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Best of John Grochowski

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A shuffle through the gaming mailbag

17 November 2011

Q. If a player betting two spots must double the minimum bet at blackjack, does that mean playing two spots instead of one is an advantage to the player? Since my wife and I always gamble together (and there's no her money/his money, it's all our money), should we always play two spots by sitting next to each other, without being forced into doubling bets, instead of me standing behind her with advice? (I won't comment on the value of the advice.)

A. The house edge when you play two spots is the same as when you play one. It smooths out the volatility a little, but the odds of the game are the same.

The reason the house requires a double-minimum bet to play two spots is that it doesn't want to tie up multiple spots with minimum bets. They'd rather take the chance that another player will come along and bet several times the minimum. They've done their research, and know they make more money that way.

Q. I think I understand pay tables and the random number generator on video poker. I play a lot of 9/6 Jacks but have always wondered whether progressive machines pay off smaller amounts less frequently in order to pay for the progressive. I believe this is true in slots and it certainly seems to be in video poker.

A. No, the programming in video poker doesn't allow for a lower frequency of small-paying hands to pay for the progressive. Progressive or not, the deck is electronically shuffled, results are random and the odds are the same as if you were using a well-shuffled deck of real cards.

A casino that wants its base game to pay less on a progressive game will change the pay tables, just as they do on their regular video poker games. The same casino might have 9/6 Jacks or Better non-progressives and 8/5 progressives. If they have 9/6 progressives, they're giving the player something extra above the 9/6 pay table.

Slot machines are different both in programming and in regulatory requirements. Casinos can and do have lower-paying base games with lower frequency of small paybacks on progressive machines. But in video poker, any change in the game is out there for the world to see in the form of the lower pay table.

Q. There are a bunch of new video slot machines that have 50 lines and you must play all of them. You only get to choose your coin denomination, whether you play 1 cent per line or more. The minimum bet is 50 cents. To me these are 50 cent machines and no longer 1 cent. I assume, and would love to know if you think differently, that the payback percentages on these new machines are like other 1 cent, pretty low, under 90%.

I think people are crazy to risk this kind of money without the payback that 50 cent or higher machines give. Of course they are more fun than 50 cent or $1 reel machines.

A. Your last sentence sums up the reason that video slots now command a majority of the floor space in casinos. They're fun to play, and customers are willing to settle for a lower payback percentage than on a three-reel slot with no bells, whistles or big bonus events.

I agree that it's difficult to think of a slot machine as a penny game when there's a minimum wager of 50 cents. And I was recently in a Midwest casino that took things a step farther. There were no penny slots, and many of the 2-cent games had 50-line forced bets for a minimum wager of a dollar. That's more money per spin than a three-reel player would bet making the traditional three-coin maximum wager on a quarter game. And yes, the games with the high minimum bets usually pay at the same 90% or less as other penny and 2-cent games.

There is a mitigating factor. Bonus events take time to play, and when you're playing a bonus event, you're not making extra wagers. If you bet 50 cents at a time on a non-bonus, three-reel game and play a steady but easy pace of 500 spins an hour, you risk $250 per hour. If I play a video bonus slot at 50 cents a spin but spend 10% of my time in bonus events, I risk only $225 per hour.

Still, average losses per hour are higher at the lower-paying penny games. The attraction is primarily the entertainment value, and players have voted with their wallets to accept lower payback percentages to get the features built into low-denomination video slots. Now we'll see whether that trend extends to accepting a minimum bet of 50 cents or a dollar a pop.

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:

The Craps Answer Book

> More Books By John Grochowski