How Do Slot Machines and Other Electronic Gambling Machines Actually Work?

Online Slot Machines

Slot machines and other Electronic Gambling Machines (EGMs) are gambling devices that offer a variety of games.

They are inexpensive to run, which makes it possible for casinos to offer low-stakes betting to a large number of players. As a result, they have become the most profitable form of gambling. EGMs are found at casinos, online casinos, on cruise boats, at racetracks, at local bars, and even at corner stores.

Slot machines and other EGMs seem to attract a lot of myths. This is partly because of a lack of accurate information on how the machines work and partly due to the design of the machines. In this article, we will discuss how slot machines really work.

Our goal is to demystify the machines in order to demystify the games. We will also discuss some of the myths about slot machines. This article is intended to serve as a resource for counselors and prevention workers in the field of problem gambling. It is also intended for people in the general public who wish to understand slot machines.

Slot machines and other electronic gambling machines (EGMs) are gambling devices that offer a variety of games. EGMs are found at casinos, online casinos, on cruise boats, at racetracks, and, in some provinces and states, in local bars and corner stores.

There are three main varieties of EGMs: slot machines, video slots, and video poker. These machines are inexpensive to run compared to roulette or blackjack games, which makes it possible for casinos to offer low-stakes betting to a large number of players. As a result, they have become the most profitable form of gambling for casinos and online casinos operators.

A recent report from Statistics Canada indicates that EGMs outside of casinos (e.g., Video Lottery Terminals –VLTs- in bars and slot machines at racetracks) took in a total of 40% of the total revenue from non-charity gambling in Canada. In addition, slots accounted for 80% of the revenue from casinos in 2021. The purpose of this article is to examine how EGMs work and to address some of the most common misunderstandings about these machines.

For the most part, very little accurate information is available from the gambling industry on how EGMs work. However, even it falls well short of full disclosure about the machines. Information is available from numerous “How to Gamble” books, videos, and Web sites. While some of these are remarkably accurate, others are filled with misinformation about gambling.

It is difficult for the consumer to distinguish between accurate and inaccurate information. In the absence of easily accessible and accurate information, people tend to create their own beliefs about how things work. When these ideas are shared, they take on a life of their own as myths. Eventually, these myths are written down in “how-to” books or Web sites. Once written, the myths seem to become fact. EGMs seem to attract a lot of these myths.

The mythification of slots may be due to the way the machines are designed. Mythification may be the basis of many of the great works of literature, but, in the case of gambling, it is the source of much misery. In this article, we will explain how slot machines really work, and we will discuss and debunk some of the related myths.

Slot Machines

The basic game of a slot machine involves setting three or more reels into motion. In many modern offline and online slot machines, the reels are simply computer-generated pictures of simulated reels, but the essential game is the same. Typically, if all three reels match when they stop moving, the player wins, but other combinations can also lead to a prize (e.g., one cherry).

Common symbols include lemons, cherries, lucky sevens, diamonds, etc. The amount of the win is inversely related to the probability of a symbol coming up on the pay line.

However, there is very little relationship between the number of pictures on the reel and the probability of a particular symbol landing on the pay line. The wins and the player’s remaining credits are displayed using a small LED screen (a matrix of little red dots) and in online slots, it will be on screen.

In bricks and mortar casinos, if the player has won more than the machine can payout, a light on top of the machine usually flashes, notifying the casino of a big win. The remainder of the win is paid by cheque.

The payout of the slot is determined by the mathematical structure of the game, not by how recently the machine has paid out. Game structures are very complex and, as a result, the odds against winning on most EGMs are hidden from the player.

In Ontario, most offline slot machines have actual reels. However, some casinos have video slots (also called VLTs) with simulated reels that appear on a video screen. The introduction of video slots allows the game manufacturer a much greater degree of freedom in the structure of the game. Many video slots have bonus features that come up if certain combinations occur.

Bonus features are not new. Reel slots have always had bonus features run either by a separate wheel or oversized dice located at the top of the machine or through a separate display screen that is activated when a bonus feature occurs. The advantage of video slots, however, is that upgrading the program or replacing it with a new game is easier. In my view, slot lineup games presented on a video screen and slots with reels are essentially the same, except that video slots offer a greater variety of wagers and bonus features.

