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Penny-Playing Strategy

Author: Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: When I play penny slots my system is to only lose $5 from the highest credit level. So, I insert my $5, lose it, and move to another machine. This way I win a little or only lose 5 dollars from my highest number of credits. What I would like to know is: Is it better to move to a different machine or would it be better to stay on only one? J. P.

Being a budget-minded player, when playing penny slots there are plenty of betting options in the number of coins and the number of lines you play. But flipping that same penny over, you must realize that penny slots are major money makers for casinos. The reason is that they get an enormous amount of play from penny-wise – and sometimes pound-foolish – players that love them and they also tend to offer relatively low paybacks.

The clue to being a prudent player is knowing the importantance of being able to comprehend the concept of base denomination. Penny machines should be just that, penny machines for low-stakes bettors. They should not cost $5 per spin if the player is betting max per line.

What will not change, no matter how much or how little you bet, are the low paybacks. A player betting multiple coins per line creates per-spin bets that are not penny play, but quarter, or even dollar action; all while up against a house edge that could be as high as 15%.

The penny slot system you described has one great thing going for it. In your scenario you have set realistic win goals and loss limits.

Deciding to change machines when yours gets cold is called "hit-and-run gambling.” This short-term play is centered on what are called "perceived streaks." Streaks are nothing more than hindsight of past performance. None of us, even casino management, can know when a streak starts, let alone when it ends.

What is true here is the casino's built-in advantage. It is based on the "law of averages." In the long run, no in-and-out system is going to work against that law. Once you expose your hard-earned money for any extended period, it is going to be gobbled up.

The only real benefit you get from walking away from a machine is that while you are up and away from that comfy Naugahyde stool, you are physically not playing that slot, and the built-in edge of that one-armed penny bandit is NOT eating away at your bankroll.

My suggestion is that you stick with the way you are currently playing because that illusionary stopgap, the $5 trigger, on max credits forces a retirement from the game.

As I often say in this column, each and every spin on a slot machine is an independent event based on the random number generator (RNG). Moving to another machine can't change that or even make much of a difference in your overall outcome. To slow the speed of the machine’s built-in house edge you need to stop pulling the handle. When you do this you develop discipline and fiscal awareness of your bankroll as you play. It doesn’t help with your search for Gold Mountain.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “A drunken monkey can be as successful at slots as a sober Einstein.” – Bob Dancer