Author’s Note: I wrote a similar blog recently, with some readers requesting more information. I think there’s enough different between that piece and this one to make this one worthwhile.
The title of today’s blog comes from a mid-90s song “Baby Likes to Rock It” by the Tractors. I’ve liked that lyric since I first heard it when the song was new, and think that it’s a perfect fit for explaining Bonnie’s gambling.
Bonnie and I had known each other through a square dance club for several years before we got together, but were both married and weren’t more than casual friends. I announced to the square dance club the start of every video poker class semester, and probably half of the more than 100 club members attended one or more of my classes.
Bonnie never attended my classes before we began dating. Although she enjoyed gambling (allowing herself to lose up to $3 during a once-a-month trip), she had no clue as to what advantage gambling was all about. Even though she attended more than 100 class sessions after we hooked up, she can’t tell you what pay schedule to look for or how Deuces Wild strategy is different from playing Jacks or Better correctly.
She’ll be 80 years old in a few weeks and I have no illusions that I could teach her to play correctly. If she didn’t learn anything in 100 class sessions, what more could I say?
Slightly more than a year ago, I began to study and play advantage slots. This was good for us as a couple because she could help me with this. Within limits.
Without going into a lot of detail, advantage slots are those where some of the time, depending upon some meters, the knowledgeable player has the advantage. Many are like video poker progressives, sometimes with four or more progressives on the same game. But some slot progressives go off every 100 to 300 games or so on average. This is an entirely different experience than a royal flush progressive which goes off every 35,000 hands or so. Plus, once you identify when a machine is in a positive state, it’s simply a matter of hitting the button until the progressive goes off. Bonnie can hit a button as well as I can. Within limits.
There are 30 or so different types of slot machines that I examine. No casino has all of these titles. Some casinos have no such machines or only a few. Some casinos have a lot.
Scouting is a major part of advantage slot play. This is very different than scouting video poker machines. Once you discover that a particular pay schedule of Deuces Wild, for example, is at a casino, that machine will probably stay there. Next time the casino has a point multiplier or other promotion, you know that machine likely will be available.
With slots, it’s not just the existence of the machine that matters — although that is a necessary part of it. It’s how high the progressives are right now. Depending on the type of machine, some games are in a positive state dozens or hundreds of times per day. And if it’s not positive now, maybe it will be in an hour. The more play by slot players who don’t recognize when a machine is or isn’t in an advantage state, the more often a game will become positive.
Often a given machine will have 20 separate stakes at which you can play. You might be able to choose, for example, whether to play for 1¢, 2¢, 5¢, or 10¢ and within each denomination maybe 100 coins, 200 coins, 300 coins, 400 coins, or 500 coins. You can play this machine for several different amounts between $1 and $50 per spin.
And each of these combinations might have four jackpots often labeled Mini, Minor, Major, and Mega — although other titles are common as well. If the correct strategy is to play the game when the Mini is at least 15 or the Minor is at least 25 or . . ., you must check a lot of numbers when you come up to a machine. Twenty different combinations of denomination/coins and four jackpots per combination. It takes a while.
If Bonnie and I come up to a bank of suitable games with two empty machines at it, she is very good at sitting at one of the machines while I go and check the other. This gives me the opportunity to check both machines without another player getting one of them while I’m checking the other.
I’ll remind her of what the playable numbers are. Using the previous hypothetical example, if I tell her to look for a Mini at 15 and/or a Minor at 25 (along with other numbers for the other jackpots), she’ll identify cases where the Minor is 16 and tell me that it’s above 15 so it must be a play. No, I explain. The 15 only applies to the Mini jackpot. The Minor jackpot has its own number. I’ve told her these numbers several times, but they don’t stick in her mind.
When I find a playable game, I’ll sit Bonnie down at it, tell her to insert $500 or some other amount of money, make sure her card is inserted, and give her instructions such as “Keep playing until you hit the Minor jackpot.” And then I go off and check nearby machines. Sounds simple enough. Right?
Well, a lot can go wrong. On one machine, it’s possible playing for $3 a hand is worth 102% and playing for $1 a hand is worth 84%. If Bonnie sets her water bottle down at the wrong place, she might change denominations. Not on purpose. But it has happened more than once.
By the time she hits the Minor jackpot, she might have forgotten she’s supposed to stop playing and so she continues to hit the button. If she does this, she’s now playing a game worth considerably less than 100%.
Or if she hits the Mini jackpot before she hits the Minor (a common occurrence), she’s not sure whether she should continue to play or not. To me, this is simple. If I tell her to keep going until the Minor is hit, that means hitting any of the other jackpots does not affect the decision to keep playing. But something frequently gets lost in the translation. If she’s not sure, I strongly encourage her to ask.
Sometimes player cards time out. If a game has a long bonus round, at some casinos the card will no longer be registering by the time the bonus round has completed. Bonnie pays no attention to this and continues to play without getting slot club points.
For these and other reasons, I watch her closely. Even if I’m checking other machines, every two minutes or so I check back to see how she’s doing — if she’s on the right game, if the player card is registering, whatever.
Bonnie gets bored after a while. There are a number of good games that can take an hour or more to complete once you find them. I avoid these games when she’s with me. At such times, I limit my search to games that typically finish in 15 minutes or less. Yes, I’m giving up considerable EV at such times, but it’s better to keep her interested and happy. Probably 80% of my slot play is without her, and at those times I check a much wider variety of machines than when she’s with me.
Fortunately, she doesn’t mind being corrected. And she likes to win. All the wins and losses come out of a gambling bankroll that I control (with part of that money going into the household expenses account), but sometimes when we win, she gets a cash or gift bonus. Which, not surprisingly, she likes very much.
I trust her completely financially. I don’t believe she’ll steal from me. She’s had plenty of opportunity to do so and never has. I do not trust her in the sense of her being able to make successful gambling decisions unsupervised.
I don’t think she’ll ever be a full-fledged decision-making gambling partner. Her mind simply doesn’t work that way. But several hours a week, it’s something enjoyable that we can do with each other. It’s a whole lot more interesting to her than me going off and playing video poker by myself.
We’re together for the duration, and I accept who she is and what she can do and can’t do. So, we’ll continue to do what we’re doing. And continue to enjoy it.