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Best of John Robison

Gaming Guru

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Ask the Slot Expert: Lower slot threshold makes tax situation more unfair

8 April 2015

You keep missing the point about lowering the IRS wins to $600!

Anyone (mostly seniors) that CAN'T itemize is penalized more because they cannot declare the amount lost against wins!!

Yes, it was this way before, but now it will hurt us more on lower wins. Totally unfair!

This is on top of all the other reasons not to do it.

I've written about the unfair treatment of slot wins many time in the past, but you're right that I didn't point out that the problem will only get worse if the W-2G threshold is lowered. Eliminating the asymmetry between the threshold for sweepstakes and lotteries and the threshold for slots notwithstanding, I suspect the real purpose of this proposal is to collect more tax revenue without actually raising taxes.

As bad as lowering the threshold would be, a letter to the editor in the 4/6/15 Newark Star-Ledger promotes an even worse idea. The writer acknowledges that casinos would have to stop games at a lower level in order to gather identifying information from the gamblers. He suggests that New Jersey enact a law to require all casinos to gather identity information "before taking any bets or allowing any person to begin playing any game." He adds that the casino should also "keep accurate records of all bets placed and results" and thus "gambling at any lawful amount could take place uninterrupted." He concludes that the Legislature should mandate "a state gambling Customer Identification Program and real-time audits to ensure that our gambling industry is more competitive and secure."

I can see having to prove one's identity before boarding an airplane, but not before dropping a dollar in a slot machine - although the proposed Customer Identification Program isn't so much proving one's identity as just disclosing it.

We don't have to worry about any state enacting a gambling Customer Identification Program. It's totally impractical. The first problem is having to register before playing at any casino, unless there is some sort of state-wide program. The next problem is identifying the player while playing. Will slot machines have to be reprogrammed to not operate unless players insert their Customer ID cards? And then how do you ensure that the ID card inserted actually belongs to the player playing? If a card isn't used, then how do you identify the player? Fingerprints? Facial recognition? It's a piece of cake to track bets and wins at a slot machine, but how will that data be gathered at a table game? Will casinos have to have RFID tags on every chip and sensors in every table so they can track the movement of chips?

The biggest problem, however, is the total loss of anonymity. I think it was in either the movie or the book Casino or maybe the original Ocean's 11 that the reason some casinos do not allow pictures to be taken was given. One reason is that some people, like a bank officer, don't want to be seen in a casino. Another reason is that other people don't want to be seen with someone other than their spouses.

There is one positive aspect about the writer's proposal. If the casino did accurately track our gambling results, there's no excuse for players not to be able to report a true net win number, instead of having to report wins on one line and losses on another.


I'm a big fan of your online newsletter.

I have a question I hope you can answer: Mathematically, what is the better choice - single line, triple play, 5 play, 10 play, 50 play or 100 play video poker, assuming the paytable is the same on all games?

For example, is it better to wager 5 quarters on a quarter single-line game or 5 nickels/line on 5 play?

Thanks for the kind words about my columns.

Because the paytables are the same on all the games, the long-term paybacks are also the same. There's no winner based on payback.

The paybacks may be the same on all the games, but the playing characteristics are not. Assuming the same total bet in all cases, the single line game will be the most volatile (that is, have the widest bankroll swings), and the volatility will go down as you spread your bet out over more and more lines.

Whether 5 quarters on a single-line game is better than 5 nickels/line on 5 play is up to you. If you don't mind possibly having to feed your machine more often during cold spells and you like getting $1000 for a royal flush, play the single-line machine. If, on the other hand, you'd rather get more play from your bankroll and you're prepared to settle for only $200 if you hit that rare royal flush on a hand, play the multi-line machine.

There's no mathematically better option, so you can pick the one that suits you better.

Now, go hit a royal!


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