Video poker

Video poker is a completely different game than slots. It is based on five-card-draw poker played against the machine. Players win if they get certain combinations of cards, such as three of a kind (e.g., 4-4-K-4-7) or a flush (e.g., five hearts).

Players press a deal button, select the cards they want to keep by pressing a hold button, and then press deal to replace the rest of the cards. Typically, players only get one draw per hand. Some versions include wildcards (e.g., the joker or deuce), which are worth any value needed to complete a hand. The computer calculates the highest hand present and pays credits that are inversely related to the odds of a particular hand coming up. A flush might pay five credits for every credit bet while a full house might pay eight.

Video poker is different from slots in two main respects. First, the probabilities of the game are based on a simulated deck of cards, so that players can actually compute the probability of winning based on their knowledge of the cards.

For example, if you have four hearts and one spade, you can estimate that the chance of getting a flush if you replace the spade is 19% (9/47).

Second, you have an option to choose which card to hold, which means that there is an element of skill in the game. For example, with Jacks or Better video poker, say a player has a pair of tens, but also has a flush draw (e.g., four hearts). Taking into account the probability and payout for various hands, the player would be better off throwing away the ten and drawing for a flush than throwing away the three hearts to draw for two pairs or three of a kind.

However, if the player has a pair of jacks, he or she is better off keeping the jacks and throwing away the flush draw.

While some of the rules of play seem self-evident, optimal play actually involves memorizing a fairly large number of conditional rules. Thus, players who study the game and make probability-based choices can improve their success.

However, skill in video poker does not usually allow players to overcome the house edge. Skilled players might lose at a rate of 1% per bet, whereas less skilled players might lose at a rate of perhaps 10% per bet. Exact figures for skilled and unskilled would depend on a player’s level of skill and the particular machine played.

Note that there are apparently video poker games where an optimal strategy would allow the player to break even or even beat the house. Evaluating the accuracy of this claim is beyond the scope of this article. However, on most video poker machines, even expert players are playing against a house edge.

Video lottery machines

There is a great deal of confusion about the nature of VLTs. People often use the term VLT when referring to video poker or video slots located in a casino.

There are four main differences between a VLT and a video slot machine.

First, in some jurisdictions, the outcome of the games on a VLT is determined by a central determination system rather than the individual machine. This is in fact why they are called video lottery “terminals.” This distinction might have important legal implications in terms of whether a VLT is classed as a slot machine or a lottery, but is irrelevant in terms of the gambler’s experience.

Second, VLTs in Canada are often multi-game platforms that offer slot games, video poker, and sometimes a variety of other games such as video blackjack or keno. The range of games offered means that VLTs may appeal to a broader range of players than single-game slot machines. Slot games played on a VLT are largely the same as video slots on a stand-alone machine. Video poker on a VLT is essentially the same as video poker on a dedicated video poker machine. As described above, slot lineup games and video poker are quite different. One is a game of pure chance, the other a game with some skill elements. When discussing machine gambling with a player, it may be important to know the type of game played. Telling a VLT player who only plays video poker on the VLT that the game involves no skill could interfere with therapy by undermining the credibility of the counselor (the focus with video poker should be on the limits of skill).

Third, VLTs are often located in bars and corner stores — areas that are more easily accessible. Single-game machines (slots or video poker) make up the majority of machines offered in casinos in Canada, but multigame platforms can be found in Las Vegas casinos. The multigame nature of VLTs is likely due to the pragmatic need to offer a variety of games in a setting with only a small number of machines.

Fourth, wins from VLTs in Canada are usually paid with vouchers, whereas slot wins are paid with coins. However, both accumulate credits until a “cash-out” button is pressed.

Global variations

Gambling is a multinational industry that is regulated locally. As a result, there are regional variations in the games that are available and the regulations that control them. Fruit machines in the United Kingdom, for example, are required by law to pay out a minimum percentage within a short period of time.

