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Conspiracy Theory

26 October 1999

Casino claims about payback percentages can be tricky to decipher. Usually the effect is that the player thinks he's being promised more than really is there, but sometimes a player is fooled into thinking there have been cutbacks that didn't really happen.

Such was the case a couple of weeks ago when I received an e-mail from a reader who thought he had sniffed out a consipacy among the casinos, the governor and the Illinois Legislature to decrease payouts on slot machines.

Before dockside gaming, he said, Hollywood Casino in Aurora was advertising more than 98 percent payback on slot machines. Now it was advertising better than 94 percent. Why such a drastic drop? Had a cut in payback percentages been part of the deal in allowing the casinos to go dockside? Were the casinos giving the players less, allowing the government to take more in taxes?

The truth is rather less dramatic. The 98 percent and 94 percent figures are measuring different things. Hollywood's advertised 98 percent payback applied only to a single small bank of $1 slot machines, while the 94 percent figure applies to the operation as a whole, all 900-plus electronic gaming devices divided between Hollywood's vessels City of Lights I and City of Lights II.

The 94 percent payback is not lower than it was before dockside. In May, the last full month with cruise requirements, Hollywood's slots paid out 94.1 percent, while Harrah's and Empress in Joliet both paid out 94.2 percent and Grand Victoria in Elgin paid 94.8 percent.

In July, the first full month of dockside gaming, Hollywood again paid out 94.1 percent, Harrah's 94.2 percent, Empress 94.0 percent and Grand Victoria 94.7 percent.

A conspiracy to lower payback percentages? Nope. Figures are substantially the same as the were in the final months of cruising. Long- term, paybacks on slots have been rising slowly ever since casinos opened in the Chicago area in 1992. The main factor in determining payback percentages is competition, and that's only going to get more intense if and when a new casino opens in Rosemont.

COMMON DENOMINATOR: When I recommend casinos to slot players, I don't use the overall casino payback percentage. I find it more worthwhile to break down the paybacks by coin denomination. A casino that focuses on high-limit players won't necessarily be strong for quarter players, and one that tries to grind out a profit with quarter play won't necessarily offer high paybacks to dollar players.

In July, Harrah's Joliet paid quarter players 93 percent, while Hollywood and Grand Victoria each paid 92.2 percent on quarters. Empress Joliet's figures were not broken down by denomination in the Illinois Gaming Board's July report.

On dollars, Harrah's and Grand Victoria each paid 95.1 percent, while Hollywood paid 94.8

In August figures in northwest Indiana, quarter machines at Harrah's East Chicago and Majestic Star in Gary both paid 92.0 percent, Trump in Gary paid 91.9 percent and Empress Hammond paid 91.0 percent.

On dollars, Harrah's East Chicago paid 94.2 percent, Empress Hammond 94.1 percent, Trump 94.0 percent and Majestic Star 93.7 percent.

VIDEO POKER BONANZA: I finally got a chance to check out a tip from a reader that Trump Casino now has Triple Play Poker with 9- 6 Jacks or Better. The tip is accurate. When you walk onto the boat, take the stairs up one level, and on the back wall past the quarter video poker progressives, there is a large bank of quarter Triple Play machines. These not only include 9-6 Jacks or Better, which pays 9-for- 1 on full houses and 6-for-1 on flushes and return 99.5 percent with expert play, they also include an enhanced version of Deuces Wild that pays 99.7 percent with expert play.

These are a huge advance for northwest Indiana. Triple Play machines at Empress Hammond and Majestic Star have 6-5 Jacks or Better which returns only 95.1 percent with expert play, and truly awful versions of Deuces Wild, Bonus Deluxe, Double Bonus Poker and Double Double Bonus Poker. Reader Howard Stern tells me Harrah's East Chicago has two machines with the good pay tables that I missed on my last visit, but others on the boat have the same terrible games as at Empress and Majestic Star.

In Illinois, Hollywood and Grand Victoria have the bad Triple Play machines. Harrah's Joliet and Empress Joliet have an intermediate version on quarters, with 8-6 Jacks or Better (98.5 percent) and a Deuces version that pays 98.9 percent with expert play. The dollar games at the Joliet casinos have 9-6 Jacks or Better and the enhanced Deuces.

I cannot emphasize this strongly enough: DO NOT PLAY the Triple Play machines with 6-5 Jacks or Better or the other bad pay tables. They are big-time coin gobblers, and all the casinos that have them also have single-hand games with much better pay tables.


For more information about slot machines, we recommend:

The Slot Machine Answer Book by John Grochowski
Break the One Armed Bandits: How to Come Out Ahead When You Play the Slots! by Frank Scoblete
Slot Conquest Audio Cassette Tape (60 minutes) with Frank Scoblete

For more information about video poker, we recommend:

Victory at Video Poker and Video Craps, Video Keno, and Video Blackjack by Frank Scoblete
Winning Strategies at Slots & Video Poker! Videotape written by Frank Scoblete
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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

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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