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Playing Video Slots, Caveman Keno, Loose Slots in New Casinos

12 February 2004

By John Robison


I go to Atlantic City occasionally to play the slots. I usually play the quarter slots and I'm thrilled if I win even $100. Lately I have been watching people play the nickel slots (Dick Clark's New Year's Eve and all TV show themes) and they look like a lot of fun. My question is: How do you play, there are so many buttons?

Video slots are a lot like craps--the game looks complicated, but you ignore most of it.

Even though there are 10 or more buttons on most of these machines, you have only two decisions to make.

First, you have to decide how many lines you want to play. You tell the machine the number of lines using the top row of buttons. And second, you have to decide how many coins you want to bet per line. You tell the machine the number of coins using the bottom row of buttons.

Pressing one of the "coins per line" buttons will start a game, so be careful when you make your choice. The machine will remember how many lines you played, so you can just press one of the "coins" buttons to play again. Many machines, in addition, have a Repeat Bet button that will start another game using the same number of lines and coins per line as your last spin.

Because you're a quarter slot player, I recommend you start off with betting one coin per line on all lines. That will get you the maximum hit frequency possible from the machine and keep your bet similar to what you've been betting on the quarter slots.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

Aren't the slots a lot looser when the casinos first open? Seems we hit more jackpots at first in Sarnia Ontario. Now you're lucky to win $20.00.

There is some truth to this old wive's tale. Many casinos in Las Vegas have opened with high-paying video poker machines, only to have the video poker inventory downgraded later on.

Nonetheless, it is not true as a general rule. It's expensive and time-consuming to change payback chips on machines. And, in some jurisdictions, the change has to be witnessed by--if not even made by--a representative from the gaming commission.

Also, it goes against the laws of supply and demand to be loose at opening and tight later. New casinos are crowded. It makes more economic sense that the price to play should he higher, not lower.

I suppose the theory is that the casinos hook the players with loose games when they first open, then tighten the games once the players are hooked. If the casinos really did that, what's to prevent a players from going to another casino once they found out the machines were tightened?

Another problem with the theory is that the chances of hitting the jackpot on most machines are the same on all payback programs available for the particular game. The manufacturers alter the long-term paybacks by playing with the mid-level and lower payouts, not the jackpot.

I think you just had a run of very good luck when the casino first opened, and now your luck isn't as good. The payback programs on the machines are probably the same.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

I play Caveman Keno (I play 1 credit at $1.00 each) and often get into discussions with other players about the game.

I always play the same combinations and play between 5 and 10 numbers. My picks for 10 numbers are: 1 19 6 13 10 12 17 18 39 and 47. I then take one away and play 9..8, etc. I play 10 numbers 25 times, then play 9 8 7 6 and 5 five times each for a total of 50 plays. I repeat this process hitting 9 numbers 25 times and the rest 5 until 50 plays. I play 600 plays and then I leave.

Are these numbers random or is this like any other slot that pays off 2000 and takes in 2400? The other day I hit 7 out of 8 for $2200 cause I got the 4 times multiplier. Do you think I should always play the same machine (there are 10 machines) or doesn't it matter? Please let me know what you think about Caveman Keno and how it works.


Dear Paul,

Cavemen Keno does draw the numbers at random and it is like any other slot machine because the results are random. Caveman Keno makes money by paying less than true odds when you win.

As long as all the machines have the same paytables, it doesn't matter which Caveman Keno machine you play.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

Hi, John,

Slot and video poker machine payback levels are important, confusing, vary from machine to machine and casino to casino. Are casinos obligated to tell you what they are on the various machines and if so who do you ask at the casino?

Thanks for all the honest advice week to week.


Dear Steve,

Casinos are not obligated to tell players the paybacks on machines. If they make a claim about paybacks (like all machines in a particular carousel pay back 98% or better), it has to be true, but they don't have to say anything.

A number of people have tried to start movements to have legislation enacted to require casinos to disclose paybacks on individual machines, but those people have not been able to get much support.

Slot machines may be mysteries, but at least video poker is an open book. You can tell the maximum payback possible from the machine from the paytable.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

Dear John,

I am a recent reader of your letters and enjoy the helpful hints and information very much. My sister and I are going to Vegas in February and will be staying at the Frontier for four days. We have lined up several free things to do so we don't lose all of our money in one day! I was wondering about some things I have read on various sites about the casinos off the strip or downtown giving a higher percentage of returns than the casinos on the strip. Is this true?

Do you have any recommendations of casinos that may let us play for a couple of hours without dropping lots of money? Also, have heard that many casinos are going to paper tickets versus coins. What is your opinion on this? We have decided if the casino has tickets we will not be playing there. What's the point of walking into a casino and not hearing bells, yells and coins plunking into the hopper? After all isn't that part of the whole experience when gambling?


Dear Debby,

I remember going broke on one of my first visits to Las Vegas. When my money ran out, I got very interested in doing free things for the rest of my stay. After that experience, I starting including a few free things to do each day as part of my itinerary.

It's true that the off-strip casinos tend to have better-paying machines than the strip casinos. That said, there are still many high-paying video poker machines in strip casinos.

Being able to play for a couple of hours without dropping lots of money has more to do with your bankroll and how much you bet per spin than the paybacks on the machines. The number of spins you can play in a few hours is far too small a sample for the payback on the machines to have a greater effect on your results than your luck. So, it really doesn't matter which casino you go to. In any case, the Palms is not far from where you'll be and it is known for having high-paying machines. I also like most of the Station Casinos properties.

As for using tickets instead of coins in slots, I'm 100% in favor of it. Coins do nothing for me. I don't like having to make sure there are always coin buckets nearby in case I have a big win. I don't like having to carry heavy buckets to the change booth. And I really don't like having to scoop out coins from trays that have been used as ashtrays. Goodbye, coins! Good riddance!

You'll still hear bells and yells and coin sounds in casinos with ticket systems. The bells have nothing to do with coins versus tickets; the yells come from the players; and many slots play the sound of coins hitting the tray when a player cashes out.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert, at

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