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HOME > > Ask the Slot Expert: Playing slots for fun

Ask the Slot Expert: Playing slots for fun

21 September 2022

By John Robison, Slot Expert™

Question: I find your column (reaches my inbox Wednesday mornings) is my 'must read', usually as I have my morning coffee or tea. Almost always insightful, sometimes your sharing of your experiences helps me cope with the 'peaks and valleys' of gaming.

I say almost because you and I play different styles and types of games. You play seriously, knowing the 'odds eventually even out according to all those computer algorithms that exist'. I play during my brief vacation. This year I missed my usual trip in March, delayed to the last week of August. I play for FUN!

My most recent trip was FUN! I mentioned in my last email in November 2021, it still felt like Vegas was not fully recovered; less than 75% (my guesstimate) occupancy, etc., despite gross revenues and profits of the casinos were 'setting records for continuous Billion Dollar months'. (I reiterate GROSS)

Fast forward 10 months, I'd have to say that Vegas is back to its usual (ab)normal self! Still banking Billions.

The Good: 90+% hotel occupancy, almost unlimited gaming choices, good shows, great food options.

The Bad: 100+ degree heat, higher minimum betting limits, high restaurant prices, traffic problems, staffing issues in hospitality, lots of street hustlers, and homeless people. Curious: why can't these hustlers and homeless work these under-staffed hospitality jobs?

I had wanted to comment when you wrote about comps about a month ago, decided to wait until after my visit to LV, sharing my views based on what I experienced.

I would have to agree that generally, it felt the 'perks' of play at a group/brand of casinos seems less rewarding now than in the past. (Note: I visit 2-3 times/year versus your play 2-3 times/week). As little as 3 years ago, I received a 'token gift' for very little play, PLUS a 'Comped Buffet' in the casino for just 10 tier points (which I recall vividly as less than 10 minutes of slot play on a very small denom machine. This time no gift, no buffet (admittedly the air conditioning DID work well in the casino!).

Despite all the seemingly negative observations, WE HAD FUN! Las Vegas is a great town to visit; see the sights, enjoy the ambience, and even possibly win a little. (I was a little ahead, my wife a little down, I call it a break-even trip!) I was just a little surprised to NOT be able to find lower limit table games anywhere we went, so in spite of playing those slot games with such horrible odds against the player, I squeezed out a small win. So small even the IRS needs not to worry, btw!

As the Terminator stated: "I'll be back!" I'm already booked for a return in early November. Maybe this time, I'll get some time in on Craps, Pai Gow, Baccarat, and 21.

I know it will be cooler, hopefully not in my play.

Answer: I couldn't have asked for a better introduction to the topic I had planned for today. But first some comments on your letter.

You got here just in time for August to go out with an asphalt-melting bang. Two weeks earlier and you could have enjoyed below average temperatures. The end of August heat wave continued into the first week of September. It's unusual to have so many 100+ days in a row that late in the year. I'll see what I can do about getting good weather for your next trip.

A reason why hospitality jobs are under-staffed is because they are hard jobs that don't pay well. As for the homeless, some have mental illness are just not able to work. For some of the others, it's a chicken-and-egg situation.

A group called New Leaf helped build three tiny (50 square feet) huts on a parcel of land in North Las Vegas. Three people who previously had been living on the street moved into the huts. The buildings were against code and the city tore them down and put the people back out onto the street, but that's not the point.

One of the residents said she was finally able to start getting her life back in order. You see, the huts had doors that locked. Joseph Lankowski, one of the people involved with putting up the huts said, "They had a tiny home were they could lock the door, so then they could actually go out and get services without having to worry about getting your things stolen." It's difficult to rejoin society when you have to carry everything you own with you all the time.

Let's move on to today's topic. You say that I play seriously and you play for fun. I would like to point out that playing seriously can be fun -- I have a really good time when I hit a royal flush while playing with a slight edge -- but I get your point.

You can probably count the number of players playing seriously in a strip casino on one or two hands. In a locals casino, you might also need one or two feet. The vast majority of players play for fun.

Even when you point players to a better deal, they may not take advantage of it. Two examples.

Circus Circus used to (and may still) have a rotating turntable on which every machine paid back 98% or better. The first time I played the machines there I won enough money to pay for my airfare. Those machines were going to be my personal ATM in Las Vegas. On my next trip, the machines drained my wallet.

But I digress. The main slot floor had many of the same games as the turntable, only these machines were not advertised as 98% or better. I saw many people playing machines on the slot floor when they could have jumped onto the turntable and gotten a better gamble.

Many years ago, Las Vegas Advisor (LVA) partnered with a local casino and set up a loosest-slot area. LVA verified that the long-term paybacks of the machines in this area were the highest paybacks available for those games. Again, these machines sat idle while players played other machines with the same game elsewhere on the slot floor.

An important point is that these deals were better for the player in the long run. In the short run, anything can happen. A panel member in one slot seminar I attended said, "Even the tightest machine in the world pays its jackpot sometimes."

When you and your wife both play only a few days out of the year, your wife might have a losing record even though she plays only when she has the edge and you might have a winning record playing whatever games suits your fancy. You're just not getting enough plays in for long-term paybacks to have a greater effect on your results than luck.

I once attended a seminar to learn an advanced strategy for a video poker paytable. I already knew a better-than-basic strategy for this paytable that gets pretty close to the perfect-play payback, but every little bit helps, right?

The strategy presented in the seminar was going to increase my payback by 0.002%. If I hadn't been sitting in the second row, I might have left the seminar because the increase was so small. That wouldn't have been fair, though. The payback of the strategy I was using was already close to that with perfect play, so there wasn't much room for improvement. You can't do better than the payback with mathematically perfect play in the long run.

Comparing playing the advanced strategy to the one I already knew, I estimate that I would have to play over 166,000,000 hands for the increase in payback from playing the new strategy to have a greater effect on my long-term results than randomness.

You have nothing to lose by playing the highest-paying games with the best strategies. But unless you make hundreds of thousands of plays, randomness is going to have the greater effect on your result.

Las Vegas is abuzz because of the Las Vegas Ace's WNBA championship win. They were honored with a parade down the strip, starting at Caesars Palace and ending at the Bellagio fountains.

Um, Caesars Palace is across the street from Bellagio. I stayed at Caesars Palace, in fact, when I went to Bellagio on its opening night.

Can you really call it a parade when all you're doing is crossing the street?

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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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