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Best of John Grochowski
Playing Multiple Machines at Once15 March 2005
I'm never surprised to see reel-spinning Wheel of Fortune slot machines getting heavy play. They've been a popular favorite ever since IGT introduced them in the late 1990s, longevity that's rare in the fast-changing world of slot machines.
So on a recent casino visit, it wasn't that 10 games in the 12-machine Wheel of Fortune bank were busy as I walked past that caught my eye. It was that three of the machines were being played by the same woman. Seeing someone playing multiple machines isn't a great surprise, although it's not something I recommend. But this was a woman of action, on her feet all the time, striding from one machine to the next to hit the "Max Bet" button and keep all reels spinning at once.
A passer-by noticed me watching. "She usually only plays two at a time," he said. "Not always the Wheel of Fortunes. Sometimes it's the Double Diamonds over there without the wheel. Always two at a time. Says she wins more that way."
Loses more, too, I told him. He laughed.
"I've played next to her a few times. She has a theory. She thinks the casino puts cold machines next to the hot ones, so that by playing two at a time, she'll get one of the hot ones. So you think there's anything to that?"
Not much, and not often I told him. She'll hit more jackpots playing more than one machine at a time as rapidly as she was doing it, but that's just because she was betting on more spins of the reels, and risking more money. Overall, she'll lose more money faster than if she stuck with one machine.
"So do you think one machine is pretty much the same as another?"
Not necessarily. Casinos do put machines with different payback percentages on their floors, and two identical-looking machines may yield wildly different returns. It's not out of the question that a slot director could put a machine that returns 89 percent in the long run right next to one that returns 97 percent. But that's a pretty extreme example. More often, adjacent machines of the same type are much closer in payback percentage.
"But sometimes she might get on a hot slot that she otherwise might miss. So she's better off then, right?"
Even the "hot" machines are programmed with a house advantage --- in most newer gaming jurisdictions, it's illegal for a machine to return more than 100 percent in the long run. Even where such returns are legal, 100-percent-plus machines are rare, and reserved for special circumstances. I once watched at a downtown Las Vegas casino as a player won on pull after pull, tokens filling trays and buckets all around him as security guards kept watch. When the player left, the machines were shut down --- the player was a shill, employed by the house, there to entice others to play machines with tighter programming.
You and I are aren't likely to stumble on a 100-percent-plus machine.
"But just say that lady stumbled on, what'd you say, a 97-percent machine in addition to an 89-percent machine. What then? Isn't she better off?"
Not if she plays that fast. She's playing each machine there almost as fast as she could play one. And every machine has a house edge.
She plays two machines, not three, most of the time, so let's simplify this and do a little arithmetic for a two-machine player, using our extreme example of a 89-percent game next to a 97-percenter. Our player sits down at the 89-percenter and play 500 spins per hour --- a steady but easy pace --- betting three quarters on each spin. She risks $375 per hour, and on the average will lose $41.25. If by chance she had sat at the 97-percenter instead, her risk of $375 per hour would have yielded average hourly losses of only $11.25.
"So she really wants to get the higher paying machine."
Yes, but only if she has it instead of the low-payer, not in addition to it.
Look at how fast she's playing, hitting the button to start the reels on one machine while they're still spinning on the next. On two machines, it'd be easy for her to get 500 spins per hour on each machine. On the average, she'd not only lose the $41.25 per hour on the low-payer, but also lose the $11.25 per hour on the high-paying machine. Losses total $52.50 per hour. She's worse off, not better, playing two games at once, even when she stumbles onto one high-paying game.
If she waited till the reels stopped on one machine to start the other, leaving a total of 500 spins per hour split between two machines, average losses in our extreme example would become $26.25 --- better than playing just the 89-percenter, but worse than if blind luck took her to the 97-percenter.
"So she shouldn't play more than one machine?"
That's between her and her bankroll, and the entertainment value she feels she's getting. But in dollars and cents, no, there is no advantage to playing two slot machines at once.
This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at email@example.com.
Best of John Grochowski