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Best of John Robison

Gaming Guru

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Can one really win at the slots?

18 October 2009

Hi,

I am a fan of blackjack and have just read an interesting text on how slot machines are pre-programmed, and why one cannot make a profit out of playing them.

If this is so, does that mean that all books, tapes, DVDs or whatever claiming to be able to win at slots are false? Can one in the long run win at slots or not?

Thanks,
Brian

Dear Brian,

To win at a gambling game in the long run, one needs to have the edge. Another way to say that is to say that we have a positive expectation. Can one have a positive expectation while playing a slot machine?

First, we have to define what one means by "slot machine." Some books may group video poker machines along with reel-based machines, but we'll treat them separately.

Some video poker machines can be beaten in the long run. There are a few paytables that pay back more than 100% when played with an appropriate strategy. In addition, many video poker machines pay back so close to 100% that they're positive expectation games when cash back is taken into account. Finally, progressives can sometimes have a positive expectation when the progressive jackpot amounts get high enough.

Now let's turn to reel-based machines, whether traditional reel-spinning machines or video machines. A few years ago, some machines had banked bonus rounds in which the value of the bonus increased like a progressive until someone hit the bonus. These games gave rise to bonus vultures, who would search for machines on which the bonus value was high and hover over players playing machines with high bonus amounts. Sometimes the vultures were so obnoxious and intrusive, they made the players so uncomfortable they stopped playing and complained to the casino. As a result, slot manufacturers stopped making machines with banked bonus rounds.

I doubt you'll find any positive expectation reel-based machines. Most states prohibit positive expectation games, even when skill is needed to achieve the positive expectation, as in video poker.

Now, if the product claims you can win in the long run without also saying that you have to have a situation in which you have the edge, then it is promising something it cannot deliver.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert, at slotexpert@comcast.net. Because of the volume of mail I receive, I regret that I can't reply to every question.

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