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Best of John Robison

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Ask the Slot Expert: Accounting for free play

25 September 2019

This past Monday I had to go play some free play before it expired. I had two sets of free play to play. First, my weekly free play, which is $15, and second, $50 in free play I won in a tournament. The weekly offer was going to expire in a couple of days and I had until the end of September to play my tournament winnings. I sat down at an 8/5 Bonus Poker machine (one of the best machines this casino has).

Sometimes at some casinos multiple free play offers are combined into one total and I can download it all at once. Other times — maybe most of the time — the offers are stacked and I have to download them one at a time. This time the offers were stacked, with the $15 offer first, presumably because it was the offer that was going to expire first even though it was awarded after the tournament.

I downloaded the $15 and then the $50 and hit the Deal button, expecting to play about 20 hands before having to put real money into the machine. Nobody ever wins anything on their free play, do they?

This time I got four 10s on the very first hand. So much for never winning anything from free play! Nothing noteworthy happened from the rest of the free play, but it was quite a while before I had to reach into my wallet and feed the machine.

If I hadn't been playing to earn points for another promotion, I could have left with $100+ from my free play. A while ago I won $1,000 in free play in a tournament and I turned that into more than $1,000 in real money. A friend of mine won a couple of hundred dollars in free play in a get-a-royal-get-free-play promotion and she hit another royal while playing the free play. Another friend turned $1,000 in free play into over $800 in real money (also playing 8/5 Bonus Poker).

Granted, the more free play you have, the more chances you have to hit a good hand. But the probabilities are the same on every hand and remember that I hit those four 10s on my first hand.

I can remember waiting in line in casinos in Atlantic City to redeem my $5 bounceback cash coupon for a half-roll of quarters. It certainly is much more convenient for the player to be able to redeem these offers at a machine and much less expensive for the casino. Redeeming free play, or non-cashable downloadable credits as it is known in regulations, on a machine creates an interesting accounting problem for the casino.

Let's look at a particular machine for a month. First let's calculate the Net Win, which is Total Credits Purchased - Total Credits Collected. Credits can be purchased with bills, tickets or downloads. On this machine, the totals were $10,000, $50,000 and $5,000, respectively. The total value of the cash-out tickets printed on this machine was $45,000. Plugging the numbers into the formula, our Net Win is $65,000 - $45,000 = $20,000.

Let's verify that number by counting what is in the cash box. We have $10,000 in currency and $50,000 in tickets. The cash box less the cash outs is $60,000 - $45,000 = $15,000. That doesn't match the Net Win we calculated before.

We have to account for the free play in the Net Win formula, either by deducting it from the Total Credits Purchased along with Total Credits Collected or by not including it in the Total Credits Purchased calculation. The $5,000 in free play accounts for the $5,000 difference in the two calculations. The true Net Win on the machine was $15,000 and that's the number we'll report to the state, the feds and our shareholders.

Even though we exclude free play when the calculations are for financial purposes, we include it when we're calculating a machine's actual hold percentage. For this purpose, how the credits were purchased is irrelevant and we want to divide total coin-out by total coin-in to get an accurate hold percentage.


Red Rock had a free video poker tournament the past two Tuesdays. You could earn multiple entries into the tournament, so they gave you a ticket for each entry you had earned when you checked in. Last week I had earned four entries, the max, and took a seat at a machine in the first row. I gave one of my tickets to one of the reps working the tournament and put the rest of my tickets on the ramp in front of the bill acceptor.

The reps gave us a three-count countdown to start. I hit the Deal Button, held some cards, and then quickly hit the Draw button. There are multiple button configurations for the machines used for Red Rock's video poker tournaments. On this machine, the Deal/Draw button is right near the bill acceptor ramp. When I swooshed my hand over to hit the Deal button, it hit the tickets sitting on the ramp and, like the best sleight-of-hand magic you've ever seen, the tickets magically disappeared.

I figured they had fallen on the floor. I was surprised that the reps didn't pick up the tickets when they went by on their rounds during the session. No one else was in that row so the tickets must have been mine. I thought about asking one of them to pick them up, but I really couldn't have a conversation, even a short one, and still play tournament video poker.

No problem, I thought. I'll just pick them up at the end of the round. No one was allowed to enter the tournament area while a session was in progress, so I didn't have to worry about someone else picking up my tickets.

When the session was over, I checked the area around me. No tickets. I got up and searched all around my machine and on the floor and on my pants. No tickets anywhere. They just disappeared as if they had never existed.

The rep who had checked me in noticed that I was frantically looking for something and asked me what was wrong. I told her that I lost my tickets. She gave me three more to replace the ones I had lost.

I sat down at the machine again and said to myself, "Self," I said, "the only place you didn't look is in the bill acceptor." I took a close look at the bill acceptor and realized that there was no bill acceptor, just a rectangular hole in the cabinet. I reached into it and felt the tickets, but I couldn't get them out. All I succeeded in doing is knocking them further into the machine.

When I mentioned that I had knocked my tickets into the machine to one of the reps, he said that I wasn't the first person to do that.

Red Rock ran the tournament again today. I earned four entries again. I kept my extra tickets in my pocket.


John Robison
John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots
John Robison
John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots