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Ask the Slot Expert: Do you stop playing before you run out of money?

24 March 2021

Two weeks ago I wrote about how I had altered my bankrolling from bringing enough money to see me through all but the worst luck to accepting a greater risk of running out of money before reaching my goal. I usually have a goal of playing a certain number of points because I'm trying to keep on a steady pace towards requalifying for an upper tier in the slot club.

It makes sense to change my bankrolling tactic because my overall playing strategy has changed in the Covid Era (C.E.). It was not unusual for me to visit two (and sometimes even three) casinos in a day. Now I rarely do a doubleheader.

My travel radius has also decreased significantly in the past year. I used to frequently go to the Palms and Gold Coast, which really aren't that far from me in Summerlin. I also used to visit South Point regularly. In truth, though, Palms fell into the "only if it has a really good promotion" category after it got rid of all of its good video poker a few years ago. Being closed still also isn't helping to get the Palms back on my radar.

I used to meet Jean Scott and Brad at Gold Coast and South Point, so those two places dropped in priority after Jean and Brad moved last year. Both places have tons of machines with NSU, but all but six or so are uprights at Gold Coast. South Point's NSU machines are almost all slant tops, but South Point is the smokiest casino I've ever been in. It wasn't the healthiest environment B.C.E. (Before the Covid Era) and it's certainly no healthier now.

Since the casinos reopened last June, I've visited only two casinos, the two closest to me. Because the casinos are close, I plan shorter, more frequent visits rather than the 3-4 hour sessions I used to play when I visited casinos that were farther away. Because my planned sessions are shorter, I take less money. And I'm willing to take a greater risk of running out of money because I'll be back in a few days anyway.

I asked a question in that column: Do you play until you run out of money or do you cash out before you run out?

I asked that question because of some advice given by the man who gave me my start in writing about gambling.

John Patrick was a gambling celebrity in New Jersey. He wrote many books and produced many video tapes. He also bought time on my local cable system for a call-in show.

This was back in the late 1980s to early 1990s, the early years of cable TV -- at least in suburban New Jersey. Our local cable operator was Suburban Cablevision. It used to send crews to cover local high school sports. It also had a weekly call-in program with executives and engineers so subscribers could call in with programming requests, billing questions and technical questions. It also sold time every Friday night to John Patrick for his call-in show.

As I recall, all of those folksy elements that made Suburban Cablevision a local business gradually disappeared as Suburban was bought by Storer Communications and eventually became part of Comcast.

In addition to the books, videos and show, John Patrick also had a storefront on the main street in Short Hills, New Jersey. There was a Saks Fifth Avenue down the street from his store. I don't know why he had a storefront in an expensive area (Short Hills was once known as "the home of the $2 million tear down"). Almost all of his sales were mailorder. There was never anyone else in the store on the few times I went there.

John also had a newsletter, to which I subscribed. It had many typos in it, so I volunteered to proofread it for them. I eventually had a column in it.

John Patrick's advice is not necessarily mathematically rigorous. He advised against splitting 8s in Blackjack, for instance. "Why make two bad hands out of one bad hand?"

I never played anything but Basic Strategy when I played Blackjack, so I always split my 8s. As I understand it, splitting 8s makes one lousy hand into two not-as-lousy hands. You're still a loser, but you won't lose as much in the long run when you split.

John is a big proponent of setting Win Goals and Loss Limits. A Win Goal is how much you'd like to win in a session and a Loss Limit is how much you're willing to lose in a session. The idea is that you quit after hitting either your Win Goal or your Loss Limit. John's advice was the basis of my question.

Callers questioned him about whether he stuck by those two numbers. He said that he did. If his Win Goal was $100 and he won that much after 20 minutes of playing, he would get back in his car and drive the two hours back home.

Callers also asked why he wouldn't play until his bankroll was exhausted. He said that it was a psychological play. If you quit before you went broke, you could say that even though you took a beating from the casino, it didn't bankrupt you. No one likes walking out of the casino feeling like (and actually being) a complete loser.

I don't set a Loss Limit before I play. If I'm playing at a disadvantage, it's because I'm picking up a gift or free play. I usually bring only the amount I'm willing to lose in exchange for the freebee, so in effect my Loss Limit is 100%. (I have to admit that I sometimes bring a little more to the casino and on occasion those extra funds have made it into the bill acceptor.)

If I'm playing with an advantage, I'm much more willing to exhaust my bankroll. There's more money -- in the long run -- to keep playing than to stop. If you have the long-term advantage on a bet, why not make it?

If I lose it all, I feel bad for a few moments but the feeling is gone long before I get to my car. Losing is part of playing video poker -- even playing advantage play video poker. I'll be back in a day or so to get my revenge.

There's no net difference between bringing $500 to the casino and quitting after losing $200 or leaving $300 in your drawer at home and quitting after losing the $200 you brought with you. It's even safer to leave the money at home because you won't be tempted to play it.

My mission when I visit a casino is usually to earn a certain number of points. I'll quit after I earn the points (actually, I'll consider quitting after I reach the points) or I run out of money. Points, not time, is my primary metric.

A reader recently provided his strategy for a casino visit and how he bankrolls for it.

I only play about 8 hours a week on Triple Double in either two 4-hour sessions on different days or in one 8-hour session.

For either one I take enough funds to ensure playing the entire session time. I play until the end of the session regardless of how it went. So, for a 4-hour session I will typically take about $1200 to $1500, and about $2000 plus for the 8-hour session.

Triple Double is very volatile, of course. But, I enjoy playing it, and can afford to do so. Yesterday, for example my gross from fours-of-a-kind was about $1600. My highest total for an 8-hour session was about $5000.

I was surprised at first that you found $1200 to $1500 to be sufficient to play four hours. But then I ran a query in my database of playing results and I saw that I rarely lost more than $1500 in a session. My sessions were a just little bit shorter than four hours B.C.E. and NSU is less volatile than Triple Double Bonus, so I can see how $1200 to $1500 can be enough to fund the vast majority of your 4-hour sessions.

I want to point out that you found $2000 to be a sufficient bankroll to play twice as long. You found that you didn't need twice the bankroll. I saw the principle of longer-play-lower-loss when I hung out at The Desert Inn.

Some of the regulars would be at a machine when I came to play in the morning. They'd still be at it when I came for an afternoon session. And they would still be on the casino floor when I played a little after dinner. I thought these people must be losing a fortune.

Then I looked at a PAR sheet and saw that their additional play meant that the payback they experienced was much more likely to be closer to their machines' long-term paybacks than the payback I experienced with my smaller amount of play. They could be playing more and losing less.

You don't need twice as much bankroll to play twice as long. You just need a larger safety net to see you through more cold streaks.

Congratulations on your wins. I hope your good luck continues.


Here are the latest figures from https://www.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#cases_totalcases.

Click here for the latest Covid data.

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