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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Is There Life without Jackpots for Slot Players?

7 June 1999

Let's face it. Most slot players go all out. For the jackpot. They know their chances are small. But they also know someone'll get lucky. And, they figure they could be it, just as well as the next guy or their obnoxious cousin who hit it big last month.

Still, many call at the portals of hope but few are chosen for glory. Fortunately, there are alternatives to ecstasy other than agony and feigned insouciance. Appreciating what to expect during a slot session of reasonable length may help you find them.

Maybe in the heat of the action, it seems OK to invest an entire gambling stake in a grab at the monster prize, not settling for a modest day's pay. And maybe when that adrenaline is unclogging the arteries, it seems OK to sneak over to a cash machine and replenish a poke, to keep trying if things didn't initially proceed according to fantasy. Away from the casino, though, cooler heads usually prevail and most people think differently.

For instance, assume you don't strike it rich and you doubt whether your neighbors will be impressed by braggadocio about how much you lost. Then, you gotta admit you'd be happier missing your shot if you broke even or showed a profit, than if you got a consolation prize of a free ersatz-epicurean all-you-can-eat buffet dinner from a sympathetic comp-yourself terminal. What are the prospects of coming out ahead without hitting the jackpot, if you have no rule for quitting except running out of time? This knowledge may help you decide whether to change gears and adopt the strategy of stopping at some win goal.

Similarly, say the jackpot proves elusive and you have a losing session. It's one thing to deplete the dough you'd set aside for gambling. It's quite another to bust your budget then go digging for dollars you never meant -- and probably can't afford -- to spend. What bankroll do you need to be reasonably confident of at least weathering a session? This information can help you decide how much money to allocate for gambling and also determine the fraction of your poke you can justify risking on every round.

Playing conditions must be established before these questions can be answered. Here are values that will put you in the ballpark.

First, how many rounds do you play? A reasonable benchmark is 1,200 -- an average of five rounds per minute for four hours.

Second, what are the statistical parameters of your favorite slots, assuming you don't hit a jackpot? Many solid citizens erroneously believe that machines with comparable "returns" are roughly equivalent. Specific combinations of payouts and chances of occurrence influence how bankrolls swing around the average return. One popular three-reel slot has a theoretical 94.7 percent return and characteristic bankroll fluctuation of 6.6 units per round excluding the jackpot. A common video poker machine returns 95.3 percent and yields bankroll fluctuations averaging 1.8 units per round over a long period with no royal.

For the indicated three-reeler, after 1,200 rounds, players have about 39 percent chance of being even or ahead without a jackpot. To be 90 percent sure of surviving this many rounds, they need about a 450-unit bankroll ($337.50 in a $0.25 machine, three coins at once). Somewhat less, 325 units ($241 at $0.75 per round), offers 75 percent confidence in not tapping out.

For the cited video poker game, after 1200 rounds, the chance of being even or ahead without a royal is about 19 percent. To be 90 percent confident of not going belly-up during the session, a player would need a bankroll of approximately 150 units ($187.50 in a $0.25 machine, five coins at once). To be 75 percent confident of surviving 1,200 rounds on this game requires 130 units ($163 at $1.25 per round).

There can be life for slot buffs without jackpots. Especially for those who follow the philosophy of the bard, Sumner A Ingmark:

Winners are they who early-on reckoned,
Missing first prize they'd settle for second.
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.