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Video Poker Randomness, Slot Tournaments

30 November 2003

How are the percentage payouts of the slots in Kansas City, Missouri? I checked to see if they are accurate and in accord with the numbers published in the Kansas City Star newspaper. Also, is there any legal minimum percentage required by the state gaming commission?


Dear Dick,

I couldn't find a statutory minimum payback in my quick search on the Internet, but there probably is one and it's almost certainly irrelevant. The minimum payback in every jurisdiction with which I'm familiar is far below the paybacks actually offered in the casinos because of competitive pressures.

The paybacks in Kansas City are not bad. They tend to be a bit higher than most other jurisdictions, but lower than Nevada's.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

I play video poker mostly in Jackpot, Nevada. The best pay tables I've found for Double Bonus are 9/7 at the Horseshoe on their $0.25 and $0.05 progressive machines, which seemed like a great deal, and also a few Game King 9/7 table machines at Barton's 93. I can't find any at Cactus Pete's casino who owns Horseshoe and I like to play at both because I can use my slot club card.

I hit my second royal a few months ago on the Horseshoe's $0.05 progressive but the problem is they use these old IGT machines and I seem to never really get any hands. If I'm lucky I'll get a 3 of a kind or a pair and I've noticed it's often quiet in the video poker room when people are playing.

I was there this week and spoke with a gentleman who said that they were going to be replaced with EZ-Pay in the near future. I played on 8 different $0.25 machines this week and did get one 4 of a kind in queens and only one full house in three hours. Other hands were just pairs, maybe one flush but mostly nothing. I've had this problem every time I've been there. When I play the Game King table games at Barton's or even the lower-paying ones at Cactus Pete's, I end up with a lot more hands than on the ones at the Horseshoe. They are the kind that on the main menu there are red arrows with the name of the game you want to play pointing at one of the hold buttons that you push to retrieve that game. The top just shows the pay table of only the amount of coins that you put in, not columns of payouts of all five at once.

Even though all video poker machines are supposed to be based on a 52-card deck, can some old ones just be too old to function as well? I was playing proper strategy and holding three to a flush when I should be and it was driving me nuts because I only received a flush once in that whole time holding three cards. I gave up and went to Cactus Pete's and played on several $0.25 9/6 Double Double Bonus and received enough good hands to make up for some of the losses at the Horseshoe even though I know that Double Double Bonus isn't supposed to be a recommended game.

I know there are long stretches of losing in video poker and I've had them on other machines, but I've also had enough pairs and 3 of a kinds, straights to keep me interested. I'm feeling like I don't want to play those older machines anymore even though the pay tables are decent.

What do you think?


Dear Teri,

I think you've just experienced randomness. We all hit streaks when we just don't get the cards and that's perfectly okay and expected when we're dealing with random events.

I'm also not surprised that you had good results on 9/6 Double Double Bonus. It's not recommended because of it's long-term payback, but it takes hundreds of thousands of hands for its low long-term payback to have a greater effect on your results than randomness.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

A few days after I received Teri's letter and right after I had sent my reply, I received this follow-up from her:


I wrote you about a week ago about the older video poker machines at the Horseshoe in Jackpot, Nevada. I went the next week and played them again and I did really well. I had several 4 of a kinds. I'm trying to learn to play with the right strategies and have read that the game is volatile and I guess I jumped the gun in writing you. If it's not too late, can you just disregard that last email?

I really appreciate all of your advice.

Thanks again,


I have a question that has been bothering me for quite some time.

If all slot machines are truly random, how does the Travel Channel always seem to be in the right casino, at the right slot machine, with a camera rolling when a jackpots hits? They must have shown a thousand of them over the years and I have a hard time even hitting one.

Thanks for your time,

Dear Mike,

Of the hundreds of channels Comcast pipes into my home, the Travel Channel is not one of them.

Do they actually show the jackpot being hit or do they just show the celebrations afterward?

Every casino is going to have a few jackpot winners every day. All the film crew has to do is hang around for a few hours at night when the casino is very busy and they'll probably get a few jackpot winners.

Now, if they show the person putting the coins in, pulling the handle, and the symbols landing on the payline, I think you're looking at some fancy editing and some recreated scenes.

There's a test mode that spins the reels to the various paytable combinations. All the producers have to do is shoot some footage showing the player feeding the machine and pulling the handle, and some footage of a test mode spin stopping on the jackpot. Edit everything together with the celebration footage and it looks like the camera crew caught the actual winning spin.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you only know about jackpots that you see. A bunch of jackpots could be hitting in another area of the casino and you'd never know about it. The camera crew will have the casino tell them where the jackpots are, so they don't care where the jackpot hits.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

I am writing to you about a slot tournament that I went to play in. My question is, what are the odds of someone winning twice in a row?

