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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Demystifying slots myths

30 September 2005

Dear Mark,
Does it make any difference on a slot machine if I pull the handle or push the spin button? If a machine recently hit for a decent sized jackpot, should I avoid that machine? Lastly, if I get up from a machine and the next player hits a jackpot, would that have been mine? Jean B.

Readers are either going to nod in agreement with what I'm about to write, or stay in defiance. The choice is yours, my friends, but I'm still going to debunk three of the most common slot myths there are.

First of all, pressing the spin button or yanking the handle has no bearing on the outcome of a spin. The handle is nothing more than a connection to the switch that operates the spin button.

As to your second question on the machine that just hit: is it still just as worth playing as it was before the hit. The answer, Jean, is Yes, and that it makes no difference. Although the laws of probability dictate that the more any machine is played, the closer it comes to a jackpot hitting, it is equally likely that a jackpot could hit at any given moment, including the very next spin.

Finally, as to the "Just whose jackpot is it?" question — well, Jean, it's not yours, it's the dude's who's parked in front of the machine and who pressed the spin button. "Why?" she screams, "I'm the one who set it up!" Because, I reply somberly, all modern slot machines come equipped with random number generators, with symbol combinations constantly changing every millisecond from the time you insert the coin until you hit the spin button. That makes the jackpot his, not yours.

Dear Mark,
Your column recently mentioned average payback percentages of slot machines across America. What you didn't mention, but I'm guessing to be true, is that it is better to play video poker than slots. Am I right or wrong? Susan L.

Choosing between video poker and slots is a no-brainer. A video poker machine will spit more silver your way. Even WAG (wild-ass guessing) play on a video poker machine will generate a better return than is available through most "reel" slot machines.

Every video poker and slot machine has a built-in house edge working in its favor with each coin inserted. This is how the casino goes about extracting money from players in order to stay in business. Skilled players can cut the house advantage to near zero, or, dare I say it, swing the odds in their favor when they play perfect basic strategy on select video poker machines. Compare this to the "up to" 15% hold the casino can have with slots.

The bottom line, Susan, is that the lesser the house edge, the more favorable the game is for the player. Video poker, in general, carries a much smaller casino advantage than almost all slot machines do.

Big Correction: My mailbag informed me that there was much confusion, and rightly so, over my answer to Sam's question about laying the four for $100, which he claimed gave him 2 to 1 in his favor when the seven hits. He also stated that he finds this an easy way to make a $100.

Recapping, with a lay bet you are betting against the player and with the house and hoping that a 7 appears before the point number of 4 rolls out. Lay bets are paid off at true odds, minus the house's 5% on the amount won. When Sam lays the 4 (or 10), Sam would have to lay $200 to win $100, minus a 5% commission. As for "2 to 1" in his favor, I should have been more descriptive in stating that the seven can appear in six different combinations with a pair of dice as opposed to only three combinations with the four. That's the 2 to 1 in his favor. I went off on some tomfool tantrum that Sam couldn't buck the 2.44% house edge with that wager and missed some obvious errors in his question.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "It's not easy losing $10,000 because an eighteen-year-old freshman choked on two free throws late in the game." --Chad Millman, "The Odds"

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.