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Ask the Slot Expert: Advantage Play outside the casino

20 April 2022

Last week I wrote about a conversation I had with Jean Scott's husband, Brad. I had just played a promotion in which you got a free movie ticket if you earned a certain number of points.

Without missing a beat, Brad asked, "How much did that ticket cost you?"

"About $200," I said and we both chuckled.

Many people would think that we're crazy laughing about losing $200 to get a $12 ticket (Cinemark XD early show). But we both knew that, even though it was more likely to have a loss, I might have had a profit -- and a movie, to boot. The movie promotion decreased the house edge just a bit.

Bob Dancer wrote a column with a similar theme recently, Not Everybody Will Understand. In it he described how a manager at Sprouts Farmers Market resolved a problem with a promotion by giving him a benefit better than what he was entitled to. After that, he went to the casino to play video poker and lost $750.

When he got home, he told his wife, Bonnie, about his score at Sprouts. The loss at the casino didn't bother him at all. Bonnie said, "Your thinking is no messed up!"

Bob's point was that as long as he plays only when he has an advantage, the math says he will have a profit in the long run. That's the same math that the casino uses. As long as they have an edge over the players, individual players will win or lose, but overall the casino will make a profit.

One of the goals of Advantage Play is to squeeze as much benefit as you can from a promotion. You just have to be careful about how hard you squeeze a casino's promotion. The casino may notice and take action (I know).

In the Sprouts promotion, your register receipt would include a coupon good for $10 off a $75 purchase the next month. There was no minimum purchase required to get the coupon.

An advantage player who regularly shops at Sprouts might make more purchases of fewer items to maximize the number of coupons she received. When the coupons became valid, she might group her purchases to just over $75 each.

(I don't do a good job hitting a target amount at the grocery store. A couple of weeks ago I had an offer for extra rewards points if I made a $40 purchase. I wasn't planning to buy that much on that trip, but I estimated that I was pretty close with what I had in my cart. I thought that maybe I should get a few more items, but I thought I was just over $40. As it turned out, I was 32 cents under $40. I should have called over the self-checkout chaperone and told her that I was going to run over to the impulse-buy display to get a candy bar to get over $40, but I didn't think of that until now.)

What could Sprouts have done to thwart some Advantage Play techniques? Sprouts could have required a minimum purchase to get the coupon on your register receipt, but I figure that they thought that more coupons in the wild, the better. They calculated that the additional purchases they would get from people using coupons would more than make up for the smaller profit they would make on each purchase.

We can use Advantage Play techniques in other situations.

Whenever Starbucks has a game, there's someone who posts a message about how to play the game at the cheapest cost. Some games involve challenges that you can complete. Let's say a game has these three challenges: make a weekday and a weekend purchase; make a purchase at two different stores; and make a morning and an afternoon purchase.

The advantage player looks at the gestalt of these challenges. A banana is the cheapest thing on the menu, so that's what he'll buy. He buys a banana from store A Friday morning and a banana from store B Saturday afternoon. He's killed three challenges with two bananas.

I never tried to maximize my Starbucks return that way on the games. I always just bought whatever I would normally buy. But this morning, I did make an unplanned Advantage Play play. It was double points day and it's been a few days since I've gone for a walk, so I planned to walk to Starbucks for a cold brew. When I opened the Starbucks app this morning, I had a menu challenge I could start. Buy two Impossible Breakfast Sandwiches for extra points. I could do that. And I might as well get the first one on a double points day.

The contestants on Wheel of Fortune could use some Advantage Play techniques. I never used to watch Wheel after Jeopardy, but I got sucked in with the new promotion in which viewers can win $10,000. It's easier for me to just watch the show than to remember to check the website to see if my Spin ID won. More entertaining, too.

Why do the players buy vowels so often? Pat is like a pusher with the vowels. Even though he's only pointing out to contestants that they have enough money to buy a vowel, it's like he's encouraging them to do so and he always says it's a good idea -- unless the vowel isn't in the puzzle.

As soon as these players get some money, it's burning a hole in their pockets and they have to spend it on vowels. First consonant in the puzzle and the player buys a vowel. Why? You're probably not going to be able to solve the puzzle with only one consonant and one vowel. And too many times the vowel they buy is not in the puzzle and they lose their turn and $250. Why not spin the wheel? If your consonant is not in the puzzle, you still lose your turn, but you have an extra $250.

Okay, you might spin Bankrupt. But you're probably not going to solve the puzzle after your vowel buy and you're going to spin again anyway. Don't buy the vowel now.

Now, let's say players call a high-frequency consonant, buy a vowel, and then call another high-frequency consonant. They probably would have called the second high-frequency consonant even without the vowel. The vowel didn't change their play, so buying it then was money down the drain.

There is one instance in which buying a vowel early in the puzzle makes sense to me. If the category is What are you doing?, you know there is a gerund in the puzzle. You should call N, then G, then buy an I. Then try to get enough consonants revealed to solve the puzzle.

