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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Deal Me In: Progressives are in no way a "Cluck-for-the-Buck" deal

31 October 2008

Dear Mark: I enjoy playing those super jackpot progressive slot machines because it gives me the greatest return for a small investment. Is this sound and sensible gambling? Oliver P.

It is a mistaken belief, Oliver, shared by scores of slot players, that you are only making a small investment in an attempt to win big jackpots when you play progressive slots. This false impression, for those who play progressives, is that for a few bucks you get a shot at a champagne wishes and caviar dreams lifestyle. The problem, Oliver, is that you're probably going to end up losing most of your money, most of the time, chasing your imaginary castle in the sky.

What's not figured in your comfy fantasy is that progressive slots come with a casino edge in the double digits, as high as 20%. Meaning, Oliver, over the long run, for every dollar you insert, the casino is going to keep 20 cents of it.

So there you are, Oliver, sitting down for a six-hour stint in front of your favorite progressive. If you are a dollar player, playing the maximum three coins a pop to get a crack at the top prize, you'll hit the "Bet Max" button 240 times an hour, and that's slow playing mind you, and all of a sudden you've just cycled $4,320 (240 spins x $3 x 6 hrs) through the machine. Now back off 20 percent – that's the $864 the casino is looking forward to banking from your wallet – and I'm not sure where your idea of "small investment" emanates from.

If you were to go to a casino a baker's dozen times in a year (one visit per month, twice in February cause it's your birthday), you are really wagering $56,160. The 20 percent cut the casino is going to swallow is $11,232, so once again I ask you, where does that idea of small investment come from?

Did I mention that some of these progressive jackpots have a one in 16,777,216 chance of being hit?

Dear Mark: Do those $25 video poker 9/6 machines you see in the high roller room return the same as a dollar 9/6 game? I was told because you are playing so much per hand, even if the pay tables are exactly the same, the return would be better the higher the denomination. Bill S.

You were told wrong, Bill. All pay tables, being equal, will give you the exact same return, but as for net profitability, that isn't necessarily so.

A 9/6 Jacks or Better machine will return 99.5% over the long haul with expert play regardless of whether the game takes quarters, dollars, or $125 per hand ($25 x 5).

The problem with the higher-denomination machines is that you have certain hands that will trigger IRS-level jackpots, for instance, a hand pay for a four-of-a-kind or a straight flush on a $25 machine.

With hands of this type, you run into the rule that the casino is required to have you sign an IRS form W-2G before they can pay you any jackpot of $1,200 or more.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "Deep down, in the final analysis, women gamblers are no different than men. They too have the gambling itch, and in today's world they scratch it with relative impunity and anonymity." --Deke Castleman, Whale Hunt in the Desert

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.