Apparently this regulation came into effect because the bar owners responsible for these machines were worried about potential losses due to the volatility of games. According to U.S. patent #6,666,765 (http://www.uspto.gov/patft/index.html):

[British] fruit machines generally use a form of “adaptive logic” wherein coin-in and coin-out is monitored over time and wherein odds/payouts of the fruit machine are proactively adjusted to achieve a target win percentage. Examples of adaptive logic fruit-machines in Great Britain are GB 2 185 612 A and GB 2 087 618 A …. In the United States, the casino game operated with a random number generator must, overall play of the casino game, provide a known player expected return (or house advantage) and the casino game cannot proactively monitor performance and correspondingly adjust play parameters.

As a result, some of the myths about slot machines in North America may, in fact, be true in the United Kingdom, however, recently told us that adaptive logic machines are being phased out as the United Kingdom moves toward adopting North American standards in order to permit larger prizes.

Slots Confusion

Slot Machine

One feature present in almost every modern slot machine is the partial win or “loss disguised as a win.”

Since slot machines have gone from the traditional 3-reel 1-line slot machine to the modern 5-reel video slot, often with 25 or more winning lines, near-miss outcomes have become almost unidentifiable from other losing outcomes.

By encouraging individuals to play on more than one line, casinos have created a scenario where players are awarded a win on almost every spin.

Despite the increased frequency of winning, the proportion of money returned is often far less than the entire bet, such as winning 10c on a 50c bet. This 80% loss is accompanied by the same sounds on the machine as a real win and occupies the same area of the screen that wins are reported in.

Since noticing near-misses on modern slot machines is difficult, game makers have incorporated other game features such as free-spin symbols, mini-games, and progressive awards, which create new near miss situations while often not guaranteeing any increased value of a win themselves.

For example, special symbols might be placed on the reels that provide 10-free spins whenever three appear anywhere within the game screen. These symbols will often make a special sound, such as a loud thud when they land; and if two symbols land, many games will begin to play fast tempo music, display flashing lights around the remaining reels, and accelerate the rate of spin to enhance the saliency of the event.

When you win these sorts of outcomes you feel as though you have won a jackpot; after all, 10 free spins is 10x the chances to win big money right? The reality is that those 10 free-spins do not change the already small probability of winning on any given spin and are still likely to result in a loss of money. For many games, features such as this have entirely replaced standard jackpots.

These features share one important characteristic: they allow the casinos the ability to provide more outcomes that feel like a win while not increasing the actual payout. The effect of these features is so significant that in 1989 the Nevada Gaming Commission banned algorithms that purposefully increased the prevalence of near-miss outcomes. Of course, this only applied to the intentional increasing of near misses when a loss is already determined, i.e. artificially producing a near miss instead of what the reels would have normally landed on.

Unfortunately, these laws do not preclude the intentional design of reel layouts that, without additional manipulation, produce frequent near misses and losses disguised as wins. These laws also do not apply to the newer game features which either highlight the near miss, such as accelerating reels, or create entirely new topographies of outcomes, as is the case with free-spins or mini-games.

While the question of how to best manage artificial manipulations of near misses may be a topic of future regulatory discussion, the decision to play games with these illusions will ultimately fall upon the end user.

As long as you are willing to expose yourself to the game in the first place, the casino need only sit back and wait. And with the increasing availability of casinos across the US, they won’t need to wait long.

Play Craps

Craps Game

Craps has to be one of the most exciting games that take place in a casino. The fun at the table usually makes this one of the loudest games on the floor, always getting heads to turn towards the action. Craps is a game where you will find groups of players standing at a table, all participating in active bets. The game itself is pretty straightforward, you throw the dice and you simply have to guess the value of the outcome. If you don’t have your favorite craps strategy yet, it would certainly be the best practice to be equipped with the necessary knowledge about Craps strategies used and the craps bet types that are available to you. If you don’t know them, then don’t worry too much as the betting types are pretty easy to get used to and usually you have one type of bet with the next type being the exact opposite. JohnniePoker site was created to help you understand and choose the best craps strategy. You just need to get used to the game and you’ll realize just how much fun it can be!

Craps Rules

Playing craps online is a very fun alternative and it’ll give you better odds than real/offline casinos. You just need to start by getting acquainted with the people at the table — there are four who are in charge.

You have the ‘BOXMAN‘ who is the boss. The ‘boss’ sits right behind the middle of the table and is there to see and monitor everything that goes on during the craps gambling game.