It happened at the last two tournaments that I went to. The same person won both. Could he have some sort of system or was it just luck? There are 50 machines in a row and you play two at a time. Both tournaments he had very high scores.

We generally assume that each player has an equal chance to win in a slot tournament. Some people may argue that more nimble players have an advantage because they can hit the Spin button faster and may get in an extra spin or two during a session.

I've played in many slot tournaments and I haven't found that theory to carry any weight. The people who hit the Spin button slowly do just as well as the quick hitters.

Assuming each player has an equal chance of winning, the probability of winning two tournaments in a row is 1 divided by the number of people in the first tournament times 1 divided by the number of people in the second tournament.

It was just luck that the player won two tournaments in a row.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

Dear John,

How is it that video poker machines are good and yet the Let it Ride game is not the best bet? They seem to be the same thing going on except for the real dealer and not some machine. How could the two games be so different with the odds and yet look almost the same?


Dear Wayne,

They're not the same thing. In video poker, you're allowed to replace cards. Let It Ride is more like a stud game--you're stuck with what you're dealt.

Furthermore, not all video poker machines are good. The house edge in Let It Ride is about 3.5%. You can find video poker machines that have lower house edges, and you can find video poker machines that have higher house edges.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

Dear John,

You make the false assertion that "It's also generally more likely that you'll hit the top jackpot on a slot machine than win the top prize in a lottery."

This statement you made is not true. It is easier to hit most Pick 5 lotteries and even some Pick 6 lotteries than the large progressive slots that pay similar prizes.

Most States have lottery games which have top prizes of around $50,000 to $500,000 that are much easier to win than hitting a slot jackpot of comparable value. Typically players must choose 5 numbers out of 39 or 40, as in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.

While it is true the slots return more of the players' money, people play to win jackpots not to win back 90 cents on the dollar. Thus the prime motivation many have is to win a jackpot, thus many state lottery games offer a better chance of success. You chose to compare a typical slot machine with the most difficult lottery in America, when there are hundreds of better choices available.

I thus disagree with you claim that "slot machines are much better bets than lottery tickets." Just because they tend to pay back less than 50% without looking at the reason people buy lottery tickets, or play slot machines. It would be easy to devise a slot machine that paid back 99% yet gives a player 1 in 15,000,000 of winning $250. The payback percentage is misleading. It is just as important for players to know the actual odds of hitting a jackpot.

From everything I have read concerning the odds of winning significant prizes (over $100,000), it seems that the odds favor the lottery player over the slot player. For example, the odds of winning Jersey Cash 5 is 1 in 650,000 and the top prize has averaged $250,000 since September. Fourteen players have won in the last eight weeks. An almost identical game can be found in Pennsylvania. New York has a Cash five game which is less attractive since the top prize averages just $80,000.

Compare this lottery game to any comparable slot machine, such as Betty Boop, which has generated fewer winners in the last twelve months with smaller jackpots and greater odds of hitting. The chance of winning the top Betty Boop progressive is 1 in 3 million according to Strictly Slots magazine.

If one's goal is to win the $150,000 progressive, and if the player will play his $100 until it's gone or he wins, he has a better chance of success playing the Jersey Cash Five. Buying 100 tickets would cost the same but gives player 1 in 6,580 chance of success with bigger prize. Much better than slot machine odds, plus the taxes are less on lottery winnings in New Jersey, as they are exempt from state income tax.

I hope you understand my disagreement with your assertions.

I truly enjoy reading your columns.


Dear Jack,

It is absolutely true that it is generally more likely that you'll hit the top jackpot on a slot machine than win the top prize in a lottery. Note the word "generally."

Here is the rest of the paragraph that contained that statement: "Megabucks has the worst odds at about 50,000,000 to 1. The odds against hitting a $20,000 jackpot on a two-coin dollar slot may be as low as 40,000 to 1."

Note that I never said that you are more likely to hit the jackpot on a wide-area-progressive than hit the top prize in a lottery. There are thousands upon thousands of slot machines on which the odds of hitting the top jackpot are about 1 out of 40,000.

Now, it could very well be true that when you limit the comparison to games with jackpots of similar size, you're more likely to hit the top jackpot in the lottery than on the slot machine. But even the tightest slot game is returning an additional 30 to 40 percentage points of the money played through it to its players than the lottery returns to its players. There are some nice mid-level jackpots on the slot, plus there are many low-level pays.

If you don't win the jackpot in the lottery, you pretty much just get toll money if you win anything at all. For example, the current value of the Jersey Cash 5 is $250,000. Second place is worth $500.

