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Ask the Slot Expert: Posting slot machine paybacks12 March 2014
Casinos have disclosed the long-term paybacks on some of their machines in the past. Some casinos have put signs saying "98 percent or better" or something similar over banks of machines. One casino in Tunica used to have a whole room where every machine paid back at least 98 percent. Circus Circus in Las Vegas used to have a rotating platform reminiscent of a merry-go-round that had high-paying machines on it. And I think it was the Riviera that at one time posted the long-term paybacks of some machines right on the machines along with a letter from their accountant attesting to the accuracy of the number.
Players always had to take these disclosures literally. If the sign above a bank of machines said "Up to 99 percent," then maybe only one machine in the bank paid back 99 percent and we don't know anything about the rest. Moreover, we don't even know which machine or machines in the bank were the high-payers.
If you want the casino to be required to post paybacks, write your state representatives and request that your state's slot-enabling statute be amended to require casinos to post the paybacks.
I don't know how much knowing machines' long-term paybacks will affect players' behavior.
You'd think that players would dive on the machines marked as high-paying machines and avoid the ones about which they had no information, but I've seen plenty of times that marked machines are sitting idle while players played the unmarked machines.
Slots are the only game in the casino for which we do not know the house edge. The house edges at craps and roulette are well known. So is the edge at blackjack, depending on the rules and your strategy. Slots, on the other hand, are a mystery. We have no way to know the house edge on them -- or even if two identical games have the same house edge.
There is one type of electronic gaming device, though, for which we can know the house edge. Video poker. And that's a perfect segue to the next question.
As a general rule, the more hype in a video poker game's name, the more volatile the game will be. Jacks or Better, for example, is a tame game. With the exception of when you hit those rare royals, your bankroll doesn't have to endure wild swings. Your bankroll will go on a wild ride playing Double Double Bonus, however. Getting only a push on two pair tends to make your bankroll disappear more quickly than on Jacks of Better, and those bonuses on the various quads gives you frequent opportunities to have your bankroll bounce back. If you're like me and like a smooth ride, avoid games with lots of adjectives in their names.
To find out which paytables have the highest long-term paybacks, note how much each hand pays and then look up the long-term paybacks online or in a video poker book. Be careful because each game (e.g., Deuces Wild, Jacks or Better) has multiple paytables.
Finding a high-paying paytable is only part of the solution. You also have to play with a mathematically derived strategy and not with your hunches. You can find strategies for common paytables online and in books.
I think that the best machines to play are the ones that give you a high long-term payback with the level of volatility you like -- and for which you've learned a strategy.
Those extra bets are just a way to get more volatility in the game. Your bankroll will go down more quickly during a cold spell if you make the extra bet, and it will really jump up if you happen to hit good hand with a high multiplier. If you don't mind feeding a machine during a cold spell and you like getting those bonus payouts, play those machines and make the extra bet.
Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert™, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Because of the volume of mail I receive, I regret that I can't reply to every question.
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