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Best of John Grochowski

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Strengths and Weaknesses of Casino Games: Slots

20 April 2004

Every now and again, someone who doesn't go to casinos all that often will ask what they should play. He or she has a trip coming up with their spouse/out-of-town friend/park district group and would like a little advice.

Years ago, I used to just rattle off the list of the best bets: blackjack, especially if you take the time to learn basic strategy; craps, if you stick to pass/don't pass, come/don't come and place bets on 6 and 8; the best video poker games. Stay away from roulette, I'd tell those who asked, because the house edge is too high. And stay away from slot machines because the house edge is high AND they play too fast.

Nowadays, I'm more inclined to ask what the individual wants out of the game before I make suggestions. Reading your letters and e-mails has pounded home the point that not everyone has making the best percentage play as the top priority when they gamble. Players flock to the slots, fully understanding that they're going to lose a lot more often than they win, simply because they're easy and fun to play.

There are pluses and minuses in every game. Let's spend the next few weeks breaking down the games you'll find in casinos, with the strengths that can be attractive to players, along with the weaknesses that should make players wary. Today, I'll start with the most popular games in the casinos - slot machines.

REEL-SPINNING SLOTS

Strengths: Easy to play - just drop your money in, push the button or pull the handle, and watch the reels spin. No complex strategies to learn. Small minimum bets - you can get a spin of the reels for a quarter in the Chicago area, and in some markets you still can play reel-spinners for a nickel. Potential for large jackpots worth hundreds or even thousands of times the amount wagered. Players like the thrill of chasing a big jackpot for bets of just a few coins.

Weaknesses: High house edge. In the Chicago area, reel-spinning slots keep about 7 to 8 percent of everything wagered on quarter games, 5 to 6 percent on dollars. Play is very fast. It's easy to get in 500 spins of the reels per hour, and really fast, focused players can spin the reels 1,000 times an hour, if their money lasts. Even though most reel-spinning games have maximum bets of only two or three coins, fast play leads to a very high wager total per hour.

The combination of high house edge and fast play makes the slots the fastest way to lose your money in the casino. Frequency of winning spins is low, roughly 10 percent to 18 percent depending on the game, and that makes long losing streaks inevitable.

VIDEO SLOT MACHINES

Strengths: Like reel-spinning slots, easy to play, with no strategies to learn. Small minimum bets, as low as 1 cent if you play one line at a time on a penny slot.

Bonus rounds give added entertainment value as you select your Chinese menu (Fortune Cookie), grow your carrots and beets (Cash Crop), answer trivia questions (Ripley's Believe It or Not) or play bonus rounds on any of the dozens of themed games on slot floors. Games are more interactive than reel slots, as players make decisions in bonus rounds.

Bonus rounds also slow down the game a bit, so that players make fewer bets per hour than on reel-spinners. Multiple paylines - with nine lines being the most common - leads to higher frequency of winning spins, usually around 40 percent, but with some games exceeding 50 percent.

Weaknesses: Paylines that zig and zag across the screen confuse some players. It's more difficult than on reel slots to tell at a glance just what you've won and how you've done it.

Average bets often are larger than they seem. You can play a nickel game for one nickel, but most players bet all the paylines. Bet one nickel on each of nine paylines, and you're betting 45 cents a spin, nearly as much as betting two quarters at a time on a reel-spinner. Bet five coins per line on a nine-line nickel game, and you're betting $2.25 a spin - up there in dollar-game territory on a reel-spinner.

House edge is high - in the Chicago area, the majority of video slots are nickel games that keep roughly 12 percent of everything wagered, even though players are wagering as much as on quarter or dollar reel-spinning games. High frequency of wins is offset by the fact that many wins bring less return than the amount wagered - a single winning payline with a four-coin return doesn't offset a nine-coin wager. Though slower than reel-spinners, play is still much faster than table games, with 400 spins an hour being an easy pace.

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