The odds against hitting the jackpot on the slot machine are worse than the odds in the lottery, but the odds are much better for hitting smaller payouts on the slot machine.

I spoke with Don Catlin, author of a new book called The Lottery Book: The Truth Behind the Numbers, and he said that small wins of $11 occur only once in 111 times, according to New Jersey Lottery estimates, "so a lottery player would not have money to reinvest very frequently."

The bottom line is that slot machines have to give back some tray money to the players to keep them from getting frustrated and moving on. People can win nothing on the lottery time and time again and they'll still buy tickets for the next drawing.

I disagree with your assertion that people play to win the jackpot. That almost definitely is true for the lottery, but most people in recent surveys say that they play slots for the entertainment value and jackpot considerations are secondary.

I also disagree with your statement that a person playing all or nothing is better off putting his money in the lottery. One hundred lottery tickets gives a player 100 shots at the top prize and probably nothing else.

One hundred spins on a slot machine will almost certainly yield a few winning spins and more tries at the top prize--maybe even enough extra spins to make the slot player's odds better than the lotter player's. Plus, there are slot club benefits.

Of course, one thing we haven't mentioned yet is that a good portion (36% in New Jersey for fiscal year 2002) of each of lottery bet goes to benefit education and institutions.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

What the hell is wrong with me or the casinos???!!!!!!!

I've played either close to, or a little more than, 10,000 spins by now ever since I started playing almost nothing but slots a little over a year ago.

I STILL haven't won a jackpot. Ever. And I'm not talking about the progressives, I stay away from those. I'm talking the straight slots that supposedly have better odds. I'm talking quarter machines. And I play the maximum number of coins.

That damn RNG STILL hasn't awarded me a jackpot. Am I cursed with putrid luck? Is this normal to go through THAT many spins and still not hit a jackpot? The stupid casino I've mostly played at is that shameful Blue Chip casino in Michigan City. I read here and there that they got fined for making thier machines too tight. What's the scoop?

And will I ever hit my 10,000 or 15,000 credit jackpot at that quarter machine?

I just got back from Blue Chip after I lost $20 at a quarter machine. In 40 spins, all I was able to walk away with was a measly four credits. I just played that too and lost. Twenty dollars in, and only $1 to be able to cash out with. I'm in a bad mood as you can tell.

I would really apprecitate your help.

Yours truly,

Dear Steve,

There's nothing wrong with you or the casinos--but I do recommend that you take a couple of deep breaths to relax.

It's not unusual for the chances for hitting the top jackpot on a slot machine to be 1 out of 40,000 or more. It's certainly not unusual to go 10,000 or even 100,000 or more spins without hitting a jackpot.

The jackpots will come eventually. In the meantime, make sure you're not betting money you can't afford to lose, and be thankful for any small wins you get.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

I received this follow-up e-mail from Steve:

If what you wrote is true, stating that it really is not unusal to go through 100,000 spins with no jackpot, then I can't help but to either feel dumbfounded or to laugh my ass off at those people with do it in just one spin.

Ever seen Vegas Vacation? Papa Gorgio (Russ Griswold), hits four jackpots with just fours spins total, one being a Big Bertha machine. I heard Big Bertha slots have the very worst odds. I don't know if people get that lucky with winning an automobile, but I do believe there are some lucky folks who did that good on straight slots.

I just wanna hit while I'm still young, 24, but not getting any younger.

I was in mental agony when I wrote to you earlier, but now, everything's all good. I went back a few days ago, and I won it all back; and now used it on something satisfying other than putting it back in the machine so I'm just fine now. I'm not going back 'till a whole month. I'm keeping this money for this month.

I'll email you back as soon as I hit for the first time.

Be good buddy ole' pal,

  1. When the attendant adds money to hopper, does this change your chances of winning a jackpot?
  2. Is there any way you can tell when a slot machine is going to jackpot?
  3. Which dollar machines are the best to play?
  4. Could give me some tips on playing?
  5. On a two-coin machine do you play one credit or two? Also on the three-coin machine, do you play one, two, or the max?
  1. No effect whatsoever.
  2. No.
  3. The ones you enjoy playing.
  4. Sure.
    • Only bet money that is allocated to your entertainment budget and that you can afford to lose.
    • Play machines that you enjoy playing. If you like machines that pay little hits frequently, play those types of machines. If you want fewer, larger hits, play the machines that give those.
    • Stop playing and take a break if it ever stops being fun.
  5. I recommend you play one coin at a time on all multipliers, max coin on multi-lines and buy-a-pays, and one coin per line on multi-coin/multi-line machines. You can find more detailed advice if you search the archives on this site for The Best Number of Coins to Play.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert, at

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