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Best of John Robison

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Ask the Slot Expert: Annoying video poker players

25 April 2018

Question: Seriously? You are annoyed by the noise the machines make?

Get a set of headphones. That way you can be more certain no one will talk to you either.

My wife lets all the credits ring up all the time. It takes more time, she plays less hands that way, and therefore is putting less money at risk.

She also plays less than max coins, which I'm sure would bother you too, and will hit the play one button multiple times rather than re-deal, just to change things up a little.

What bothers her is that even though there are ashtrays at the machines, and even though she is smoking at the time, someone will sit down right next to her and then be offended that there is smoke nearby. They already saw the smoking BEFORE they sat down.

May your wins be big and losses small and your machine neighbors play in a way that is pleasant for you.

Answer: No, I am not annoyed by the noises that the machines make. In fact, I frequently play one machine over another because my machine has sound and the other does not.

I can't figure out how casinos decide which machines will have sound and which will be silenced. At the Palms — which, admittedly, is a work in progress — only one or two slant-top video poker machines in a grouping of six have sounds. A few machines down the aisle is a Wonder Woman machine that is so loud, people across the street in the Gold Coast can hear when a player hits the bonus round on it. A few aisles over are some Hundred Play machines that are all mute now. Right next to those machines is a penny slot on which the bass is so loud, it is actually distorted.

I've seen many people wear headphones or earbuds while they play. I've listened with earbuds that hang from the ears while playing too. Even though I've always listened to talk radio programs I've recorded from SiriusXM and I don't insert the buds into my ear canal, I still feel like I'm cut off from what is happening around me. So I don't use them too often. Also, I don't want to have the volume too loud, so I need a relatively quiet place in the casino. In some casinos, the machines I want to play are in loud areas.

I have no problem with your wife letting the credits ring up. As you point out, letting them ring up slows down your play, so you play fewer hands and risk less money. I'm frequently playing when I have the edge, though, so time spent waiting for credits to be added to the meter is time wasted. Or I might be playing to get enough points for a promotion. The longer it takes to award the credits, the longer it takes me to earn the points. I recently found some multi-hand machines that award the credits in one fell swoop when set to the fastest mode. I love those machines.

But as I said, if you want to let the credits ring up, go ahead. Sometimes I short-circuit the process. Sometimes I don't. Sometimes I use the time taken to award the credits to take a hit from my iced coffee.

I may have a problem with playing less than max coins, though. You have to be careful that you're not making a mathematical mistake.

I've seen people play two or three coins per hand on a dollar video poker machine. Why not play full coin on a quarter machine and get the full value of a royal flush? Because the dollar paytable has a higher long-term payback? Long-term paybacks are calculated assuming full coin. You have to recalculate the long-term payback assuming only 250 coins for the royal. Full coin on the quarter paytable may pay back more than short coin on the dollar.

Another consideration is that the strategies are all calculated using full-coin values. If you change the values of some hands, the strategies may change.

As for switching which buttons you use to start a game, sometimes hitting Bet One (one or more times) and Deal instead of just hitting Deal to repeat the last bet doesn't change things up a little. It has zero effect on your long-term results. If you really want to change things up, do something that really makes a difference — like getting mushrooms on your pizza instead of pepperoni or getting an enchilada instead of a burrito.

Finally, I can't tell you how many times I've not sat down at a machine I had intended to play because someone was smoking in the area. If you see someone smoking and you choose to play there anyway, you've no right to complain. That's like buying a house near an airport and then complaining about the noise.

A few days ago, my heart sank when I entered the high-limit room. I saw a pack of cigarettes and an ashtray in front of someone playing a machine four feet away from the machine I wanted to play. This was a tough choice. The casino has only two of the machines I wanted to play and they were both in the smoke zone.

Four feet may sound like a sizable buffer, but smoke seems to be attracted to me. Smoke from a player in the next aisle frequently seeks me out.

As I debated whether I wanted to play that machine enough to chance the smoke, I realized that the player looked familiar. He looked a little like Rick Harrison from Pawn Stars. I decided to play the machine and see if something happened to tell me if it really was him.

About 20 minutes later he hit a hand pay and came over to my bank to play a machine three down from me while waiting for the hand pay. I quietly said, "Rick?" He didn't react. I thought he either didn't hear me or he was ignoring me.

He was still playing when I left. I asked one of the slot floorpeople if he was who I thought he was. She said that she didn't know. I said that I was just going to ask if he likes to have people say hi or he prefers to be left alone. She said that he prefers to be left alone. I told her that I thought that was the case and I went on my way.

But I digress.

The bottom line is that if you're smoking in a smoking area, letting the credits ring up one by one, hitting the Bet Max button each hand instead of Deal, hitting Bet One five times, whatever — you're not doing anything wrong and you're within your rights to play a machine anyway you want to play it.

Another example. Two weeks ago, I was playing a Hundred Play machine. I knew Jean and Brad Scott were having lunch and would probably want to play the other two machines in the bank when they were finished eating. No one played the other machines for about an hour, but then a slot floorperson led a man to one of the machines and he sat down to play. One hand at a time. On a Hundred Play machine. He wanted to play dime video poker and the slot floorperson had pointed out the Hundred Play machines as machines he could play.

Fortunately, he finished playing moments before Jean and Brad arrived. I told them that they had good timing. Five minutes earlier there was a guy playing — if you can believe it — one hand at a time. But, I added, what can you do? He wasn't doing anything wrong. And a slot floorperson, moreover, pointed out the machine as one he could play.

Jean told me that there was a discussion on one of the video poker message boards a long time ago about whether it was right to play one hand on a multi-hand machine. The conclusion was that it may be inconsiderate when there are single-hand machines with the same pay table and denomination, but the player isn't doing anything wrong, so there's nothing you can do about it.

When I was playing today, it occurred to me that maybe I should encourage casinos to turn off the sound on their video poker machines. I like having a little bit of sound when I play, but if the sounds from other players' machines bother me, maybe it's worth it to give up sound altogether.

But then I'd complain about the way people hit the buttons. Did I ever mention the time that the player at the machine behind mine hit the buttons so forcefully that I could feel the impact on my machine?

As Jean-Paul Sartre said, "Hell is other people."


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