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Best of John Robison

Gaming Guru

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Comparing casinos

27 January 2007

Hi, John:

I love your column, John. It's informative and entertaining!

I read with interest your recent column, which included a letter from a clearly frustrated "Steve" and your response. It's unfortunate, but some people just can't understand the math that rules the machines. It seems that it's easier for them to believe that somehow they're being cheated. Of course they're not. Slot machines (and all casino games) are negative expectation games. If you play long enough, you will lose money. They should only be played for entertainment.

I live in a jurisdiction where the payback percentages for slots are not published (Ontario, Canada). However, one can calculate the exact return they have experienced. Doing this has helped me keep a little perspective while playing and choosing where to play. It also would illustrate to Steve, if he tracked his results, that his experiences are probably within reason.

At my casino of choice, players earn 1 players club point for every $20 of coin-through. If I earn 100 points, that means I've put $2,000 through the machines. If I've lost $200 earning those 100 points, I only have to divide the 200 by the 2,000 to come up with .1 (or 10%). That 10% is the "hold" for the casino — meaning I've experienced a 90% payback rate. I also track the amount of time I spend losing that $200. If it took me 5 hours to lose my bankroll, that's $40/hour. If it took me 8, it's $25/hour. After 10 or 15 visits, you can really start to get a handle on how the different casinos compare to each other. It also allows me to easily calculate some other statistics — like average loss per trip either by venue or overall, etc. I also keep track of cashback and comps that I take advantage of, as a percentage of coin through, then figure that into my overall 'casino return.' Typically, the higher the comps/cashback as a percentage of coin through, the lower the slot return. It took me all of about 5 minutes to set up in a spreadsheet, and takes just seconds to update after each visit to a casino.

It's all about being an informed player and getting value for your entertainment dollar. Keeping track of your experiences allows you to make informed decisions about where to play and how your experience at 'casino A' stacks up against 'casino B.' If I'm going to 'casino B' and I've had lousy results on the slots there, I'll spend more time playing table games and less at their slots.

Cheers,
KK

Dear KK,

Thanks for the kind words about my column and thank you especially for sharing your method of tracking results and comparing casinos.

I prefer players clubs that have simple formulas for awarding points. As you point out, that makes it easy to determine your coin-through.

You make so many good points in your letter, I'm going to repeat and reinforce them here.

  • If you lose all of your $20 buy-in in a slot machine, that doesn't mean the casino hold is 100%. You have to take into account the money you won while playing the machine and the total amount of action you gave.
  • Playing slots has changed over the years. Fifty years ago — when the machine were pretty boring to play — players were buying a chance at a jackpot. Today, slots are infinitely more entertaining and most players say they are mainly buying entertainment and the chance at a jackpot is secondary.
  • It's possible for a strong players club program to make up for lower slot paybacks. I've never seen club benefits completely offset lower paybacks. but they can make up some of the deficit. Also, you're guaranteed to get benefits based on action. They're like a savings account, consistently earning interest each month. Long-term payback is much more volatile, like a stock. You may never see the benefits of the higher long-term payback.

Years ago here in the New York area, there was a discount clothing store that advertised on TV quite frequently. Their selling point was that they continually reduced the prices of their goods the longer they remained on the rack. You could track the pricing history of an item and know how long it was on the rack because all of the prior prices were on the tag.

This was a long way to go to get to my point. Their slogan was something like "an informed consumer is our best customer."

The same holds true for casino players. The more you know about how your favorite casino operates and how it compares with competing casinos, the more bang for your gambling buck you can get out of your gambling budget.

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