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Deal Me In


Gamblers are shunning tightfisted slots

Gamblers are shunning tightfisted slots


Dear Mark: In your column “I’ve Been Everywhere,” you wrote about all the casino destinations that you have visited over the years. Did you find in your travels that slot machines look and play the same from state to state? Ken K.


Slot machines, Ken, are comparable from casino to casino, state to state. For instance, if it is an IGT Dazzling Dollars 3-Reel 1-Line 3-Credit machine in Wilkes-Barre, PA, expect the same in Reno, NV. 

So, yes, Ken, they all look and physically play the same: you press the credit button, hit spin, press credit, hit spin, keep repeating, and then reach for your wallet for more money.

But, just because any old slot machine looks, walks and quacks like a duck, that doesn’t mean it is part of the Anatidae family of birds, especially when it comes to return percentages to the player. “Play” and “pay,” Ken, are twins of two different fathers. 

Payouts on slot machines are set by casino operators and are not consistent between gaming jurisdictions. 

The best cluck-for-the-buck when it comes to playing slots is in Nevada, where the house last year kept 6.4 percent. The worst would be in Iowa, where casinos in that state keep 9.4 percent of every dollar played. Furthermore, Ken, slot machines these days keeping a tighter grip on the money gamblers feed into them, and this translates into your hard-earned money not lasting as long as it used to. 

For example, based on the blended slot hold from a decade ago, if your bankroll were $100, you could gamble for 3.2 hours at $0.75 per spin. With higher holds across the board, now you will last approximately 2.6 hours, a 22% decrease. With these tighter slots, your time on device decreases, hence, you lose you money faster. But, Ken, few players play $0.75 per spin anymore. It’s more like $2 a pop, so your slot machine play with that same $100 is now reduced to just one hour. 

Casinos are also starting to feel the effects of higher hold percentages. Not only are casinos making it tougher for players to win at the slot machines; the rising hold percentage has not translated into incrementally increasing gaming revenue for casino operators post-recession. In fact, many believe higher hold percentage is the contributing factor to slot revenue decline. I agree, but I would vigorously contend that it is equally the lack of Gen Xer and Millennial players.

Here are just a few examples of current hold percentages showing where slots got stingier from a decade ago.


Louisiana 9.26%, was 8.65%

Mississippi 7.49%, was 6.54%

Missouri 9.33%, was 7.44%

Nevada 6.4%, was 5.72%

Iowa 9.4%, was 7.05%

New Jersey 8.96%, was 8.19%.


Conversely, Pennsylvania’s hold percentages decreased from 9.56% to 7.82% and their slot revenue increased by 11.8%. Wondering aloud here, but is management upstairs taking notes?

This is not to say that all slots pick your pocket. Some casinos do offer “liberal” slot machines. By liberal I mean casinos that advertise a higher payback percentage on “selected machines.” It’s up to you to find a casino advertising those liberal paybacks; then you’ll need to ask someone in slot personnel which machines those are. 


 Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “I'm a gambler. I'll always be one. I couldn't be anything else. So, my life will always be full of wins and losses. I wouldn't have it any other way. It's exciting. There's never been a dull moment in my life.” – Doyle Brunson, How I Made $1,000,000 Playing Poker (1979)


Where’s my refill?

Dear Mark: I just wanted to share a story about your column regarding tipping. We were not at a casino, but my mom and I occasionally go to dinner or lunch. She always offers to pay, and I say I'll get it, so she says "I'll leave the tip." Probably the third time we went out we stood up to leave, and I looked down to see a quarter. (The meal was probably $45). I said, "Mom what the heck? A quarter?" She said, "Well the waitress didn't even refill our water." I thought “oh my gawd, she's been doing this forever!” So now, I still pay for meals AND leave the tip. Love my mom, but boy is she a cheapskate! P.S. Please don't use my name. If my mom happens to read your column, she will probably throw a quarter at my head! Anonymous


Luckily, because your mom is a bit of a tightwad, it won’t be a roll of quarters that that hits you upside your noggin. That is just what happened to me when I broke up a brawl between two elderly ladies fighting over the same machine. It started by one of the two claiming that a jackpot of $1,000 should have been hers as she had just vacated the machine moments earlier. 

The lady who chucked the roll of quarters fervently believed she had primed the machine that caused the jackpot, so it belonged to her. The answer to the “just whose jackpot is it anyway” question is the person who is sitting in front of the machine and who pressed the spin button.

None of the aggressor’s money that she inserted matters one iota because all modern slot machines today come equipped with random number generators, with symbol combinations constantly changing every millisecond from the time she inserted her last coin until the other lady hit the spin button, making the lady sitting front and center the rightful owner of the jackpot, not the assailant.

Long time readers know my stand on tipping. I tend to tip liberally. There is no need to rehash it here, except that someone has to cover for those, as you call them, “cheapskates!”

Interestingly though, my mother was the flip side of that same quarter; she always over tipped. So much so, that when she moved to a small town in N. Michigan, she was repeatedly chastised by friends and relatives for “over” tipping, often told hard-heartedly, “you make the rest of us all look bad.”

Your mom’s generosity, or lack thereof, does have one bonus, at least for you. Her life as a miser had given her a handsome bank account that – dare I say – may come to you as an inheritance. Mine all went towards TIPS, the acronym for the phrase “To Insure Prompt Service,” …and refills. 


Dear Mark: I read your articles on a regular basis. Could you give me the titles of two good books on craps? I believe you gave them awhile back in one of your columns. I should have written them down, but didn't. Chris A.


The two books that I would recommend for the dice apprentice are, Beat the Craps Out of the Casino by Frank Scoblete or Henry Tamburin’s Craps: Take the Money and Run. Both explain the various bets, payoffs, correct odds, and playing strategies for the game of craps.

Also, Chris, on YouTube there are excellent educational videos on craps. Begin with ‪Craps Part One – Approaching the Table by Michael Shackleford.


Gambling Wisdom of the Week: The ATM is like the coach's pep talk. "Here's another hundred! Now get out there and fight! It ain't over till it's over!" – Frank Legato, Strictly Slots