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Ask the Slot Expert: What can I do to not lose at the slots?

23 September 2020

Question: I have been playing for a while. The machine steals my money.

What can I do to not lose at the slots?

Answer: There's only one system that is guaranteed -- that works 100% of the time -- to keep you from losing at the slots: Don't play them.

All slot machines (as opposed to video poker machines) are negative expectation. Their long-term paybacks are less than 100%. That means that in the long run, you will lose money playing the slots.

But all hope is not lost. The long run is really long -- tens or hundreds of millions of spins. Individual players don't play that many spins. Only the casino plays in the long run. You might actually have a profit from playing the slots, but the more you play, the less likely that becomes.

Also, you might have had a few losing sessions, but there's always the possibility that you'll have a winning session. No one would play the slots if they lost money every time they played.

Speaking of losing money, I've had a terrible run with NSU. You get four deuces about every 5000 hands, on the average. I've gone almost 20,000 hands now without hitting deuces.

I mentioned this to a non-mathematical friend and she said that maybe another player was at the machine at the 5000th hand.

I said that it doesn't work that way. The machine doesn't give deuces every 5000 hands. (There was a machine at the turn of the century (18th) that paid every 11th play. It didn't take long for players to figure that out.)

This is the way it works. Say you played millions of hands. If you divided the number of hands played over the number of deuces you hit, the result would be about 5000. Or put another way, say you played millions of hands and you counted the number of hands played in between hitting deuces. If you calculated the average of those numbers, the result would be about 5000 hands. The key phrase here is "on the average."

The effect that this long drought has on one's personal average of hands between deuces depends on the total number of hands that person has played. I was at about 1,026,303 hands played when my drought started. With 189 sets of deuces hit at that time, my average hands per set of deuces was 5430.

About 20,000 hands later without hitting deuces, my average has increased to only 5534.

Imagine if I were a video poker machine with hundreds of millions of hands played on me. That drought of 20,000 hands between deuces would have a miniscule effect on my average of hands between deuces.

The converse is also true. A period of generosity has little effect on overall results -- as I discovered this morning.

I wrote the first part of this article last night. This morning I played some more NSU.

My past few NSU sessions were just horrible. Dirty royals, five-of-a-kinds, and even straight flushes were rare. Three sessions in a row I ran out of money before I had hit the number of hands I wanted to play.

This morning's session started off very nicely. I hit enough premium hands to get me halfway to my hand goal without having to feed the machine again after my initial buy-in.

But then the tides turned and NSU's volatility expressed itself in the negative direction. It's very frustrating to get only 20-25 hands from $100 playing dollar NSU.

I had almost reached my loss limit for the session when I held two deuces on the draw and got the other two on the deal, finally ending my drought.

Now I had enough credits to make my hand goal without having to feed the machine again -- unless the machine got extraordinarily stingy -- and my new goal was to have a profit of around $500. I usually play slots only after I've had a profit on video poker. I wanted to play the new Game of Thrones machine (Winter Is Here) and Quick Hit Reel Boost again. I wanted to have a big enough profit to fund 100 spins on each machine ($3 per on GOT and $2 per on QH).

It was not looking good for a while, but then it was deja vu all over again. I held two deuces on the draw and got the other two deuces on the deal. I had plenty of profit now to fund my slot expedition.

As I said before, this period of generosity didn't have much of an effect on my average. My hands per deuces ratio was 5534 last night. I played 2000 hands today, hit two sets of deuces and my ratio dropped to 5487. I cashed out and went to Westeros.

Winter was definitely not here on GOT: Winter Is Here. That machine was hot -- warm, at least. I never hit the Free Games or Beyond the Wall bonuses, but I did get the Night King bonus many times and a couple of the other left-reel-triggered bonuses. I played 200 spins and left with a $200 profit.

I thought that profit was enough to fund my QH session, but I misremembered the max bet on that machine. It's $3 not $2. Close enough.

After 100 spins without getting the bonus, I had a change in plan. I'll keep playing with my GOT winnings to try to get the bonus.

The first time I played this machine, it took me a long time to finally hit the bonus. Not so for a person playing near me. He got the bonus a few spins after he started playing. By the time I finally got my first bonus, he had already hit it twice. He left after hitting four bonus rounds. I had hit only two when I decided to move on.

Well, after 310 spins I still hadn't gotten the bonus. I cashed out with a few dollars less than what I cashed out from the video poker machine.

I finally had a good day after two weeks of horrible results.


You have one more week to figure out why the card trick Penn ∓ Teller did at the end of their first Try This at Home works. See last week's column for a description of the trick or, better yet, click on the link to watch it on YouTube.


Here are the latest figures from https://www.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#cases.

Totals Weekly Increases
US NV US NV
Date Cases  Deaths Cases Deaths Cases Deaths Cases Deaths
 09/22   6,825,697   199,462   76,239   1,573   288,070   5,370   2,196   82 
 09/15   6,537,627   194,092   72,043   1,491   250,265   5,404   1,825   65 
 09/08   6,287,362   188,688   72,218   1,426   282,919   5,638   2,734   92 
 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 

Note that as of 9/22 5PM PT, the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center has the U.S. at 200,654 deaths and 6,890,014 cases. At the present rate, we'll break 7,000,000 cases before the end of the week. Cases are rising in many states. It's not over.

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