TEN FOR THE MONEY
Small tips can make a big difference for players
By John Grochowski
Sometimes it’s the little things that count. A small strategy adjustment. A tiny tip on what to look for in a slot machine. A wee wrinkle in comp conditions. There are literally dozens of little things to look for and keep in mind to get the most out of your casino visit. Let’s focus on 10 of those little things.
- Years ago, Jackpot Party in its various incarnations was one of those rare slot themes that always had a place on casino ﬂoors. I once watched from a couple of seats away while a woman played a bonus round on a Super Jackpot Party slot machine. She chose a “Pooper,” ending the party. But she then had a choice of ﬁve party favors for one last bonus—and the hat she touched revealed a Party Saver. The bonus party was back on.
The man next to her told her, “Whatever you do, next time up, don’t pick the hat. That Saver rotates around.” Where was the Saver the next time? Under the hat.
Here’s the tip: Locations of the Party Savers or big bonuses or any other awards in pick ’em-type video slots aren’t on any rotation. They’re determined by a random number generator, and can just as easily as not be in the same space on your next turn.
- A woman once wrote to say, “A slot attendant pointed out a machine to me and said that’s where I should play. She said it had been paying oﬀ like crazy. Was she just angling for a big tip if I won?”
The likelihood is that the attendant was just being friendly and trying to point out a hot machine. But attendants don’t have access to the machine’s programming and don’t know whether a machine has a high payback percentage or has just had a hot streak.
Here’s the tip: When a slot attendant tips you oﬀ on a hot machine, smile, thank them, and then play what you want to play.
“I once saw a woman land three jackpot symbols on the payline of a reel-stepper slot. She screamed, her friends jumped around her… and nothing happened. No lights, no bells and whistles, no payoﬀs. On the machine she was playing, the jackpot symbols weren’t activated unless three coins were wagered. She’d bet only one coin. It was just another losing spin.”
- 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 at 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.
- When card-type games were ﬁrst coming to video, most people in the casino industry expected video blackjack to be the big hit, with video poker destined for a smaller niche. After all, blackjack was the most popular game in table game pits. Of course, it turned out to be exactly the opposite. Video poker became a casino staple, and video blackjack a niche game.
One of the problems from the start was that single-player video blackjack games paid only even money on two-card 21s, instead of the 3-2 standard on the tables. Table players knew they were getting a lesser deal on video. On today’s electronic table games, you’ll usually ﬁnd 3-2 pays on blackjacks, but some single-player units still pay only even money:
Here’s the tip: When blackjacks pay only even money instead of 3- 2, it reduces the game’s payback percentage by 2.3 percent. Look for games that pay 3-2, and double check to see if it takes even-coin wagers to get that return. You don’t want to be betting one, three, ﬁve or any other odd number of coins if you get the 3-2 return only on even-coin bets.
“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.”
- A slot-machine-playing friend surprised me by saying he thought player rewards cards made slots a better percentage play than video poker. “My free play is better than my wife’s, and she plays video poker,” he said. “That has to count for something, doesn’t it?”
Slot play often brings back about twice as much free play as video poker does. But video poker players using expert strategy on the best games get returns of better than 99 percent, while slot players get from about 85 to 96 percent, depending on coin denomination, jurisdiction and casino.
Here’s the tip: You might get 0.2 percent of your play back in free play on slots vs. 0.1 percent on video poker, or 0.4 percent vs. 0.2 percent or some other number, depending on casino marketing goals. On multiple points days, you might even get a full percent on slots vs. half a percent on video poker. That still can’t begin to make up the diﬀerence in return on the games. Play slots for fun, but don’t expect the best percentage return.
- On many video poker games—Double Bonus Poker, Double Double Bonus Poker and more— most four-of-a-kind hands pay 250 coins for a ﬁve-coin bet. A friend was surprised recently when a casino with high pay tables overall had games that paid only 239 coins on those quads and on straight ﬂushes. “Why would that be,” he asked. “Why cheap out by 11 coins?”
The reason was that the machines he saw were in the $5 denomination, and a 250-coin payoﬀ would be $1,250. By paying 239 coins, or $1,195, the casino stayed below the $1,200 threshold at which the IRS requires paperwork before payoﬀ.
Here’s the tip: On many games, $5 video poker players average an IRS-qualifying jackpot once or more an hour, even when they’re losing overall. Pay attention to those paybacks. On 10-7-5 Double Bonus, the 239-coin quad and straight ﬂush returns cost you 0.4 percent of your overall return, but save a $5-and-up player a whole lot of paperwork.
- Slot machines are easy to play, but even the slots require a little attention if you’re going to get the most for your money. You’ll ﬁnd information painted on the machine glass on reel-spinning games or on the help menu on video games that can help you avoid some costly mistakes.
I once saw a woman land three jackpot symbols on the payline of a reel-stepper slot. She screamed, her friends jumped around her… and nothing happened. No lights, no bells and whistles, no payoﬀs. On the machine she was playing, the jackpot symbols weren’t activated unless three coins were wagered. She’d bet only one coin. It was just another losing spin.
Here’s the tip: Read the machine glass or the help menu ﬁrst, and understand the game’s conditions before you play. The last thing you want is to feel big disappointment when the jackpot symbols line up, or when you miss a bonus event because the video slot you’re playing awarded the bonus only on active coins and want to play one or two, that’s your business. But never bet FOUR coins on a video poker game. That maximizes house proﬁts, while you pass up the good part that comes with the ﬁfth coin.”
- E-mail brought this slot machine question: “I saw a casino advertise that its slots paid better than 90 percent. Do all the machines have to pay 90 percent?”
The short answer is no, not all the machines have to meet a casino’s overall payback percentage. The advertised ﬁgure takes into consideration all the money taken in and all the money paid out by all the machines on the slot ﬂoor. It’s a casino-wide average. Some machines pay more, some less.
Here’s the tip: As a rule, nickel machines have higher payback percentages than pennies, quarters more than nickels, dollars more than quarters and so on up the scale. But even within each category, casinos can and do have machines on the ﬂoor with diﬀerent payback percentages.
- A woman once wrote, certain a slot machine had been rigged. She usually played roulette, she explained, but on this occasion was taking a chance on a $5 slot machine. She’d lost a couple of thousand dollars, then went to an ATM and withdrew a few thousand more. And she lost THAT.
There was nothing wrong with the machine, but there was plenty wrong with her approach. Slot machines are never “due”—they’re as random as humans can program them to be, and previous results have NO EFFECT on future outcomes.
Here’s the tip: Stay within your budget, and don’t count on a cold machine to suddenly heat up. Long cold streaks are as much a part of the normal odds of the game as big jackpots.
- Most video poker games pay 4,000 coins for a royal ﬂush if you’ve wagered ﬁve coins. But if you’ve wagered four coins, the royal pays only 1,000. Essentially, 3,000 coins of that payoﬀ come for betting the ﬁfth coin.
One consequence is that the casino makes all its money on the ﬁrst four coins of video poker wagers. On the ﬁfth coin, the player has an edge, one that reduces the overall house edge on the game.
Here’s the tip: Stay within your bankroll— if you can’t aﬀord to bet ﬁve coins and want to play one or two, that’s your business. But never bet FOUR coins on a video poker game. That maximizes house proﬁts, while you pass up the good part that comes with the ﬁfth coin.