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John Robison

John  Robison
John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming's leading publications. Hear John on "The Good Times Radio Gaming Show," broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoons. You can listen to archives of the show online anytime.

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Ask the Slot Expert: Old slot machines never die, they just . . .

13 Jun 2018

By John Robison, Slot Expert™

Question: Penn National (Hollywood) in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, has just removed most of the remaining old machines that I have enjoyed playing. Can't help but wonder what happens to the machines and if they can be purchased?

Answer: The slot machines go to a farm upstate where they are in a better place playing with all the other slot machines.

Actually, what happens to a slot machine when it is taken off the slot floor depends on how the machine was acquired, just like how you acquired a car (buy versus lease) determines how you get rid of it.

If the casino purchased the machine, it will probably sell it to a wholesaler who will resell it. If the casino leased the machine, then it will return the machine to the lessor.

If the machine is owned by someone else, then it goes back to the true owner. These machines might be wide-area progressives, like Megabucks, which are actually owned by IGT. Another instance in which someone else owns a machine is when a casino gives a manufacturer a small area of its slot floor and lets the manufacturer determine what games to put in it. Whether progressive or manufacturer-controlled, these machines are usually placed on a participation basis — that is, the casino and the true owner split the win from the machines.

Splitting the win, incidentally, is the reason these machines usually have stickers saying that they are not eligible for free play on them. The casino doesn't want to have to pay the owner a percentage of the free play won on the machine. Free play, as we discussed a week or so ago, also complicates calculating the win from the machine.

As for purchasing a used machine, casinos aren't in the business of selling machines to the public — they may not even have the proper license to sell machines — but there are plenty of companies that sell used slot machines. Each state has its own regulations for slot machine ownership. Pennsylvania, like my home state of New Jersey, permits ownership of machines manufactured prior to 1941.

It's very unlikely — well, dead certain — that none of the machines removed by Penn National were manufactured prior to 1941, so you're out of luck if you wanted to buy one of your favorite machines for home use.

Question: Congrats on having the opportunity to free play $1,000. A lot of us are still dreaming of having that chance. Now, as I understand it, you played off 500 credits at $2 on a 9/6 JoB. (Good choice, btw, despite its alleged boredom factor.) And you netted $1,250 take home.

Was it a machine that displayed your free play as it decreased so that you knew when it was all over? Or did you have to keep a mental track of the 100 spins of free play as you progressed through the credit meter because it adds your wins into the total? Exactly HOW to play off that amount of free play would be helpful to know.

Answer: Late last year, I won $1000 in slot play in a tournament. (See my column on 12/20/17.) I played it off on a $2 9/6 Jacks or Better machine, 100 hands at $10/per hand.

I could have played dollar Not So Ugly (NSU) Deuces, which has a slightly higher long-term payback, 99.7% versus 99.5%. Though it would have been nice to hit four deuces on the free play, I chose 9/6 Jacks because it has a higher hit frequency. I had a better chance of getting a payout of some kind on each hand.

The slot club card readers at this casino display the free play you downloaded to the machine and decrease the value displayed as you play it off. It's very easy at this casino to see when you've played off all of your free play.

The displays at another casino that recently upgraded its slot club and hardware do not display how much free play is left. You have to keep your eye on the daily points display. Free play does not earn points, so you know you've used up your free play once your point total starts climbing again.

At yet another casino chain, free play is treated a little like match play. Once you enable the free play — unfortunately, it's all or nothing at this chain — the machine will add to your credit meter an amount equal to your bet at the end of each spin or hand. Bet $5, get $5 added to your credit meter after the hand, assuming you still had at least $5 in free play left. Some machines display "Bonus Awarded" and play a nice little tune when it adds the free play. Can you imagine how annoying it is to hear this over and over again as a player goes through $30 in free play 30 cents at a time on a Quick Hit machine? (Yes, the specificity means I actually lived through it.)

There are two ways to know how much free play you have left at the casinos in this chain. If the casino has the right hardware and software, a message with the amount of free play remaining is displayed at the bottom of the screen. If not, you can always touch the button on the screen to open the slot club display, which will display the amount of free play remaining. On these video machines, the game display shrinks when the slot club menus appear on the same screen. Some machines have dedicated slot club display screens; these machines display the free play remaining on the dedicated screen.

If there's no other option to track your free play, you can always do what I did when I tracked how much I played at Atlantic City's casinos for Inside Atlantic City's Slot Clubs some 20 years ago. At the time, most slot club readers displayed the highly informative message ACCEPTED and nothing else. I used a handheld tally counter to count the number of spins or hands I played.

Question: I agree that all casinos should provide 95% nonsmoking area vs. 5% for smokers.

They are nasty smokers and they don't give a hoot whether they are contributing to bad health. Even if you give them a hint by covering your mouth and nose, the more they blow it towards you.

Have you noticed that when the the Keno machine hits a $5 or $10 win, the first thing they do is light up a smoke. It never fails. What a waste of money for a pack of cigarettes . . . they could have had that money that could have been used to win.

Answer: Whoa! Let's not go on the attack against all smokers. Many months ago, a man with a cigarette sat down at the video poker machine next to the one I was playing. I immediately hit Cash Out. He said he would hold the cigarette away from me or even stand until he was finished, but I said that I would move. A few months later, a man was standing while he was playing a machine two machines away from me. I realized it was the same guy and he was standing as long as he was smoking to minimize the smoke coming to me.

One thing to keep in mind is that the smoker is doing nothing wrong by smoking. Don't sit down at a machine if a smoker is near. And if a smoker sits down near you — even though there is no reason you should be inconvenienced by their actions — the best thing to do is go somewhere else.

Flight attendants, through their unions, fought for a smoking ban on airplanes about 20 years before the U.S. finally phased in the ban. Nonsmoking flight attendants developed shortness of breath and lung cancer. It was an unsafe workplace issue. The only place they were exposed to smoke was on the airplane.

Nevada's casino worker unions need to start showing how exposure to secondhand smoke is making casino workers sick, increasing sick days and medical claims.

Moreover, smoking rates continue to decline and the small difference in the smoking rate of gamblers versus nongamblers is not statistically significant.

An all-out ban would be best, but then smokers would have to go outside to smoke in the designated smoking area, like they have to do at work. Or the casino would have to construct an enclosed smoking area, like many airports have.

I think an easy solution is to just take the miniscule nonsmoking areas that many casino have and redesignate them as the smoking areas and the main casino floor goes nonsmoking. This solution will probably cost less than $50,000 for signs and other materials to educate patrons and personnel on the new policy.

Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert™, at Because of the volume of mail I receive, I regret that I can't reply to every question.

Copyright © John Robison. Slot Expert and Ask the Slot Expert are trademarks of John Robison.

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