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Happy New Year! I’d like to ask my readers that do play slots to please let me know what you find alluring.

I’ve been writing about gaming for nearly 14 years now, and in that time, I’m not sure if I’ve played even five minutes of slot machines.

When I was much younger, I would actually play them a little. It was kind of a mindless way to sit in the casino and hope I could make my $2 in nickels last a while. It was a type of intermission on an ugly blackjack session. Back then, the machines were still physical reels and your choices were generally a machine with different types of bars on them or a lot of fruit. There were generally three rows and three reels. It was pretty easy to figure out when you won or lost.

Then the digital age hit the casinos and the slot machines went from physical reels to video screens. Three reels became five reels, although it stuck to three rows. You could play 27 different “ways” instead of 3 to 5. The symbols became all sorts of things that related to the theme of the machine. But, these themes were mostly generic. Then someone got the idea to put licensed properties onto the slot machines. I don’t know if it started with Wheel of Fortune or Monopoly or whatever, but the games changed again.

I’ve written numerous times about how I think it is interesting that no one has thought to theme video poker to any of these licensed shows. It is just a different mentality. But, from talking to friends, it would appear this branding of slot machines has increased the fun for many players.

 One friend told me the other day he was at a casino and saw a bank of the new Willy Wonka slot machines. There was actually a line of people waiting to play! I haven’t seen someone wait to play a machine since Atlantic City in the 1980’s! A casino would have a couple dozen nickel slot machines and they’d bus in a number of seniors who wanted to play.

I have my favorite TV shows, movies and game shows, but I can’t imagine seeing one in the casino and then wanting to play it. I guess if I were inclined to play slots, I might consider playing one themed to one of my interests. For those who have read my columns over the years, you know I do not dismiss the need to have fun while playing.

With that, I allow for the possibility you might forgo playing a game with a higher payback to play one you enjoy more. But, Expert Strategy still dictates you fully understand your decision. When you decide to play a video poker game with a 98.8% payback instead of perhaps a 99.5% payback you should be fully aware of what this means.

But, when you choose to play slots, you are picking something that averages more like 93%. To add to the problem, you don’t even know which machines are paying 93% or 88% or 95% – even if they are standing side by side. With a game like video poker, I can look at the paytable and approximate the payback pretty quickly with some simple calculations. You can do this with almost any game in the casino even video keno, which averages a payback even lower than slots! But, at least you know the payback of what you are playing.

The bottom line is if you are truly having fun playing slots in the casino, then there probably isn’t a lot I can say to convince you to try something else. But, if you’ve decided you’re not really having all that much fun (especially since winning at slots is a very hard thing to do), then I suggest you give video poker a shot. Admittedly, it will take some effort to learn how to play it the right way. Ironically, even if you play wrong, you might end up ahead of slots financially.

There is a huge difference between playing a 99% game and a 93%. It is hard to make an even comparison as the rate of play is different and the average units wagered per hand/spin can vary so much, but the bottom line is the house advantage is 7X the size in slots vs. video poker. So, if all other things were equal, you should expect to lose 1/7th of the amount you’ve been losing while playing slots.

That’s a lot of money and perhaps enough to even make a new year’s resolution about.

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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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