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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Toying with the slots

9 September 2005

Dear Mark,
Since I'm not considered an expert video poker player, would you suggest that I stay away from Triple and Five Play quarter machines, and instead continue playing single-hand, five-coin machines? Marty C.

Most video poker players cut their teeth on single-hand, five-coin machines. Today, there is an assortment of quarter video poker machines (as there are of dime and nickel machines) and many players are gravitating toward the increasingly popular Triple Play, Five Play, even Ten Play machines.

But these machines can be budget busters. For example, on a quarter Triple Play, if you play the maximum number of coins on each hand, you are putting 15 coins, or $3.75 in peril. On quarter Five Play machines, your bait amounts to 25 coins or $6.25, and on the quarter Ten Play machine, we're talking 50 coins or $12.50.

That's a whole lot of hard-earned moolah for the most penny-pinching gamblers who read this column. If you hit any sort of dry spell, your bankroll will dissolve like cotton candy in the rain, moderated only by the speed of your play.

My take on Triple and Five Play quarter machines is this: Even though multihand video poker machines can amplify your earning potential on decent hands, they can also magnify your losing potential on lousy ones. If you're playing five-coin single-hand video poker and are dealt garbage, you have but $1.25 overboard. On a Ten Play machine you have a whole lot more dough at stake for those same junk hands. Granted, Marty, though there are some acceptable pay tables available in most gaming markets, a tightwad like me still tends to stay clear of them.

Here are a couple suggestions for those who enjoy multiplay video poker. First, seek out the best pay tables. Pay tables, or pay schedules, are posted somewhere on the front of a video poker machine, or on the screen itself, and they tell you what each winning hand will pay for the number of coins put at risk.

Also, always choose the slowest playing speed available when the casino allows you this option. Some casinos have this machine feature blocked out, forcing you to play at the highest speed. Bear in mind, Marty, the more hands you play per hour, the more you subject your bankroll to a quick shave by the house edge.

Dear Mark,
On average, what do slots return back to the player? Henry P.

The average slot machine payout can range anywhere from 85% to 99% of all coins bet. Because the casino wants to make a certain amount of money per hour with its slots, the lower the denomination of the machine, the lower the payout. With a $1 slot, the casino payback can be perhaps 98%, whereas with a machine at a lower denomination, such as dimes or nickels, the payout must be much lower to achieve the same hourly return for the casino.

A payout percentage of 98% means that 98%, on average, of all money that is inserted into the machine is being paid back to the player. In other words, the casino makes a 2% profit.

On average, you ask. Well, it varies with the geography, Hank, and you didn't mention where you play. But, to keep my rep as a nice guy, here are ballpark averages you will typically find across the U.S.of A.

For nickel machines, paybacks are generally 91%; for quarter machines, 93%; fifty-centers, 94%; for dollar machines, 95%; and for $5 slots, payback approaches 97%.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "Casino: A gaudy smoke-filled den presided over by men with no necks and patronized by busloads of genital optimists." Rick Bayan, "The Cynic's Dictionary"

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.