Then you have ‘THE DEALERS‘. There are two dealers placed on either side of the ‘Boxman’ and they are in charge of handling players on their respective sides. Their main job is to pay the winners and withdraw chips from the losers.

There is the ‘STICKMAN‘ – the fancy guy with the stick- who is in charge of the dice. As soon as all of the bets have been placed, the ‘Stickman’ grabs sets of dice and directs them towards the shooter. At this point, the player can decide which set of dice they want to use and then will be ready to play. The player has to then roll the dice across the table and they have to hit the wall on the other side.

Everything else you need to know will be explained throughout the detailed information below. Read on and get Craps suave!

One of the best betting options in any casino is by far the game of Craps. The house edge in craps is around 1.41%and this works out at more than triple that of roulette and considerably better than slot machines. Keeping this in mind, you are more likely to get an expected return of around 99c in this game. However, to do this and get great odds, you would need to only make the best bets and avoid the “crap” ones. Delve into our Craps lessons and we will reveal all the tricks that you need to watch out for.

Here is a game that is bound to offer you heaps of entertainment, as it’s pretty normal to see and hear players shout and scream when they win at Craps.

Since this is a game where you actually roll the dice yourself, it gives you that feeling of determining whether you’re going to win or lose, you’re in control! In all other table games, you have someone else in charge of dealing you the cards or spinning the little marble. That’s why Craps is so much better!

(Read more about bet types, win rates and payouts in the Craps Bet Types section below and also the Craps Glossary at the bottom of this page)

How many different bets can you make in Craps?

There are so many different bets a player can make in Craps that if we had to try to cover them all, we would still be here explaining all of them many months down the road. So keeping this in mind, be aware that there are only a few bets that are ‘must know’, the rest aren’t worth concerning yourself with anyway. So how do you master this game? Simple, print the picture (to the right), then follow the examples below by moving the chips and a marker around on the printout. Now it’s time to get down to business and see how the game is played.

How to roll the dice?

Every player will get a turn at rolling the dice. A person that rolls is called a ‘shooter’. Whether you’re a shooter or not, you still bet on the same roll of the dice. A shooter gets to keep rolling until he actually ‘sevens out’. From here on another player gets to roll. When a player ‘sevens out’ it means they have rolled a seven at the wrong time.

What sort of game is Craps?

It’s a game of rounds. The game starts off with a Come-Out Roll meaning the first roll of a round, the round that may last for just a single roll or for several rolls, depending on the type and time of the roll. If you get mixed up, don’t worry the following Come-Out Roll would be on the way where everything starts over. When the dealer turns the hockey puck on the table to ‘OFF’ and says ‘coming out’, this would mean the game is on the verge of a come out roll, meaning a new round would be starting – awesome!

What does a Craps table look like?

The Table

All craps tables are covered in feeling, very similar to other poker or blackjack tables in a casino. On it, you will find the craps betting types that would be printed on felt. Here you will have the spaces where you can place your bets. In the center, one can find the area where One Roll Bets and Hardways can be placed. At the end of Craps’ tables, you will notice the sections where Come, Place, Pass Line, Field, and other bets are placed. Both ends of the table are identical. The normal colors of a craps table would be green felt with white lettering, however, sometimes you get casinos that would change them.

Craps Table Layout
Craps Table Layout

Who else can you spot the table?

A craps table can be spotted by the numerous number of people that stand around it, it easy enough to tell you that there is a minimum of four casino workers standing around a craps table. This will help you identify these tables even on a rather quiet night. The tables are also rather longish.

You choose which craps to play

For many online fanatics, there are many aspects they are in favor of when playing in online Craps casinos and there is much more reason they love this apart from the fact of never having to leave their home. On the other hand, however, players who spend time at offline craps casinos will tell you that the atmosphere of live craps games can simply never be matched. They also like to let it serve as an outing and they tend the find the game more realistic when dealing with live dealer craps.

Craps Online Casinos Advantages

By playing craps online there are many other advantages that online gaming brings with it. There is the mobility of giving you the chance to take your favorite craps games with you wherever you choose to go, and there is also the advantage of all craps games being as close as your computer. The play is always available to you after just a few clicks or loading time and the time that you save from traveling to physical casinos results in longer gambling sessions.

