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Dreams are fine—but you do want a good chance to win now and again

By Frank Scoblete


Except for some banking slots which I wrote about a little over a year ago, slot players are fully aware that they face a bleak future. The casino will have edges over them of between 17 and 2 percent. Those edges ranging in the 17 percent category will usually be the giant progressives with monster jackpots. Those 2 percentage machines will probably be the stand-alone machines in the higher denomination range, meaning high-roller territory.

Put in slot parlance, a 17 percent house edge means an 83 percent payback; a 2 percent house edge means a 98 percent payback. Translated into money, an 83 percent return means a player’s expectation is to lose $17 for every $100 played; a 2 percent house edge means the player’s expectation is to lose $2.

So why would players choose those high house edge machines? Okay, first most of these machines will probably come in at around 86-87 percent; still those are big percentages to overcome. The lure of the progressives is quite simply a player’s whole life can change with one big hit. The fantasy of hitting such huge amounts is enough to draw many slot players to these machines.

You hit a $20 million jackpot (more or less) and everything in your life will go in a different direction, at least economically. You can buy the car you always wanted, the house you want, even pay for the incredibly escalating college costs for junior and junior miss. (Is junior miss a term that is ever used anymore?)

What is the probability of hitting those monster jackpots? Megabucks is almost a one in 50 million chance. Those are tough odds to overcome. Certainly some people hit these jackpots—I am guessing a person with average intelligence could, over a reasonable amount of time, memorize every name of the individuals who have won such jackpots. I am also guessing that an actor memorizing a lead role for a Shakespearean play will memorize more words.

So winning millions is a nice dream and nice fantasy that you can toy with as you plan your trip to the casinos but the likelihood of achieving such a dream is the equivalent of being in the movie Mission Impossible. In the movies a “mission impossible” is usually resolved by the end with the heroes invariably winning. In the real world a “mission impossible” ends with the hero (meaning you!) losing the big one. In the real world you are in the novel The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, where the protagonist loses the big fish.

Now, for 25-cent players playing full coin or $1 players playing full coin, you will be meeting edges somewhere in the 7 percent range or around a 93 percent return. [NOTE: When you read the Strictly Slots return percentages for various denominations, these percentages include the progressives and the stand-alone machines. So you will always get a better deal on the stand-alone machines at any given denomination.]

With machines returning around 93 percent, you are in “mission unlikely” as opposed to “mission impossible.” So what is so unlikely? The unlikely situation is going home a winner over any extended period of time. True, tonight you can be a winner; and the next day too but chances are sooner or later the house edge will grind you down and you will be losing in your slot playing career.

I don’t think many slot players are ignorant of that fact. Indeed, casino players of all games, be they playing slots, video poker, and assorted table games are aware that the house edge is extremely difficult to overcome over any decent period of time.

Yes, a player could go to a casino for the first time, make a bet, win that bet, stop playing and never return. He would leave when he was up, the mantra of writers who don’t realize almost no casino gamblers can do such a thing, at least over any period of time. Casino players like to play; that’s why they go to casinos in the first place. Sometimes I wonder if casino players actually like playing so much a loss is taken in stride.

So what’s my astute advice about playing slots in a rational way to change “mission impossible” to “mission unlikely”? I’d avoid those progressives or, at the very least, only give a small fraction of your playing money to them, say about 10-20 percent. I know progressives give players “dream time.”

Stick with the stand-alone machines. These are your best bets for coming home with some money. Dreams are fine but you do want a good chance to win now and again. Those progressives just don’t lend themselves to any kind of regular wins.

What makes slot players overlook the inevitable long-term losses is the fact that the sheer joy of playing makes most of them take it one moment at a time. I guess the true theme for slot players is live for today, to-morrow will take care of itself.

Frank Scoblete’s recent books are I Am a Dice Controller: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Craps! Available from, Kindle, Barnes and Noble and book-stores. Celebrate Frank’s 25 years in casino gambling. Email him your address ( and he will get his book The Virgin Kiss out to you ASAP (while supplies last).

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