Slots bring ‘reel’ energy to casino

Jul 4, 2005 1:32 AM


It never ceases to amaze me how so many video poker players elevate themselves to an elite, holier-than-thou level simply because they play video poker.

Even if they don’t wrap themselves in an "advantage player" mantle, many poker players assume they are playing the "best" casino game that will give them the "best" chance to win.

Conversely, they invariably view slot players as unsophisticated, happy-go-lucky reel spinners or, worse yet, mindless morons who are content to toss their "hard-earned" money into the garbage pail.

Let’s take a closer look at slot machines and their elitist cousins, video poker games.

payback is totally unknown isn’t exactly true. While no single machine posts its payback percentage (neither do poker machines), specific venues require machines to return a statutory minimum. Thus, in Nevada you know that a machine HAS to pay at least 75 percent to a casino player.

Moreover, a little research can determine what the slot machines actually pay in Las Vegas. Check out sites such as Michael Shackleford’s "wizard of odds" web site, which lists the average slot machine return for virtually every Las Vegas casino.

Most of the casinos cited had slots that returned, on average, from 90 percent to 93 percent. From the manufacturer, these are called "par values" and accurately represent what the machine will return over the long haul.

Outside of Nevada, some venues such as Atlantic City publish the slot machine percentages for all the city’s casinos, in every denomination available.

Now let’s take a closer look at "payback," which is invariable cited by poker playing fanatics. As noted above, the slot machine payback is fixed by the manufacturer and represents a very long-term return. Short-term play often results in large fluctuations, one way or the other.

Video poker machines, however, are arbitrarily assigned a payback percentage by most "experts," based on the machine’s pay tables.

Keep in mind that this number is calculated, based on the payoffs for all the winning hands, and does not represent a "par value" that can be attributed to the manufacturer.

Now, have you ever seen one of these payback tables and how they arrive at its treasured "payback percentage?"

Basically, what the payback table does is take all the winning hands and add up all the payoffs to produce a total amount won. This value is divided by all the coins that were used to produce all the winning hands, and the result is the payback percentage.

For instance, the "full pay" version of Deuces Wild poker produces a return of 100.7 percent. Bonus Poker has a return of 99.1 percent, while the very popular Double Double Bonus Poker returns about 100 percent.

But wait a minute. All of those payback tables factor in ALL the winning hands, including the royal flush, four deuces, four aces and straight flushes. When was the last time you hit any or all of those high-profile winners?

Thus, to get the 100.7 percent return on Deuces Wild, for instance, you need to catch the royal flush (at odds of about 44,000-to-1) and the four deuces (at odds of about 5,000-to-1). How often does that happen?

Take the royal and four deuces out of the equation and all of a sudden your payback percentage drops by about 6 percent, so you’re down to about 94 percent.

The same math will knock down the other payback percentages for the other poker games.

But beyond the fuzzy math cited by self-proclaimed poker experts, take a look at the most popular video poker casinos — Station and Coast casinos.

At Palace Station, for instance, most of the gaming revenue — at least 80 percent — comes from machines, and most of that (about 75 percent) is from video poker.

And do you know how profitable the Palace Station casino is? There’s no way those poker players are leaving behind only 1-2 percent for the casino.

Moreover, walk through the Palace Station casino and you’ll see hundreds of people playing video and reel slots, enjoying themselves and occasionally catching a whopping jackpot.

Remember, the casino is all about having fun. There’s nothing wrong with playing the slots. They’re fun and offer numerous chances to hit it big. When was the last time you saw someone’s picture in the paper for hitting a royal flush. Enough said.