Gambling City

We are Cash Back

Deal Me In Slots

Author: Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: On a multi-line/multi-coin nickel machine, is it still considered a nickel machine in terms of payout percentage, or does it become a quarter machine payout because I’m playing more money per spin? Jason A.

You would think, Jason, that when you are betting an abundant crop of nickels per spin, you should be getting at least a quarter-slot payback.

Unfortunately, you’re probably not. Reason being, even though the machine may be designed to take 50, even 100 nickels per spin, the casino wants to keep that higher edge because lots of players play far fewer coins than that.

Yes, Jason, technically, in coin amount played, you are a quarter player, but your machine will only give you a nickel-slot payback, even if you play some hefty change per yank of the handle. Obviously, I can’t speak for all slot managers and what they are acquiring, but if a casino has an 88% return on its traditional nickel machines, it probably orders an 88% payback on their multi-line/multi-coin machines.

The reason the casinos are putting in multi-line/multi-coin quarter machines is because players love them. That doesn’t mean you have to play them.

Instead, if you are a low-budget player, try a 3-coin nickel machine instead. You also do not have to play every line if you do favor them. One way to stretch your bankroll is to play fewer than the maximum lines allowed. On most machines you might give up a little bit in hit frequency, but nothing in long-term payback.

Far too many players, Jason, are betting big-time bucks on multi-line/multi-coin machines despite the relatively low paybacks. They don’t even realize they have bumped themselves up to a quarter, even a dollar player, and not the five-cent player they think they are. Real nickel players bet three to five nickels at a time on a reel-spinner, not 100 coins per spin on a multi-line/multi-coin machine.

Dear Mark: What's the deal with Megabucks slots in Nevada, or any state for that matter? A friend swears that a slot mechanic told him there are different chips and thus different odds from casino to casino and the chips are moved around from time to time so the jackpot is hit at different locations. I insist that if it is a statewide-interlinked game, which it appears to be, then the odds must be the same and the chips are the same and there is no such thing as a phantom chip that travels the state. Who is correct? Thanks for the inside scoop or for directing me to a source that might have the official information. Lucky Bob

You are correct, Lucky. As Dziadzio (that’s grandpa in Polish) used to say, you skeptics get all the luck. There is no phantom chip that travels the state.

The deal with Megabucks is that it is a statewide network of progressive slot carousels linked together to produce those dramatic jackpots. A small computer chip in each machine monitors every coin played and communicates that information electronically to a mainframe computer at IGT’s headquarters. The central computer keeps track of every Megabucks slot and maintains a constant tally of the jackpot. Then the computer projects the ever-changing jackpot total to all Megabuck units where it is displayed on the digital tote board. You can also check out that moving tote real time at:

You should also feel reasonably comfortable that each machine’s payback percentage, albeit very low because it’s a monster progressive, is the same as the payback percentage of all the others that it’s linked to.

Dear Mark: If I insert my Players Club Card, play for a period of time, then remove it, will the machine start paying more because it knows I left? Also, do some casinos actually have slot machines that purposely lose money to stir interest in a particular area of the casino? Gail D.

A slot machine doesn't give one iota whether you are using a Players Card or trying to be sneaky by pulling it out making the machine think you're long gone.

The drawback to pulling out your card, Gail, is that you are cheating yourself out of some comps that otherwise you would have been entitled to. You need your play recorded in order to get your goodies.

As to your second question, Gail, casinos are not in the business of losing money by using shill machines. Over the long haul, it's nearly impossible for a casino to lose money on a slot machine.

Dear Mark: Can a casino change the paybacks on their slot machines instantly? I’ve heard they do it on busy weekends. You have said in the past they can’t. Kelly D.

Whoa now, Kelly, I never said that casinos couldn’t change paybacks on their machines. What I stated was that the casino doesn’t throw a secret switch to instantly tighten their machines, because Kelly’s coming on the weekend to try her luck. Wholesale reprogramming of machines on Friday, then changing them back on Monday, doesn’t exist.

