What’s the real cost of free slot play?

Jun 9, 2009 5:07 PM
Cluster Keno by L. J. Zahm |

Thanks to all the readers who e-mailed their comments this past week. It’s good to know fellow video keno players are as dedicated to the game as I am.

Here’s one from Angie in Las Vegas, who said she often receives "free slot play" from her slot club, but that the free play seldom results in any "decent" jackpots. She wanted to know what games should be played in the free play mode, and whether free slot play changes how a machine operates.

That second question is a good one and has become the topic of considerable debate among players. But let’s try the first one first. The last time I received free slot play, I got $70 in credits from a locals oriented casino here in Las Vegas. I played 20-card keno, and after playing off the $70, I was left with about $60, which I cashed out.

Quite frankly, that was more than I’m accustomed to getting under the free slot play mode. Ordinarily, I seldom get back more than 50 percent of the free play amount.

I don’t think it matters which keno game you choose; just make sure it’s one that has full pay tables and it’s a game you’re familiar with.

Now, as to the free play mode, experts have told me they "believe" the machine doesn’t change its operation, just because it’s playing on free credits. But no one seems to know for sure.

But there are two theories circulating out there. One is that the machines are so tight that the casino doesn’t think twice about giving away free slot play, when it is so hard to hit anything of significance anyway.

The other theory is that the slot machine, because you haven’t actually invested your own money, is no longer a gambling device in the free play mode, and therefore not subject to the regular gaming requirements. That is, the odds, probabilities and so forth don’t count because you haven’t really made a bet.

It sounds far-fetched to me, and raises the question of how the technology of the machine would change in the free play mode. But consider this: the casinos give away thousands of dollars a month in free slot play on machines that, on average, return 95 percent of all money bet (in Nevada) to players.

Yet, the casinos won’t allow you to take your $100 in free slot play and bet it on other casino games with a much lower payback percentage to players.

For instance, live keno returns only 72 percent to players, while blackjack, craps and roulette return only 88 percent, 86 percent and 81 percent, respectively. Wouldn’t the casino be better off allowing us to bet that free $100 on those games rather than on machines that return 95 percent?

But they won’t, and maybe we’ll one day find the reason why.

Here’s another note from Jesse, who commented about "John Doe’s" experiences playing video keno:

"I enjoy reading all the columns, but mostly the Keno stuff, but I just read the John Doe article and I have to agree the machines do not pay anywhere near how they used to.

"I visit Las Vegas about 5-6 times a year and spend anywhere from $1,500 to $2,500 every visit, and the last few I can say I didn’t get to play long for my money.

"I have been thinking to try the California Indian casinos, but first will be visiting Las Vegas in July (for the Eagles bowling tournament). This will probably make up my mind."

Thanks, Jesse, and unfortunately you’re not alone in your assessment of the diminishing number of keno jackpots – this is a complaint I hear from Vegas players practically every day. I’ve tried with no success in getting the casinos to release some sort of historical statistic on how many taxable jackpots are paid out, so as to compare how things have changed, if they have changed.

But they won’t divulge that kind of information. It’s a shame, because we players should know whether something has materially changed in the way jackpots are paid out.

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: LJ Zahm