Ask the Experts
Unveiling Insights and Solutions to Your Casino Gaming Questions
After reading the “Here’s A Tip” submission in your December 2023 Players Talk section, I was reminded of a question I have had. I thought it would be a good idea to take $2 bills with me for tips the next time I go to Las Vegas. But someone told me that casino workers consider $2 bills to be bad luck. Do you know if this is true or is that just a myth?
Via the internet
John Grochowsk responds: Two-dollar bills have long been regarded as bad luck symbols in several quarters, and not just among casino employees. The belief seems to be less prevalent today than it once was, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it remained among some people.
There are a number of stories about how the bad-luck belief began. The bill is sometimes called a “deuce,” and “deuce” was also an old-time nickname for Satan. Another story is that $2 bills were connected to the common $2 bets in horse racing. It seems it was bad luck for a spouse to find $2 bills in your wallet because it would suggest you’d been betting on the ponies.
However the bad-luck rumors started, $2 bills never took hold with the American public and have never been common in circulation.
Who Holds the Advantage in Player Value?
I found it very interesting to learn that slot players are more valuable to the casino than table players because they make so many more bets per hour. Does the same go for slot players vis a vis video poker players? I know video poker takes extra time to make the draw, and as a video poker player, I get a lot less comps than my wife, who plays slots.
Via the internet
The reason why video poker is comped less generously than slot games isn’t as simple as making fewer wagers per hour. Video poker players can make just about as many wagers per hour as slot players. Most modern slot games have bonus events such as wheel spins, second-screen pick’em bonuses or free spins. All of those events give you time on the game during which no wagers are placed, and that offsets the time video poker players spend making decisions for their draws.
So, to see why video poker players are comped less generously than slot players, let’s use a moderate pace of 500 wagers per hour. It’s easy for a video poker player to play 500 hands an hour—most experienced players would find that a slow pace.
On a quarter machine, making maximum bets of $1.25 per hand, 500 hands per hour means an hourly risk of $625. But in 9-6 Double Bonus Poker, which returns 99 percent with expert play, the average hourly loss is only $6.25.
Try the same arithmetic on a 40-line penny slot game while playing just one credit per line, for a wager of 40 cents per spin. If you play 500 spins per hour, you risk $200 per hour. An 88 percent return, which is normal for pennies, translates to a 12 percent house edge, leading to average hourly losses of $24.
Note that even though the wager is much smaller on the penny slot and you’re making the same number of bets per hour, the average hourly losses are nearly four times as high on the slot machine.
If you’re playing a weaker game, such as 8-5 Double Double Bonus (96.79 percent), the hourly loss rises to $20—still less than the penny slot loss.
Even when we look at a penny slot player making minimum bets vs. a quarter video poker player making maximum bets, the slot player is more valuable to the casino because of the difference in the house edge.
I have a question about three-reel, single-line slot machines. I typically play three-reel, one-line slot machines in $1, $2, $5 and $10 denominations. Coin-in varies from two to three coins. Many slot machines in my local casino allow players to select up to four different denominations while playing the same machine. You simply touch the denomination you want to play, your credit balance on the machine is adjusted, and off you go. My question is, how does this affect payback percentages? Typically, a $10 machine will have a higher payback percentage than a $1 machine. Do these multi-denomination machines have different payback percentages based on the dollar amount played, or do they share one payback percentage? If they share a payback percentage among all four denominations, would a casino opt to use a payback percentage (based on my example above) for the $1 machine or the $10 machine? Or, could it be some average of all four? Many thanks for any relevant information you can provide.
Multi-denomination machines incorporate a different game program for each denomination. Thus, it is up to the casino which of several available payback percentages applies to each denomination. In general, though, casinos decide paybacks according to their own policy. Thus, normally, the same payback policies applied to single-denomination games applies to each program in a multi-denomination machine. The $10 denomination is going to pay more than the $1 or $5 denomination. While casino slots do not show payback percentages, you can verify this policy by looking at any multi-denomination video poker machine, where pay tables determine the payback. You will almost always find that the higher denominations offer the higher-returning pay tables.
Fading Paybacks, Greedy Operators
I am a long-time subscriber to your magazine and thank you for the thousands of informative and entertaining articles. I am also a lifelong table game player and have never paid much attention to slot machines until recently. I remarried and my wife loves slot machines. However, she always loses her entire gaming budget on each and every trip, whether it be AC, LV or Mississippi. So, I did some investigating and looked at slot payback percentages in 2006 versus today, and for each of the above jurisdictions, the payback has been reducing over time.
Seems like a bad strategy to me, and just tells me casino companies are no longer run by gamblers, but accountants who do not understand the business. I once read a quote by Bill Bennett, who built the Excalibur in Las Vegas. He had signs posted around his slot machines, advertising a 98 percent payback. His philosophy was, he was going to win a person’s entire gaming budget regardless, so why not give them more hours at a particular machine by increasing the payback percentage? The greed in this industry is staggering. While in Florida recently, I saw one of those automated roulette machines that had a spot with three zeros. How much more “rake” do these folks expect? I can’t wait for players to get smarter and start to boycott some of these ripoffs. I for one will pay attention to slot payback and take my table play to those places to give my wife more of a fighting chance.
Thank you, Mike, for such a well-informed, timely and spot-on letter. The fading paybacks started after the 2008 recession, and intensified after the casinos reopened following the COVID-19 shutdowns. The lower paybacks were bolstered by a University of Nevada-Las Vegas study that purportedly showed players can’t tell the difference between low and high payback when seated at different versions of an identical game. That conclusion was nonsense, and clearly missed the point. Anything can happen in an isolated play session. As your wife has found out, the real difference is noticed over time—players don’t win as much or as often as they used to. You are right, bean counters have taken over, and not just on the games—just look at parking rates on the Las Vegas Strip. Bill Bennett launched Circus Circus, the Excalibur and the Luxor, and operated the Sahara until his death in 2002. He knew that he’d still make money with higher player returns, and he never charged a single player a dime for parking at any of his hotels. There should be more players like yourselves who will boycott these ripoff joints. Then, maybe we’d see a change.
An Early Holiday Surprise for a Loyal Reader
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