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Best of John Grochowski

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A Shuffle through the Gaming Mailbag: Where Will $100 Last the Longest?

24 August 2004

Q. My dad and I are having an argument. If I take $100 to the casino and want to play for a couple of hours, what do I want to play, nickel video slots, quarter reel slots or $5-a-hand blackjack? I say you have to go with the nickels because the bets are too high on blackjack. He says it's blackjack because it's a more even game than the slots. We thought quarter slots might be a compromise.

Joel

A. If your sole interest is making your play last two hours without running out of money, the nickel slots are your best option.

Blackjack gives you the best chance to walk away with a winning session, both because it has the lowest house edge of these games and because it plays slower than the slots, giving the house edge fewer opportunities to work against you in any limited time period.

Quarter slots give you the best chance to walk away with a truly large win. Blackjack players build up their wins painstakingly, one bet at a time. Slot players can hit the big bonanza in one spin of the reels, and quarter reel-spinners have more frequent large jackpots than do nickel video slots.

Video slots are designed to extend players' "time on device," as length of play is called in the casino industry. They pay small amounts much more frequently than reel-spinning slots do - often with payoffs that are smaller than the bets. Tying up more of the long-term payback in small payoffs means less is available for large jackpots - the really big wins are less frequent, smaller or both as compared with those on reel-spinning games.

Extended time on device seems to be what you're after, and small bets on the nickel video slots will do the best job of keeping you going for a couple of hours. There's a cost, of course - in this area, per $100 wagered, players will average $11 to $12 in losses on nickel video slots, $7 to $9 in losses on quarter reel-spinners and $2 to $2.50 (average player) or 30 cents to 70 cents (basic strategy player) in losses at blackjack.

But at $5 a pop, a short losing streak can knock you out of the box in a hurry when you start with $100 in blackjack. Long losing streaks are a fact of life on reel-spinning slots, and there's no guarantee that $100 will last anywhere close to two hours on quarter reel-spinners. On a nickel video slot, betting one coin per payline on a nine-line game, you should be able to nurse $100 through a couple of hours. If the money starts getting low, you can always play one line, a nickel at a time, for a while.

It's almost ironic - the game at which you're least likely to win is also the game at which you're most likely to last the longest. If the choice was mine, I'd take the $100 to the blackjack table. But I'd also accept the possibility I'd have to spend much of the two hours watching others play.

Q. I was interested in your column about Phil Gordon, the professional poker player who was at Hollywood Casino a couple of weeks ago. Poker is such a hot game right now. So why aren't there more places where we can play? I usually go to Harrah's and Empress in Joliet, and have asked about poker, and the people I talk to say they know of no plans to add poker. Why?

Phyllis

A. Other games, especially slot machines, remain more profitable for casino operators. In larger casinos, space can be reserved for poker rooms. But in Illinois, where casinos are limited by law to 1,200 gaming positions, space is at a a premium. It's very difficult for an operator to justify cutting back on the slot floor, or cutting even more out of the ever-shrinking table games pit, to add a game that makes less money for the casino.

In the Chicago area, only Hollywood in Aurora has a poker room. Even in Indiana, with no such restrictions on gaming positions, Harrah's East Chicago and Trump in Gary are the only casinos close to Chicago to offer poker. Blue Chip in Michigan City closed its poker room last year not because it wasn't doing well - it was - but because the penny slots that are in that room now make more money.

I recently spoke with an executive of a large casino chain and asked him if he thought a trend in other parts of the country toward opening new poker rooms and expanding existing rooms could last. He said the basic economics hadn't changed. Poker is still a labor-intensive, space-eating proposition. Weighing in poker's favor from the casino perspective is that as the hot game with big television exposure, it is attracting younger players, many of whom play other games once they're in the casino.

We're unlikely to see a big expansion of casino poker rooms in Illinois unless the law restricting the number of gaming positions is changed. Regardless of how hot the game is, profits win out over popularity every time.

Q. One thing bothers me about ticket printers. What if I lose a ticket? I'm out the money.

Warren

A. You're also out the money if you lose cash. Treat a $100 ticket as if it's a $100 bill.

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