Resolution: Almost no slot play for 2009

Dec 30, 2008 5:02 PM
Winning Strategies by Elliot Frome |

As promised last week, there really is only one appropriate topic for this week, and that is a New Year’s resolution to give up the slot habit.

Most of us will probably make a resolution to lose weight this year. I heard on the radio while driving home from the holidays that something like 45 percent of people will make a New Year’s resolution to lose weight – again. This is the same resolution that was made last year.

I realize that each year I ask my readers to make the same resolution. But, I’m hopeful that each year it is a different group of readers who actually make the resolution. I’m fairly certain that if you keep to it for even a short time, the likelihood of going back is fairly slim.

The slots resolution is unlike the "weight loss" which, even if you keep for a month, you’re not as likely to hold to. Once you see how your bankroll lasts longer and that you’ve having more fun, you’ll never want to pull the handle ever again.

At the same time, I’m willing to bend a bit more than in past years. Normally, I just ask everyone to give up slots – period. This year, I’m willing to say that if you can find a slot machine with a higher payback than video poker then keep playing it.

Now, given the paytable of a video poker machine, I can quickly tell you the payback is of the machine. However, I have no idea how you know what the payback is of a slot machine. Anybody out there know?

I suppose you can try calling the casino management and ask them what the programmed payback is for that particular slot machine, but I don’t think you’ll get an accurate (or specific) answer. They might tell you that the payback for that type of slot machine is between X and Y percent or that the average is Z.

The problem is there is no way to tell. Two slot machines standing side by side with identical paytables may have been programmed to have vastly different paybacks. In fact, one might be X and the other Y - the absolute extremes for that type of machine, even though they appear to be 100 percent identical.

It is completely legal for slot machines to be programmed for near misses so that what you see is not necessarily what you get. There may appear to be 20 symbols on a "reel," but that doesn’t mean each has to show up 5 percent of the time.

This is not the case with video poker, where each card must have the exact same probability of being dealt (1 in 52!). Because of this, we are able to use computer programs to determine the exact payback of any machine in the casino. Thus, we can’t have two identical machines with different paybacks. The only game being played is video poker, not "trick the customer."

So, it is going to be very hard for any of you to meet my condition of sticking with slots because you’re not likely to get the right payback. And, even if you were to get it, you’d probably find that the paybacks of most slots are well below most video poker machines.

Achieving the theoretical payback of video poker, does admittedly, require the player to learn the right strategy and to use it. Slot machines, on the other hand, can be played while in any state of mind, and the payback will still be the same. There is no skill involved at all.

The casinos are willing to give video poker machines a higher payback because many players will not bother to learn the right strategy and just play video poker machines at slot machine paybacks. They can’t rely on this with slot machines because you don’t have to know anything. You’ll be just as "skillful" as the player who has played for years.

Maybe in the end, it really all comes down to the same thing – just make a New Year’s resolution to kick the slot habit. Try it. You won’t regret it.