Issue 94
June 24 - 30, 2002
Volume 3
page 3

Why Do Slot Players Win Big, When Table Games Have Lower Edge?
By Alan Krigman

A factor contributing to the appeal of the slots is the chance to arrive at a casino by bus and depart by limo. Say, by parlaying $100 into $500,000. Traditional table games, with no bonuses or progressive side bets, don't seem to offer this opportunity. Yet, the old table standbys have less house advantage than most slot machines and should therefore be easier to win. What's the catch?

Picture a $0.50, two-coin maximum, machine with a $500,000 jackpot for $1 bet. Assume a 90 percent return -- the casino has 10 percent edge. Say that 1 percent of the total return is allocated to the jackpot. The payoff is essentially 500,000-to-1. The odds against winning are 100-fold greater -- 50,000,000-to-1 -- because the jackpot is a hundredth of the overall return. Steep, but if a bank of these machines gets 100 million pulls per year, the casino expects to pay a jackpot every six or so months.

Instead, think about blackjack buffs over whom the casino has an edge of only half a percent. Pretend some enthusiasts buy in for $100, start betting at $5, press up wantonly as their winnings wax, and play until they go belly-up or hit $500,000. All told, this group might average $100 per hand. And the odds each member fights of reaching $500,000 are around 10,000-to-1.

If you think 10,000-to-1 seems too favorable, consider what the numbers mean. Of 10,001 people playing this way, one will win $500,000 and 10,000 will lose $100 each. That's $500,000 for the bettors and $1,000,000 for the bosses. The casino earns $500,000.

Despite the chance of winning half a million dollars on a $100 stake being considerably lower for slot than table players, such scores happen to the former and not the latter. For four reasons.

First, slot action far surpasses table play. A smaller fraction of a disproportionately larger population yields more successes.

Second, a slot aficionado can jump from $1 to $500,000 in one admittedly low-probability step. Even an extremely aggressive and lucky blackjack player needs a multitude of rounds to bridge this chasm. Using the earlier estimates, for the house to rack up $500,000 profit on 0.5 percent advantage, a total of $100,000,000 would have to have been wagered. This is a mean handle of $10,000 for each of the 10,000 players -- or 100 bets averaging $100 each. But the 100-bet statistic is misleading because the vast majority of gamblers will tap out early while the rare survivors would have to go on for days, weeks, months, or longer. Few would persist. For any who might, their $100 origins would be obscured at intermediate plateaus. When an urbane high roller enters the casino with a $250,000 line of credit and starts at $1,000 per hand, nobody would recall the provincial penny-pincher who began two years earlier with $100 and hit a streak betting $5 or $10 and maybe $25, then returned a month later with $500, and so on.

Third, slot players typically risk the same amount on every round -- $1 in the example proposed. A bettor comfortable at this level knows that success on the next spin could bring a fortune while failure will only cost a buck. Earning

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$500,000 at traditional table games necessitates betting big. A mere mortal may lack the mettle to slide out $5,000 or more at the beginning of a round, fearing the dent a loss will make in accumulated earnings.

Fourth and last, slot players can hit the jackpot while in the hole, or with modest enough earnings that they have no incentives to stop. Table players starting with $100 must amass sufficient profit to be positioned to make the requisite big bets. When individuals get $10,000, $100,000, or $250,000 ahead, the impetus to quit is powerful. We are not, after all, talking peanuts. Just the thought of letting $100,000 slip away is depressing.

This isn't to suggest that table players rush to the slots or go for broke. Rather, that there's more to understanding gambling than knowing the edge on every bet. Players can be like cynics as defined by Oscar Wilde, knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing. The renown poet, Sumner A Ingmark, put it thus:

Assured success of an endeavor,
Means little if it takes forever.

Click here to read more Al Krigman articles

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