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Best of John Robison

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Ask the Slot Expert: Common-sense advice for slot players

15 October 2014

There are slot players out there who believe that the casino can dial the paybacks up and down at will, at any time and even during play.

No matter how much logic and law you present to these people to show that what they believe is not actually happening at all, they believe it nevertheless. Then you ask, "Why are you playing slots if you think this?", and, of course, you get no coherent answer from them.

The truth is that payback percentages will vary from casino to casino, with Indian casinos being the worst and competing off-Strip casinos being the best. The casinos on the Strip are better than any Indian casino, but if you go off-Strip a player can find better paybacks.

If slot players really want to know how to win at slots, then I advise:

  1. Don't play at Indian casinos; you will not find any good paybacks.
  2. Have a sufficient bankroll for the play level you are at.
  3. Sign up for the players' club.
  4. Las Vegas off-Strip casinos have better paybacks for low rollers, though for high limits the Strip has more to offer.
  5. Consider playing video poker instead of playing slots.

Humans are uncomfortable with random events. We want a reason for why things happen, a cause for each effect. When a hot machine turns cold, it's not because the results from the RNG just happened to be unfavorable to the player at the time, it's because the casino or the slot machine itself has put the machine into a "take cycle."

Over the nearly two decades that I've been answering questions about slots and video poker, I've heard all sorts of conspiracy theories about how slot machines are rigged or manipulated. In a few replies I've asked the question you posed: "If you really believe slots are rigged or that the casinos manipulate the slots to take your money and the results are not truly random, then why play the slots? No one is forcing you to play the machines."

I think you put your finger on the reason why paybacks in Native American casinos tend to be low — competition. When I visited the Native American casinos in San Diego for an article for Strictly Slots, it was at least an hour's drive between the casinos. Sometimes there was a 20-minute drive after entering the reservation to finally arriving at the casino!

Contrast that situation with being able to walk from one casino to another on the Las Vegas Strip or drive a few miles from one casino to another off the Strip. Competitive pressures are much lower at Native American casinos when the nearest competitor is scores of miles away.

A few comments about your advice:

Bankroll

You have to have enough money to see you through a cold streak if you should happen to hit one. You can't bet $5 per spin with a $100 bankroll and expect to play for a long time. I sometimes use free play on a $5 Double Diamond machine and it's not unusual for me to go 20 spins without hitting something. I've even had bad luck with video poker — $100 in free play on a dollar 9/6 Jacks machine was gone in about 25 hands. I much prefer the times when I've turned $100 into $300 or $400!

Players' club

You must join the players' club and use your card when you play if you want the casino to reward your play. The casino won't know who you are, or how good a player you are, if you don't use your card. Sometimes a minimal amount of play is enough to get discounted room offers. For some video poker players, the value of the benefits they receive from the players club pushes their results from a loss to a profit.

High rollers are better off on the Strip

Interesting point. I remember when Bellagio opened — I was there. It was rare to find $5 machines outside the high limit room at other casinos at the time, but at Bellagio they were on the main slot floor. Five-dollar play didn't automatically mean high-limit.

A level of play that puts you in the upper tiers at an off-Strip casino may just get you into a lower elite tier at a Strip casino. It may be harder to get high roller status on the Strip, but if you're looking for perquisites like spa visits, rounds of golf and suites with a private butler, you have to play on the Strip.

Play video poker

Two reasons to play more video poker off the top of my head: One, you can tell the long-term payback of a video poker machine by looking at its paytable. (Note that this doesn't apply to Class II video poker machines found at some Native American casinos.) You can't tell anything from the paytable on a slot machine. And two, even the worst-paying video poker paytables have higher long-term payback percentages than a slot machine of the same denomination.

It doesn't take much effort to learn a basic strategy that can be used on many machines. You don't have to learn the specific strategy for a given game. It's the old 80/20 rule. You can get 80 percent of the benefit with 20 percent of the effort, but getting the other 20 percent of the benefit requires four times as much effort.


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