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Best of John Grochowski

Gaming Guru

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A shuffle through the gaming mailbag

9 September 2008

Q. I heard a report that slot machines are paying less than they used to, and that the casinos are making more money off them. How can they get away with that?

A. I've heard from a number of readers about tighter slot payouts ever since the Daily Herald in Chicago's northwest suburbs noted in late July that while only 7% of slot machines in the Chicago suburbs paid 90% or less in 2000, the number has soared to 46% in 2008.

The trend is similar in every gaming market in the United States. There are more slots with low payback percentages than ever before.

Why? Player preference.

Oh, it's not that players prefer that games pay less. But players have chosen a marked preference for low-denomination slot machines, such as the penny games that are the fastest-growing segment of the casino gaming market. At some casinos in the Chicago market, where demand outstrips supply, operators are going for two-cent games instead of pennies, and those two-centers are the fastest-growing market segment.

Casinos today make more money per machine on penny video slots than they do on quarter or even dollar reel-spinners. The reason the penny games are so profitable is that players keep them busy. If all the seats were full at quarter and dollar games with mechanical reels and empty at the penny and two-cent video slots, you'd soon find the market adapting.

Denomination by denomination, slot machines pay about as much as they did in 2000, or any other year you'd care to choose. I'll use Illinois as an example, just because it's easy — Indiana releases raw data rather than percentages, and Michigan doesn't release monthly slot revenue breakdowns. In June 2008, dollar slots paid 94.38% and quarters paid 93.73. In June 2000, returns were 95.06% on dollars and 93.15 on quarters. Down a little on dollars, up a little on quarters, but in the same ballpark on the leading reel-spinning denominations.

Yet overall, slot machines in Illinois dropped from a 94.29% return in June 2000 to 92.46% in June 2008. Why? Because in June 2000 there were only 1,212 nickel slots, and none of lower denomination. In June 2008 the totals of nickels and lower denominations had soared to 5,009.

The number soared because people like the games. They like the video bonus rounds and free spins, they like having 20, 25, 50, even 100 paylines with all the possible winning combinations. And they like that on a penny game, they can afford to play 100 paylines, which they could never do on a quarter or dollar game.

The tradeoff is that penny games pay a lower percentage than nickel games, which pay less than quarters, which pay less than dollars, and so on. Players seem not only willing, but eager to make that tradeoff, judging by the popularity of low-denomination games.

Q. I played Blackjack Switch for the first time, and had what I thought was a great hand. I was dealt a pair of 9s and a pair of 2s. So I switched a 9 and a 2 to make two 11s, and doubled down on both hands. I got 21 and one hand and 19 on the other. The dealer busted with 22, but she didn't pay me. What happened?

A. In Switch, you're dealt two hands, and may swap the second cards between the hands. That gives the player a big advantage. The house makes up for that by claiming 22 as its own. A dealer's 22 pushes any player hand except a blackjack — player blackjacks still win.

Q. The maximum bet on Triple Play Poker is 15 coins, but when it starts draining, I find I'm down to only five or 10 credits quite often. What do you do?

A. Triple Play does not allow you to wager the maximum on just one or two hands as some multihand variations, including Fifty Play Poker, do. If you bet 10 credits, the machine will spread it out as a four-credit wager on hand No. 1 and three each on Nos. 2 and 3. A five-coin wager will leave you with two two-coin bets and a one-coin bet.

Without a maximum five-coin bet on any hand, you're not eligible for the big jump in the royal flush jackpot. You'll get just 250-for-1 instead of the 4,000-coin bonanza for five coins wagered. That costs you nearly 2% in expected return.

You probably won't hit a royal on any given short-coins wager, but if enough players make such bets, someone will hit a short-coin wager. I don't want it to be me. When I'm in that situation, if I don't want to make an additional buy-in, I cash out and either take the ticket to a single-hand machine or figure I have a little extra tip change.

Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

Winning Tips for Casino Games

> More Books By John Grochowski