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Best of John G. Brokopp

Gaming Guru

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Slot Machines: Easy to Play, Difficult to Understand

13 July 2005

Slot machines are unlike any other gambling option in casinos across the country and around the world. They are the easiest of all the games to play: Just sit down, put in some money and press the button or pull the handle. You'll find out instantly whether you've won or lost.

Table games and video poker, on the other hand, require some homework. You have to learn how to play them in order to participate on an intelligent level. During the process of learning how to play the games, you also acquire an understanding of the economics of gambling and how the odds are stacked against you.

There are economics to understand about slot machine play, too, but unless you take it upon yourself to learn about how the so-called "electronic gaming devices" work and what the real odds are against hitting a significant jackpot, you're pretty much out of luck because the casinos aren't about to tell you. Neither are the slot machine manufacturers.

Every slot machine is governed by a computer program that guarantees a profit for the casino that owns it. Even though a particular machine may be programmed to pay back 95 percent of what it takes in and hold the other five percent as profit, the odds against winning the top award can be in the tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands to one against you.

Sure, paying back 95 percent is very generous, but you have to remember that this includes every single winning combination and it is distributed among the thousands of people who play the machine over the course of a year. Only one entity gets the remaining five percent and that's the casino.

Given that playing slot machines is easy but understanding them is difficult, and recognizing the fact that the casino industry is perfectly content to keep their "one-armed bandits" veiled in superstition and mystery, it is up to slot players to arm themselves with the knowledge it takes to play them intelligently.

In next week's column I'll recommend a couple of books that will assist you in this endeavor.

Meanwhile, here's an e-mail question that I received from Tim:

"(A few weeks ago) you answered a question about whether the odds of a slot machine change depending on the number of coins played. Your answer was no. Then what does the Isle of Capri in Bettendorf mean when they have a bank of dollar slot machines that they claim pay back 97.4 percent WITH MAXIMUM COINS PLAYED? I interpret that to mean that you will win more if you play two coins instead of one. Am I wrong?"

Thank you for your question Tim. No, you are not wrong but neither was I. The pay tables on a majority of "buy-a-pay" machines are not equally graduated. For example, on a two-coin dollar slot, the top award for one coin played may be $2,000 while the top award for two coins played is $5,000. On a three-coin machine the top award may be $2,500 for one coin played, $5,000 for two coins, and $15,000 for three coins.

Because the money a player can win for the top award is percentage wise dollar-for-dollar significantly greater when you play max coins, the advertised long-term payback includes this possibility. It doesn't mean that you will get a different combination of symbols if you play less than the maximum coins. The outcome is set the instant you play the first coin.

Look at it this way: You are playing a two-coin dollar machine with a top award of $2,000 for one coin played and $5,000 for two coins played. You play one coin, hit the jackpot and win two grand. But had you played one more coin, your jackpot would have been five grand. The machine was still programmed to pay back a certain percentage, say 97.4 percent, but by not playing max coins you didn't take advantage of it.

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