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Ask the Slot Expert: Free play or point multiplier?

2 September 2020

Question: I'm not going to the casino as often as I used to. Should I go when I have free play or when there's a point multiplier?

Answer: How about going when you have free play AND a point multiplier?

Last week I wrote that casino marketing at the two casinos I've been playing at since reopening seemed to be internally coordinating their promotions more than before. It wasn't unusual to be able to get some combination of free play, a gift, a free pull, a point multiplier or a kiosk game on one visit. Looking at my August calendar for one club, the philosophy seemed to be, We're giving you a kiosk game today, why should we give you free play too? Or when they doubled up on free play and a kiosk game or gift, they cut back on points. (Can you really call it a bonus point multiplier if the multiplier just brings your point-earning ability back to what it was B.C. [Before Coronavirus]?)

I thought I had the new rules figured out. Casinos were saying that they'd give us a reason to visit on a particular day, but not two or three reasons.

I thought I had it figured out -- and then September's mailers arrived. You want a gift? C'mon in. We'll give you free play, to boot. And we'll let you play NSU at breakeven too.

Jean Scott told me many times not to try to figure out casino marketing.

Speaking of free play, I wrote last week that one club cut my free play in half for August compared with July. I expected a decrease because I've been playing much less now than B.C. Play less, get less. I call that "out of sight, out of mind" marketing.

A video poker acquaintance told me that he has also been playing less, but his free play went up. Play less, get more. I call that "absence makes the heart grow fonder" marketing.

Who knows why my free play went down and his went up?

A few times in the past, a casino I hadn't been to for a while would send a sweet deal to get me to come back. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

I realized a few weeks ago that I was not going to re-qualify for my current tier level in one club if I didn't step up my play. So I've been playing more at the casino that upped my free play, but I think the increase happened too late to be the cause of my better offers for September.

I think I've been watching too many press conferences. Talking for a long time without answering the question....

Free play or point multiplier? I lean towards the free play.

Free play is guaranteed money in your pocket -- well, money in your machine. How much action would you have to give to earn the points for the same amount of free play? And what is the Expected Loss on that action? Free play has no risk.

To quote Homer Simpson from the Simpsons slot machine, "Woohoo! Free Spins! I can't lose!"

Unless you can play with an edge and you play enough to earn points worth more than the free play offer, I think the free play is better. (Okay, it's really the value of the points plus your Expected Win that has to exceed the value of the free play.)

Some casinos let you redeem points for cash. In that case, $20 in points is worth more than $20 in free play. At some casinos, in addition, your points go further when they are redeemed for food rather than for cash or free play. You can take that into account too.

What do you think? Let's say you can pick only one of two promotions. Do you pick the free play? Or do you pick the point multiplier?


I admit that I'm a sucker for Quick Hit machines. It's exciting to see and hear the Quick Hit symbols appear on the screen. And it's frustrating to have a Quick Hit symbol land in the middle of what would have been a high-paying combination.

It's especially frustrating when three Quick Hits land on the center reel. I appreciate the push (or sometimes bigger win), but they make it impossible to have a paying line combination.

I tried a new Quick Hit machine a few days ago. I got five Quick Hits on my first spin to win that progressive, which was worth almost $30 at the time. I got five Quick Hits again after a few more spins and then results turned choppy. I figured I would stick it out until I won the free games bonus.

I was playing at a grouping of four machines, one at each compass point for distancing. Someone sat down at the machine 90 degrees from me. Shortly after he sat down, he hit the bonus.

I had been playing for longer than he had and I hadn't hit the bonus yet. But that's the way it goes. It's all random.

Then he got the bonus again. It's all random. It doesn't make sense to get upset. But wasn't it my turn?

Well, I did finally get my free games bonus round and did rather well in it, too.

I guess the other machine took that as a challenge because my neighbor got the bonus again. And yet again.

He had hit the bonus four times when he cashed out.

I couldn't see his credit meter and I don't know how much money he put into the machine. He might have been a net loser. I don't know. I just knew that the current score was four to one.

