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Best of John Robison

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Ask the Slot Expert: Why do my friends get better offers for the same slot points?

11 May 2016

Question: Does it make a difference in accumulating points or being rated in playing slot machines if one stays with one machine or flitter-flutters to various machines? I get bored easily and move from machine to machine.

My friends are usually consistent in staying with a machine and they get better comp offers then I do although we accumulate the same number of points.

Answer: Taking a trip to the past in the Wayback machine, there was a time when you were penalized for switching machines. In the early days of slot clubs, about 20 years ago, some systems required you to play a certain number of credits before it would award you a point. Tough luck if you left a machine before completing the point. You lost credit for all the coins played if you were even just one coin short of the point.

I remember a big innovation at the time — Follow Me Points. You got credit for every penny played regardless of when you switched machines — as it should be, right?

We have to remember that two decades ago slot clubs were an add-on to existing slot machines. Manufactures had to come up with some way to track slot play without requiring major changes to the slot machine. One system I saw used the electric signal sent to the Coin-In meter to have it increment to also send a signal to the slot club hardware to have it acknowledge the coin played.

The software running today's slot machines was designed with slot clubs in mind. There's even a protocol of messages that can be sent between the slot machine's software and the slot club software. As a result, I don't know of any modern slot club that doesn't give credit for all of your action. It doesn't matter if you nest on a machine or flit from machine to machine.

The machines you play may affect your comps. In slot clubs that run a separate comp-dollar account, you may earn more comp dollars for playing machines with higher house edges. One way slot clubs reward players who play higher house edge games is by requiring fewer dollars to earn a point on them. Video poker, for example, sometimes requires two, three or even five times as much action as slots to earn a point.

Within slots, penny machines usually have higher house edges than quarter or dollar machines. The slot club may award more comp dollars for a dollar played on a penny machine than for a dollar played on a dollar machine. Playing more video poker or more higher denomination machines than your friends may explain why your comp offers aren't as generous as theirs.

Another possibility is that some algorithm deep in the marketing department's software may be determining the offers that players receive, attempting to give offers appropriate for each player and just generous enough to get the player to come back.

This algorithm was the big innovation in Harrah's Total Rewards program years ago. Players who gave the same amount of action could get very different offers. If players always ate at the buffet or casual restaurants, the system wouldn't send them a gourmet restaurant offer. Players who almost always eat gourmet wouldn't get buffet or coffee shop offers.

The system might also determine that $15 in free play was enough to get one player to return, but $20 was the minimum that another player needed. The second player would get the better free play offer even if he played the same amount of action as the first player.

To sum up, it doesn't matter to today's slot clubs if you switch machines or stay with one. The difference in comps may be because the mix of machines your friends play give the casino a higher house edge or some function in the marketing department's software may have determined that your friends need a more generous offer to get them to come back.


Question: What is the average life expectancy of a slot machine?

Answer: That's a very difficult question to answer today. Slot machines are not like water heaters or car batteries. You know you're on borrowed time after a certain number of years with them.

There are two different facets of a slot machine and each facet has its own lifetime.

The first facet, which has the longer lifetime, is the physical equipment. Buttons, screens, motors, card readers, bill acceptors, speakers and ticket printers may all break, but they can replaced. With proper maintenance, the physical facet of a slot machine can last forever — although at some point, I suppose, none of the parts will be original.

The other facet of a modern slot machine is the software. In addition to the software running the slot machine, I'm including the the game theme in this facet.

The game theme can cause a machine to have a short life. I've seen casinos remove machines after a few weeks if they don't catch on with their players. On the other hand, the game theme can contribute to longevity, e.g. Wheel of Fortune.

Just because a game theme did not catch on, that does not mean that a machine has to be replaced. I recently watched as a team from Aristocrat changed cabinet inlays and chips to transform a circular bank of Sky Rider machines to Buffalo machines.

The software running a slot machine has a more predictable effect on lifespan. Just like Windows, Android and iOS, the software running a slot machine is sometimes updated to close vulnerabilities and add new features. At some point, the manufacturer may stop supporting an old version of the slot software or the machine may require new hardware and software in order to support new features, like uncashable free play. In this case, the casino may just acquire shiny, new machines instead of retrofitting their old ones.

Although there are exceptions, after about five or so years something has happened that will cause a casino to replace a machine. It might be a software or hardware upgrade that the old machine does not support or it might be that the machine just looks old.


Question: Whatever happened to the Battleship slot machines?

Answer: See my comments about game theme in the prior answer. I used to spend hours playing WMS' Classic Star Trek games. Apparently I was the only one playing them, because they're impossible to find now.


Question: Are there any slot machines that pay real coins instead of paper slips?

Answer: Ticketing is the most quickly adopted slot innovation in history — faster than credit play, faster than bill acceptors. Coins and tokens added no value to the slot-playing experience for most players, but they did add a significant expense to the casino. Without TITO (ticket in-ticket out), furthermore, we wouldn't have penny slot machines.

Sam's Town in Las Vegas has a few video poker machines that still use coins. There are also some casinos downtown that have coin machines.

If you really miss getting your hands covered with coin grime and carrying around a supply of wet-naps, google "slots real coins" and your state to see if any casinos still have coin machines in your area.


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