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For those who read my column on a regular basis, you can probably guess what my No. 1 New Year’s resolution is – break the slot habit.

What more can I really say about it? Slots have 92-93% paybacks compared to video poker’s 97-100+%. Video poker has strategy you can utilize to gain advantage over other players, which is why they can offer such high paybacks.

When you look at a video poker machine, you can quickly determine its payback. With slots, you have no idea if the machine is programmed to pay 76% or 96%. For the record, the minimum payback in Las Vegas is 75%, so the machine could be programmed to pay that low.

Despite asking you all to make this resolution every year for the past 10 years or so, I haven’t even been able to convince friends and acquaintances. This past week, one of my friends on Facebook posted that his wife won 100,000 coins on a slot machine. Good news/bad news is that it was pennies.

Sure, $1,000 win is a nice haul, but 100,000 coins sounds so much bigger! Despite this epic win, I had to reply to the post, “Congrats, but you really should switch to video poker.”

I will not spend this entire column on breaking the slot habit. You all know how I feel. So, I’ll move on to a few other resolutions. They both go around the idea of discipline. Maybe I can compare playing video poker to becoming a ninja warrior or something like that. It takes discipline.

The casinos are full of flashing lights that entice you to play. Throw in the lack of windows or clocks to make you forget about time and discipline is not something frequently practiced by the masses in a casino.

To this end, the next resolution is to sign up for every rewards card you can (or at least for the casinos you actually go into). Once you sign up for them – use them! Do not believe the nonsense about how the games play differently if your card is in or out. Do not buy into the theory that the casinos track your every movement.

In theory, it might be possible for them to do this, but in reality, they do not use the data to this level. There may be some names on a “list” somewhere that red flags the casinos to be on their alert, but the odds are, you’re not on that list.

As I’ve written numerous times in my column, I do not claim to be a professional player. I go rather infrequently to play – mostly only when we have visitors from out of town staying with us. Yet, in the past year, I’ve been sent about $150-200 worth of free play from three different casinos. These are not gimmicks.

Essentially, all I have to do is show up, play the “free money” through a video poker or slot machine just once and the winnings are all mine. I usually play a low volatility video poker game (Jacks or Better or Bonus Poker). On average over the year, I’ve walked out with right about the face value of the original free money. Sometimes, the $10 voucher will yield only $7 and sometimes $15. But at the end of the year, I’m very close to the face amount.

How can the casinos offer these to me? Well, they hand these out hoping I’ll come in and decide to frequent the casino far more often. They also hope I’ll keep playing long after putting the money through once. I’m sure they have the data to show most people lose the free money and then go on to lose some of their own.

That brings me back to the idea of discipline. I play the money through once and then play to the next even dollar amount. After that, I cash out and go about my business. I also don’t drive across town just for the free money – spending $5 in gas for a $5-$10 voucher.

Does $150-$200 change my life in any grand way? No. But, I can either use it to fund gambling sessions for when visitors come in or perhaps for a night out on the town with my wife. But, in order to take advantage of these generous offers, it takes a high degree of discipline, to take my money and, well, run.

The only reason I get these offers is because I signed up for my rewards cards. Hence, this is why it is important to sign up for them. There is no cost and really no reason not to.

The other resolution that deals with discipline is to remember to walk out of the casino as a winner on occasion. You’re not going to beat the casino for millions. Be happy with a $20 win for a night and walk away. Do not risk those winnings, hoping you’ll turn it into thousands. It is not likely to occur. You will have many sessions in which you are never ahead, so don’t do the casino a favor by turning your winning sessions into losing sessions by playing longer and longer. Again, it takes a great deal of discipline to do this, but it is all part of becoming a video poker “ninja.”

Wishing everyone out there a happy and healthy new year.

Elliot Frome is a second generation gaming analyst and author. His math credits include Ultimate Texas Hold’em, Mississippi Stud, House Money and many other games. His website is Contact Elliot at [email protected].

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About the Author

Elliot Frome

Elliot Frome’s roots run deep into gaming theory and analysis. His father, Lenny, was a pioneer in developing video poker strategy in the 1980s and is credited with raising its popularity to dizzying heights. Elliot is a second generation gaming author and analyst with nearly 20 years of programming experience.

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