Loose is a relative term

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I have a question about a term that you have used, “loose slots.” Exactly what do you mean by a “loose” slot machine? Are they the ones that always pay? Are they easy to identify? Nora C.

Let me state right off the get-go, Nora, that “loose” is far from an absolute. Nothing in the slot world is black and white, or even a specific shade of gray. Also, in this column “loose” refers to programming, not to actual performance. A big, big difference, Nora. Loose machines are programmed to pay back a greater percentage of the total monies played than are other machines of similar kind. What is loose for Casino A could be tight for Casino B, e.g. a loose machine in Casino A might be programmed to return 98% but in Casino B across the street, their perception of loose could be as low as 92%.

Additionally, gaming jurisdictions vary considerably. A return of 92% on a dollar machine would be considered loose in Atlantic City, but pinchpenny tight in Reno. So, the $10,000 jackpot question is: Which is the good machine, and which the one that hastens your demise? Well, Nora, until the slots take to wearing name tags, you can do no better than inserting your coins and taking your chances. You could easily have two Red-White-Blue machines sitting side-by-side, identical in appearance, one programmed for that 98% payback, the other for your hard-earned money’s netherworld.

Many casinos advertise that they have “loose” machines with a 98% payback, but this statement, while narrowly true, can mislead. Always examine that 98% manifesto with some suspicion. In small print, (make that microscopic lettering), is the “Watch it, Nora” expression “up to,” meaning that in the casino there some machines, out of the thousands waiting there, that pay “up to” 98% on the dollar.

When a casino advertises that its slot machines return 98%, it means the machine is pre-programmed to return 98% of every dollar played “over the long run.” Do not expect that for each dollar inserted you will hear 98 cents automatically trickling into the tray. The “Watch it, lady” phrase here is “over the long run.” The “long run” could be weeks, months, or even years on any given machine.

But let’s assume the machine you were playing was actually paying off 98 little Lincoln’s for every dollar bet. Using a liberal definition of “loose,” we will allow the casino a measly 2% edge. Well, Nora, if you were to insert $60 per minute into a 98% payback slot machine (not difficult on a dollar machine at $3 a whack using a credit button), you would lose about $72 an hour. Multiply that by eight hours of play and you will come up $576 short in the purse. Even on those advertised high payback machines, the casino has a way of dissolving your gambling capital.

Bottom line: You can play a loose slot machine that returns 98% and realize a return of 30%, or one of 1000%. Slot machine are very volatile, and over the long run of thousands, even millions of hours of play, the gambler’s harvest will get close to the advertised return, but not every time Nora sits and plants dollars. Then again, in the long run we’ll all be 98% dead anyway.

Gambling thought of the week: “Slot stuffers, by the large, don’t want to be flustered by anything as philosophical as facts.” -Alan Krigman

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