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Ask the Slot Expert: Playing slots for fun

21 September 2022

Question: I find your column (reaches my inbox Wednesday mornings) is my 'must read', usually as I have my morning coffee or tea. Almost always insightful, sometimes your sharing of your experiences helps me cope with the 'peaks and valleys' of gaming.

I say almost because you and I play different styles and types of games. You play seriously, knowing the 'odds eventually even out according to all those computer algorithms that exist'. I play during my brief vacation. This year I missed my usual trip in March, delayed to the last week of August. I play for FUN!

My most recent trip was FUN! I mentioned in my last email in November 2021, it still felt like Vegas was not fully recovered; less than 75% (my guesstimate) occupancy, etc., despite gross revenues and profits of the casinos were 'setting records for continuous Billion Dollar months'. (I reiterate GROSS)

Fast forward 10 months, I'd have to say that Vegas is back to its usual (ab)normal self! Still banking Billions.

The Good: 90+% hotel occupancy, almost unlimited gaming choices, good shows, great food options.

The Bad: 100+ degree heat, higher minimum betting limits, high restaurant prices, traffic problems, staffing issues in hospitality, lots of street hustlers, and homeless people. Curious: why can't these hustlers and homeless work these under-staffed hospitality jobs?

I had wanted to comment when you wrote about comps about a month ago, decided to wait until after my visit to LV, sharing my views based on what I experienced.

I would have to agree that generally, it felt the 'perks' of play at a group/brand of casinos seems less rewarding now than in the past. (Note: I visit 2-3 times/year versus your play 2-3 times/week). As little as 3 years ago, I received a 'token gift' for very little play, PLUS a 'Comped Buffet' in the casino for just 10 tier points (which I recall vividly as less than 10 minutes of slot play on a very small denom machine. This time no gift, no buffet (admittedly the air conditioning DID work well in the casino!).

Despite all the seemingly negative observations, WE HAD FUN! Las Vegas is a great town to visit; see the sights, enjoy the ambience, and even possibly win a little. (I was a little ahead, my wife a little down, I call it a break-even trip!) I was just a little surprised to NOT be able to find lower limit table games anywhere we went, so in spite of playing those slot games with such horrible odds against the player, I squeezed out a small win. So small even the IRS needs not to worry, btw!

As the Terminator stated: "I'll be back!" I'm already booked for a return in early November. Maybe this time, I'll get some time in on Craps, Pai Gow, Baccarat, and 21.

I know it will be cooler, hopefully not in my play.

Answer: I couldn't have asked for a better introduction to the topic I had planned for today. But first some comments on your letter.

You got here just in time for August to go out with an asphalt-melting bang. Two weeks earlier and you could have enjoyed below average temperatures. The end of August heat wave continued into the first week of September. It's unusual to have so many 100+ days in a row that late in the year. I'll see what I can do about getting good weather for your next trip.

A reason why hospitality jobs are under-staffed is because they are hard jobs that don't pay well. As for the homeless, some have mental illness are just not able to work. For some of the others, it's a chicken-and-egg situation.

A group called New Leaf helped build three tiny (50 square feet) huts on a parcel of land in North Las Vegas. Three people who previously had been living on the street moved into the huts. The buildings were against code and the city tore them down and put the people back out onto the street, but that's not the point.

One of the residents said she was finally able to start getting her life back in order. You see, the huts had doors that locked. Joseph Lankowski, one of the people involved with putting up the huts said, "They had a tiny home were they could lock the door, so then they could actually go out and get services without having to worry about getting your things stolen." It's difficult to rejoin society when you have to carry everything you own with you all the time.

Let's move on to today's topic. You say that I play seriously and you play for fun. I would like to point out that playing seriously can be fun -- I have a really good time when I hit a royal flush while playing with a slight edge -- but I get your point.

You can probably count the number of players playing seriously in a strip casino on one or two hands. In a locals casino, you might also need one or two feet. The vast majority of players play for fun.

Even when you point players to a better deal, they may not take advantage of it. Two examples.

Circus Circus used to (and may still) have a rotating turntable on which every machine paid back 98% or better. The first time I played the machines there I won enough money to pay for my airfare. Those machines were going to be my personal ATM in Las Vegas. On my next trip, the machines drained my wallet.

But I digress. The main slot floor had many of the same games as the turntable, only these machines were not advertised as 98% or better. I saw many people playing machines on the slot floor when they could have jumped onto the turntable and gotten a better gamble.

Many years ago, Las Vegas Advisor (LVA) partnered with a local casino and set up a loosest-slot area. LVA verified that the long-term paybacks of the machines in this area were the highest paybacks available for those games. Again, these machines sat idle while players played other machines with the same game elsewhere on the slot floor.

