Newsletter Signup
Stay informed with the
NEW Casino City Times newsletter!
Recent Articles
Best of John Robison

Gaming Guru

author's picture

Paybacks in California

10 June 2004

By John Robison


I am looking for the machine that allows you to pick diamonds as they are falling out of the sky. It say on the touch screen, "It's raining diamonds."

It has a lady and an umbrella on the touch screen. They use to have it at Caesars in Las Vegas. Can you tell me the name of the machine or who makes it? I am trying to see if they still have them in Vegas.


Dear Maria,

This sounds like a machine that used to be at the Rio. I have to admit that I only read about it and never saw it in person, so you may be talking about a different machine--especially since you saw your machine at Caesars.

If anyone knows which machine Maria is asking about, please let me know and I'll publish the answer.



In a recent column, Dewey asked: "Is it better to get a handful of coins and random play machines or just sit and wait for one to hit? I usually have more luck if I just put a couple of quarters or dollars in a machine and move on if it does not hit."

Here's how I have come to look at this situation. When you walk into a casino and there are hundreds of slots, you could assume that some of the slots have a better payout than others. You just don't know which of course. By playing a little at a machine and then switching when you encounter a number of spins without a reward, you increase the odds that you will play some of the time at the better machines. Yes, I know that you could be at the best machine in the house and get nothing and then move to the worst machine, but I'm only talking about averages.

So my theory is that playing 20 or 30 coins at each of several machines is better than playing them all at one machine because, on average, you will increase the time that you're at the better machines.


Dear Bill,

My comment is that it really doesn't matter what you do, so you should do whatever you want. Here are my reasons:

  1. Most slot directors today order roughly the same payback percentage for all of their machines in a particular denomination. So, if a slot director wants to have a 92% floor for quarters, most of his machines will pay back 92.x%. There will be some machines that pay back 91.x% and some that pay back 93.x%, because those are the paybacks closest to 92% that are available for those machines. There probably won't be any 98% or 99% payback machines on the floor, unless they're in a special area. In short, the difference between the paybacks on the best machines and the worst machines is pretty small.
  2. The volatility of the machines is so high that randomness will have a far, far greater effect on your results than differences in paybacks for the small number of spins we're talking about.

This is one of those rare situations in life in which everyone can be right. You can play a large selection of machines under the theory that you'll have a better chance of spending at least some time playing the better-paying machines on the floor, if they exist. Others can justify playing just a few machines by saying that they're not playing enough spins for differences in paybacks to have an effect on their results. And both are right.

The first goal in playing slots is to maximize your expected return. We don't have enough information to tell which of our two choices will have the highest expected return, so now we move on to the second goal, which is to have fun. Play whichever method you enjoy more.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

John Robison,

I've been enjoy reading your column for some time. You give quite good advice. Your column is very good.

I gamble in Las Vegas and in the Indian Casinos in So. California. I've noticed that I get better paybacks in Vegas than in the Indian casinos. Are the rules and odds the same for both Vegas and the Indian Casinos? Thanks for reading my email.


P.S. I love playing in Downtown Vegas. I highly recommend Las Vegas Club Casino.

Dear Vince,

Thanks for the kind words about my column. I know a number of other prople who have good things to say about the Las Vegas Club Casino, though their enthusiasm has waned with changes at the place in the past few years.

There's no reason why the casinos in Southern California can't offer paybacks as high as those in Las Vegas. The Barona casino in San Diego, in fact, has quite a few high-paying video poker machines--at least it did when I was there a few years ago.

The reason why the paybacks may be lower in California than in Las Vegas has to do with competition. Just about everywhere in Las Vegas, there's another casino at most a few miles away and in many places there are a half dozen or so casinos in walking distance of each other.

California's casinos, on the other hand, have captive audiences. The nearest casino is usually many miles away. These casinos don't have the same competitive pressures as a casino whose nearest competitor is next door.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

Can slot machine paybacks be adjusted electronically via a wired/wireless connection or only by changing out the physical firmware (programmed chip) inside?


Dear Dave,

The paybacks on slot machines today can be changed only by changing one or more chips in the machine. In the future, if the security issues can be dealt with, regulators may allow a central server to alter machines on the fly, but not today.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,


Love your articles!

My question is this: Which slot machines at the Riviera Casino in Las Vegas are the best payouts? I have seen people hit quite a big "fortune" on the dollar slots. Would I be better off doing this?


Dear Joan,

I'm glad you like my articles.

I haven't been to the Riviera in years, but if they still have an area called "The Loosest Slot Corner" or something like that, that's where I would play. The used to have a small section of the casino in which they said they had machines that had the highest-paying programs available for the games. If that area is gone, look for an area in which they advertise a high payback.

Your bankroll will determine whether you can play the dollar slots. Assuming you want to play for about four hours a day, I'd like to see you have a bankroll of $500-$1000 per day, depending on the number of coins per spin you want to play.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert, at Because of the volume of mail I receive, I regret that I can't send a reply to every question. Also be advised that it may take two or more months for your question to appear in my column.

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