Yes, some gaming jurisdictions do allow casinos to have manufacturer's licenses allowing them to change the chips themselves. They would only have to file the obligatory paperwork with their state gaming commission, and the swap could be made. In other jurisdictions, a gaming commission agent must witness the changing of the chips, or an agent must make the change, and in yet others, the machine must be sent back to the manufacture for open chip surgery.

The reason a state’s gaming commission is so interested in a chip swap is that it wants to verify that a machine is operating properly, and that the amount of money it pays out falls in the range predicted by the number of spins played on the machine.

So yes, Kelly, a casino can change the payback on any machine, when it wants. However, it is just not cost-effective for the casino to continually alter the payouts on their machines from weekday to weekend.

Dear Mark: Maybe it’s me, but you just don’t see or hear jackpots like in the past. But here’s the interesting thing. The paybacks of where I play, according to Strictly Slots, which publishes slot returns percentages, are about the same. Any thoughts on this? Gerald C.

Taking the slot paybacks reported by your state gaming commission and published by Strictly Slots at face value, consider, Gerald, that you are seeing and hearing fewer jackpots compared to yesteryear, because most casinos today operate with ticket system machines. The “sounds of winning,” thrummed out by those loud metal drop bowls that caught the slugs when your slot was paying off, are of times past. These deep pans made a heck of a lot of happy noise when the coins dropped, creating the misimpression that people were winning, and winning big.

Also, Gerald, with ticket system machines, the slot usually doesn’t lock up and set off its jingle for a win of under $1,200; otherwise, everything less is added to the credit meter. Hand pays and hopper fills have also been reduced considerably with ticket machines.

The sense of great luck created by the clatter of falling coins is really nothing more than an illusion designed to stir interest in playing slot machines, but suggestible players mistake these audible events for increased jackpots.

Dear Mark: I read a column of yours where you talked about offsetting gambling winnings with gambling losses. Can I also offset gambling winnings with stock losses if I sell them in the same year at a loss? Earlier this year, I won a slot jackpot of $18,000. I have collected a few hundred dollars worth of lotto tickets, but I could include some stocks that I can take a loss on. James B.

Reportable gambling winnings reported on the Other Income Line (1040) can come from lotteries, bingo, raffles, horse and dog racing, online poker, casino table games, and of course, your slot jackpot win. You can, though, offset the taxes on your winnings by reporting your gambling losses. Unfortunately, gathering up a couple hundred in lottery tickets or scratch-offs isn’t going to cut it, James, nor will your market losses.

As a loss-claimant, you must substantiate your loss claims with a flawlessly documented, descriptive gambling diary, but what you are not able to do is include your stock losses against your jackpot win. Only gambling losses can offset gambling wins. Uncle Sam won’t let you counterbalance a stock market loss against a gaming windfall.

And there’s more, James. Besides verifiable records necessary to support your losses pertaining to gambling, you can only deduct them if your deductions are itemized, and they must be deducted in the year of the loss or they are forever departed as deductions.

Oh, and if I haven’t ruined your day yet, James, be aware that now that you have won a jackpot and received a W2-G, don't imagine that Uncle Sam doesn’t know of your tax liability. The IRS also receives a copy of your W2-G from the casino, and their computers are acquainted with your payday before, dare I say, you give it all back.

Dear Mark: What’s with all the penny machines? They seem to be everywhere. Where I play, they just took out half the table games and replaced them with penny slots. Paul M.

Yes, Paul, penny machines seem to be laying claim to more and more casino real estate. Players love these low-denomination machines because of the number of coins and lines they can bet with just loose change as a bankroll.

Casinos love them even more because they are huge money makers for them. Reason being, is that they are a low denomination machine with relatively low paybacks. And yet, although players can wager just a mere penny per spin, most tend to bet way more than one coin per line, and many bet the maximum. With average bets being larger than they seem, this puts penny play in the quarter, even dollar category, with low paybacks, and players standing in line to play them. Huh? Truth be told, Paul, slot play, and not table games, is now the casinos’ bread and butter. They could pay me, a whiney dealer who takes sick days, wants health care coverage, complains about overtime and working weekends, or, replace me with a one-armed bandit that doesn’t grouse-n-grumble and whose only health care is a slot mechanic with a screwdriver.

