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HOME > STRATEGY > Strategies & Tips > Ask the Slot Expert: Are casinos and slots tighter today?

Ask the Slot Expert: Are casinos and slots tighter today?

14 November 2012

By John Robison, Slot Expert™

Hello John,

I recently surfed on to your website. I’m a long time slot player and I guess wishing for the good old days again. I hope your expert advice might help.

First let me give you a brief history. I live in NC and frequent Vegas a few times a year.

I started going to Vegas with my father in the 1980s and have fond memories of that time. He has since passed away but I still enjoy going but can’t help but feel disappointed that the all the casinos generally lack any sense of customer appreciation for my level of play.

Back in the day: My father played table games, blackjack at $25 a hand or maybe a little less, and I played slots. I would take three to five thousand dollars a trip and play around a thousand to 1,500 a day.

At that time we were both rated RFBL (room, food, beverage and limo). We stayed in the old Las Vegas Hilton. We were picked up at the airport and taken back by limo, we shared a two-bedroom suite, usually ate at a few good restaurants in the hotel, ordered room service a few times, got comp tickets for any show we wanted to see and enjoyed the visit and both gambled. Neither of us abused the system; we did not try to charge the most expensive meals or drinks. We just played and had a good time.

Sadly now I might get offers in the mail for few night room comps, but that is it and generally I feel like my slot play is not appreciated, especially at the Venetian or Palazzo. Granted, I like staying at the nicer hotels and have jumped to several properties but there is no personal service anywhere! It is all a grind now. I hate this part now.

I wish I could find a real live person at any hotel in Las Vegas that I could see and talk to face to face. I want to at least be given the appearance that they were happy to see me pay a visit to play in their casino!

Am I just expecting too much now? Help me understand it please! I don’t expect to be given the keys to the city, but a little bit more than a mint on a pillow would go a long way with me.

OK, this is the technical side of slots I want to make sure I’m thinking correctly on. Let me know your thoughts on these points please.

1) As I understand in Las Vegas by law the casino is allowed to take in via slots up to 75 percent. I realize that casinos make every effort to make people think they are paying out a lot more. However it appears from all that I have read that Vegas slots are “tighter” than they have ever been. Is this correct?

2) In April 2007, the Nevada gaming regulators approved the first manufacturer’s server-based gaming system. Now I think most of the Las Vegas casinos, at least all the larger ones, are on a server-based system for their slot machines. So, with a few computer keystrokes, the computer programmers using a central server are able to almost instantly change the themes, minimum bets and payouts for any slot machine they choose.

"In Nevada, regulations dictate a server based machine must be idle for a minimum of four minutes before it can be altered. After four minutes of inactivity with no credits, it is assumed no players are physically playing the machine and the casino can change whatever they’d like. A message appears on the machine as its being changed, and it still takes a bit of time to finish the alterations.

"Regulations in Nevada even prevent casinos from offering one player a better chance of winning than another, so server based machines can’t alter pay tables based on whose player’s card is inserted for instance. In truth, casinos already play favoritism with better comps going to bigger players and through tiered slot club offerings, but they’re still prohibited from offering certain players better odds on machines than other gamblers regardless of what type of machines are in use."

Source: A little information about server based slot system machines http://gamingtoday.com/articles/article/32069-A_little_information_about_server_based_slot_system_machines

3) A casino can post a sign that states these machines payout 98 percent. However this really means nothing because that is based on the life of the machine not that if you put in $100 you going to get $98 back.

4) The abstract from an article titled: "The maximum rewards at the minimum price: Reinforcement rates and payback percentages in multi-line slot machines":

Past research has shown that gamblers frequently use the mini-max strategy in multi-line slot machines, whereby the player places the minimum bet on the maximum number of lines. Through a detailed analysis and explanation of the design of multi-line slot machine games, we show that when using the mini-max strategy, the payback percentage remains unchanged, yet the reinforcement rate is significantly increased.

Read More: http://jgi.camh.net/doi/full/10.4309/jgi.2011.26.3

I think the whole aspect of “slot psychology” is interesting and I’m trying to make myself more aware of what slot machine companies, as well as casinos, are doing to influence my behavior.

I recent read the following about programming slot play to see the “near wins” to try to reinforce the need to play more. The following is a question taken from: http://wizardofodds.com/ask-the-wizard/slots/looseness/

Q: I have heard it is illegal for a slot machine to deliberately have too many near misses. Can you tell me what you know about this?

A: To answer your question I asked a well connected gaming consultant and he said Nevada regulations state that one stop on a reel can not be weighted more than six times more than either stop next to it. So if a jackpot symbol were weighted by 1 and both bordering blanks were weighted by 6 then there would be 12 near misses for every one time the reel stopped on the jackpot symbol. This would be the maximum allowed near miss effect.

