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Best of John G. Brokopp

Gaming Guru

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Making Practical Sense of Slot "Theory"

1 December 2004

It's one thing to know what "theoretical payback" on a casino's slot inventory is. It's quite another to put that knowledge to practical use. A sign on the wall next to the cashier's cage that advertises a "94.5 Percent Theoretical Payback" tells slot players next to nothing when it comes to useful information to help them win.

For openers, the figure is the average yearly percentage based upon every machine on the casino floor. The percentages vary greatly from day-to-day, week-to-week and month-to-month. Furthermore, they can vary significantly depending on what denomination you are interested in.

So what's a player to do? To be perfectly honest, you should not make a decision to choose to play at one casino over another based solely on a difference of a few tenths or hundredths of a percentage point in theoretical payback. Chicago-area casinos are all in the "same ballpark" percentage-wise anyway.

For example, one of the most popular denominations is dollars. During the month

of June 2004 here's how the Chicago-area casinos in Illinois stacked up: Joliet Empress: 94.89 – Harrah's Joliet: 94.93 – Hollywood Aurora: 94.07- Grand Victoria Elgin: 94.75.

Here's how the dollar machines at those paid back during July 2004: Joliet Empress: 94.95 – Harrah's Joliet: 94.94 – Hollywood Aurora: 94.45 – Grand Victoria Elgin: 94.96.

Make your decision on where to play based on which casino has the best amenities that are important to you and which one offers you the most valuable perks in return for your play and brand loyalty, not because of a few hundredths of a percentage point difference in payback.

The statistical casino-by-casino breakdowns that are available to the public online from the Illinois Gaming Board and the Indiana Gaming Commission are interesting, as are the daily "hot slots" sheets that some local casinos distribute. But all they tell you are what the machines did in the past, which has absolutely no bearing on what they are liable to do on the day you choose to play them.

If you were able to determine that a particular casino consistently, and most importantly, significantly, leads another in payback percentage as it applies to a particular denomination, then that's what I would call useful information that would weigh heavily on where you chose to play.

Because the Chicago area is a "seller's market" for the casino industry, the owners and operators of the properties don't have to compete for business by engaging in "theoretical payback wars". If, in the future, casino expansion brings the market close to the saturation point, then it may become a different story.

In markets such as Las Vegas, percentage payback can vary greatly among the various jurisdictions. There are definitely differences among the properties on The Strip, the Downtown section, the Boulder Highway properties and in burgeoning North Las Vegas and Henderson. Also, there are significant differences between the tourist-oriented properties and the casinos that cater to the locals.

In the Chicago area, there are no such differences. But when you go beyond our own market and look at the downstate Illinois casinos located in East Peoria, Alton, Metropolis and East St. Louis, as well as cross state in Rock Island, you'll discover that slot players at those properties can be much better off than we are.

Next week we'll get into those out-of-town specifics, as well as address the unique aspects of theoretical payback as it applies to video poker.

John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp
John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp