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HOME > STRATEGY > Strategies & Tips > Ask the Slot Expert: Are slot machines tighter around the holidays?

Ask the Slot Expert: Are slot machines tighter around the holidays?

6 December 2017

By John Robison, Slot Expert™

Question: What's a good machine to play in a high limit room?

Answer: Well, I don't know what you mean by good. Do you mean a machine you'll have fun playing? That's part of my definition, but I don't think that's what you meant. Given that last week's question was about loose machine placement in high limit rooms, I suspect good means loose.

My answer last week was that loose machine placement theories are irrelevant in today's slot world. Slot directors decades ago may have strategically placed loose slots in highly visible locations in order to stimulate other players into playing and playing more. And they may have put tight machines in areas with captive people who may have wanted to kill some time by dropping a few coins in a machine. That was then.

Slots and slot floors are very different today. Today's slot machines are exponentially more fun to play than the traditional reel-spinning machines of the last century. Many also have a built-in incentive to stimulate play: the bonus round. Players will keep playing in order to finally get to the bonus round or to get to all of the different bonus events. And when they're ready to quit, they may decide to quit after just one more visit to the bonus.

Slot floor design has also evolved over the past three decades. Slot directors are still concerned with machine placement, but they're not trying to place loose machines, they're trying to arrange machines to make small areas in which players feel comfortable playing. Some old slot floors used to look like warehouses, with machines lined up in long rows and 10 or more machines in between the aisles.

Today you rarely find more than five machines in a row (10 if you want to count the machines back-to-back with them). The slot floor has many passages threading around numerous small clusters of machines. You're never more than a few machines away from an aisle.

Today's slot floor, in addition, has thousands of machines. Slot directors don't have the time to micromanage a few machines that should strategically be placed in certain locations — which may not exist anymore with current slot floor layouts.

As a result, slot directors determine what hold they want for each denomination and then order machines with long-term paybacks close to those hold percentages. All of the machines in a denomination, in other words, have about the same long-term payback. There are no loose machines strategically placed on the slot floor to stimulate play.

Because we're talking high limit, I think a good machine is a machine you can afford to play. If you want to drop a few bucks in a high denomination machine just to see if lightning strikes, fine. But if you want to order a drink and settle in, be sure that you have the bankroll — and the stomach — to handle tough times on the machine. For reel-spinning machines, I recommend 100 times your per-spin bet. That gives you at least 100 shots at hitting a nice payday. You can sneak by with 50 to 75 times your bet on multi-line machines because they pay so many less than a push payouts.

So, a good machine to play in a high limit room — or anywhere on the slot floor — is a machine you can afford to play and that you have fun playing.

Question: Is it common that slot machines are tighter in the fall and holiday season? Or are they just getting tighter in these times in general?

Answer: No and sort of.

Casinos can't just throw a switch and make slots tighter. On many machines they have to change a chip or disc to change their long-term paybacks. Some machines support downloadable configuration changes, so it is possible to change them without having to make a hardware change in the machines. Regardless of how the change is made, the casino has to pay for the new payback programs.

Now put yourself in the position of an auditor with the gaming commission. Your job is to ensure that machines are performing according to spec, not paying out too much and not paying out too little. How are you supposed to know if that Double Diamond machine over there is performing properly if it paid back 92% most of the year and only 90% the fourth quarter?

In some (all?) jurisdictions casinos are required to treat machines with new long-term paybacks as new assets. The machine with the old payback has to be closed out just as if it was being sent to the scrap heap. The machine with the new payback is entered into the slot accounting system as a new machine on the slot floor.

Speaking of gaming commissions, John Grochowski spoke with a regulator at a gaming commission in the midwest a few years ago. In this jurisdiction, the commission has to approve all long-term payback changes. The regulator, speaking in reference to machines that support downloadable configuration changes, said that they would not approve a payback change to make a machine tighter for a holiday or a season. We can extrapolate to say that the commission would not approve any short-term payback change.

So machines are not tighter in the fall and holidays. But they are tighter overall, sort of. Video slots dominate the slot floor today. Even though players can bet multiple dollars on these machines, many slot directors order paybacks commensurate with the minimum bet on a machine. The overall payback on the slot floor has gone down because the machine mix has changed. Lower-paying video slots have replaced higher-paying reel-spinning slots.

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
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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The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots
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