In addition, money that you would usually spend on transportation, fuel, and meals can be put towards a bigger gaming bankroll. When visiting online casinos however do not just be lured in by the welcome bonuses on offer, be sure to check out all the wagering requirements as these will obviously vary between one casino and another. It is always beneficial to look out for high bonuses and low wagering requirements because this way your chances increase. See our ranking of selected bonuses for an online casino where we combined highest welcome offer you can get when playing craps with lowest wagering requirements. That would allow you to maximize the chances to not only lose as little as possible but even to withdraw some cash.

These are our suggestions on how to start the play: Search for free no deposit bonus and play to minimize the house edge of online craps casinos.

Pick the craps strategy which will reduce the house edge to less than 1%. There are three-bet types that allow you to do this best, and these are the [passline], the [come]and [taking odds]. Ideally, if you want to increase your chances of winning at online craps we suggest placing a come bet or a new pass line bet on each roll. This is a system where you will see a lot of money going from one player to another so there will be winning days as well as losing ones. This is the system that most prolific craps betters use, a system that keeps you hot in the action with a chance for winning big while playing with the lowest house edge.

There is one alternative system that provides odds that are slightly better and you can achieve this by placing a bet that is opposite to the one we just explained above. Here you would need to place a Don’t Pass or Don’t Come bet on each roll and follow this by laying the maximum odds possible. When you lay odds don’t forget that it will cost you more than taking odds. This kind of craps strategy can drive you towards bigger swings with a higher risk.

Here you can check other winning strategies and learn all about bet types.

Number Generation

In a land-based casino, craps is a very fast game played by the throwing of a set of dice and the same notion and intense action can also be found via online craps. The same great game was invented for players who choose to play online in the virtual form using software simulators. Have a read through the below information where we speak about number generation. When a player is wagering at craps in an online casino the dice are not rolled from a physical dealer. It is a software that simulates all of the actions. When using software the outcomes have to be such that they cannot be predicted in order to ensure fairness. This is known as the random number generator (RNG), the component of the software that makes all this possible. When talking about live casinos, however, the process that generates the outcome is performed by physical processes.

With the online RNG, the events on the screen happen easily and promptly. However, when you look at the sequence of happenings within the software, this is a bit more complicated. The RNG is activated when the event is set off, this happens by the throwing of the dice. Here the software generates a number by chance which in return is linked to a particular event. In craps, this will happen by the RNG generating two numbers for the two dice that have been rolled. Each number would obviously be from 1 to 6.

When an online casino uses such software, once installed, the software, including the RNG are deeply tested and after this has been done and approved, it is sealed.

No online casino powered by the software or the software provider itself can tamper with the software. In fact, as a more elaborate precaution, online casino gaming authorities demand that the RNG is checked every now and then for randomness. This way, more peace of mind is given to casino players that the games are probably fair and safe.

Drawbacks of playing online craps

If on the other hand, you are a person who loves being out, loves crowds and likes a bit of action, then online craps might have some drawbacks. For instance, online craps do not come with interaction, there is no dice throwing, no people to cheer when something happens and no live energy. A real-life casino allows you to feel more energy while playing.

Basic Play

The first thing you need to do is find a craps table and be sure that the minimum bet amount is within your budget range ( here you can check how to manage the money when playing craps). Then you need to put down on the table the money you are ready to bet so that the dealer will exchange it for chips. When changing chips back to money, however, this cannot be done at the table, you need to go to the cash desk.

Players take it in turns to roll the dice and if you walk up to a table and someone is rolling, you then have to wait until the following “come out” roll prior to placing your bet. As soon as a shooter rolls a seven after a point has been established better known as ‘sevening out’, the next player will become the shooter.

In order to lay down a Pass Line Bet, you put your bet on the Pass Line prior to the shooter rolling his come out roll. For instance, if you bet $10. The shooter starts off with a hot hand and rolls a seven straight away, this would mean that you have doubled your money and you now have $20. At this point you can choose to either collect your winnings and leave your original bet on the table or else you can do what is called ‘ pressing your bet’. Let’s say you decide to do this.

