Think like a local!

Mar 28, 2005 1:07 AM

It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking casinos, restaurants or souvenir shops. No matter what locale you’re in, we all know how tourists love to spend money. So, if you go to any big city and hang out at the tourist attractions, you’re going to pay more for everything, even postcards. If you want a really good restaurant, you’re more likely going to find it by asking someone who lives there.

Casino games are no different. People come to Las Vegas just to see the big hotels on the Strip. It doesn’t matter if it’s the artwork at Bellagio, the Forum Shops or the roller coaster at New York-New York. These hotels attract people with these attractions. As a result, they don’t have to offer very competitive paybacks on their games. For some reason, people almost consider it an honor to lose money at the big, flashy casinos.

Furthermore, the Nevada Gaming Control Board reports that the highest paying machines are located in non-tourist areas, such as the Boulder Strip and North Las Vegas, followed by downtown and the Strip, respectively (See related story on S1).

So, if you are interested in finding the best games to play, in terms of payback, you have to play where the locals play. People who live in Las Vegas and play in the casinos simply cannot afford to play in the big hotels with their less than stellar paybacks. The less flashy hotels and those that cater to the locals lure them to the casino with generous paybacks and usually more generous comp programs. Just because they target locals, doesn’t mean that a tourist can’t take advantage of their offers. Also, just because they’re not in the big flashy hotels on the Strip, doesn’t mean they’re not nice places.

So, if your vacation experience has to include being served a drink by a woman in a slinky toga, then you know where you have to go. Personally, I suggest you do your sightseeing during the day and your gaming at night. This means go see the fancy hotels during the day and then go find your best paying games at night.

Of course, knowing where the best paying games are is not necessarily easy. First of all, casinos change their games all the time. Second, it’s not as if casinos list their inventory of games with paytables on their websites. There are a few sites that do try to list this information, but they rely on the average person to keep the information up to date and this is a difficult task.

Over the years, there are a few properties known for catering to the locals. The Station casinos (Texas, Palace, Boulder, Sunset, etc.) are fairly well known for having strong video poker machine paybacks. According to my latest information, you can find the most popular and full-pay Double Bonus video pokers at their properties. Generally, if you can find these at a casino, you’ll have no problem finding a whole host of other full-pay machines.

Finding full-pay machines in Las Vegas has become increasingly difficult. As the casino boom continues, casinos simply find that they don’t have to bring gamblers in with good paybacks, so they don’t bother. Why offer a 9-6 full pay jacks or better if an 8-5 jacks or better can be kept just as busy? From the casino’s perspective, this makes sense. From the player’s perspective, why would you want to play an 8-5, when you can still find full-pay machines at nearby casinos?

The problem is that the unsuspecting gambler considers the difference to be of no real consequence. In reality, it shaves about 2 percent off the payback. A max-coin quarter player will pump $750 an hour into a machine. That 2 percent means the player is throwing away $15 an hour by playing these less than optimal machines. If a husband and wife spend an evening playing for three hours, it means they will cost themselves nearly $100 for the privilege of playing at the fancy hotel. Personally, I’d rather spend the $100 on a good dinner and then take a short walk or drive to one of the casinos with the good paying machines.

Just to be clear, I don’t suggest that you spend your evening gambling in a casino that you don’t like just because it has better paying machines. There are enough of these casinos, however, so that just about everyone ought to be able to find one to their liking.