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Getting Loose

Assessing today's declining slot play

Getting Loose

When I was the first editor of Casino Player magazine back in the late 1980s, I was responsible for answering the “letters to the editor.” Since casino gambling was rather new to most Americans, the letters were pretty basic:

“Last time I was in a casino, I split 10s at the blackjack table and got two face cards. Tell me why that’s not a great play.” Or, “The dealer seems to win all the time, so why don’t I just play the same rules as the dealer does?” Or, “I can’t lose every hand, so doesn’t it make sense to double your bet every time you lose?” Hello, Mr. Martingale.

But by far the most letters we got in those days were about the slots, and they were equally simplistic. “Where is the switch that the casino bosses flick to make the players lose?” Or, “I always play machines around the entrance because the bosses want people to see winning.” (That one had a grain of truth to it.) Or, “I never use credit on the machine; I always put coins in.” Yes, I am that old.

So it was with great surprise that, as publisher of GGB, I received a letter last month (a real letter with a stamp, envelope and a real signature!) that complained about today’s slots. Mary Ann Loida of Eureka, Missouri, took the time to write about a story we ran a couple of months ago on AGEM (the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers) planning a study on why slot revenue has been flat and if people are playing less.

“As a longtime slot player,” Loida said, “I can tell you that years ago the slots were so much fun. The Flamingo in Las Vegas was the king of slots on the Strip. But gradually the good-paying slots have disappeared and the new slots have gotten tighter and tighter. Tunica was the same way. The casinos have gotten greedier and that has driven me away. I go much, much less now. Years ago, I would play for hours and hours and have so much fun, but now, the money is going quickly and you have nothing to show for it. Casinos need to loosen their slots up and players will come back.”

To be truthful, I’ve read dozens of letters like this over the years and mostly discounted them as being written by people who just had really bad luck. You know who they are. You actually root for them sometimes, but they just continue to lose.

But Loida’s letter has real credibility, and we can see the results of this by the flat or declining slot revenues in almost all jurisdictions. And what is our response, often, to those falling numbers? Raise the casino win percentage so you can make your monthly numbers. And that becomes a vicious cycle. The more and quicker the players lose, the less money and time they play. That has to impact your bottom line.

Now, slot machines are the one game that pay guaranteed money to the casino. Even if you pay 95 percent of the money inserted into the machine back to the players, you are still keeping 5 percent of that money. Now with the increasing costs of human resources, rent, power, etc., that 5 percent isn’t profit. So another vicious cycle.

But I’m trying to imagine what would happen if one stand-alone casino tried that strategy—and widely advertised it. Would players understand the concept of higher payback percentages—something we invented at Casino Player magazine in those early days when we flipped the casino win percentage to create the player payback percentage in our monthly slot charts?

Our readers in those days certainly got it. But another complication is that not every gaming regulatory agency issues slot revenue numbers for every casino in its jurisdiction. And New Jersey, which once issued the most comprehensive numbers, down to individual denominations, is now talking about removing that information.

An informed gambler is a good gambler. They are invested in the information they can gather, so casinos and regulatory agencies should be invested in providing that information for the good of the entire industry.

And by the way, I only split 10s in a blackjack tournament.

Roger Gros is publisher of Global Gaming Business, the industry's leading gaming trade publication, and all its related publications. Prior to joining Global Gaming Business, Gros was president of Inlet Communications, an independent consulting firm. He was vice president of Casino Journal Publishing Group from 1984-2000, and held virtually every editorial title during his tenure. Gros was editor of Casino Journal, the National Gaming Summary and the Atlantic City Insider, and was the founding editor of Casino Player magazine. He was a co-founder of the American Gaming Summit and the Southern Gaming Summit conferences and trade shows. He is the author of the best-selling book, How to Win at Casino Gambling (Carlton Books, 1995), now in its fourth edition. Gros was named "Businessman of the Year" for 1998 by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Gaming Association in 2012.

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