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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Deal Me In: Those nickel machines just won't pay back in quarters

7 August 2009

Dear Mark: I have a question regarding multi-denominational machines. Typically I play nickel video poker machines, but if I get ahead, I move up in denomination to quarters. Being that standalone machines normally have a higher percentage payback at higher denominations, does that also hold true when I switch denominations on multi-denominational machines? Larry B.

The reason nickel machines have poorer payouts than quarters, and quarters less than dollars, is because the cost to maintain any machine — slot personnel, floor space, maintenance, etc.— is exactly the same. Each slot has to yield a targeted number of dollars for the casino; a larger percentage is kept from the lower-denomination machines so as to meet those goals.

This isn't necessarily the case on a multi-denominational machine. Most multi-denominational machines will actually have better paytables, in full view for you to compare, as you move up the ladder from nickels to quarters, and quarters to dollars.

As for changing denominations, don't forget, Larry, when you bet more, you can lose more money at a much faster rate. Certainly, you may find a paytable that returns 98% to the player playing quarters versus a 95% payback for nickels, so effectively you've cut the house advantage by more than half, from 5% to 2%, but don't forget, you're putting into play five times more per hand ($0.25 versus $1.25).

Dear Mark: As you recommend, I always insert my players' club card when I play slots, but I'm curious about something. By using the card, does it tell the casino exactly how much I've gambled, so that if I'm winning, they can change the payback of the machine so that I will eventually give back all the money I won? Manny P.

When you insert that card, Manny, yes, they (i.e. computers in undisclosed locations), know exactly how much money you have inserted into the machine.

The casino can't give you your deserved goodies if they don't know how much you've played. The ability to "comp yourself" by using one of their player's club slot cards is based on the value of coins you cycle through a machine, so you might as well get credit for all those nickels, quarters or dollars you're inserting.

As to the second part of your question, the answer is no, using a players' club card has no effect whatsoever on the payback.

Actually, the reasons you're giving all the money back are 1) you're not getting up and walking out when ahead -- quit wearing Velcro pants while playing -- and 2) the longer you stay glued to the stool gambling with the house's money, the more exposure you have to the casino's inescapable house edge.

You better learn to walk away a winner, Manny, because THAT IS your only advantage against the house.

Dear Mark: If the RNG is constantly at work in slots, would that also be true with video poker? It seems I'm not getting as many four-of-a-kinds as I have in the past. Lois D.

The random number generator's (RNG) main function at video poker is to continually reshuffle the electronic deck of cards, so the answer is yes, it's perpetually shuffling away.

As for your lack of four-of-a-kinds, keep in mind, Lois, with streaks, one way or the other, you are experiencing randomness.

That "or the other," happened to me recently while killing time awaiting a dinner reservation. I experienced the happy end of randomness when, with just a $10 bill inserted, I received three four-of-a-kinds before my table was ready.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "Short-term fluctuations in the fortunes of each player mean that even the clueless have occasional winning sessions." -- Gambling For Dummies

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.