There’s a sucker born every minute… and a ‘winning slot system’ for each of them
by Rob Wiser
Prior to the advent of the Internet, when I found myself unable to sleep, I’d sit up all night watching television infomercials. There was some truly spectacular crap being pitched on TV in the 1990s: food processors, body hair removers, spray-on hair, Chia Pets, torture racks guaranteed to give you six-pack abdominals (or your money back—but you’d better order now, because these things are selling fast!)…
One time, in my sleep-deprived stupor, I was nearly convinced to phone in my order for the Cash Flow Generator. I could never understand what it was exactly, or how it would enable me to generate an extra $20,000 a month in my spare time. But it was being hawked by the Rice brothers—midget twins in suits who billed themselves as “the Country’s Most Recognized Success Experts Listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the World’s Smallest Twins.” (Now that’s saying something.)
Then there was Matthew Lesko, the guy who jumped around in a hideous question-mark-covered suit, babbling about how to get free products and money from the federal government.
But my favorites were the wildly enthusiastic “get rich quick” entrepreneurs like Tom Vu, the Vietnamese immigrant-turned-real estate tycoon who, while surrounded by bikini-clad babes on a yacht, jabbered in broken English about his millionaire-making techniques. (My favorite Vu quote: “Don’t listen to your friends! They’re losers!”)
Also keeping me entertained during those long sleepless nights: Dave Del Dotto, who showed how ordinary couples, relaxing by their new beachfront homes in Hawaii, were pulling down an extra $30,000 a month, thanks to his real estate secrets. (Actually, these infomercials never “showed” you anything, except for joyous testimonials. To learn the secrets, you had the order the kit/attend the seminar/hand over your credit card information.) And who could forget the boyish-looking Don Lapree, who preached the gospel of classified ads and 900 numbers—and how you could start building your own financial empire today.
Nowadays, when plagued with insomnia, I surf the Internet instead of channels. Cyberspace has really opened the floodgates for a new generation of snake oil salesmen. And they’re not just flogging sexual performance pills, bogus stock tips and motivational tapes. Some of these charlatans are targeting you—the slot machine player.
In fact, last night, I came across a website with this enticement:
“Discover how to make a minimum of $1,000 on the slot machines—EVERY NIGHT! Make the casino your personal money machine!”
Obviously, I had to continue reading. A guaranteed way to clean out the slots? What could possibly be in this huckster’s kit? A crowbar, a ski mask and a good pair of running shoes?
As it turned out, he was selling a downloadable e-book. The sales copy contained a long list of bullet points, including: “Learn how to use the casino staff as your personal jackpot detectives! I’ll show you the five-minute system that will skyrocket your winnings.”
OK, wait a minute, I thought, taking my hand off my mouse. Now he’s bringing the “casino staff” into it. At this point, I knew the bullet points were basically just running down the most popular slot machine myths. One of the silliest is that slot attendants are somehow privy to “inside information” about which machines are “due” to hit. The theory is that, since they’re watching the action all the time, they know which games have been sucking up money and not paying out—and if you slip them a buck or two, they might point out the one that is ready to deliver the gold.
Now, let’s return to Planet Earth. Let’s say you’re a slot attendant, and you happen to know which machine out of a thousand is on the verge of paying out a truckload of money. Would you share this information with some random customer who may (or may not) slip you a couple of dollars? Or, would you be on the phone to your significant other, telling him to get his butt over to the casino ASAP and jump on that machine?
Another ecstatic bullet point declared, “Discover where and when the machines are going to pay off the most money!”
This was another classic example of slot fiction. It reminded me of a conversation I had with some guy in a bar when I was back East over the Christmas holidays. He overheard me mention that I was from Las Vegas, so we got into a discussion on gambling. He began to lecture me about how to win money at the two Indian megacasinos in Connecticut, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. He had a bizarre conspiracy theory about how the casinos had formed some sort of secret pact: The slots at Foxwoods were programmed to pay out on Thursdays and Fridays, and the slots at Mohegan gave up the money on Wednesdays and Sundays, or something like that.
Which is complete hogwash, of course—just like the e-book this website was trying to sell, which I’m sure contains “advice” about playing the machines near the lobby and the entrances, because they’re programmed to pay out frequently. (The idea being, people will be drawn into the casino when they see all the giddy customers winning jackpots.)
The fact is, while a certain amount of strategy does go into placing specific machines in high-traffic areas of the gaming floor to maximize profits, I’ve never heard any truth to the rumor that the “loose” games are placed near entrances. After all, when it comes to jackpots, we’re still talking about very long odds. And no casino—or casino employee—knows when those jackpots are going to hit.
The website’s sales pitch went on ad nauseum, inviting me to visualize myself as a big-time Slot Machine High Roller: “Picture yourself staying in a VIP suite, dining at the finest restaurants, enjoying front-row tickets to the show! All for free because you’re a top player… and a winner!”
I kept scrolling down the page, as the pitch built toward its close:
“I could sell these confidential casino secrets for over $10,000 to high rollers. But if you order now, all this can be yours for the discount price of $29.95.”
Well, that’s just downright philanthropic, I thought. Obviously, high rollers would pay a fortune to possess a foolproof method to beat the slots—but this guy’s practically giving away his e-book for under $30. (All major credit cards accepted.) He’s the Robin Hood of the casino world!
But it does beg the question: Can there be any validity to a system that promises to make you a winning slot player over the long run?
For an expert opinion, I turned to John Grochowski, a syndicated gaming columnist, author and radio host. He told me: “I’ve seen systems that have you looking for cherries sitting on the center reel, systems that alternate maximum and minimum bets, even systems that vary bet size according to Fibonoacci numbers (a mathematical progression in which each number is the sum of the two preceding numbers.) None of them are worth the paper they’re printed on, the tape or CD they’re recorded on, or the cyberspace they’re wasting.
“When someone offers to sell you a system that, within days, will have you start winning and never stop, it’s time to put your hands in your pockets and walk swiftly in the other direction,” he continued. “With very rare exceptions, slot systems don’t work and can’t work. Results are as random as humans can program a computer to be, and there’s no way to time random results, no signal the machine gives that it’s ready to pay off, no way to look at a machine and tell what’s coming.”
What about the “rare exceptions?” Does this mean a legitimate system does exist?
“The exceptions concern specific machines we don’t see much any more,” he replied. “It was possible to get an edge on games with banked bonuses—such as WMS’ “Piggy Bankin’” or games with a goal, such as Silicon Gaming’s “Buccaneer Gold”—by not playing until there were enough coins in the piggy bank or enough daggers stuck in the pirate ship’s rail. But when players started to take advantage of such games to collect bonuses that had been built by others, manufacturers adapted quickly.”
This is not to say there aren’t learnable tactics that will help your chances at other casino games. Advanced blackjack and video poker players use strategies to bolster their odds of winning. Among serious craps players, there is a camp that firmly believes “dice control” (throwing the dice a certain way to hit your numbers) works. But for most players, the learning curve—and the pressure of trying to use these techniques in the heat of the moment—makes them more trouble than they’re worth.
“The rule of thumb is, if the system is easy, it doesn’t work,” says Grochowski. “Card counting works at blackjack. Learning optimal video poker strategy does improve your results. I’ve seen enough ‘dice controllers’ in craps that I’m in the camp of believers, though dice control is a physical skill that takes a lot of practice and patience to master. But as for betting systems that claim to be able to beat games by timing bets or increasing bets at specific times or choosing games that are ‘ready’ to pay off? No, they don’t work. Systems players sometimes have success once or twice and think they have something. But, with repeated play, they all wind up losing money.” ´