QUESTION: Two friends and I play each week. One friend takes about $500-$600 bankroll and plays Wizard of Oz penny machines almost exclusively. Another takes $500-$800 and plays blackjack, $25-$50 a hand. I take a $600-$800 bankroll and play quarter and 50-cent Double Double Bonus or Triple Double Bonus video poker machines. The penny player ends up with about four times the comps for the night as the blackjack player, and 10 times what I get on video poker. All three of us win and lose all night and end the evening usually donating our bankrolls to the casino.
We know casinos take a lot of different factors into figuring out our comps and tier points for our levels. There just seems such a huge difference in com. Why is the video poker player rated so much lower, when we lose just as much money if not a lot more than the penny player? I've tried playing penny slots and am bored after 20-30 minutes.
ANSWER: This is one of the most frequently asked questions I get, one I try to explain from time to time. Penny slot players get more comps than video poker players because they are worth more to the casino.
The most important factor in doling out comps is theoretical win. How much you win or lose in a given session is less important than what you play, how fast you play, and how large your bets are. Casinos know that slot and video poker players play faster than table games players, and that the house edge on slots is much larger than that on blackjack or video poker.
You didn’t say how much the slot player was wagering, but if he’s going through $500-$600, I’m going to assume he’s not playing 1 cent per line. Wizard of Oz is a 40-line game, so let’s assume a wager of three pennies per line, or $1.20, and assume they’re set up for an 87-percent return, or 13 percent house edge. You say you’re playing 25-cent video poker, with a $1.25 maximum bet, and 50-cent games, with a $2.50 max. Let’s assume something in between, with an average bet is $1.75 per hand on games with a 2 percent house edge. As for blackjack, let’s put your friend at an average of $37.50 per hand, and guess that he’s pretty good, but a little fuzzy at basic strategy and spots the house a 1.5 percent edge.
Now let’s factor in speed. Assume the slot player plays 600 spins per hour. It’s possible to play faster, but I’m going to guess he’s not playing at tournament speed, keeping the reels in constant motion. At $1.20 per spin, he risks $720 per hour. For video poker, I’ll assume 500 hands an hour. Some play much faster, but that’s a steady, moderate pace. At $1.75 for your sometimes quarters, sometimes half dollars play, that’s an hourly risk of $875. For your blackjack friend, I’ll assume full tables moving at 50 hands an hour, giving him an hourly risk of $1,875.
Comp formulas multiply the risk by the house edge to get a theoretical hourly loss. The slot player bets the least per hour, but at a house edge of 13 percent, his theoretical loss is $93.60. You bet more at video poker, but the lower house edge leads to a theoretical loss of $17.50. The blackjack player bets more than twice as much as either of you, but faces the lowest house edge. His theoretical loss is $28.12.
At those wagering levels, the penny slot player is by far the most valuable to the casino, followed by the blackjack player and the video poker player. Modern formulas using analytical software take more factors into account, but that’s basically why the slot player is getting the most comps.
QUESTION: When my sister and I go to the casino, she insists on walking all around first. I asked her what she’s looking for, and she says, “The hot machine.” On the way home, I asked again, and she insisted that was what she was looking for. How do you know a hot machine when you find it?
ANSWER: She might be looking for favorite games, just getting the lay of the land and scouting where different game are, or maybe trying to spot games where others are winning. But there’s no way to tell a high-paying slot game from a low-payer.
It’s different in video poker, where a glance at the pay tables will tell you the quality of the game. But on slots, two identical-looking games can have different payback percentages, and looking at them won’t tell you which is the higher payer.
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