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Best of John Grochowski

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Bad Days at the Casino

22 July 2003

Every so often, readers send me tales of big wins, back-to-back jackpots, comebacks--their best days at the casinos. Those are the days every player likes to relive.

Then there are the days we'd like to forget. I don't hear about these as often, but they happen to everyone. Let's face it: Losing sessions on the slots are a lot more frequent than winning sessions.

Once in a blue moon, a reader looking for a sympathetic ear will e-mail me to share the story of a day when nothing went right.

A fellow named Hal sent just such a story.

"I'd always heard that the $5 slots paid more than the dollars or quarters," he wrote. "So I decided to take one big shot at the $5 games. Instead of going every week and taking a couple hundred to play the dollar slots, I decided to make one trip at the end of the month, and bring a thousand.

"I have to admit I was a little nervous, but I put five $100 bills in. It took that much to get the 100 credits that I like to start with. I bet two coins at a time. Betting $10 on a slot machine sure seemed like a lot, but I figured that if I hit the 7s, or even the triple bars, even once, I could win a few hundred dollars. I mean, the jackpot would have been nice. But a middle-sized win or two was really all I was looking for.

"Well, the win never came. It can't have taken more than 15 minutes. I never got anything bigger than three mixed bars, and by the time I got that, I only had half my money left. When that first $500 ran out, I put in another $300, figuring again that one middle-sized hit would get my money back, and if I lost it, at least I had $200 left to go play dollars or quarters. If anything, my money went down the drain even faster. I hadn't been there half an hour, and already most of my money was gone.

"I decided to get out of there with what I had left, and take it as a lesson that I'm not cut out to be a $5 slot player. At least I got a breakfast comp out of the deal."

A couple of points. An $800 loss is a high price for a "free" breakfast. As for $5 slot machines paying more, they do tend to have higher payback percentages than lower-denomination machines do. At the four Illinois casinos closest to Chicago--Harrah's and Empress in Joliet, Hollywood in Aurora and Grand Victoria in Elgin--returns on $5 machines average about 96 percent, compared with 95 percent on dollar games and 93 percent on quarter games.

But that 96-percent figure is compiled over hundreds of thousands of pulls, and short-term cold streaks are a normal part of play. If you're going to play the higher-denomination slots, you have to be prepared to take some large short-term losses. If losing $800 in a session makes you queasy--and it would do just that to most of us--you're better off sticking to dollars or quarters.

A woman who called herself "Sally Slots" didn't go for the $5 slots on her losing day. She went the opposite direction, changing from quarter reel-spinners to nickel video slots.

"I've played slots about once a month since the boats opened," she wrote. "I've always played the quarter reel slots. I bring $40 or $80, and if I lose it, I leave," she wrote. "Sometimes I get my lunch comped. It's a nice day out. I won $1,000 once, and a couple of times I've hit for 2,500 quarters. That's $625, and that's not bad for quarter slots. Sometimes I lost what I brought in 30 minutes, and that was that. But sometimes I had extra money to take home.

"Lately, I've been playing nickel video slots because I think they're fun. It seems more like playing a game than gambling. The problem is, I never seem to win. I mean, I win a little something here and there, but it's never big enough that I could walk away with a win. The other day, I was playing Jackpot Party. I kept getting to the party, but I kept hitting the 'pooper' on the first or second time. I got to play for an hour or so, but it drained my money. Why don't those $600 or $1,000 wins ever happen?"

Sally was finding exactly what nickel slots are designed to do. They give small paybacks more often than reel-spinners, but most of those paybacks are less than the size of your bet. That keeps you going longer than you would on a bad session on reel slots, but the big paybacks that would make you happy to walk away come less often. Each player has to decide whether the longer play and entertainment value of video games is important enough to her or him to make up for the lower frequency of big hits.

Losses are part of the game. Sally, Hal and all slot players need to decide what they want out of the slots, and choose the games and denominations that are best for them.

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:

> More Books By John Grochowski