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You Can't Beat Slots But You Can Give 'Em a Fight

29 September 2010

By John G. Brokopp

Given the built-in house advantage that casinos wield over all of the games they offer, there is very little chance for gamblers to show a profit over an extended period of time. Depending upon the edge you are playing against, you have to beat the percentage just to break even.

Beating the edge is easiest for blackjack players because the math is in constant flux as the game progresses. Those who play according to optimum strategies stand a fighting chance, even to the point of tilting the advantage slightly in their favor.

Video poker gives serious players a chance as well, but only if optimum strategy is employed when working with a pay table that isn't skewed to favor the house to such an extent that the house edge is too steep to overcome.

As for all of the other table games, including craps, roulette, and the poker hybrids, the only strategy players can arm themselves with is distinguishing the good bets from those which carry an obscenely high house edge.

Slot machines, however, are in a class by themselves. There's no strategy, the theoretical payback percentages on individual units are withheld from the public, and they are the easiest to play and most alluring of all the games.

Simply put there is absolutely no way to develop a game plan to beat them during any given window of playing time or over the long haul. No matter who wins or loses, each machine is guaranteed to make a profit for the casino.

When you play slots you are playing against a computer program founded on mathematical probability. The opportunity is always present to hit a jackpot, but it is all based on odds that can be in the thousands, tens of thousands, and even hundreds of thousands to one against you.

Going for big wide-area progressive jackpots at casinos in Las Vegas or at Native American properties around the country, the odds against making the big score on any given spin escalate to the millions to one against the player.

There is, however, one discipline that slot players can utilize to give themselves a fighting chance: Time. The speed at which you can play the games is the casino industry's best friend and the players' worst enemy.

Decisions at the gaming tables are minutes apart, but those at the slots can come in intervals of a few seconds if you let them. Playing at a pace in which you space your bets can dramatically impact the unbeatable power of the machine's "hold" percentage.

Say for example you are playing a penny slot machine that has an 11 percent hold, meaning that over the course of time the game's computer program will generate that profit margin for the casino. If you make a one dollar play every five seconds, that means you will have bet $360 at the end of a half hour. Regardless of your wins or losses during the session, you subjected your bankroll to a $39.60 loss based upon the game's percentage pay back.

If you slow down and make a bet every 10 seconds at the same machine, your total wagers over 30 minutes amount to $180 and at the same time you trim the theoretical loss you face to $19.80. Take even more time between spins and it gets better.

Playing the slots at a leisurely pace requires discipline, of course. Their very nature compels gamblers to keep hitting that play button. The best advice is to slow down and not subject your money to the house edge at a feverish pace. Sit back and relax.

The odds against hitting it big on any given spin are astronomical enough. Increasing your pace doesn't improve your chances.

You wouldn't stand at a convenience store counter and buy a one dollar scratch-off lottery ticket every five seconds for half an hour, would you?

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.

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