Dear Mark: Returning from a stay in Florida, I had a balance of points left on my slot club card at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino. Can I give the card to a friend who lives in Florida so she can continue using my card? What would happen if she wins a jackpot on the slots? Delores P.

The player's club card is probably the most successful marketing tool casinos use worldwide to make sure that gamblers return to yank them handles time and time again. Your club card is the key to those complementary goodies that the casino offers. Of course, there can’t be any giveaways if Delores isn’t playing and her card is not inserted.

That’s why it’s recommended that every time you play slots or video poker, you should use your card so that the casino can track your coin-in play so you can earn points to justify comps. The greater the coin-in, the more compensation the casino is willing to part with.

So is it legit for Delores to keep accumulating points when she’s snowbound somewhere north and someone else is surreptitiously using her card?

Program rules, somewhere in itsy bitsy print on just about every club card brochure, say NO. The wording probably states something along these lines:

Members are only permitted to hold one single person account.

Membership is a privilege granted by such and such casino and may be revoked or cancelled at any time.

Members may not distribute, lend or in any way allow another person to use their card.

Fraudulent uses of the card including point chasing, card manipulation, team playing and any type of point theft may result in the loss of membership, privileges, and elimination of all remaining point balances.

Yep, Delores, they get you on that last rule with the two words “point chasing.” Point chasing is defined as allowing individuals other than the cardholder to play on his or her club card.

Now that’s not to say that some players don’t share cards to chase points, plenty do, but if your friend tries to redeem your points to engage in any transaction related to that account, most casinos are going to want to see some photo identification that better say Delores P. on it.

To date, Delores, I haven’t heard of anyone being denied a sizable jackpot because they were using someone else’s card on the sly, but why be the first. Besides, your friend should be playing with her own Seminole Player’s Club Wild Card and be rewarded accordingly.

Of course, there are exceptions. Many casinos will issue multiple cards to those cardholders wishing to play more than one machine, but two is usually the maximum. Also, some casinos, like the MGM MIRAGE Resorts, allow two players with the same address to link individual Player’s Club accounts to share their point and comp balances. A quick web search at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino web site ( allows the former, but not the latter.

Dear Mark: On a slot machine that offers a "bonus," is there any rule of thumb as to how long or how much you should invest in that machine if you have not been given a bonus? John M.

Most new machines today offer some sort of bonus round which is usually triggered by getting a certain combination of symbols. But first, John, how about a couple givens before I talk about bonus machines and whether they are worth playing at all.

Anytime you play slots, know that you’re up against a computer whose one and only purpose is to guarantee a profit for the casino. Also, as for “a rule of thumb” as to how long, or how much, you should invest in a machine that has not been bonus friendly, in essence, it doesn’t matter, because the machine does not arbitrarily predetermine what or when you will win on the bonus round. Slot machines operate randomly, so past performance is not a guide to future performance. As to winning or losing on any machine, the rear-view mirror is not the place to look for your destiny.

Now, let’s discuss what bonuses are, a seductive carrot, and what they are not, something-for-nothing. Bonus games induce in players the expectation they may get a little something extra beyond what they are entitled to get, but in reality, it’s more like you, the rabbit, chasing an agile carrot. I use the word chasing, John, because casinos know these popular slot machines keep players playing for longer periods of time in hopes of reaching the bonus screen. Rumor has it, the longer someone plays, the more money the casino makes.

Which leads me to, which tree does bonus money comes from? It comes from the base game itself. There is no secondary currency in reserve for bonuses, so if a machine is programmed to return 92 percent to the player, bonuses are divvied out from that amount. But the return on bonus machines can be far worse, with the percentage being as high as 35-40 percent coming from the base game for the bonus feature. That means the amount of money the machine is programmed to pay for winning combinations outside the bonus feature suffers dramatically.

Now that doesn’t mean that a bonus machine can’t offer a positive expectation on a progressive like Wheel a Fortune when the running tote shows a gazillion dollars, and there’s no denying that they can be fun to play, but dedicated slot players avoid these attention-grabbing bonus games in general, and stick to the traditional three reel game like Double Diamonds, where there is no bonus money taken out of the base game and the player return is considerably higher.

