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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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How to Avoid Common Slot Machine Mistakes

14 December 1998

Slot machines are pretty simple. You bet your money and take your chances. Not like craps or roulette where you can lose on one wager while the wise guys are winning on another. And not like video poker or blackjack where you can make the wrong decision -- such as holding or standing -- when any lady with blue-tipped silver hair could tell you "the book says" to discard or hit.

But players still can and often do make mistakes at the slot machines. These fall into three categories.

Errors of the first type involve second-guessing. You already know about them. In fact, you've probably told yourself you're not going to commit one or another any more, but you do anyway.

Here are examples: not quitting when you're ahead, going to the bank machine for more money after you've lost what you brought to gamble, betting only one coin instead of the maximum number -- thinking you were in a cold cycle -- on the spin when the jackpot came up, and playing for high stakes on a low bankroll. These are the decisions you regret if they turn out badly, but which you make hoping you'll get lucky. The leopard will change its spots before most slot players will change this modus operandi.

Errors of the second type are technical. An illustration is not inserting a rating card into the machine -- because you forgot or don't have one; most casinos offer incentives, ranging from cash back to credits toward complimentary rooms or meals, but you have to use your card to accrue points. Another technical goof is playing the maximum number of coins with no bonus for doing so; for instance, expectation rises betting three coins when jackpots go from 1,000 to 2,000 to 5,000 -- but not from 1,200 to 2,400 to 3,600. A closely related mistake is playing on one progressive bank when a similar link elsewhere offers a heftier haul.

Errors of the third type are the most subtle. They involve playing machines whose top payoffs aren't enough to satisfy you and which therefore won't make you feel and act like a winner when you've won. Some solid citizens come to the casino for the overall entertainment value, and are delighted if they cover their expenses for the trip. They should seek out these machines because moderation at the high end usually means more frequent smaller hits. But bettors intent on striking it rich typically recycle winnings of this type, chasing a rainbow the pot of gold in the machine they're playing can never produce.

Sometimes the jackpot -- that elusive pie in the sky -- is too low. Maybe it's 1,500 and 3,200 coins on a two-coin quarter slot. You're in for $0.50 a pull, but all you can win at once -- 3,200 quarters -- is a mere $800. Imagine starting with a $300 bankroll. Your fantasy comes true and you ring the bell. Only, you're $200 down when this happens. Your score brings you to $900. This is a $600 profit -- 200 percent return on your $300 poke and a nice piece of change. But it won't pay off your mortgage, send kids to college, or get that new Ford Explorer. In fact, it may not bring you back to break-even for the previous few months of casino visits, and might not be enough to induce you to end your session and savor the sweet taste of triumph.

It's as bad, or worse, when returns at levels just below the big booty are too small. Say you're on a two-coin $0.50 machine with a 5,000-coin bonanza. This is $2,500 -- not a prize that will change your lifestyle, but enough to pay for that cruise you always wanted to take. But what if the next level, which people who play for years may never catch, only brings 500 coins -- a paltry $250? You probably started with at least this much, and consider such a payoff to represent extra playing time rather than money to take home. So you're apt to pump the credits back through the machine, never pocketing any part as profit.

A common thread runs through all these errors. It's going to the casino without first setting goals and next identifying machines offering payouts which make these goals at least possible. The poet, Sumner A Ingmark, pictured the predicament like this:

Without planning you won't know,
If you're where you hoped to go.

Alan Krigman

Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.
Alan Krigman
Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.