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Machines can be cryptic, complicated

For those of you who have been reading my column through the years, you can probably guess what this week’s column is going to be about. It is time for the annual New Year’s resolution to kick the slot habit. Each year, this resolution gets easier to make, and thanks to the slot manufacturers, even easier to keep.

Can any of the slot players who are reading this actually tell me that they are having FUN when they play slots? Can you even figure out what is a winning spin BEFORE the machine tells you if you won or not?

When I was in Las Vegas last month for the G2E, my sister tried a few dollars in a slot machine to kill some time. As each ‘reel’ stopped, we didn’t know whether to get excited or not. She was playing all 27(!) lines, and I couldn’t even identify where all these lines were!

We’d see a bunch of the same symbol appear to line up, but that wasn’t one of the actual paylines. Instead the paylines zigzagged in some other fashion.

To me, this was as exciting as playing scratch off cards. In all honesty, the game could tell her she lost when she won, or won when she lost and we would have no idea. Imagine a game of video poker where instead of paying on a Pair of Jacks or better, you get paid if you have the 3D and 7C at the same time! Who would be looking for that?

When a slot player walks into a casino and sees a bank of his favorite type of machines, which one does he decide to play? If there are 10 machines, each one could have the same paytable, yet be programmed for vastly different paybacks. One might be set to a ‘respectable’ 95%, while the others could be programmed for 80%-90% paybacks. How does a player know?

If you see 10 video poker machines lined up, you know the payback of each one as soon as you see the paytable. If the paytables are identical, then the paybacks are identical and it really doesn’t matter which one you sit at. Maybe the fun of playing slots is GUESSING which one has the pre-programmed higher payback?

Once a slot player picks his machine and starts to play, is it really fun to keep pressing the ‘spin’ button. Personally, I found pulling the handle to be at least a little bit of fun, whereas, pressing a ‘spin’ button is just, well, pressing a button.

So, you press the button, the video reels spin, three of seemingly dozens of symbols appear for each reel and when all 5 reels are done, you stare at the screen and wait for the payouts. You’d need a computer program to figure out IF you won and how much.

Fortunately, the slot machines are built as computer programs, so it is able to do this. You play 27 coins, you win back 15 and somehow you feel like you ‘won’ that spin, even though you’re net loss was 12.

Somebody, please tell me where is the fun in all this? I’ll admit that playing slots is a relatively mindless game, whereas playing video poker takes some learning and some concentration. But there are plenty of other games in the casino that require very little effort to play well, and will provide the player with a higher payback, more fun and a better knowledge of the payback of the game.

Go play three card poker or roulette. Sit down and play Pai Gow poker and have the dealer set your cards the House Way. For each of these, I can tell you the exact payback and it is very likely to be higher than any slot machine in the house. You’ll also quickly know WHY you won or lost a particular hand.

Even if you’re hesitant to make a full-blown resolution for New Year’s, do me a favor. Or, better yet, do YOURSELF a favor and kick the slot habit. At least TRY something new.

Try a simplistic table game. I’ll do my best to help you get started. To help you on your way to break the slot habit, we’re offering Expert Strategy for Three Card Poker for $3.95 (reg. $4.95) which includes postage and handling.

Or, for those of you who would like to get started learning video poker, we have Expert Video Poker for Las Vegas for only $7.95 (reg. $9.95). Send a check or money order to Compu-Flyers, P.O. Box 132, Bogota, NJ 07603. Not only will you save money, you’ll have more fun in the casinos.

You can try out your strategy by playing our video poker game.

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Elliot Frome

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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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