Dear Mark: How do you know when to play the full coin amount on a slot machine? Ellen G.

Simply by eyeballing the pay table, Ellen, and playing accordingly.

For instance, with one coin inserted, if a machine’s pay table shows payment of 1,000 coins for 7’s across, 2,000 for that second coin, and 3,000 for three coins played, then playing the full coin amount gains nothing. Payment rate for coins played remains the same. Such a machine is called a straight multiplier, and you can play any amount of coins.

If, however, the machine operates like the multiplier except that it offers a bonus when you play maximum coins, you are playing on a bonus multiplier and should play the full coin amount. For example, collecting dust in my attic is a Bally Mag 777 slot machine that with one coin inserted pays 1,000 for 7’s across, 3,000 for two coins and 7,000 for that third coin. This particular machine offers a bonus for playing both the second and third coin so it behooves you to play the full coin amount, whenever you’re in my attic.

Dear Mark: If a player uses their club card while playing slots, does it have any effect on their results? Opposite that, can the casino reward a player who does use their card with jackpots you wouldn’t otherwise get if you didn’t use it? Mary Anne B.

Using a player’s club card has no effect on your results. The casino doesn’t compensate for the goodies they dole out for your loyal play by shorting you on jackpots or lower returns.

The random number generator doesn't give one iota that Mary Anne is using a slot club card, and besides, differential paybacks are illegal in every land-based casino in America.

Some players seem to think that since they are accumulating comps on their club cards, the casino will make them pay for it with a lower return on the machine. Not a chance. Card club players are a casino’s most valuable asset, and the last thing casino management wants to do after building what they hope is a long-term relationship, is to shortchange a returning player.

As to your “opposite that,” the slot card in and of itself rewards loyal customers. There is no casino operator in a secret undisclosed location pressing a button so club card members get special jackpots. As stated above, random number generators determine jackpot winners, and again, anything else would be illegal.

Dear Mark: When playing slots, should I set limits based on the number of losing spins, or should it be based on the amount lost? Nell F.

As your question states, Nell, there are two kinds of limits when playing slots, one called a losing (loss) limit, the other, a spinning limit.

Your cash on hand (bankroll), dictates the losing limit while the spinning limit is in regards to your gambling timeline on any one particular machine. It’s loss limits, setting the amount of money you are comfortable with losing that I find far more important.

So, Nell, when assessing any machine prior to playing, have you read the operating rules carefully and do you understand its true cost before actually inserting your first coin? Does your bankroll match up with the machine(s) you are playing on?

Say, for instance, you are a typical slot player on a 3-coin quarter machine, pushing the spin button every ten seconds, wagering 75 cents per push. Plan on betting $4.50 a minute, or $270 an hour. Since the average quarter machine returns approximately 92% over the long run, you will lose roughly $22 for every hour of play. A four-hour session is going to cost you, on average, $88. If you are at ease with an $88 loss, and a bankroll of at least $200 to carry you when the slot decides to be less charitable, then you should be fine.

As for spinning limits, a lot of players set a cutoff point and shift to another machine after a specific number of losing spins. The reason I don’t find spin limits as important as loss limits is because every spin is random, hence there is no mathematical reason to switch machines after any number of winning, or losing, spins. It doesn't matter whether a machine hasn’t paid out after numerous spins, or has coughed up multiple payouts; the odds of landing a winning combination are the same on each and every whirl.

Yet, Nell, I realize that if a machine isn’t paying after an aggravating number of losing spins, players get agitated, so by all means, switch machines. But see this as an emotional reason to move, not one based on arithmetic.

Dear Mark: Do you think that kids who play arcade video games are being pre-programmed to gamble since the slot machines of today are video based? Ronnie M.

Forget video games, Ronnie, I can prove to you that two-year-olds gamble. Strong statement, yes, but no whiff of bologna.

