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Is Free Slot Play Rigged?

Author: Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: When you use the free slot play the casino gives you, does the machine you are playing “know” that you are using free play? It just seems to me that the slot machine payouts change when I put real cash in the machine.

For example, I go through $5 of free play, taking ten spins at $.50 each, and don't win anything to speak of. Then I put 'real' money in and the machine starts to pay out some credits. Gerry L.

A lot of casinos have started rewarding players with free slot play, giving players a chance to win without spending a dime of their own money. Regular slots player see this as getting something for nothing.

Other casinos are offering players something called matching play. With this perk you get rewarded with $10 of free play only after you play through $10 of your own money. This offer is, of course, not as good a deal as the "something for nothing" free slot play.

The $5 free play offered is a cash reward given in exchange for your play. The downside is that this free money can only be used inside the casino. In other words, you can’t take the money and run. In contrast, if you receive cash back for your action, you are not required to play your cash reimbursement. Like money you win, it belongs to you, not the “house,” and you can pocket it to use as you see fit.

After all is said and done, I would rather have that cash-in-hand to spend as I wish. Additionally, with the free play, when players do get some payouts, they still end up with nothing because they usually play back the free money before they cash out.

The real challenge for a casino is getting you to walk through the front door in the first place. That free slot play – something for nothing – is one Pavlovian offering that triggers slot jockeys to salivate.

It always amazes me how just $10 in free slot play will bring masses to the slots. Unfortunately, once a player is facing a slot machine, they can go through that $10 in a few spins if they're playing max coins and max lines. At this point the casino has them captive inside their friendly confines for a total cost of $10, just as they had planned.

The truth, Gerry, is that the machine's random number generator does not give a hoot whether you are playing the free play or with real money from your pocket. It is possible in this situation that you are the victim of your own selective memory, as well as a shorter gambling session.

Your idea is that the slots pay out less often when you use free play in contrast to playing with your money. Consequently, you will tend to remember when you don't hit on the free play and forget the times that you did. My suggestion would be that you try keeping track of your play and not rely on your impressions of what is happening.

So, Gerry, the next several times you use free slot play promotions, keep track of the number of spins and the number of hits you get from the free play. Then, play your own matching cash amount at the same bet size and number of spins, keeping track of the hits as before. Over time, your returns by both methods should actually be relatively close.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week:
“Gambling heats the mind like an oven.” – Henry Ward Beecher, Gamblers and Gambling (1896)