Granted, we're not talking about a lot of money with vowel buying and most games aren't very close. Every once in a while, a few hundred dollars decides the winner, so every little bit can help. (To prove my point, tonight a lady with the Million Dollar Wedge lost to another lady by $232.) And all players could leave with more money if they were more strategic with buying vowels.

Don't go vowel fishing. Buy only when you're fairly sure the vowel is in puzzle and you need some help or you have no idea what consonant to call next and are desperate.

On an episode a few weeks ago, a lady had a commanding lead going into the Triple Toss-Up and the Million Dollar Wedge. She got the third toss-up and the first spin on the next puzzle. There was time to start normal play on that puzzle. I was afraid she might get Bankrupt and lose the wedge.

I don't know if players can see a timing indicator to know that the puzzle after the toss-up is going to go right to Final Spin. If she could tell that it was time for Final Spin, then she was safe solving the toss-up. If she couldn't tell that she would safe from spinning a Bankrupt on the next puzzle, I think she should have let someone else get the third toss-up and hope that she didn't have to spin again. She was 99.99% sure to win. Why take a chance on losing the Million Dollar Wedge?


It seems like the same people who advocated for letting jurisdictions set their own level of Covid mitigation efforts are now complaining that the rules are different in different places.

Isn't that what local determination is all about?

The airline pilots who lifted the mask mandate mid-flight should not have done so. The safety of all of their passengers is their primary responsibility. There might have been passengers aboard who would have taken additional precautions if they had known they were going to be on a flight with unmasked passengers. The pilots shouldn't have changed the rules during the flight.

Here are the latest Covid data. There is a difference in the hospitalization data for US versus NV. The CDC reports total number of Covid hospital admissions. Nevada reports current hospitalizations, not admissions.

Note: Nevada reported 310 deaths in one filing this past week and 159 in another. This is not the time to get sloppy in reporting hospitalizations and deaths since the number of cases is not as relevant as it was before vaccines and treatments.

All data comes from the CDC (https://www.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#cases_totalcases, https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#new-hospital-admissions), except for Nevada current hospitalizations (https://nvhealthresponse.nv.gov/).


