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Deal Me In: Slots just don't work like that

9 October 2009

By Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: My stepmother likes to play the slots, and she does quite well at times. She believes starting off the day by putting in a $100 bill in her favorite slot machine--rather than several $20s--produces more, larger payouts. Any truth to this? Jeff J.

In the book, The Gambler, Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote; "Can one even as much as touch a gambling table without becoming immediately infected with superstition?" Seems your stepmother is tainted with the groundless belief in a supernatural agency; a belief, Jeff, held without reason.

Though I don't challenge Mom's right to believe in the tooth fairy, Jeff, slot machines, do not operate by artificial intelligence, improving your stepmother's payouts in light of her $100 prime-the-machine hunch. If anything, if she lacks the discipline to get up and walk when things go south, it could be more costly, in that she has committed $100 opposed to $20 to a cybernetic one-armed bandit whose built-in edge is a predetermined rate, and it wouldn't matter one iota what amount she puts in.

Let's say the return to player rate is 92%. What that means is that for every $100 your stepmother puts into the machine, She will be paid back $92. With all kinds of streaks—good and bad—appearing, in the long run the machine's return will tend to its preset rate and have nothing to do with the opening amount inserted.

Dear Mark: In all your years in the gambling business, have you ever heard of anyone filling out a perfect bracket for March Madness? Although he never wins our office pool, or even comes close for that matter, a coworker claims he's come pretty close in the past. Please prove it's bunk. G. R.

Never have, nor will I.

Now before anyone writes in stating anything's possible, I suggest you first run the math. Some quick back-of-the-envelope calculating suggests that filling out a perfect bracket means predicting the correct result of all 63 games, and that would mean your chance of perfection is one in two to the 63rd power, which just happens to be one in nine million trillion, that is 1/ 9,000,000,000,000,000,000. Sorta pretty, a nine followed by 18 zeroes, but poor odds, wouldn't you say? Your coworker's odds are far better for getting hit by a purple asteroid while driving to the state lottery office to pick up his Mega Millions winnings, for the second week in a row.

Dear Mark: A long time ago, you wrote that as a dealer, if the player asked, that you had no problem giving advice while you dealt the game. I found such a dealer this weekend in downtown Reno. Is this really allowed? Aaron K.

Obviously, Aaron, I can't speak for all casinos' internal rules and regulations, but of the three casinos where I pitched cards, in one it was forbidden, and it could get you more than a wrist slap; in the second, I guess you could say they sort of frowned on it, but without repercussion; and in the third, they didn't give a hoot, just so long as when you peeked under your Ace you then didn't give advice. All you can do, Aaron, is ask to see if it's allowed.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "You will be a sick bo' if you decide to play this game because, with one exception, the house edge ranges from the absurd to the obscene."?--Frank Scoblete, Strictly Slots<.P>

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.