My question to you:

I have constantly read that the higher the denomination the slot, generally the better the payout or at least the payback percentage. Logically this make since to me because if someone is spending $5 or $15 a pull is going to be less likely to stay if they are not getting anything in return.

Up until this point I was all the time a max coin person, but after reading what I have I will probably drop back to only putting in one coin in at the time.

Do you have any other suggestions to get the most out of my slot play as well as casino experience?

In advance, thanks for your time in reading this and your reply!


Dear John,

I share your nostalgia for the "good old days" in Las Vegas, but for me that time period is the late 1990s to early 2000s. Slot clubs were just starting then and in many casinos you got the same credit for playing a dollar through a video poker machine as you got for a slot machine. Playing $750 a day through a machine at Treasure Island, even one of its many 9/6 Jacks or Better video poker machines, qualified you for the casino rate. And speaking of 9/6 Jacks, it and other high-paying video poker machines were plentiful -- even on the strip.

The LVH, formerly the Las Vegas Hilton, is a special case. It's no longer a Hilton property and it's struggling to find a new identity. Service and maintenance are suffering. Worse, it no longer has the Star Trek slot machines I used to play almost exclusively there. I believe there will be another change in management soon and the property should be more stable in the future.

The amount of play you described sounds a bit light for RFB to me, but then again the LV Hilton might have been a bit more generous than the strip casinos because it is not on the strip. The Venetian is (or at least used to be) notorious for having high comping requirements, so I'm not surprised you don't feel appreciated there when compared with the treatment you used to get at the Hilton. Still, you should get room offers regularly. That's what I used to get when I stayed and played there a few times a few years ago.

Let's move on to your technical questions:

1. The minimum long-term payback for a slot machine in Nevada is 75 percent. Machines aren't allowed to keep 75 percent; they must pay back 75 percent. No machine has a payback that low, though. Competition makes the lowest payback around 82 percent to 85 percent.

Are slots tighter than before? Yes, I think they are. First, it's getting harder and harder to find high-paying video poker machines. If casinos are lowering the paybacks on their video poker machines, they could very well be lowering them on their slot machines too. And second, the overall payback has gone down because the mix of machines on the slot floor has changed. Slot floors used to have mainly quarter and dollar machines, with very few nickel machines. Now nickel or penny video slots have taken over the slot floor, displacing many of the old quarter and dollar machines. The video slots tend to have lower paybacks than the machines they replaced, so the average payback on the slot floor went down.

2. Nevada may have approved server-based games, but there are very few of them in Las Vegas. I haven't been to Aria, but I understand it is nearly 100 percent server based.

It's true that the casino can change aspects of a machine remotely, but it is far from instantly. The casino can't make any changes to a machine while it is being played and the machine must display a message that it has been reconfigured for a few minutes after the change has been made. If the casino wants to change the payback on the machine, it has to license the new payback program from the manufacturer and it also has to file paperwork with the state informing it of the change in payback.

Casinos are not going to be playing games with paybacks, such as lowering them during holidays. And the casino definitely cannot change a game while you're playing it.

3. You're right that 98 percent payback means that the machine's long-term payback is 98 percent and that you won't get back $98 if you put in $100. The number applies to the long term (hundreds of thousands of spins) not an individual session. But I disagree that it is meaningless. Given the choice between playing two Double Diamond machines, one marked as 98 percent payback and the other not marked at all, I'll play the 98 percent machine because it's better for me in the long run.

4. Most multi-line/multi-coin machines are straight multipliers, so there's no advantage in playing more than one coin per line. Betting more lines, on the other hand, increases hit frequency, which the authors of the paper refer to as "reinforcement rate".

It's true that, in general, long-term payback goes up with denomination. The reason, though, is because higher-denomination machines can afford to take a smaller percentage of the money played through them and still earn their keep. What you described is more hit frequency than payback. Some highly visible high-denomination machines also have high hit frequencies so low-denomination players can see other players winning amounts that are like the top jackpots on the machines they play. In my experience, high-denomination players aren't as concerned with getting something in return as lower-denomination players.

If you really want to minimize your losses, betting one coin per spin is the way to go. Most players can afford a bit more risk and want a bit more excitement, so they bet one coin per line on the video slots. That's the way I usually play.

Thanks for your thought-provoking letter,

Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert™, at slotexpert@slotexpert.com. Because of the volume of mail I receive, I regret that I can't reply to every question.

Copyright © John Robison. Slot Expert and Ask the Slot Expert are trademarks of John Robison.

John Robison
John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming's leading publications. Hear John on "The Good Times Radio Gaming Show," broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoons. You can listen to archives of the show online anytime.

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