First, let me give you two examples of children gambling casino style. On the Boardwalk in Atlantic City children can freely walk into an arcade and play true slot machines by exchanging quarters for tokens. They win crummy prizes in exchange for the tickets the slot spits out. Another example is at the children's arcade at the Circus Circus in Reno. A child can play Flip It, the casino game that flips quarters into the air and on rare occasion pushes them down into trays. They disguised it in name only by calling it Jungle Jamboree. Again, kids get to exchange tickets for worthless prizes.

But I did say two-year-olds. To prove I have one foot planted in mid-air, how about the two-year-old who makes a path with Linus blanket in hand to that thingamajig at the supermarket door that dispenses those plastic transparent eggs. For a quarter a young tot can win an egg containing a bracelet, a cheap watch, but most likely a 3¢ ring-more on that below. These vending machines are classic slot machines.

So is it true gambling? Absolutely. Courts have found that every gambling apparatus must consist of three components; consideration, chance and prize. The child pays something of value (consideration) to use the vending machine: if he wins he receives something of value (prize), usually less than the amount bet; and the outcome depends on chance. Because all three elements are present on the vending machines that dispenses these plastic eggs, this would be considered a true gambling device.

Granted, I doubt anyone would arrest or even put the kibosh on a child for playing grocery store slots, but I do wonder why these vending operators have gone uncontested for so long. Who owns these cash cows milking kids out of quarters?

By the way, Ronnie, vis-à-vis some insider information, the cost of those plastic egg prizes produced in Asia is about 3¢, and there is only one true prize (junky watch) per two hundred eggs. Our offspring are up against tougher odds than the tightest one-armed bandit.

The stimulation to gamble does begin early for many children, well before an arcade adventure. And what parent in his or her right mind is really going to say no? We have to be quarter generous to our kids. They will be choosing our nursing home.

Dear Mark: When casino executives mention both the "handle" and "hold" of a slot machine, what do they mean? Al R.

The "handle" is the total amount of all coins played through a slot machine. The "hold" (also called "win") is the amount the casino held as profit. The "yield" is the casino's win expressed as a percentage of the profit.

Dear Mark: If I were to hit $1 million on a progressive quarter slot machine, will they pay me all at once? Dave G.

Forget borrowing Uncle Fred's three-quarter-ton pickup truck to haul off 42,000 pounds of quarters. Look at the machine closely, Dave. A sign placed inconspicuously on the machine will read something like "Progressive Jackpot paid in 25 equal installments. First installment paid upon validation of win."

One exception is a statewide progressive machine in Nevada, and other locations, called "Cool Millions." Bet 3 bucks, line up 3 ducks, and you win "the first million" instantly. Now if you get your ducks in line, Dave, make them pay you in $100 bills. They will weigh only twenty and a half pounds.

Dear Mark: I witnessed something amusing recently in a casino, someone sprinkling salt all over a slot machine. Did she really think this would bring her luck? Edith C.

By sprinkling salt, this superstitious gambler was trying to make the machine pay off by using salt's association with money. It comes from ancient times when workers were paid with salt, called "salarium." We know that word today as salary.

Now my own personal feelings about (a) luck and (b) superstition. When it comes to the goddess "Lady Luck," I'm an atheist. Smart wagers bring luck! I have a saying, Edith, if you will: "The smarter you play, the luckier you'll be." Salt to me has more value disguising my own cooking, not showering a machine with it.

Dear Mark: Would you recommend playing slots when the casino is crowded? It seems more jackpots are hit when I play in the evening than during the day when it is less crowded. Jan B.

Yes, Jan, you are more likely to see and hear jackpots hit in the evening when the casino is packed full of players, but it’s not because a Wizard behind a curtain throws some secret switch to instantly loosen their machines because the joint is hopping.

More jackpots are hit at peak times in crowded casinos simply because there are more people playing. But even with the increased number of players gaming, that still has no effect on whether or not a machine will pay off.

Let's say it’s a Saturday night and you’re in a casino that offers 3,500 slot machines, each programmed to pay a decent sized jackpot every 25,000 yanks of the handle. With a casino full to capacity, and players spinning those (their) wheels 400 times per hour, from eight to midnight the slots will collectively whirl 5,600,000 times over that four hour period, creating 224 hand-pay jackpots.

