How Do You Figure? – Gambling With An Edge

I received an email, with numerous follow-ups, from a player wanting to know how many dollars per hour certain games were worth at a particular casino. And he wanted me to give him an answer if he played 600, 800, or 1,000 hands per hour (hph) for various denominations.

It is far easier to ask such questions than it is to answer them. Some of it can be figured by simple algebra (assuming that isn’t a self-contradictory term for you), but some of it depends on unknown things, such as what promotions the casino will run in the future, how large the mailers will be, and other such matters.

Let’s look at some of these things.

First the game itself. Let’s take two of them, 9/6 Jacks or Better and NSU Deuces Wild. Whether or not these particular games are available at the casino where you play, the technique for evaluating remains the same for other games as well.

9/6 Jacks or Better returns 99.544% and NSU Deuces Wild returns 99.728%. I’m assuming you play close to perfectly. They are relatively easy games. But not every player has learned the games well. Not every player remembers the fine points. If you play less than perfectly, you’ll need to make some adjustments.

Let’s also assume you’re playing for dollars, five coins at a time. The following chart shows how much you lose per hour at the three different hands-per-hour rates before we consider the slot club and promotions.

Game Return 600 hph 800 hph 1000 hph
9/6 JoB 99.544% -$13.68 -$18.24 -$22.80
NSU DW 99.728% -$8.16 -$10.88 -$13.60

The fact that the scores are negative should not be a surprise. A 99.544% game means that the house has a 0.456% edge over you. When the house has any edge over you, on average you’re going to be a net loser.

Next, we look at the slot club. You have to figure it out in terms of percentages. A 0.1% slot club means that for every $1,000 coin-in you play, you receive $1 in cash back or free play. For our purposes today, I’m considering cash back and free play to be synonymous. A 0.1% slot club with a 3x multiplier is considered to be a 0.3% slot club. Obviously the faster you play, the more of this cash back you receive. (It is also true that the faster you play, the more mistakes you’re likely to make.)

Slot Club 600 hph 800 hph 1000 hph
0.1% $3.00 $4.00 $5.00
0.3% $9.00 $12.00 $15.00
0.5% $15.00 $20.00 $25.00

The slot club can be any amount, of course, but you can extrapolate from this chart to get the amount you would earn. If you look at 9/6 JoB, for example, you’ll see that when you are just including the game and the slot club, any slot club return of less than a half percent leaves you a loser. For NSU, you need a 0.3% slot club to have a very small advantage. 

The slot club can return any amount, of course. If it is 0.05%, well that means half the return of 0.1%. If the club returns 0.6%, you can double the amount for 0.3%, or add together the amounts you get from 0.1% and 0.5%, or maybe, just see how it is figured and do it yourself.

The next thing to consider is your mailer. You must keep records on how much you play. The most common time period that casinos use to figure out your mailer is the last three months, one month removed. That is, the amount you play in January + February + March determines your mailer in May.  For starters, assume that is the formula.

Also, know that some casinos punish winning players and reward losing players. That makes it difficult to determine how much your mailer will be. But do your best.

The next chart determines the percentage mailer, based on how much you play. Take your monthly coin-in and divide it into your monthly return. What shows up as $40 on the chart is often $10 a week. $200 a month means $50 a week. Etc. Once you see how it’s figured, the math isn’t too difficult.

Average Monthly Coin-in $40  $200  $400
$20,000  0.20% 1.00% 2.00%
$50,000  0.08% 0.40% 0.80%
$100,000  0.04% 0.20% 0.40%

The final part of the equation is the value of the promotions. Some of these are easy to compute. Some are difficult. Do your best. For example, the May promotion at the South Point was half-price gift cards for the first $83,340 coin-in. That’s easy to figure out. The normal slot club there is 0.30%, so the promotion is worth an additional 0.30%.

Other promotions aren’t so easy. If you get drawing tickets and there’s a big drawing, it’s really tough to get an exact percentage. But you can estimate. Casinos tend to give away about the same amount every month. In the case of the South Point, you know that one of their promotions is worth 0.30%. So, you assume they all pay that much. Your assumption will be inexact, of course, but sometimes an estimate is all you can do.

Finally, it comes down to adding everything up. That will give you your percentage advantage (or disadvantage, should you be a person who doesn’t insist on only playing games where you have the edge.) Once you have that percentage, you can now estimate how much a game is worth on a dollars-per-hour basis.

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