At this point the shooter happens to roll an 8, therefore the 8 becomes the point. Remember before you see a 7 now, you would want to see another 8. Here the dealer places a white puck on the number 8 in The Place Bets section to mark the point. If instead of a white puck there is a black puck showing, then this means that no point has been set.

Now the next roll happens to be a 3, after that a 5 and last but not least two fours or better still an 8 the hard way. This would mean that you have just doubled your money one more time. Here you can choose if you want to collect your winnings or put down another one for the next roll. And there my friend is all you need to know about the most basic craps game.

For anyone to whom the basic play is already known, we have also explored some of the more advanced tactics and strategies to win at online craps in the section titled Winning Strategies.

Table Etiquette

  • When you’re rolling dice, don’t polish them or blow on them, simply shake them in one hand and roll them to the back wall down the table.
  • When you roll them, try and keep them on the table because if you don’t the roll will not count.
  • Except for the Pass Line, Field, Don’t Pass Line, Don’t Come or Come, never reach into portions of the table, you place your own bets in those areas. For the other areas, the dealer must place the best for you.
  • Unless you are leaving the table, don’t exchange lower denomination chips for higher denomination chips.
  • Never touch the dealer.
  • When you’re telling the dealer how much and where you want to bet, speak clearly.
  • While the dice are still in the middle of the table make sure you get your bet in early. Late bets can give the impression as though you are past posting. As well, after the shooter has the dice, most dealers won’t take bets.
  • According to your position at the table, dealers usually have systems for paying winnings, just be calm and wait for your turn to be paid.
  • While you’re waiting to be paid, be sure not to touch your chips.
  • It’s best to place your best on the table closest to where you are standing.
  • Just as the dealer would be about to pay you, now is the time to tell him if you would want to press your bet. This would save him having to count out your chips twice.

Craps Table with No House Edge

I mentioned that the pass line bet at the craps table has a house edge of only 1.41%, and that’s a great deal. But there’s an even better bet at the craps table that isn’t labeled. It’s called the “odds bet” or the “free odds bet.” When a shooter makes a come out roll in craps and sets a point, you can place an additional bet called the odds bet. This bet pays off at the same odds as you have of winning the bet. This means that the bet has no house edge at all.

The following are the possible point numbers in craps:

  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10

The odds bet pays off when the shooter makes the point before rolling a 7. If the point is 4 or 10, the bet pays off at 2 to 1 odds. If the point is 5 or 9, the bet pays off at 3 to 2 odds. If the point is 6 or 8, the bet pays off at 6 to 5 odds. I should point out that you’ll lose the odds bet more often than not, but when you win, the payoff is enough that in the long, you’ll break even.

When you combine the 0% house edge with the already low edge on the pass line bet, the house edge for all the money you have in action drops significantly, too. Casinos base their maximum bet on the odds bet on a multiple of your original pass line bet. Some casinos allow 2X, 5X, 10X, or even 100X odds.

The more you can bet, the lower your cumulative house edge becomes. The pass line bet plus the free odds bet is the best bet in the casino that doesn’t involve any kind of skill. (Counting cards plus basic strategy is a better bet, but it takes tremendous skill. Video poker requires being able to choose the right pay table and then making the right decisions on every hand.)

Casino Strategy

Casino Strategy

During the past 50 years, the name Las Vegas has become synonymous with gambling. Nine out of 10 visitors gamble while they’re in town. It is almost perverse to visit Las Vegas and not gamble. But while unreasonable expectations can lead to disappointment — or worse, as in the loss of a lot of money — the key to having a good time is to approach the casinos with the idea that, contrary to popular opinion, you can win or, at the very least, get much more than your money’s worth of playing time. Your success depends less on being lucky than on being familiar with the rules of the games, being aware of the concepts behind the games, and being conversant with the strategies that enable you to play not only with confidence but also with a fair shot at walking away a winner.

The House AdvantageThe first important concept to understand about gambling in Las Vegas is that the odds for all the games provide an advantage for the casino (“house”), generally known, appropriately enough, as the “house advantage” (or “edge” or “vigorish”). The casino is a business, and wagering is its product. Because the house establishes the rules, procedures, and payoffs on every game, it builds an automatic commission into every bet to ensure a profit margin.