Compare that to Thursday morning with only 200 players playing slots. The pulls remain the same at 400 per hour, but those players will collectively spin the reels only 320,000 times, averaging only 12.8 jackpots.

Side-by-side, 224 jackpots on a busy night versus 12.8 on a slow day you can easily say yes, more jackpots are hit in the evening. Yet, your chances of being one of those to hit a jackpot remain the same, be it slow day or a busy night.

Dear Mark: What is the most popular slot machine in the casino? Tara C.

The bulk of the lucrative slot business has been the exclusive territory of one manufacturer, International Game Technology (IGT). Their bread-and-butter comes from the most popular machine in America: the Red, White and Blue reel slot. And what makes the Red, White and Blue so popular? Player appeal. People flock to the colors that represent America. Players also love the paytable that offers plenty of low and midrange hits with enough high-end hits to keep them coming back for more.

Note here, Tara, that the above description of "hit rewards" comes from IGT company literature, not me. Because most slots typically have a casino advantage well above my recommended two percent, avoid putting those Red, White and Blue machines in your playing arsenal.

Dear Mark: Does the Megabucks machine pay back the same as regular $1 slot machines? Mary K.

Notta chance, Mary. By offering the player a shot at slot immortality, Megabucks shakes you down on the smaller payoffs. It is Megabuck's progressive bonus that allows you to fantasize champagne wishes and caviar dreams. On average, Megabucks returns slightly less than a 90% payback while the typical $1 machine in Nevada averages more than 95%.

Dear Mark: Last year I hit my first five-figure jackpot on a slot machine. Since then, it seems even smaller jackpots have dropped off considerably. When I insert my Player’s Card, and I get the slot machines message welcoming me (Marty) back to a casino, does the machine I am playing on know that I recently won a decent sized jackpot, and it is time to get back some of those winnings? Marty S.

Congratulations, Marty, on your first, of -- hopefully -- many more big jackpots to come.

I’m sure the casino would love to get back some of your winnings, but fortunately, the Player’s Card software within doesn’t have the capability to signal the machine that Marty had won a decent sized jackpot on a previous visit and it’s high time for you to start giving it back. What you may notice though is an increase of special offers coming in the mail to induce your return so the casino can take a whack at that five-figure jackpot you won.

Dear Mark: You always say check your machine for credits before you leave. Is it true that if I went to play a machine and there were credits left on it by someone I could get in trouble with the casino? Beri W.

Called "sea gulling" in gambling lingo, it is illegal to specifically circle the casino looking for credits on a slot machine. Not even change on the floor. I've seen player impostors given the heave ho (the dreadful permanent 86) for making a full-time occupation of floating the casino looking for easy pickings. Fortunately I have never heard of an unsuspecting patron walking up to a machine with credits, playing them, and being shown the door.

Nevertheless, Beri, before you walk away from any slot machine, don't forget to press the cash-out button. Millions are lost each year by gamblers forgetting their stored credits (winnings).

Dear Mark: I don't quite understand what is meant by a pay cycle on a slot machine. Does it mean that over one pay cycle, every possible combination on the reel will appear? Melvin V.

Not quite, Melvin. The term "pay cycle" is a theoretic expression used to describe the number of plays required for the machine to display all the possible winning and non-winning combinations. But, because each and every spin is a random event, a machine won't hit all the possible combinations through any one specific cycle.

Dear Mark: When a slot player hits a big one, for instance 10 million dollar jackpot, is it paid in installments or in its entirety? Jan S.

It depends, Jan, on the machine, although the majority, like Megabucks, Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, The Price is Right, etc., are “ annuity games ” where you do NOT receive your total winnings up front but are paid instead in annual installments. The clear-cut way to find out which-is-which is simply to read what’s printed on the face of the machine. There it will tell you straight away if it’s an annuity game or an immediate full-pay win.

If you’re looking for an up front payment of the entire jackpot there are exceptions, like Mega Riches or many of the TV Hits games, which come from the MegaJackpots Instant Winners line of machines from IGT. They offer awards that are paid entirely upon verification of the win.

