Issue 294
May 1 - May 7, 2006
Volume 6
page 3

What Does Payback Really Mean to Players?
By John Robison

I read Steve's letter to you and I think he needs an attitude adjustment. Playing the slots is adult entertainment and that is all. You don't go to the casinos to make money. Just have fun. If you won or broke even, it was a great night. But if you lost the $200 or what ever your allotment is for the day, it was still a good day! You weren't at work! You were playing.

I have been playing for years and have never gotten a taxable hit of $1200, but have hit for $600-$1000 several times. Most times in this world I've had to pay for my entertainment. And I think people have been giving Harrah's a bad rap.



Hi, John,

Long time reader of your site. I especially like to read what other people write to you about.

I've written to you once or twice in the past and your knowledge and approach to the slot machine has put me in a much better place.

The recent letter from "Steve from a while back" is funny. This guy needs to relax and enjoy the game. If his expectations are so high that he feels he needs or deserves to win a jackpot, then he really needs to take up another hobby to relax.

I enjoy playing the slots and the majority of the time I come home with losses, but I also do win. I don't expect to take home a jackpot every time I go, but it would be nice. That is not what the casino business is in. My wife, who really does not like to gamble, went with me on my bithday to Chukchansi here in California and she played for 10 minutes on a nickel slot and hit the jackpot.

Hey, Steve, it just happens - when the slot gods are looking upon you then it's your turn. Just enjoy.

Thanks to both of you for your comments.

Playing the slots should be fun. When it's no longer fun, it's time to take a break -- perhaps a permanent break.



Hi, John,

Thanks for sharing all this knowledge with us!

I've got very simplistic questions for you (should be a relief, based on some I've seen recently that make my eyes cross). I'm originally from Atlanta, Georgia, and have now lived in Singapore for the past 4 years. I never played any money games (not even a lotto ticket) until I arrived in Singapore. The Chinese will gamble over anything, and "see" their new gambling messages from the gods in temples during festivals (no joke...). A favorite pastime here is playing Mah-jong, which I've learned to do (always saw it in the movies and just thought it looked cool), and sadly had to pay my "school fees" (bad beats a gazillion times over while learning the game), with varying stakes (but always stakes - never *for fun*). This constant "for stakes" thing unnerved me, but also educated me a bit and introduced me into this world.

My introduction to casinos, was due to having to take a trip up north into the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, and then up into the mountains above - arriving at "Genting Highlands" the casino resort. Luckily I was pretty broke going in, so most of my action was watching the action, so to speak. And, of course, now I've got quite a few games here on my PC, to learn and play all sorts of games.

And now on to my few "newbie" questions...

I've been away from home for a few years, and I read on the net about casinos popping up all over the place. Is it still illegal in Georgia?

Is there any awareness (has anybody in the USA, etc., heard of) the Genting place I mentioned?

Slots, RNG, Payouts, etc. - I always hear about these percentages, and even people write in to you with questions, and they talk about percentages as well. The way I understand it is that the percentage is an overall figure. What does this mean for the casual slot player, who goes to a machine, plays a low amount (low limit loss of "Once I drop to 75% of what I came in with, I am outta here" and/or "Once I win 15% or more of what I came in with, I am outta here"), wins or loses some, and then leaves? This type of player is only concerned with his playing on that one machine. I know this may be a bit too simplistic, but I am just wondering how that type of person should interpret these types of numbers?

When I first went to Genting, Malaysia used a coin for a single dollar, and you could drop in your coins to play slots, and hit "collect winnings", and out comes all your coins making that lovely sound, and you scoop them up, stuff your pockets, and waltz on over to the pub or whatever you do. This past new year's I went up to Genting again. And now Malaysia has gone into the paper bill currency for dollars. And the machine's minimum has gone up to $5 (of course, it says 2 cents, etc., but you can not just lose 2's $5x?).

There are two ways to collect winnings now - hit the same button, and the lights flash, and you have to wait for an assistant to come around, and sign this and that, get a voucher, and then go to the cashier. Or you can get a card - either permanent (gotta buy it) or temporary, which you deposit cash into, and then when you are finished, take the card to the cashier and receive the balance back in cash. (They've done their homework on how to make it easier to spend the cash and more troublesome to collect, and other fun psychological games.) Sorry it takes me so long to get to my point. My question is this - for someone like me, who is new to gaming, yet wants to play it "safe" with make a profit and run or only play with profit... How to best implement that strategy within this new system? Compared to drop in a coin, small jackpot, drop in some more coins etc. - which made it easier to not reach into your pocket so often.

I have more questions, but I guess considering the length of this email, they can wait, and I will span them out over time.

Thanks so much!

P.S. - Outside of the slots/video poker, etc. realm, I am curious to learn about your writing these articles. I also am quite fond of writing (as is fairly evident), and have been pondering about doing something similar (maybe a lead-in for my question about awareness in the west of Genting) - any suggestions on this?


Dear Craig,

Thanks for the kind words about my columns.

If any readers have any experiences to share about Genting Highlands, please write in and I'll publish them in a future column.

Now, to your questions. What does long-term payback percentage really mean to the player? In truth, not that much. Most players play a few hundred or thousands spins on a machine -- nowhere near enough spins for the long-term payback percentage to have much of an effect on their results. Players have nothing to lose by playing machines with the highest long-term payback percentages they can find, but their short-term results won't necessarily be any better than if they played a lower-paying machine.

The classic example of this is a common story among video poker players. Just about every video poker player has had this happen to him or her. They can't catch a break playing full-pay machines, but then they play a short-pay machine and win, maybe even hit a royal flush.

Your problem with money management now is similar to what players face with the move to ticket machines. Many systems were based on handling coins, which aren't used anymore.

The good news is that no money management system can affect the house edge against you, so it really doesn't matter what system you use, if any. The two keys goals of money management as far as I'm concerned are: to bet only with money earmarked for entertainment and that you can afford to lose, and to try to make your bankroll last as long as your desire to play.

I use a very simplistic method. I set a bankroll for the trip, then divide that by the number of days to get a bankroll for each day. I keep track of how I'm doing during the day, and if I'm getting to close to running out of my daily bankroll, I slow down, bet less per decision, or even quit.

Caesars Palace used to have a aystem in which you could put money on deposit in their "bank" and then transfer it to a machine. I used to load up my account with my bankroll for the trip and just make sure I didn't go over my daily bankroll when I hit dry spells.

I suggest using the stored value card. It sounds much more convenient than waiting for the vouchers. If you have the discipline to not go overboard, you can load it up at the beginning of your trip and then make sure you don't exceed your daily allotment. Otherwise, you can just put money on it each day. You have to decide what works for you.

As for writing, I think many people in the United States are interested in how casinos are different in other countries. It's tough to write that article without experience in U.S. casinos, though. I think you could write something about having to adjust from using coins to vouchers or cards. Once you have writtern some articles, you can send query letters to the gaming magazines to see if they're interested in the topics. The two biggest are Casino Player and Strictly Slots.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

About the Author

John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a video poker columnist and writes 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 with Frank Scoblete, which is broadcast from Memphis on WMC 790AM Saturday morning from 9:30 to noon Central Standard Time. John is on the show from 10:30 to 11:00. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

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