My machine had taken back my big bonus win from before and I thought it was about time to move on. This was at a Boyd casino where you earn one tier credit for every $5 played on a slot machine. And, unless things have changed, you don't get credit for a partially earned tier credit. Pull your card when your session score is not a multiple of five and you lose the partial tier credit.

I was betting $3 per spin, so I had to wait for my session score to be divisible by 15. When I met that requirement, I still had more than $15 left on my credit meter, so I had enough to play another five spins. I could take what was left of my money and run, or I could play a little more.

I decided to play a little more. I hit the free games bonus again. My performance the second time wasn't as good as my performance the first time, but still I did manage to recoup half of my losses.

Did you ever decide to play just a few more spins or a few more hands and then hit something big?

Let me know and I'll post your stories in a future column.


A few weeks ago I posted the instructions for a try it at home trick that was on a Penn & Teller show. I asked if you could figure out why it worked. No one sent in an explanation that completely why it worked.

Here are the instructions for the trick and my explanation for why it works.

  1. Get a deck of cards.
  2. Take out the four aces and 16 other cards.
  3. Turn the aces face up and the other cards face down.
    We'll have to keep track of which cards are face up and which are face down in later steps.
  4. Distribute the aces randomly among the other cards.
  5. Do an overhand shuffle (you know how to do it even if you don't know what it's called).
    Misdirection to make us think the cards are hopelessly mixed, but we don't care about the order. The aces are still face up.
  6. Count 10 cards into a pile.
  7. Put the remaining cards in another pile. You have two piles of 10 cards now.
    Aces are still face up.
  8. Turn one pile over.
    Aces are now face up in one pile and face down in the other. Let's call the two piles A and B. Now we care about the order of the cards.
  9. Perfectly interlace the cards (take a card from one pile, then a card from the other pile, and so on) back into one pile. The order of the cards in terms of the pile they came from is A-B-A-B....
  10. Cut the cards. Misdirection. The order of the cards still alternates between the two piles, A-B-A-B... or B-A-B-A....
  11. Deal the cards into four hands of five cards each. The two piles are still perfectly interlaced in the hands.
  12. Combine hands 1 and 3 by putting one hand on top of the other.
    Because the piles were interlaced before this step, all of the cards in these two hands came from the same pile.
  13. Do the same for hands 2 and 4. You have two stacks now.
    All of the cards in these two hands also came from the same pile. You have de-interlaced the cards.
  14. Turn one of the stacks over.
    All of the cards in one stack came from pile A and all of the cards in the other stack came from pile B. Turning one stack over makes it so either all of the aces are face up or all of the other cards are face up in the two stacks.
  15. Shuffle the two stacks together.
    Misdirection. We don't care about the order of the cards again.
  16. Spread out the cards.
  17. The aces will be face up and the other cards face down, or vice versa.

Here are the latest figures from https://www.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#cases. The Covid-19 cases and death counts may not be the lead story on the news, but the pandemic is not over.

Totals Weekly Increases
US NV US NV
Date Cases  Deaths Cases Deaths Cases Deaths Cases Deaths
 09/01   6,004,443   183,050   69,484   1,334   251,790   5,291   3,237   104 
 08/25   5,752,653   177,759   66,247   1,230   330,411   7,889   4,076   125 
 08/18   5,422,242   169,870   62,171   1,105   358,071   7,463   4,973   114 
 08/11   5,064,171   162,407   57,198   991   365,353   7,203   5,776   117 
 08/04   4,698,818   155,204   51,422   874   418,683   7,532   7,367   109 
 07/28   4,280,135   147,672   44,055   764   460,996   7,042   7,130   91 
 07/21   3,819,139  140,630  36,195  674  463,682  5,395  8,181  57 
 07/14   3,355,457   135,235   28,744   617   422,861   5,102   5,607   57 
 07/07   2,932,596   130,133   23,137   560   351,367   3,394   5,006   24 
 06/30   2,581,229   126,739   18,131   536   278,941   6,406   4,367   26 
 06/23   2,302,288   120,333   13,764   510 

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