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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Terms of (casino) endearment

6 November 2007

Dear Mark: Often you, as well as other gaming writers and newspaper articles related to casino gambling, freely use gambling terms, and do so without including a definition. Here are but a few that I have seen of late that I would like an explanation of as to what they mean: pay cycle, handle, hold and the payout percentage. Alex G.

So, it's a bit of semantics you're after, and by good fortune you've started with a true doozy, the "pay cycle." For the electronic geeks who tinker up the innards of the slot machine, the pay cycle is the number of pulls it takes for the machine to display every possible combination of cards or graphics – an immense number, and what good it is to them, I couldn't say. Others would argue that the pay cycle is a merry myth in that that there are no true pay cycles because each and every spin is a random event, so a machine can't hit all the possible combinations through any one specific cycle.

The "handle" is the total value of all coins played through a slot machine. The "hold" (also called "win") is the amount the casino held as profit. The "yield" is the casino's win expressed as a percentage of the handle.

The "payout percentage," or some call it payback percentage, is the percent of all dollars played in a slot or video poker machine that the machine is programmed to return to the players. Stated another way, it's 100% minus the "house edge," which is the percentage of each bet made that the house holds onto. This they do by paying off winning bets at less than true odds. And those house edges do stack up pretty high – as you've noticed.

Dear Mark: This question comes under the heading of "I can dream, can't I"? If I were to hit a "large" amount of money at a casino and I don't want to carry a lot of money with me, can I ask the casino to place the money in a safe deposit box? M. J. K.

Most casinos today not only offer in-room safes, but also safe deposit boxes at either the front desk or the cashier's cage where you can conveniently place your winnings. I highly recommend their use, not only for your champagne wishes and caviar dreams hit, but any other valuables that a person might feel apprehensive to leave lying around their hotel room. But here's one other reason why. When you lock up your profits, neatly removing them from play, you're not allowing the casino another crack at them.

Also, if you win a big jackpot, you might want to consider asking the casino to cut you a check rather than give you cash. Well – sure, flashing lots of loot might be a hoot, but it also makes you an easy mark for the slick-eyed nefarious types.

So what were the weirdest item(s) that I ever took inventory of when I worked the cashier's cage? It was a huge wad of cash (he kept $100), a wedding ring and, oh yeah, that person's dentures. Don't ask, just imagine. I also dog-sat once. No, I didn't put Fido in one of the larger safe deposit boxes, but my five-day suspension for the unregistered kennel ran simultaneously with the best powder skiing Lake Tahoe had seen in 20 years. I loved that dog, and for that matter the boss for putting me on the street for a week.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week:


"Poker... a fascinating, wonderful, intricate adventure on the high seas of human nature." --David A. Daniel

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.