Casino Q & A with John Grochowski



QUESTION: I was playing a slot machine, and I had to go to the bathroom. Usually, I put a coin cup on the machine, and people leave it alone. This time I couldn’t find any coin cups around, so I just left my players card in the machine and hoped that would signal people I was still playing. I couldn’t have been gone five minutes, and when I came back, someone else was playing the machine. Not only that, my player card was gone. The other player had put it on top of the machine, and a slot attendant had taken it away. I had to go to the players club booth to get a new card.


Do you think that was all kind of rude? Shouldn’t the other player have left my machine alone? I complained to a casino manager, but she didn’t seem to think it was any big deal.


ANSWER: If I were a slot machine designer, I’d program a “machine in use” feature that would light up and lock the machine when a player wanted to take a bathroom break or get a drink. Perhaps unlocking it would be keyed to re-entry of your players club card. It would all be on a timer, of course --- holding a machine for 10 minutes to go to the bathroom is reasonable; holding it for an hour while you go to lunch isn’t.


Some international slots have such a feature, but U.S. casinos prefer to deactivate it. So we need to devise signals that we’ve just stepped away for a minute. Leaving a player rating card in a machine is not a strong enough signal. People forget to take their cards when they leave machines all the time. It’s no breach of etiquette for another player to assume some other forgetful soul has left without his or her card.


It’s more effective to lean a chair forward against the machine, and to ask other players to watch it for you while you make a quick trip. Do not leave anything of value behind. I see eyeglasses and cigarettes and lighters left to save machines all the time, but the worst I ever saw was a wallet, obviously loaded with cash. I was just passing when I saw it, but alerted a slot attendant to keep an eye out until the owner returned.


With TITO taking over slot floors --- before long, coins and tokens will disappear from the slot universe altogether --- there are fewer and fewer coin cups to act as place holders. Even they weren’t perfect, of course. I once saw a man turn a coin upside down on a the screen of a nickel game where he had more than 2,000 credits. A short time after he walked a way, a woman a few seats away cashed out and looked for a coin cup, and the only one nearby was the one on the man’s screen. She took it.


Now THAT was a breach of etiquette. Playing a machine where someone else has left a players card is just business as usual.


QUESTION: How is it that a casino can afford to pay you 800 coins for four Aces on some games, 2,000 on some others, but only 125 on Jacks or Better? On the games that pay more, are they programmed so the Aces come up less often?


ANSWER: On the contrary. We hit four Aces more often, not less, on games such as Double Bonus Poker (800 coins for a five-coin bet), Double Double Bonus Poker (800 coins most of the time, but 2,000 if the four Aces are accompanied by a 2, 3 or 4) or Super Aces (2,000 coins) than we do on Jacks or Better (125 coins). That’s because we adjust our playing strategy to account for the bigger payoffs on those Aces. The prime example is a full house that includes three Aces. On Jacks or Better, we just take the full house payoff. On the other games mentioned, we hold the three Aces and discard the other pair, hoping for the fourth Ace.


So how can games such as Double Bonus, Double Double Bonus and Super Aces pay us so much more than Jacks or Better does on Ace quads? Because what they give you on four of a kind, they take away elsewhere on the pay table. One thing all those big Ace games have in common is that they pay only 1-for-1 on two pair, instead of the 2-for-1 you get on Jacks or Better. The drop in the two-pair payoff costs us about 12 percent of our return in the long run, giving game designers plenty of leeway to give us bigger bonuses elsewhere on the pay table.


QUESTION: Whenever I've won a hand-paid jackpot (no matter how large or how small), the attendant paying the jackpot has asked me to "spin-off" the winning combination.  It seems that the "request" to spin-off a winning combination is tantamount to "requiring" me to make a bet that I otherwise might not make.  I don't mind doing it, but what if a player refused to make that one, last, final bet to "spin-off" a winning combination?  Does the player still get paid?  Does the casino employee do it?  What happens?


ANSWER: The casino still has to pay you if you refuse to spin off the winner. Usually, a slot attendant, in the presence of a security guard, will take a coin out of the machine hopper and spin off the winner. It has to be reported, and it’s a bit of a hassle for them, so I spin off the winner --- with one exception. On multiline video machines, a hand-pay may be triggered just because you’ve accumulated a large number of credits on the machine. I’ve hit the cashout button with a losing combination on the screen, and have been asked, “I don’t suppose you’ll spin that off?” In that situation, my answer is, “No, sorry.”


John is the author of six books on casino games, including "The Slot Machine Answer Book." You can find his weekly column at www.scoblete.com