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Putting slot systems to the test

17 October 2006

Systems for managing your money, for increasing or decreasing your wagers, can't change the house edge on any game. The house edge is the house edge, and given enough trials, the math will hold up.

Players want to believe otherwise, of course, and there are always people willing to feed that wish, selling systems they say will beat the odds.

At his blog www.slot-systems.com, Chuck Flick has decided to put systems for beating slot machines to the test. He's started by taking the 25 systems detailed in the book John Patrick on Slots, promising to give each five trials using real money.

A reader brought the site to my attention, e-mailing me a link to a page where Flick considers other books to tackle once he's tried all of Patrick's systems. My Slot Machine Answer Book is considered, and rarely have I been happier to be rejected. "It sounds like there aren't any real strategies in this, just level-headed slots wisdom," Flick writes. "Who needs that?"

What he's after are systems, systems and more systems. It's all done with a little wry humor, and a view jaundiced enough to know that systems can't really live up to the promises.

"The purpose of this site is to actually test various slot machine betting systems and record live results here," Flick writes. "I figure that anyone can sell a slots system, and anyone can debunk one mathematically. It takes a real man to actually play with one and keep up with the results."

Take the Step Method. Simple enough. Start with small wagers for five spins, then go up the steps to bet more on the next five, then up the steps once more for a third set of five spins. Repeat as needed, until you reach a win goal or loss limit.

Flick recently completed his five trials. Not surprisingly, he had four losing sessions. After all, we do lose on the slots more often than we win, and just hope the occasional big jackpot makes up for a lot of losing sessions.

He lost \$165.85 in the five losing session, and won \$56.80 in the one winner.

His conclusion?

"In all, I lost \$88.75 through the five sessions. That comes to a payback percentage of around 89 percent. That's lame, people."

And Flick presses on, with the site including an archive of tests going back to January, despite knowing what every slot player should:

"Slot machines have a certain payback percentage. Casinos have a house edge. Money management and slot systems cannot change that fact. To win, you have to get lucky. That's why they call it gambling."

It's a fun, fascinating experiment --- and one I'm glad I'm not conducting with my own money. I'll be watching with interest as the www.slot-systems.com experience spins away.

** ** ** **

A regular e-mail correspondent who's also a frequent video poker player wrote to ask how changing pay table affects casino profits. "If a casino that had 9-7-5 Double Bonus Poker, paying 99.1 percent, switched to 9-6-5, paying 97.9, does that mean profits on the game would double, because before they were keeping less than 1 percent and now they're keeping more than 2?"

It doesn't mean that at all, for a lot of reasons. For starters, most players don't play expert strategy. That 99.1-percent game really gives back more like 97 percent to most players, and that 97.9-percenter also gives back a couple of percent less because of strategy mistakes.

Beyond that, lower pay tables mean more profit for the casino only if the casino has people waiting in line to play video poker games. Obviously, if a lower-paying machine chases away customers, an unplayed machine makes no profit at all.

Just as big a factor is that casinos that offer low video poker pay tables often fail to understand that all they're really doing is taking away time on device. "Time on device" is such a buzz phrase in the slot industry today, with video slot machines designed primarily to provide entertainment and extend play, that slot executives would do well to understand what goes into time on device at video poker.

When video poker pay tables are reduced, the changes usually are made in the payoffs on full houses and flushes. In the example my reader cited, the only change is in the flush payoff, reduced from 7-for-1 instead of 6-for-1. For a five-coin bet, the player gets 35 coins on the higher-paying machine, 30 on the lower.

Neither is a walk-away jackpot. Players will walk away, happy with a profit, if they hit a royal flush or a big four of a kind. They will not walk away because they've won 35 coins on a flush. The difference between a 35-coin payoff and a 30-coin payoff is one extra hand for the playoff --- a tiny bit more time on device.

Unless a casino has customers waiting to play at any table, it will make just as much money from a 9-7-5 Double Bonus machine as from a 9-6-5 game. Maybe more, if it attracts extra play. All it's really giving is more time on device and a better play experience.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Beat the Odds" tips Saturdays at 6:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 7:41 p.m. and Sundays at 8:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 10:42 p.m. on WBBM-AM, News Radio 780 in Chicago, streaming online at www.wbbm780.com, and to his casino talk show from 7 to 8 p.m. Saturday on WCKG-FM (105.9), streaming at http://1059freefm.com.

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:

Winning Tips for Casino Games
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