Stay informed with the
Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski

# Hold On Before You Compare Hold Percentages

10 January 2002

As much as I hate to admit reading the competition, one recent Sunday I found myself checking out Parade magazine over breakfast. That's rarely a prime source of gambling information, but on this day, Marilyn vos Savant tackled a casino question in her "Ask Marilyn" column.

A reader wanted information about average wins or losses for casino visitors, and Marilyn responded that on the average, players lose 5.3 percent of their money on the slots, and 14.17 percent on the tables.

Now, I like "Ask Marilyn." It's a column brimming with information, word play and number play--right up my alley. When she tackles statistics, odds and probabilities, her math is always on target.

This time, however, Marilyn stepped outside her vast area of expertise, and into my narrow one. In doing so, she left the mistaken impression that table players are at a disadvantage almost three times as great as that faced by slot players. That's not the case. Table players by and large get a much better deal from casinos than slot players do.

The confusion comes from using statistics that aren't really comparable. The numbers cited are what casinos call "hold percentages," and from the look of them, they come from Nevada. Hold percentages tend to be a little higher in the rest of the country. In Illinois in August, for example, casinos held 6.25 percent on the slots and 14.75 percent on the tables.

To make any real sense of those statistics, you need to know that the hold percentage on the slots measures something very different from the hold percentage on the tables:

Slot hold percentage measures the percentage of WAGERS that is held (won) by the casino.

Table hold percentage measures the percentage of BUY-INS that is held by the casino.

The difference is important, because players don't just bet their money once and leave the machine or table. They rebet their winnings again and again, until a relatively small buy-in has led to thousands of dollars worth of wagers.

When I slide \$100 into the bill validator on a slot machine. I win on some spins, lose on more, and continue to play. Let's say I've had about average luck on a dollar machine, and before I lose my \$100, I've had enough winning spins to make \$2,000 in wagers. In the end, I lose 100/2,000ths, or 5 percent, of my total wagers. That 5 percent is the slot hold percentage for my play.

Now let's say I sit down at a blackjack table, and push \$100 across the layout to the dealer, who then gives me \$100 in casino chips. I bet \$5 a hand, and I win some and lose a little more. A couple of my \$5 chips bring smaller denomination tokens when I win 3-2 payoffs on blackjacks. I stick around to replay my winnings until I've made \$2,000 worth of bets, and find I've lost \$14. So I go to the cage to cash in \$86 worth of chips.

What is the casino's hold on my table action? It's \$14 of my \$100 buy-in, or 14 percent.

Look at those numbers carefully. Both at the slot machine and at the table, I've bought in for \$100 and made \$2,000 worth of wagers. On the slots, I've blown the full \$100, while at the table, I've lost only \$14. My table results sure look a lot better than my slot results, don't they? But the hold percentage statistic of the type Marilyn uses would show that the casino held 14 percent at the table, and only 5 percent on the slot.

With that problem alone, hold percentage should never be used to compare slots and table games. But there's more. We play slots much faster than we play table games. How long do you think it would take me to make \$2,000 in wagers on that dollar slot machine in my example? If I'm betting two tokens at a time, that's 1,000 spins of the reels. That'll take two hours if I'm lazing about it, and barely more than an hour if I'm in manic mode.

And how long will it take to make \$2,000 in wagers betting \$5 a hand at blackjack? That's 400 hands, and at a full seven-player tabl--low-limit tables are almost always full--it's going to take 6-to-8 hours.

The table statistic that's the best comparison to the slot hold percentage is the house edge. On the average, the house will hold about .5 percent of wagers against a blackjack basic strategy player, 2 to 2.5 percent against an average blackjack player, 1.4 percent against a craps pass/don't pass bettor or 1.52 percent against a craps player who places 6 or 8.

Those are all much lower figures than the slot hold percentage, but even they don't take into consideration the speed of the games. Slots are the fastest, most efficient devices the casinos have at their disposal to part players from their money. Trying to compare slot hold percentages to the vastly different table hold statistic merely disguises that fact.

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.