An important point is that these deals were better for the player in the long run. In the short run, anything can happen. A panel member in one slot seminar I attended said, "Even the tightest machine in the world pays its jackpot sometimes."

When you and your wife both play only a few days out of the year, your wife might have a losing record even though she plays only when she has the edge and you might have a winning record playing whatever games suits your fancy. You're just not getting enough plays in for long-term paybacks to have a greater effect on your results than luck.

I once attended a seminar to learn an advanced strategy for a video poker paytable. I already knew a better-than-basic strategy for this paytable that gets pretty close to the perfect-play payback, but every little bit helps, right?

The strategy presented in the seminar was going to increase my payback by 0.002%. If I hadn't been sitting in the second row, I might have left the seminar because the increase was so small. That wouldn't have been fair, though. The payback of the strategy I was using was already close to that with perfect play, so there wasn't much room for improvement. You can't do better than the payback with mathematically perfect play in the long run.

Comparing playing the advanced strategy to the one I already knew, I estimate that I would have to play over 166,000,000 hands for the increase in payback from playing the new strategy to have a greater effect on my long-term results than randomness.

You have nothing to lose by playing the highest-paying games with the best strategies. But unless you make hundreds of thousands of plays, randomness is going to have the greater effect on your result.


Las Vegas is abuzz because of the Las Vegas Ace's WNBA championship win. They were honored with a parade down the strip, starting at Caesars Palace and ending at the Bellagio fountains.

Um, Caesars Palace is across the street from Bellagio. I stayed at Caesars Palace, in fact, when I went to Bellagio on its opening night.

Can you really call it a parade when all you're doing is crossing the street?


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 total admissions.

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 
 09/20/22   95,552,308   5,319,921   1,048,532   846,133   143   11,446   400,929   29,165   2,973   1,839   0   19 
 09/13/22   95,151,379   5,290,756   1,045,559   844,294   143   11,427   506,189   34,540   2,978   1,758   (40)   16 
 09/06/22   94,645,190   5,256,216   1,042,581   842,536   183   11,411   534,380   30,772   3,526   1,762   (8)   20 
 08/31/22   94,110,810   5,225,444   1,039,055   840,774   191   11,391   600,148   35,692   3,297   2,434   (44)   32 
 08/23/22   93,510,662   5,189,752   1,035,758   838,340   235   11,359   655,186   38,778   3,198   2,550   (51)   20 
 08/16/22   92,855,476   5,150,974   1,032,560   835,790   286   11,339   719,100   40,762   3,375   3,561   (92)   77 
 08/09/22   92,136,376   5,110,212   1,029,185   832,229   378   11,262   937,985   42,621   3,822   5,729   (69)   41 
 08/01/22   91,198,391   5,067,591   1,025,363   826,500   447   11,221   828,560   43,943   2,695   28,360   (5)   16 
 07/26/22   90,369,831   5,023,648   1,022,668   798,140   452   11,205   905,096   45,024   3,072   5,468   (61)   41 
 07/19/22   89,464,735   4,978,624   1,019,596   792,672   513   11,164   890,226   42,620   3,035   7,077   (20)   37 
 07/12/22   88,574,509   4,936,004   1,016,561   785,595   533   11,127   912,596   44,750   2,575   8,611   78   67 
 07/05/22   87,661,913   4,891,254   1,013,986   776,984   455   11,060   683,630   30,500   2,476   8,713   53   34 
 06/28/22   86,978,283   4,860,754   1,011,510   768,271   402   11,026   809,381   33,856   2,580   6,189   (8)   36 
 06/21/22   86,168,902   4,826,898   1,008,930   762,082   410   10,990   648,857   30,459   2,040   8,081   95   41 
 06/14/22   85,520,045   4,796,439   1,006,890   754,001   315   10,949   757,093   29,971   2,630   9,809   42   40 
 06/07/22   84,762,952   4,766,468   1,004,260   744,192   273   10,909   813,916   30,146   2,190   6,818   55   26 
 05/31/22   83,949,036   4,736,322   1,002,070   737,374   218   10,883   670,041   24,555   2,285   5,738   16   41 
 05/24/22   83,278,995   4,711,767   999,785   731,636   202   10,842   756,047   25,027   2,317   5,324   37   28 
 05/17/22   82,522,948   4,686,740   997,488   726,312   165   10,814   680,888   21,183   2,097   3,693   35   26 
 05/10/22   81,842,060   4,665,557   995,371   722,619   130   10,788   534,465   17,934   3,932   2,802   32   11 
 05/03/22   81,307,595   4,647,623   991,439   719,817   98   10,777   432,666   14,755   2,448   2,213   (6)   49 
 04/26/22   80,874,929   4,632,868   988,991   717,604   104   10,728   348,507   12,597   2,446   1,447   (22)   46 
 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 
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