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Small Tips, BIG Picture

The little things count for fun in the casinos

By John Grochowski


When you play in casinos, chances are that a good deal of your focus is on the big picture, the things most important to you. How much money are you going to bring? What games are you going to play? How soon should you call it a day if things don’t go well—and what are you going to do with your riches if lightning strikes?

But sometimes, the fine points can make your day smoother and give you a little extra fun, with a little more bang for your buck. And sometimes just understanding that little extra about the game can take the frustration out of the rough spots.

Last year, Strictly Slots brought you 10 short tips for slot and video poker players. Here’s another 10 to help make play time more fun.

  1. Payoffs in most video poker games start at a pair of Jacks, so many players underestimate the power of low pairs.

I often see players who are dealt a pair of 5s along with a Jack or higher discard the 5s and hold the high card. But using the basic game of 9-6Jacks or Better as an example, holding the low pair will bring an average return of 4.12 coins per five wagered, while the high card will bring just 2.46.

Here’s the tip: Holding one high card will bring more frequent winners than a low pair, but the low pair will bring bigger winners—more of those three of a kind, full house and four of a kind hands that keep you going. Hold the low pair instead of a single high card.

  1. Higher denomination slot machines usually return more to the player than lower denomination games.

Percentages vary from region to region and casino to casino, but to il-lustrate, let’s say you’re in a casino where penny slots pay around 87percent, while dollar games hover around 94 percent. Does that mean everyone should rush to the dollar slots?

No. At those percentages, 40-cent bet on a 40-line penny game brings an average loss of 5.2 cents per spin, while a three-credit max bet of $3 on a dollar slot brings an average loss of 18 cents per spin. The house edge may be six percent on the dollar game vs. 13 percent on the penny game, but six percent of a dollar is more money than 13percent of a penny.

Here’s the tip: No matter what the payback percentages on the slot, over betting your bankroll is a poor percentage play. Stay with the games within your budget for the day’s entertainment.

  1. Here’s a slot machine myth I read in a personal finance newsletter, of all places. t quoted an “expert” as saying players should look for machines with a cherry on the middle reel sitting on the payline. That cherry supposedly was the tipoff that a bigger payoff was on the way.

Problem is, the random number generator that determines what you see on the reels runs continuously, even when the machine is not in use. Even if a sequence was programmed to follow a cherry with a big win—and there is no such program—who knows how long that cherry sits there before it’s spotted, and how far the RNG has moved on.

Here’s the tip: There is no way to tell a big payoff is coming by looking at a slot machine, regardless of whether the machine is a videogame or a reel-spinner. Picking a winner is no bowl of cherries.

  1. My e-mail brought this question: “In Jacks or Better video poker, I get 125 coins for four Aces. In Double Bonus Poker, I get 800 for the same hand. Does Double Bonus give you four Aces less often to make up the difference?”

Actually, we hit four Aces MORE often on Double Bonus than on Jacks or Better. That’s because we adjust our drawing strategy to yield more chances at that 800-coin bonanza.

Here’s the tip: Video poker games need not tinker with frequency of winning hands to change the odds. It’s all done within the pay table. The cards you see remain randomly dealt.

  1. A man told a woman playing video keno it didn’t matter what numbers she picked. “It’s like a slot machine. When the machine’s ready to pay off, it’ll pay off. You just have to be in the right place in the right time.”

Now, keno odds are the same no matter what numbers you pick, but that’s not what he meant. He meant that regardless of what numbers she picked, if it was time for her to win, she’d win, and if it was time for her to lose she’d lose.

Here’s the tip: The random number generator on video keno just generates the 20 numbers to be drawn. If the numbers you pick match the RNG’s, you win. Your selections determine the outcome—though there is no way to know in advance which you should pick.

  1. A woman wrote to me about a big slot jack-pot she’d hit. “After I was paid and signed the tax form,” she said, “the attendant turned a key before I could play again. The man next to me said that resets the machine into “collect” mode.”

All the attendant was really doing was unlocking the machine so the woman could play again. On any jackpot of $1,200 or more, the machine locks so the casino can have you sign a tax form before you continue.

Here’s the tip: There is no “collect” or “payback” mode on slot ma-chines. Don’t worry if the attendant turns a key or punches in a code before you can play after a jackpot. That’s just procedure to ensure compliance with IRS regulations.

  1. In video poker, about two percent of long-term payback percentages come from royal flushes. On machines with progressive jackpots, the long-term payback percentage rises about half a percent for every 1,000 coins added to the royal flush payoff.

That’s important to serious players who play only high-yield games. They know that a 9-6 Jacks or Better game that usually pays 99.5 percent with expert play exceeds 100 percent when they see a jackpot of about 5,000 coins.

Here’s the tip: When progressive royals push a video poker pay-back percentage past 100 percent, that doesn’t make it any more likely that you’re going to win in any one session. The royal still will turn up only about once per 40,000 hands, and in between, you still have a lower-paying game.

  1. Have you ever left a slot machine, only to see another player sit down and hit a jackpot? Does the thought make you squirm just a little? Shouldn’t that have been YOUR jackpot?

Relax. If you’d kept playing, that jackpot probably still wouldn’t have been yours. Results are determined by a computer program called a “random number generator.” It continually, and very rapidly, generates numbers that correspond to reel combinations.

For you to have hit that same jackpot, your timing would have to be the same as the other player, right down to the millisecond. Speedup or slow down for a fraction of a second, sip a drink or scratch your nose, and you have a different result.

Here’s the tip: If it’s going to bother you that another player hits a jackpot on “your” machine, walk away and don’t watch. But understand that your results would have been different anyway.

  1. Double Double Bonus Poker is the most popular video poker game around, largely because of the 2,000-coin bonanza for four Aces when the fifth card is a 2, 3 or 4.

The smart player keeps an eye on the Aces, know that one big hit will make up for a lot of missed smaller payoffs.

Here’s the tip: In Double Double Bonus Poker, break up a full house to keep three Aces, break up two pair to keep just two Aces, and hold just a single Ace instead of holding King-Queen or King-Jack of different suits. However, even in Double Double Bonus, Queen-Jack is a stronger drawing position than a single Ace.

  1. There are more myths about slot machines than any other casino game, but it was a surprise when one day’s e-mail brought notes taking opposite sides of the same myth.

One player complained that casinos loosened slot machines in the day-time, so the “idle rich,” as he put it, got the good stuff, while working people got lower payouts at night. The other complained that the slots were tight in the daytime, when retirees play, and that the jackpots are re-served for younger folk.

Here’s the tip: Slot machines pay out the same percentages, day or night. Procedures vary by state but all have safeguards against payback shenanigans. On most machines, changing the paybacks require re-placing a computer chip inside the machine. In many gaming jurisdictions, a gaming board agent must be present as evidence tape is broken, the chip is replaced, and the new chip is sealed with new evidence tape. And on server-based slots, where it is possible to change games remotely, a double-lock system is required, where both an authorized casino employee and a gaming board agent must log in before a game can be changed.

Either way, it’s not something done on a day/night whim.

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