Here’s how it works. Let’s pretend that I’m the house and you’re the customer and we’re betting on a series of coin flips. The deal that I make with you is that every time the coin lands heads up, I win and you pay me a dollar. Every time the coin lands tails up, you win — but I only pay you 90¢. The law of averages maintains that out of every hundred coin tosses, heads will win 50 times and tails will win the other 50. If I take a dime out of every one of your winning payoffs, the longer you play, the more dimes will wind up in my pocket. If you started with a $50 bankroll, after 1,000 tosses, even if you win half of them, you’d be busted out. (Because it requires two trials — win one, lose one — for the house to make its 10¢ “commission,” your “negative expectation,” or house edge, in this example is 5%.)

The second important gambling concept is known as “fluctuation” (or “variance”). In plain English, we’re talking about “luck.” Looking at our coin-toss game through the lens of averages, if you and I flip a coin 1,000 times, it’s reasonable to expect that the coin will land heads up and tails up close to 500 times each. However, if we flip the coin only 10 times, it’s conceivable that the coin could land heads up only twice or as many as eight times. Now let’s say that we made the same betting deal as above but we limited the number of tosses to 10. This would largely eliminate your 5% disadvantage and leave it up to “the luck of the toss” or, in other words, the fluctuation. Thus, a short-term fluctuation in the law of averages eliminates the long-term threat of the negative expectation.

How do these concepts — the house advantage and negative expectation, as well as short-term fluctuation — apply to the choices that you make as a casino customer? Your decisions, based on these concepts, will determine not only what you play, but also how you play, how long you play, and, ultimately, how well you play.

Luck Versus the EdgeThe average “gambling bankroll” (cash carried for the sole purpose of gambling) of a Las Vegas visitor who plans to spend some time in the casino is roughly $500. This is a crucial statistic. The amount of your bankroll and your preferred style of “action” (how you risk your bankroll) define your relationship to luck and the house edge.

Basically, the parameters of gambling action are fast and slow. Some people, though they’re in the minority, like their action fast and loose and high risk; these are true “gamblers,” in the old-fashioned sense of the word. The extreme version of this type of action is to take the whole $500 bankroll and lay it down on a single play — say, red or black on the roulette table. The odds are not quite even. The green 0 and 00 on the roulette table give the house an advantage of 5.26% (Roulette, below). Still, even though the odds are less than fair, the immediate result will be the same: double or nothing.

Making one play eliminates both the law of averages and the long-term threat of the house advantage; here you rely solely on the luck of the draw. If you want to go on a roller-coaster ride of luck, with a minute or so of adrenaline-pumping, heart-pounding excitement, lay it all down at once. In a matter of moments, you’ll either have twice the money you arrived with or none of it.

A less extreme version of this wild ride is to break your bankroll into two units and make two bets. Here you can either double your money, lose it all, or break even. Similarly, if you separate your $500 bankroll into five units and make five bets, or 10 units and make 10 bets, your ride lasts a little longer and your outcome is a little less black and white: You can double, bust out, break even, or come out somewhat ahead or behind. Still, the cumulative danger of the house advantage barely comes into play.

Luck can supersede the house advantage, but only in the short run. And though luck accounts for winners big and small — such as the California nurse who lines up four Megabucks symbols on the $3 pay line to win $9 million or the $2 dice shooter who parlays a hot hand into a couple of hundred bucks — the lack of luck can obliterate a bankroll faster than a crooked S&L.

Besides, most people who come to Las Vegas like to gamble for as long as they can without running out of money. These people take their $500 bankrolls and split them into 100 units to make $5 bets, 250 units for $2 bets, 500 units for $1 bets, or even 2,000 units for 25¢ bets. This guarantees plenty of time for the law of averages to even out the fluctuations. On the other hand, it puts the house advantage and the negative expectation right back into the game.

So how do you play as long as you like without the certainty of the house advantage grinding your bankroll into dust?

The Good BetsThe first part of any viable casino strategy is to risk the most money on wagers that present the lowest edge for the house. Blackjack, craps, video poker, and baccarat are the most advantageous to the bettor in this regard. The two types of bets at baccarat have a house advantage of a little more than 1%. The basic line bets at craps, if backed up with full odds, can be as low as.5%. Blackjack and video poker, at times, can not only put you even with the house (a true 50-50 proposition) but actually give you a slight long-term advantage.