Totals Weekly Changes
US NV US NV
Date Cases  Hosp. Adm.  Deaths  Cases  Curr. Hosp.  Deaths  Cases  Hosp. Adm.  Deaths  Cases  Curr. Hosp.  Deaths 
 04/19/22   80,526,422   4,620,271   986,545   716,157   126   10,682   266,330   10,525   3,308   1,232   (37)   497 
 04/12/22   80,260,092   4,609,746   983,237   714,925   163   10,185   228,465   10,343   3,627   1,228   23   53 
 04/05/22   80,031,627   4,599,403   979,610   713,697   140   10,132   203,709   10,312   4,105   1,059   (52)   76 
 03/29/22   79,827,918   4,589,091   975,505   712,638   192   10,056   206,914   9,572   4,083   1,187   5   40 
 03/22/22   79,621,004   4,579,519   971,422   711,451   187   10,016   200,627   8,502   8,178   742   (71)   83 
 03/15/22   79,418,377   4,571,017   963,244   710,709   258   9,933   253,069   17,393   5,492   24,844   (20)   113 
 03/08/22   79,165,308   4,553,624   957,752   685,865   278   9,820   310,308   24,471   9,870   2,099   (101)   116 
 03/01/22   78,855,000   4,529,153   947,882   683,766   379   9,704   465,845   33,261   14,988   6,421   (189)   196 
 02/22/22   78,389,155   4,495,892   932,894   677,345   568   9,508   551,462   46,726   12,797   4,023   (297)   173 
 02/15/22   77,837,693   4,449,166   920,097   673,322   865   9,335   1,005,691   67,963   17,059   5,280   (375)   149 
 02/08/22   76,782,002   4,381,203   903,038   668,042   1,240   9,186   1,769,556   92,750   18,185   11,144   (387)   235 
 02/01/22   75,012,446   4,288,453   884,853   656,898   1,627   8,951   3,193,570   121,420   17,885   26,555   (344)   191 
 01/25/22   71,818,876   4,167,033   866,968   630,343   1,971   8,760   5,102,999   143,329   16,393   57,574   99   133 
 01/18/22   66,715,937   4,023,704   850,575   572,769   1,872   8,627   4,983,654   147,105   13,301   25,927   (1,787)   99 
 01/11/22   61,732,283   3,876,599   837,274   546,842   3,659   8,528   5,421,565   139,572   12,168   32,486   2,594   100 
 01/05/22   56,310,718   3,737,027   825,106   514,344   1,065   8,428   3,501,427   104,272   8,867   20,966   276   61 
 12/28/21   52,809,291   3,362,755   816,239   493,378   789   8,367   1,693,987   63,185   11,127   7,977   89   56 
 12/21   51,115,304   3,569,570   805,112   485,401   700   8,311   1,063,296   55,734   9,102   5,639   9   110 
 12/14   50,052,008   3,513,836   796,010   479,762   691   8,201   853,262   57,885   8,946   5,008   17   91 
 12/07   49,198,746   3,455,951   787,064   474,754   674   8,110   821,215   66,191   8,575   5,011   23   125 
 11/30   48,377,531   3,389,760   778,489   469,743   651   7,985   563,746   28,426   6,309   3,343   (50)   55 
 11/23   47,813,785   3,361,334   772,180   466,400   701   7,930   667,924   41,145   10,754   4,784   (24)   86 
 11/16   47,145,861   3,320,189   761,426   461,616   725   7,844   604,748   63,164   7,862   4,577   22   85 
 11/09   46,541,113   3,257,025   753,564   457,039   703   7,759   516,764   33,219   8,290   5,539   34   103 
 11/02   46,024,349   3,223,806   745,274   451,500   669   7,656   555,915   38,028   9,226   4,327   45   109 
 10/26   45,468,434   3,185,778   736,048   447,173   624   7,547   488,829   42,265   9,842   4,753   (87)   96 
 10/19   44,979,605   3,143,513   726,206   442,420   711   7,451   578,396   11,963   4,381   136 
 10/12   44,401,209   714,243   438,039   7,315   795,586   14,067   15,710   149 
 10/05   43,605,623   700,176   422,329   7,166   554,194   10,642   3,852   121 
 09/28   43,051,429   689,534   418,477   7,045   817,218   14,463   6,160   165 
 09/21   42,234,211   675,071   412,317   6,880   971,637   14,691   7,466   152 
 09/14   41,262,574   660,380   404,851   6,728   1,176,763   12,919   10,256   145 
 09/07   40,085,811   647,461   394,595   6,583   975,725   10,076   5,237   104 
 08/31   39,110,086   637,385   389,358   6,479   1,113,414   9,385   7,592   173 
 08/24   37,996,672   628,000   381,649   6,306   1,045,491   7,507   8,117   116 
 08/17   36,951,181   620,493   373,649   6,190   959,978   4,715   7,065   150 
 08/10   35,991,203   615,778   366,584   6,040   819,524   3,987   7,652   122 
 08/03   35,171,679   611,791   358,932   5,918   622,832   2,279   7,489   81 
 07/27   34,548,847   609,012   351,443   5,837   652,251   2,394   8,347   79 
 07/20   33,896,296   606,618   341,096   5,758   169,933   1,478   3,351   28 
 07/13   33,726,363   605,140   339,745   5,730   181,047   1,959   4,982   33 
 07/06   33,545,316   603,181   334,763   5,697   75,104   1,373   2,234   27 
 06/29   33,470,212   601,808   332,529   5,670   87,507   2,057   3,020   24 
 06/22   33,382,705   599,751   329,509   5,646   75,420   2,157   1,930   22 
 06/15   33,303,285   597,594   327,579   5,624   95,797   2,293   1,560   17 
 06/08   33,207,488   595,301   326,019   5,607   114,250   3,762   2,271   21 
 06/01   33,039,238   591,539   323,748   5,586   123,333   3,709   991   27 
 05/25   32,969,905   587,830   322,757   5,559   174,125   4,234   1,676   26 
 05/18   32,795,780   583,596   321,081   5,533   223,966   4,230   2,301   27 
 05/11   32,571,814   579,366   318,780   5,506   303,856   4,687   2,541   33 
 05/04   32,267,958   574,679   316,239   5,473   343,348   4,908   2,559   40 
 04/27   31,924,610   569,771   313,680   5,433   383,163   4,958   2,747   65 
 04/20   31,541,447   564,813   310,933   5,368   464,556   5,072   2,590   36 
 04/13   31,076,891   559,741   308,343   5,332   480,061   5,321   2,986   57 
 04/06   30,596,830   554,420   305,357   5,275   448,935   7,124   3,084   38 
 03/30   30,147,895   547,296   302,273   5,237   439,510   6,793   939   63 
 03/23   29,708,385   540,503   301,334   5,174   388,928   7,446   1,863   53 
 03/16   29,319,457   533,057   299,471   5,121   381,695   8,362   3,078   81 
 03/09   28,937,762   524,695   296,393   5,040   480,902   11,573   2,413   83 
 03/02   28,456,860   513,122   293,980   4,957   463,356   14,129   2,835   75 
 02/23   27,993,504   498,993   291,145   4,882   451,083   13,923   2,406   162 
 02/16   27,542,421   485,070   288,739   4,720   602,906   21,411   4,149   198 
 02/09   26,939,515   463,659   284,590   4,522   779,305   21,828   5,444   244 
 02/02   26,160,210   441,831   279,146   4,278   1,007,777   22,004   7,249   249 
 01/26   25,152,433   419,827   271,897   4,029   1,312,565   23,385   10,324   250 
 01/19   23,839,868   396,442   261,573   3,779   1,317,119   21,318   11,324   279 
 01/12   22,522,749   375,124   250,249   3,500   1,790,345   22,660   17,217   294 
 01/05   20,732,404   352,464   233,032   3,206   1,499,561   18,435   14,655   233 
 12/29/20   19,232,843   334,029   218,377   2,973   1,258,540   15,460   12,493   186 
John Robison

John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots
John Robison
John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots