Friday, July 17, 2009

Ding, Ding, Ding, Ding

Some years ago we visited an Atlantic City casino for the first time. Back then there were only two casinos on the boardwalk. I think Resorts International was the first to open followed shortly by Bally's Park Place. I am too lazy to study enough to become proficient at table games like Blackjack and Craps, and a no-brainer game like Roulette has the worst odds in the house. Consequently, and practically by default, I decided to try the slot machines. We played for a while and it was a little, lose a little. Then, on a slot machine called California Dreamin', I hit a jackpot that paid 800 quarters, not a lot of money but enough to get my heart racing. Ever since, we have made regular trips to A/C, Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun, Empire City, and even a trip to the gambler's mecca, Las Vegas.

The exciting thing about playing the slots is that, even though you know the odds are against you, every spin of the wheels could bring you the flashing lights and ringing bells of a jackpot. There also used to be the sound of coins dropping into the tray when you won, but most casinos have eliminated coins in favor of paper vouchers. If you win, they do you the favor of playing a sound like coins dropping into a tray just to push your reward button (like Pavlov's dog), but the real reason for vouchers is to get you to play faster and with less regard for how many quarters you're pumping into the slot. And the strategy works...if you get a slot that's not paying out at the time you're playing it, you can drop a hundred bucks in ten minutes. Most casinos also give you complimentary drinks to further reduce your defenses.

There are some wonderful myths about playing slots. One is that machines in high traffic areas are programmed to pay more so that idle bystanders sitting on their wallets will be caught up in the excitement and jump into the action. Another is to watch machines that have not paid off for a while on the theory that "they're due". This is all nonsense. Slot machines are programmed to pay off at random. One machine could hit three jackpots in a row while the one next to it might not pay off for a month. Every spin of the wheels is a random event with the same chance of a payout as the last spin. Casinos do program in a payout percentage, which in New Jersey ranges from around 90% to 93%, but that's for the entire casino, not on a machine-by-machine basis.

There are some things to remember when playing slots. First, stay on a budget. Calculate how much you can afford to lose and divide that amount by the number of days you will be visiting. It is important to stick to your budget because the casinos make it very easy to get more money. If you hit a really bad run and are in danger of losing your allotted amount for the day too quickly, take a long break and come back. If you bust after an hour, you will be tempted to hit the ATM machine. If you're with someone, just watch them play for a while,,,it will slow the bleeding and preserve enough cash for you to come back later, maybe with better luck. Another tip is to drop down a level, for example, if you normally play quarter machines, drop down to nickles. You won't win as much, but you won't lose so quickly either.

Note how the machine you're playing pays out. Most machines require you to play the maximum number of coins or bills to collect the big jackpots. If you don't play the max, your payout on a jackpot is greatly diminished. (Been there, done that.) If you hit a win for $50 or more, cash out and put the voucher in your pocket. If you don't, you'll get caught up thinking you have a "hot" machine and play it all back before you realize it. You can still play the same machine, but put another 20 bucks in rather than risk playing back the $50. If you hit a decent jackpot, cash out and hold it until the end of your visit. It may be enough to cover any losses of money you budgeted and lost. It's a great feeling at the end of your stay to know all the fun and excitement you enjoyed was bought with "house money".

Gambling can be fun if you keep your play under control. I see people at the $10 slot machines making the maximum bet (that's $30 per spin of the wheels). Some of these folks look like they can't afford to lose that much money, and there are no smiles in sight; their play is grim and deliberate. We were at Foxwoods in Connecticut this week, and since my losses for the day were low, I dropped a twenty in a dollar slot machine (I usually play quarter machines). On around the eleventh spin, I hit a $500 jackpot, not enough to change my life, but it certainly was a nice profit to end the day. It reminded me of why I play...for that rush that comes with seeing those three little symbols smiling back at you, and feeling the envy of those around you as bells ring and lights flash. Have fun, but gamble responsibly.


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Joseph Del Broccolo said...

Your theory about the tempo of play and the allotment of money per day is very true. I have gone to these places, and always pace myself, and manage to win. It's not a lot, but it is satisfaction.

Jim Pantaleno said...

The first time I won like 200 dollars, I thought I was going to have a freakin' heart attack. My pulse was racing and I actually had to sit for a minute. It's exciting and fun, as long as you manage it and not vice versa.