When your casino jackpot is authenticated, a jackpot response representative will ask you to present two different forms of identification showing you are who you are, to sign tax forms like a W2G, and then present you with a check for the first of 25 annual installments, whereas, if you happen to be playing a TV Hit game like The Beverly Hillbillies, you’re now a Clampett getting all your loot instantly.

Also note, Jan, that the banker, played by Milburn Drysdale, is usually NOT the casino, but a manufacturer like IGT. They pay off those “geeenormous” progressive jackpots.

With any luck, Jan, you may one day beat those long, long odds and load up the truck and move to Beverly. Or, if your prize money is paid yearly, live the 25 years to spend it. If better paying slots in heaven happen to intercede, the remaining earthly annual payments will be made to any surviving trustees or beneficiaries.

Dear Mark: Maybe it’s a frivolous question you have already answered, but which quarter slot machines typically offer the highest returns? Ron G.

No problem here, Ron, about you being fussy over such details. For all I know Persnickety is your middle name. Where you will find quarter slot machines that have the highest payback is at casinos that advertise a guaranteed return of 98-99 percent return on “selected machines.”

Granted, Ron, “selected machines” can be few and far between on the casino floor, and these high payback slots are usually only found where the casino competition is fervent. When you do find a casino advertising liberal paybacks, you’ll then need to ask someone in slot personnel which machines those are.

Oh, and just in case you find some generous machines with decent paybacks, the higher payout rate only applies if you don’t continue to bet your winning credits. Unfortunately, that’s not the way most people play. They recycle (churn) their money back through the machines. Casino operators have long realized the advantage they have between an advertised payout and the coinage they eventually reap by comparing credits won versus credits paid out.

When credits won are generally replayed, and replayed and replayed again, this results mathematically in a much greater chance of eventually lowering that liberal payback considerably. Sure, the casino may advertise a 98 percent return, but after the churn takes place, you’ll generally go home lighter in the wallet.

Other slots to look for when you can’t find machines that advertise such-n-such paybacks are those that do not offer bonus rounds, brand-name affiliations and progressive jackpots. For example, Red White and Blue and Double Diamonds are examples of stand-alone machines that would fall into this group.

Dear Mark: There is a company in Europe selling devices that electronically jackpot slot machines. Is this legal in Nevada? What is the penalty for using it? Robert L.

Why waste your money, Robert? Try this instead. Hoist a sledgehammer in the air, angle it at 45 degrees, then bring it crashing down on the polished glass face of the paytable. That should trigger the hopper to release the coins. Either way, the penalty is the same. A ward of the state, AKA, PRISON! Good behavior should get you out in five.

Dear Mark: Could you please explain how much the progressive meter rises on both your average slot and video poker machine? Jane B.

The rate at which the meter progresses upward is based on a pre-set percentage of all the money cycled through the machine. The meter rates will vary from machine to machine, casino to casino. If you are playing an individual progressive, expect an advance rate of five to 10 percent of the money played. Example: A dollar wagered, the jackpot goes up 10¢. Machines that are tied together, like a bank (carousel) or networked slots like Megabucks or Quartermania, involve a much lower progressive rate. In return, you are provided a mega jackpot-a.k.a. big, big bucks.

On your typical video poker machine, the meters rise on the average of between .25 and two percent with one percent being the industry average.

Dear Mark: If I may, a quick history question. Who invented the slot machine? Ted G.

The first mechanical slot machine, the Liberty Bell, was invented in 1895 by Charles Fey, a San Francisco mechanic. Fey's machine housed three spinning reels, each decorated with diamonds, spades, hearts and one cracked Liberty Bell per reel. When the bells lined up, they produced your biggest payoff: 10 nickels.

If you are ever in Reno, Ted, the original Liberty Bell is on display at the Liberty Belle Saloon & Restaurant, on 4250 S. Virginia.

Dear Mark: Is blackjack still the number one game in Las Vegas? It seems I'm seeing fewer and fewer 21 tables and more and more slots. Grant G.

If I could be "Gambling Czar" for just one day, collecting casino profits on just one game, it would not be the casino win at blackjack but of the 25¢ slot machine. Yes, the quarter machine takes in more in net profit for the casino ($2.6 billion in Nevada) than blackjack, baccarat, craps, roulette, keno and the sports books combined.

