Do not accept slot mediocrity

October 22, 2007 3:52 AM
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I’m a perfectionist. Being a perfectionist doesn’t mean that I do everything perfectly (in fact, in my case, far from it). It means we strive for perfection and tend to get very frustrated when we don’t achieve it.

I have to admit, that I probably got this trait from my father, who was a perfectionist also. Being a perfectionist, I guess, I had to chuckle when I came across an ad this past week for a casino in the Midwest.

It was a full-page color ad, boasting the highest average slot payback percentage in the state and the second highest in the region. What was the payback? 94%! Further, the ad went on to say that they have 150 machines at 96.5% or better.

Of course, simple math tells us that for each machine above the average, there are going to be a significant number below that average. So, even if they have 900 machines and the 150 that are at 96.5% are exactly that, that means that that the remaining machines average 93.5%!

Let’s look at this a bit more closely and realize that this is probably a best-case scenario. If the casino is telling you that they have X machines at 96.5% or better, the odds are that they don’t go much beyond that 96.5%. For each machine that is 2.5% above the average, there has to be one that is 2.5% below it — perhaps two machines 1.25% below average, or five machines 0.5% below the average.

There are two things that the perfectionist in me finds disturbing about these numbers. The first thing is the notion that a 94% average is something to announce and be proud of. This is below virtually every video poker in every casino everywhere. This is 10-20 times worse than a full-pay video poker machine or a blackjack table. This is 2-3 times worse than most other table games.

For all of these other games, I’m assuming proper play. Even if you were a little off in each of these cases weren’t such an expert at some of the finer plays of video poker or blackjack, or chose to play all Queen high hands in Three Card Poker instead of Queen-Six-Four, you’d still be better off by far than these slot machines — even IF you’re lucky enough to pick one of the highest paying ones.

This leads to me to the second disturbing aspect of this ad. You have absolutely NO WAY of knowing if the slot machine you’re playing is the 96.5% variety or one of the ones that are below the paltry 94% average payback.

If the casino has 900 machines (just an example), you have a 1 in 6 chance of winding up on the 96.5% and a nearly 84% chance on winding up on a machine that is below average. If the casino has only 300 machines, your chances are even, but the below average machines will be averaging a horrific 91.5%.

It might be cheaper to fly to Las Vegas, stay at Caesars and play video poker than it would to stay home and play these slots.

Oh, wait, there’s good news! As I look at the ad more closely, it states that the 96.5% machines are marked with danglers that tell you which ones they are. Of course, that leads to two new questions. Why would a casino do that unless they realize that even 96.5% is going to leave you with a small chance to win? Why would anyone play any of the slot machines that DON’T have a dangler if it means playing a machine below 94% if they can know which ones are 96.5% or better?

Why do I raise these questions? I guess it must be the perfectionist in me that can’t understand why people continue to