exemption I offered, play one coin, line up three treasure chests and get a teeny jackpot, please don't write me a nasty "you said" letter. It's all in a day's work.

Dear Mark: My recent trip to Las Vegas was a bit trying, not in that I lost a lot of money, but that of trying to find a quarter video poker machine. They had them, but finding them was tough. Can't they put them all in one area and mark them appropriately? Cathy R.

Have you ever noticed, Cathy, those lights that are on top of a slot machine? In gamblese, they are called a "candle," and have two colors associated with each machine. The top color is usually white, and its purpose is to light up when you press the button for slot attendant assistance, or it will blink when you hit a jackpot that must be paid by hand.

The bottom part of the light is color-coded so you can easily track those tasty quarter machines wherever they may be hiding. In the future, look for yellow for quarter, red for nickel, and blue for dollar machines.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "It might be instructive to remember that Nick the Greek died penniless and was buried in a pauper's grave in North Las Vegas."--Marvin Karlins Ph.D.

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.