How can a casino possibly provide you with a 50-50 or even a positive expectation at some of its games? First, because a vast number of suckers make the bad bets (those with a house advantage of 5%-35%, such as roulette, keno, and slots) day in and day out. Second, because the casino knows that very few people are aware of the opportunities to beat the odds. Third, because it takes skill — requiring study and practice — to be in a position to exploit these opportunities the casino presents. However, a mere hour or two spent learning strategies for the beatable games will put you light-years ahead of the vast majority of visitors who give the gambling industry an average 12%-15% profit margin.

Comps, Clubs, and CouponsNot only can you even out the odds to a certain extent, but you can also take advantage of the various attractive incentives casinos offer so that the suckers will stay and play — and, in the long run, lose, due either to house advantage or basic ignorance. These available, profitable, and somewhat prestigious incentives are known as “comps” (short for complimentaries) or “freebies.” The most common comps are free parking in downtown parking structures (all you have to do is walk into the casino and validate your ticket at the cashier window) and free cocktails (all you have to do is play at any table or machine). Other comps range from a “line pass” (the right to proceed directly into a showroom or restaurant without having to wait in line) all the way to a penthouse suite complete with private swimming pool, butler and chef, and round-trip airfare from anywhere in the world. It all depends on how much you’re willing to risk: Comps are calculated by multiplying your average bet by the amount of time you play by the house advantage.

Say, for example, you play at a $25-a-hand blackjack table for eight hours. The casino expects you to participate in 60 hands an hour and lose at a rate of 2% (what the casino calculates as its average advantage). Sixty hands an hour times $25 a hand times eight hours times 2% equals $240. Of that anticipated profit, the house is prepared to return 30%-40% to you in complimentaries in order to “reward” you for your action. Thus, under the described circumstances, you’ll qualify for $72-$96 worth of comps, whether you win, lose, or break even.

To be eligible for comps, you have to get “rated” as a player. When you sit down to play, have the dealer call over the pit boss — the person who supervises the action on the gaming tables — and tell him that you’d like to have your play rated. The pit boss will fill out a rating card with your name, average bet, and length of play. These data are input into the marketing department computer; based on your “comp equivalency” (for example, the $72-$96 you’ve qualified for), you’ll be provided free food or room or perks. The kings of comps are the “high rollers,” those willing to risk a lot of money at high-stakes games.

Slot clubs are another good way to reconcile the house advantage with playing for as long as you like. These clubs, introduced in the late 1980s to give slot and video poker players some high-roller status, are similar to frequent-flier programs offered by the airlines. It costs nothing to sign up for slot clubs and the benefits can be substantial. When you become a member, you’re given a plastic card that you insert into the gaming machine you’re using; the card tracks your play and you receive points based on the amount of money you risk. Slot-club points can be redeemed for free gifts, food, rooms, invitations to special parties and slot tournaments, VIP status, and even cash. You can join slot clubs at as many casinos as you like, then play at the places that offer the best perks.

Finally, the best bet in any casino is one that is accompanied by a gambling coupon, known as a “lucky buck.” These are most often found in hotel “funbooks,” small coupon booklets given out free for the asking at casinos; generally all you need is a hotel room key and an out-of-state ID (this prevents locals from taking advantage of the valuable promotions). Most funbooks contain coupons that return 7 to 5, 3 to 2, even 2 to 1 on even-money wagers.

Playing with coupons gives you a decided advantage over the house. In our coin-toss example, you’d wager a dollar of your own and a coupon for another dollar. If you win, I’d pay you $2 (for a return of $3). That extra dollar, though it might not seem like much, would pay my commission on 10 additional coin tosses. Furthermore, because some of the major hotel-casinos and most of the smaller ones distribute free funbooks, you and a partner can collect a dozen of them and then go on a “coupon run.” You make even-money bets backed up by coupons, touring a number of casinos while you’re at it. Done properly, you could conceivably fill up an entire Las Vegas visit making positive plays with lucky bucks.

Article by: NYTimes