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Deal Me In


Wholesale payback alterations cost prohibitive, time consuming and labor intensive

Dear Mark: In your column last week, “Who watches them,” you stated “Some states do allow casinos to make variations to slot machines under that state’s regulations.” I play in Reno, NV. What variations can the casino make in Reno to their slot machines?  Nancy C.

As I stated in that column, Nancy, “Different jurisdictions have different rules regarding changing payback programs on slot machines.”

In Nevada, to change payback programs on a slot machine, you need a Manufacturer's License. Since every casino has a Manufacturer's License, each can change its payback programs at will. That said, I must also state that it is hardly ever done, especially across-the-board.

For a Nevada casino to alter the percentage return, the casino must swap out an internal component, the ROM portion of the microprocessor chip. ROM, or read only memory, is a chip the slot manufacturer provides to the casino. Besides being both time consuming and labor intensive, it is very costly for a casino to have two payback chipsets for each of their slot machines. After all that, every change would also need to be reported to the State of Nevada so they, that being the government, can get their share of the slot win.

Dear Mark: When the casino is not too crowded, I will usually play two 25¢ slot machines at once. I will usually put between $20 and $40 in each, and when one machine dries up on credits, I stick with the remaining credits on the second machine. On my last casino outing, and the first machine out of credits, I got lucky and hit for $500 on the second machine. I decided against putting another $20 in the machine I had been previously playing. Maybe I should have. A young gal sat down and within a few minutes hit a $4,000 jackpot. I told her I had just been playing that machine, and she responded, sympathetically, “Had you kept playing it, the $4,000 would have been yours.” I believe that you disagree with that statement and have written so in the past. Could you please reaffirm my reservations that the $4,000 was not really mine? Joyce K.

You might have nailed the casino for 500 buckaroos, Joyce, but that particular $4,000 was never to be yours, even if you had continued to play on that machine all along.

For you to reap that 4K jackpot, you would have had to push the spin button at the same micro-second
that the play who won did. Any change in your timing would yield an entirely different result.

With the RNG (random number generator) always crunching possibilities, with millions of numbers polled every second, the result is calculated at the exact millisecond that you press the play button. That information is then sent to an electronic chip to synchronize a particular halting point for each reel. 

Almost certainly, Joyce, you would have started your spin nowhere near the same instant the young gal did, so the $4,000 jackpot would not have appeared, hence your results would have been completely different.

You did pocket the $500 and walk, right!


Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Percentages are sticklers for the truth.” – Nick "The Greek" Dandalos, Nick the Greek: King of Gamblers (1969)


Husband penalized for canny play

Dear Mark: I play penny slots, and my husband plays $5 blackjack (when available), although in unavailable he will play on a one-dollar slot machine. We each use our own “Comp Cards.” What is interesting is that we do not equal out on comp points. I always get more points than my husband does. His complaint is that he always plays on a higher denomination machine or at a $5 blackjack game. Because he wins more often than I do, does this have anything to do with it? Cheryl C.

Casino comps, Cheryl, are usually figured as a percentage of the casino's theoretical win against the player, or, another way of looking at it, compensation for your losing play. You take the amount of action you are giving the casino, multiply that by the house edge, and the casino will take a certain percentage of that result to calculate you comp value to them.

You, Cheryl, are playing on low payback slots, so you certainly could receive a greater amount of points than your husband if the both of you are playing an equal amount. Since your husband mainly plays on dollar machines and $5 blackjack, the casino expects to win less from him, so, it rewards you more.

Permit me Cheryl, to break down your play versus your spouse to see what is happening here.

We begin by multiplying each bet that you make by the house edge; then multiply that result by the number of bets you will make in each playing session, (hour).

Say, for example, that on a penny machine you are putting in $3 per spin, which isn’t too far fetched for penny players these days. Moreover, you could easily be on a machine that has a house edge of 15%. Your loss figures like this: $3 per pull X 15% house edge X 200 yanks per hour. This comes to mathematically a loss of $90 per hour. Does this sound about right, Cheryl?

Now say that your husband is playing that same $3 per pull on a dollar slot machine, that has a house edge of 3%, and he too is hitting the spin button 200 times per hour. His loss is going to total about $18 per hour ($3 X .03% X 200 spins = $18).

That same mathematical formula holds true for your husband while he’s playing blackjack. If his average bet is $5, and he plays a satisfactory game with the casino edge of let’s say 2%, and you multiply that by 60 hands per hour, his total losses will be $6 per hour ($10 X .02 X 60 = $6).

Notice, Cheryl he is losing a whole lot less dough than you are. In the casino’s eyes, he deserves fewer goodies.

One thing that doesn’t have anything to do with comps is that his “winning,” or should we say, reduced “losing,” shrinks his comps. Players are NOT penalized for winning against the house. I guess you could say that your husband is being penalized for playing smarter than you.

One thing going in your husband’s favor is that when you couple proficient play with incentives like cash back and other comps, blackjack, mathematically at least, can become a winning proposition that can give him an overall return greater than 100%, in theory that is. Unfortunately, for you, Cheryl, you will never be in that category of play while playing on penny machines that typically have such low paybacks.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “I like to play blackjack. I'm not addicted to gambling. I'm addicted to sitting in a semi-circle.” – Mitch Hedberg