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Deal Me In: Pennies from heaven line the casino's pocketbook

7 May 2010

By Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: What's with all the penny machines? They seem to be everywhere. Where I play, they just took out half the table games and replaced them with penny slots. Paul M.

Yes, Paul, penny machines seem to be laying claim to more and more casino real estate. Players love these low-denomination machines because of the number of coins and lines they can bet with just loose change as a bankroll.

Casinos love them even more because they are huge moneymakers for them. Reason being, is that they are a low denomination machine with relatively low paybacks. And yet, although players can wager just a mere penny per spin, most tend to bet way more than one coin per line, and many bet the maximum. With average bets being larger than they seem, this puts penny play in the quarter, even dollar category, with low paybacks, and players standing in line to play them. Huh?

Truth be told, Paul, slot play, and not table games, is now the casinos' bread and butter. They could pay me, a whiney dealer who takes sick days, wants health care coverage, complains about overtime and working weekends, or, replace me with a one-armed bandit that doesn't grouse-n-grumble and whose only health care is a slot mechanic with a screwdriver.

Dear Mark: I inserted a credit slip into a progressive dollar video poker machine that had a meter reading of over $12,000. It wouldn't accept my ticket so I tried it on the machine right next to it. It worked, but, between moving to the neighboring machine, a man walked up, inserted a $20 bill, and on the first hand, bang, hit a natural royal flush. I believe I got screwed out of that royal. Frank B.

Know how you feel, Frank, but sorry to say, it wasn't your royal to begin with.

The gentleman hit his royal only because he hit the deal button at the exact millisecond that the royal combination was chosen by the random number generator (RNG). With the RNG crunching possibilities, with millions polled every second, the final verdict was calculated at the exact millisecond that he pressed the deal button.

More than likely, you would have started the game earlier and not at the exact same instant, so unless you pushed the deal button at the correct millisecond, Frank, the proverbial royal flush would not have appeared, and your hand combination would have been completely different.

Dear Mark: Besides knowing my name when I insert my Player's Card, what other information does the casino know about my play? Fran G.

In a secure, undisclosed location, the whereabouts of which only Dick Cheney knows, the casino's database management system knows what machines you played, when you played them, how much you spent, and your win/loss totals. If you've got a dog named Lobster, and you've let a slot host in on such trivial tidings, that's probably been logged in as well.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "Lying, stealing, scheming and attempting to financially destroy your friends and loved ones is what makes poker such a friendly, sociable game." --VP Pappy
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.