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By John G. Brokopp

John Robison, author of ?The Slot Expert?s Guide to Playing Slots? (Huntington Press) and a recognized slot authority, makes it his business to know everything there is to know about slot machines.

The Thrifty Gambler caught up with John and had an opportunity to pose some of the questions that readers of this column frequently ask:

The Thrifty Gambler: If you are a frequent visitor to a particular casino, is it possible to observe which machines seem to hit all the time and which don?t and make use of this information to your benefit?

John Robison: There really is no correlation between hit frequency and long term payback. You may see this machine hitting quite frequently but it can still have a relatively low payback. We see that in action on the video slots. They may have very, very high hit frequencies. Still, if it?s a nickel machine, from what I?ve seen, the slot directors are still ordering 90-92 percent payback for them.

TG: When playing video slots and you?re investing, for example, 20 coins per spin, is it best to activate 20 lines and play one coin on each line, or activate 10 lines and play two coins on each line?

JR: We can?t really know what?s best for sure without seeing the par sheet for the machine. But my gut reaction to that is the first thing I want to do is activate as many lines as possible. That?s going to give me extra hit frequency. Then, only after I?ve started playing all the lines, will I start increasing the bet per line.

TG: Is it a fact that the low denomination games pack the highest hold percentages of any slot game?

JR: We don?t really know the exact payback percentages the slot directors are ordering on these machines. I am assuming the slot directors are still ordering based on denomination, not on the average bet on the machine. So the penny slots are going to be somewhere around nickels, maybe a little bit lower. I would guess closer to whatever they?re ordering for nickels because the slot directors aren?t stupid and they know the people are going to be betting dollars on these machines and not a penny a shot.

TG: If there is one bit of advice that you can give people who like the traditional spinning reel slots, what would it be?

JR: The best advice I think I have to give people is to play the best number of coins on different types of machines. I came up with this strategy by looking at the math of how different pay tables operate. On a straight multiplier, there?s no reason to bet more than coin per spin because if everything for the second coin is just twice what you get for the first coin you don?t buy anything. You don?t gain anything by betting more than one coin per spin. Still, you?re better off playing just coin at a time because you usually just get a bonus on the jackpot combination, and how frequently do you hit the jackpot? My rule of thumb here is even large bonuses lead to very small increases in long term payback.

TG: Even though the hold percentages are high on the low denomination video slots, is the entertainment value they provide worth the price that players pay?

JR: If I?m not mistaken, Harrah?s did a survey a year or so ago and asked people what they were looking for in a casino experience. It used to be the slot players would say that they want to win money. But now they say they just want to be entertained. Entertainment is the first thing they?re looking for. The second priority was to win some money. As long as the money you?re betting is allocated to your entertainment budget, and you?re getting something out of the experience and having a good time. Yes, it?s a worthwhile trade off.

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