Yes, Grant, you are astute in you observations. Vegas is becoming an adult pinball palace.

Dear Mark: On my last two trips to Las Vegas I have found slots ($1 machines at the Stratosphere) advertising a return of 98%. I didn't seem to get a decent return on them. Shouldn't the casino, in such a regulated business like gambling, at least pay back the percentage they advertise? Dottie C.

When a casino advertises that its slot machines return 98 percent, it means the machine is pre-programmed "over the long run" to return 98¢ of every dollar played. Don't come to expect that for each dollar inserted you will automatically get 98¢ dribbling back into the tray. The operative phrase here is "over the long run." A "long run" could mean weeks, months, and even years on any given machine.

But let's assume the machine you were playing was paying off 98¢ for each and every dollar bet. Using a liberal definition of the word "good" machine, we'll allow the casino a measly 2% edge. Well, Dottie, 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 will 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 still has a way of grinding away at your gambling capital.

The way you avoid this $576 grind is to behave more conservatively by playing on smaller denomination machines (25¢), for shorter increments of time. Casino operators know all to well that such cautious behavior has negative implications on the casino win for the house. They would much prefer you ante-up silver slugs and play all day.

Oh, by the way, Dottie, all too often players like you believe that the casino is in the gambling business. Wrong! They are in the math business. On pre-programmed slot machines that give the house a certain percentage return, you are the only one doing the gambling here.

Dear Mark: Why is it that when a slot mechanic opens a slot machine the machine stops paying? Is there any hanky panky going on? Timothy C.

No need to worry, Timothy. A slot machine is usually opened to fill the hopper with more coins or to check for an internal malfunction. The random number generator continues to work even when the slot attendant opens the door. This should not affect the casino keeping "up to" 20¢ of every dollar you put in. If you feel uncomfortable playing a previously opened machine, you can always move your hind end to another stool.

Dear Mark: I have heard that loosest quarter machines pay better than the tightest dollar machines. Is that true? Shelly T.

It depends, Shelly. Some casinos do have some very high-paying quarter machines and some stingy dollar machines. The only way to know for sure is to ask someone with authority in the slot department like the slot director or slot manager.

It’s the slot manager that decides the slot mix, which are the placement, positioning and payoffs of slot machines on the casino floor. Typically though, dollar machines usually have higher long-term paybacks than quarter machines, even loose ones.

Furthermore, Shelly, even on a loose quarter machine side-by-side to a sparing dollar machine, it is important to remember that the paybacks on both are based on the long haul, not a short run. So-o-o-o-o, the $200 you play through a loose quarter machine won’t necessarily return to your pocket more than the same couple centuries fed into the tight dollar cousin.

Dear Mark: Which is a better choice, playing a Megabucks slot machine or the Powerball lottery? Susan L.

If you are asking about the hitting the “Big Kahuna,” you are more likely to hit the top jackpot on a Megabucks machine than to win the top prize with the Powerball lottery.

The odds of hitting a life-altering Megabucks machine are about 30,000,000 to one and in Powerball are one in 195,249,054. Either way, your chances of hitting the big one are a teensy weensy bit better than zilch, so we should put the top prize numbers aside, and look at a couple different reasons to see whether a Megabucks slot machine offers a better bet than does a Powerball lottery ticket. Lotteries don’t offer returns of 80 percent or more of the money wagered by its players. Sure, Megabucks’s downside is that its long-term paybacks are usually the lowest in the casino, but still, that jingle in the coin tray is more than you typically get from a lottery ticket.

Megabucks is paid in annual installments, whereas you can get your Powerball payoff, albeit half, up front.

Two hundred dollars gives you a year's worth of Powerball tickets, whereas $200 on a Megabucks machine can be lost in mere minutes.

Personally, Susan, I would just stick to casino wagers that have less than a two percent house edge. Advice aside, I’ll leave the long-shot choice up to you of either bucking up three dollars (3-coin bet) a pop versus a weekly contribution to state education. Get back to me on which you choose.