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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Deal Me In: Luck goes south for this slot player

10 May 2013

Dear Mark: My luck with slots has gone kaput. I am to a point where I feel slots don't pay at all. What is an old-time slot player to do? Ted Y.

I can tell you, Ted, with 100 percent certainty that all slot machines dependably pay. They pay the casino's mortgage, those neon light bills and all the employees' salaries. They also pay millions in profits to the casino owners and stockholders. Unfortunately, being an "old-time" slot player, you just happen to be on the bottom end of that food chain.

I feel your pain, Ted. Nowadays, you insert a coin, pull the handle, and then reach into your wallet for more money. You should come to expect that result when the house has such an enormous built-in edge on slots compared to the other games the casino offers.

The only slots you should be playing are at casinos that advertise machines that have a 98-plus percent payback. True, it's a treasure hunt finding these high-payback machines with no real trail of clues. If you look closely at the advertisement, it will probably say, "on select machines." What's more, the payback percentage probably won't be posted on the machine itself, and can be limited to a single bank of machines within the casino. To find them, you need to ask a slot employee, and if he or she doesn't know, have one of them ask a direct supervisor.

I don't play slots, Ted. It goes against my creed, "Only make bets that have less than a 2 percent house edge." I do know that in gaming jurisdictions, locals typically don’t play dog machines and usually play machines with the most cluck for the buck. So when searching for high-payback machines, ask a few employees where the locals find the best slot value.

My other recommendation, Ted, is that since you're playing these electronic gizmos anyway, how about playing video poker instead? Even poor play on a video poker machine will have a better payback than most "reel" slot machines.

Dear Mark: Where I play, on the weekends they bump up the minimum table limits at blackjack to $10, and sometimes even as high as $25. The table maximum on some of these same games is $500. I know that I am not getting the better of it with these high table minimums, but is restricting my play to a $500 maximum wager to my advantage, or the casino's? Chuck D.

All the advantage of high table minimums and a low table maximum goes to the casino, Chuck, and here's why. Casinos win for two reasons. First, they have a statistical edge on every game, and second, they have a bigger bankroll than you do.

As for the latter, Chuck, it's a simple concept called "gambler's ruin." Essentially, it's how long will it take you — with your limited finances — to lose everything to a casino, which has a relatively infinite wad of cash. Even a short-term winning streak against the house is no match against a casino with an infinite stake. The casino can, and will, outlast you.

Another problem with playing the high minimums/low maximums limits is that this scenario eliminates low-stakes betting with those high minimums. In addition, the ability to parlay your winnings by increasing your bets is removed with the low maximums.

My concern here, Chuck, is that when you play under these conditions, and you happen to be a low roller, with the slightest swing going the wrong way, you're tapped out in mere minutes.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "Gaming is an enchanting witchery, gotten betwixt idleness and avarice; An itching disease, that makes some scratch the head, whilst others, as if they, were bitten by a Tarantula, are laughing themselves to death." – Charles Cotton, The Compleat Gamester, 1674
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.