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Best of Mark Pilarski

Gaming Guru

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Slots simplified

20 October 2000

Dear Mark,
KISS, keep it simple stupid. That's how I gamble by playing only slot machines. Can you share some simple tips on the easiest game to play, slots? Sherry B.

Sherry, you're right, no great mystery here. Slots are the easiest game to play in the casino. Insert a coin, pull the handle, then reach into your purse for more money. Unfortunately, that's what normally happens when the house has such an enormous built-in edge. But that doesn't mean you can't at least close the gap against you and throw in some fun to boot. So, Sherry, below are some of my favorite slot tips to help you overcome this huge house advantage. These tips won't guarantee that you'll become an instant winner, because it's tough to beat a house edge that generally runs well over 10%, but it also doesn't have to be so tough on your bankroll. Let's get started.

1. The only true skill to playing slots is machine identification. Example: progressive machines offer the opportunity to compare and shop around for the best value. One 25-cent "slot machine carousel" can have a progressive jackpot of $2,600 and another bank of machines — exactly the same and standing side by side-$1,900. You should always be looking for the best slot opportunities possible.

2. Casinos will advertise machines that have a 98.5% payback. WOW! A casino game holding just a percent and a half, and on a slot machine no less. But there's a downside. If you look closely at the advertisement, it will probably say, "on select machines." Furthermore, it probably won't be posted on the machine itself, and generally will be limited to a single bank of machines in the casino. Now it becomes your responsibility to find them. Easiest way: Ask a slot employee, and if he or she doesn't know, have one of them ask a direct supervisor.

3. Las Vegas gives away over half a billion dollars in comps each year, and as a slot player, you deserve your share. Repeat, you deserve your share. How? Casinos now offer you the ability to "comp yourself" by using one of their players' club slot cards. It's generally based on the number of coins you cycle through a machine, so you might as well get credit for all those quarters you're inserting. Shop casinos for comp value and find out what you're worth to them.

4. You always want to treat "comps" as a form of profit, but you never want to gamble just to receive them. It's much better to play a 98% payback machine and increase your winning opportunities than play machines with a poor return that cycle more of your coins. Remember, you're there to stay in action and possibly win, not lose your bankroll for a free buffet.

5. If you can't afford to play the maximum amount of coins, you shouldn't be playing that denomination of machine. If dollar slots are too rich for your blood, drop down to a quarter machine. It's always better value to play five quarters versus one dollar, or five nickels instead of one quarter.

6. I recommend not playing back the credits you've accumulated. Cash out and take stock. The problem with playing back credits is that the longer you stay, the machines built-in advantage eats away at them. It doesn't take long to zero out.

7. Avoid restaurant, bar, supermarket and airport slot machines. Notorious for being tight.

8. Can't decide which type of slot machine to play? If you're going to choose between video poker and slots, play video poker. Even poor play on a video poker machine will have a better payback than most "reel" slot machines.

9. Before you walk away from a machine, don't forget to press the cash-out button. Millions are lost each year by gamblers forgetting their winnings (stored credits).

10. It is your responsibility if destiny favors you that you receive full payment when hitting a jackpot. Even with some relatively small jackpots, if the slot is short coins in the hopper, you'll receive only a partial cash payment in the tray, with the balance to be paid by a slot attendant. If you were to insert more coins and pull the handle, say bye-bye to the remainder of your jackpot.

11. Read all the posted material on a slot machine. It is your responsibility to fully understand all printed information concerning the number of coins to insert, lines needed to be lit, prizes or awards. In most cases, when someone calls a slot attendant over and complains the machine "just ripped me off," that individual generally didn't read the pay schedule correctly.

12. When you insert coins, don't assume all the tokens register before you pull the handle. Played five but only four recorded? SORRY. You'll get a sympathetic pat on the back from the casino, but no money.

13. I recommend avoiding machines that use video representations of symbols. With these slots, there is absolutely no way to figure out what the payoff percentage of that machine is. For all you know, your true chances of hitting a major jackpot could be 2,097,152 to 1.

14. Most casinos will hold a slot for you while you go to the restroom, take a short break, or even go on a buffet run. Just ask a slot supervisor to reserve your machine and give a specific time when you'll return.

15. Don't chain yourself to a cold machine, even if it's your favorite. Why? Because the longer you stay on any slot, the more time the machine's built-in mathematical advantage has to work you over. This is how casinos build mega-resorts. Time always working on their side and a mathematical edge on each and every slot.

16. Even if you're only playing slots, you still need to set a loss limit on your bankroll for both your trip and each individual gaming session. Divvy up your wad per playing session, discipline yourself and stick to it.

17. I'll come clean here. I don't play slots. But as a local in a casino town, I know where the locals who do play find the most cluck-for-the-buck. Simply put, locals don't play dog machines. So when searching for high payback machines, ask a few employees where the locals find the best slot value. Even if they're not slot players themselves, they at least know where their friends like to play.

18. Leave both your credit and bank teller cards at home so you will not be tempted with the easy convenience of getting cash. Also, allow me to take the obvious one step further. Only bet what you can afford to lose.

Finally, going to slot heaven — Las Vegas? Your best return in Las Vegas, and the country for that matter, are in the casinos downtown. Average return on quarter machines: 95.5%. That almost makes it a decent wager. Good luck, Sherry.

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.