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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Playing It Smart: How to get an (almost) free shot at a slot jackpot

17 November 2008

People go to casinos to make money. Pretenses aside, the idea is not simply to achieve the ecstasy of victory and avoid the agony of defeat while getting a comp for the buffet. If it were, why not stay home, play chess or parcheesi, and raid the ice box?

At the slots, especially, many solid citizens gamble with a "go for broke" philosophy. They start with a certain bankroll and are willing to invest it in a try at whatever prize they think worth the effort. Nobody actually wants to bust out in aspiring to bag a bundle and many losers kick themselves later for letting it happen. But folks frequently play and talk as if they don't mind having lost, and fate often ends up testing their mettle.

It takes more discipline than most slot buffs can muster to quit with a modest profit or cut and run with a moderate setback. The promise is always looming that the jackpot, or at least a hit big enough to recover or stay in the game, may be just one spin away.

Table game aficionados, particularly those who regularly play low-edge games like blackjack or craps with even-money or small-multiple payoffs, tend to have a different attitude. The've got to be realistic about risking a bankroll and leaving without it. But these gamblers are more apt than not to have exit strategies based on win goals tempered by their stakes. For instance, a bettor coming to a $10 table with $200 may realize it's foolhardy to keep playing after a profit reaches $100 or certainly $200

Here's an approach that combines these strategies, attempting to achieve the best of both worlds. Divide a bankroll into two unequal portions. Use the smaller part to play the slots on a do-or-die basis. If you score, cash out and gloat. If you exhaust the allocated fraction, go to a blackjack table with the rest of your bankroll, aiming to win back what you lost at the machine.

To get an idea of how it works, make believe you start with $200. Divide it three alternate ways: $20/$180, $25/$175, and $50/$150.

Say you play a machine with $1 max per pull, that has a $10,000 jackpot. Slots differ from one another. But on a typical machine with 94 percent player payback, the likelihood you'll reach $10,000 before depleting your stake is about one in 10 million playing with your whole $200 bankroll. It's one in 90 million starting with $20, 75 million with $25, and 38 million with $50. Chances are better with $200; however they're remote in any case.

Assume you lost the part of your money designated for the slots. What are your chances of winning it back, rather than going all the way down, by hazarding the remainder of the $200 at $10 blackjack? Following perfect Basic Strategy, the probabilities are 81 percent putting up $180 to win $20, 77 percent using $175 to recoup $25, and 59 percent investing $150 to earn $50.

Maybe you're a fatter cat and come to the casino with $500. You might split it into $50 for the slots and $450 for blackjack. These are the same proportions as $20 and $180 on $200.

Your chance of earning $10,000 at $1 per spin on the slots is one in 38 million as before. Your chance at recovering $50 with a $450 bankroll at $10 blackjack is 88 percent. You have more cash on hand, though, and may wonder how bigger bets would impact this method of play. On a $2 slot machine with 94 percent return, all else being equal, the chance of a $10,000 jackpot would be better than on a $1 game. This makes a difference in the ultimate chance of success, which rises to one in 5,000 with $500 better but not good (that's an average of once a century if you play once a week). It's one in 45,000 with $50. And getting back $50 at $25 blackjack with a $450 bankroll has 89 percent probability.

Prospects of one in 45,000 at winning $10,000 and 89 percent of breaking even still leave the danger of a wipe-out at 11 percent. So you're not exactly getting a free shot at the bosses' bounty. It's as the pragmatic poet, Sumner A Ingmark, pensively penned:

Casinos do a business healthy, But not by making players wealthy.

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.