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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Deal Me In: That skinny path on the up-and-up

29 October 2010

Dear Mark: Since big jackpots seldom hit, when you play a three-reel mega-jackpot progressive like Megabucks, can you really be certain that each reel has the top symbol for the biggest jackpot, and if so, can it be programmed to never land on that symbol? Jenny D.

Rest assured, Jenny, that if a combination is listed on the pay table, it has to be possible for you to hit it on that machine, or on any other machines wired together on a network. Also feel comfortable that each machine's payback percentage, while admittedly extremely low because it is a monster progressive, is the same as the payback percentage of all the others that it is linked to.

Here's the deal, Jenny. Casinos are not interested in exposing their gaming licenses to loss through any inkling of cheating, which would be certainly the case if they eliminated an Eagle Megabucks logo from the third reel, or jimmy-rigged the machine so it would never land three Eagles across. The gaming industry is probably the most regulated business in America. State gaming regulatory agencies would close a casino down for defrauding, or appearing to defraud, the public by having machines that can't hit the top jackpot because of a top symbol missing from a particular reel, or a stop position inserted for that icon.

Dear Mark: A bus takes us senior citizens to the casino once a month and I budget my play to what I can afford, which is $100. With that amount, what denomination slot machine should I be playing on? Will it be enough to get some perks? Ruth M.

I'm glad to see, Ruth, that you are prudent player, with a budget, and only gambling with money that you can afford to lose. As for which machine denomination, you need to keep your slot machine selection proportionate to your bankroll. With a $100 bankroll, obviously you shouldn't be playing dollar slots. A few unlucky pulls and within mere minutes, you're parked on a stool, sipping free coffee – there's your freebie – waiting for the motorcoach to take you home.

I would recommend starting off on quarters, tops, and being willing to move down a denomination to nickels or even to pennies if your bankroll falls below $50. But watch out for penny slots. Penny machines should be just that, penny machines. Not a buck a spin when betting ten pennies a line times ten lines.

As for some goodies, Ruth, absolutely. Casinos give away over a billion dollars in comps each year, and as a slot player, you deserve your fair share. You have the ability to "comp yourself" by using one of their players' club slot cards.

Sign up for player rewards cards wherever you play. They're free, and they should bring you a little something extra, whether it's just a 2-for-1 buffet or possibly cash back. Comps are awarded based on the number of coins you cycle through a machine, so you might as well get credit for all those quarters you are going to be inserting. Besides earning rewards while you play, you will also get offers in the mail for comps designed to attract a return visit. You always want to treat "freebies" as a form of profit, but you never want to gamble just to receive them. I recommend you learn to play video poker, where – even with poor play on a video poker machine – you will have a better payback than you'd get on most "reel" slot machines. Remember, Ruth, that you are there to stay in action longer and possibly win, not to lose your whole $100 for a free trip to the chow line.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "When I was young, people called me a gambler. As the scale of my operations increased I became known as a speculator. Now I am called a banker. But I have been doing the same thing all the time." - Sir Ernest Cassel, Private banker to King Edward VII
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.