Does free money = free money?
July 16, 2009 8:43 AM   Subscribe

Casino player's card free play: Is it actually possible to win any money?

There's this casino in Reno that's had a huge crush on me ever since I stayed up until 8 a.m. that one time, throwing money away on the craps table. As I blearily headed back to my room, the pit boss signed me up for their VIP player's club. So instead of the regular player's club card, I have a special membership and am constantly getting pretty sweet come-ons from them.

So anyway, the basic question is, is $75 free play really like putting $75 of my own money in a slot machine? I know that, by law, slot machines are required to be randomized games of chance, and that no pull can be dependent on the outcome of the previous one. But with the free play, you have to insert your player's card into the machine, of course. And I can't help but wonder, does that slot machine know that I'm playing with the casino's money instead of my own? And does that somehow make the machine reluctant to pay out? (And it pays out in regular cash, right? Not in more free credits?)

This question is pretty much not Google-able because any search string with the terms 'casino' or 'slot machines' returns junk.
posted by mudpuppie to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (17 answers total)
No, the Nevada Gaming Control Board reviews slot machine designs for things like that. They're giving you $75 figuring that after that $75 runs out, you're likely to start spending your own money.
posted by ignignokt at 8:58 AM on July 16, 2009

It's real. You can definitely turn that $75 card into $65 of actual cash.

(On average.)
posted by rokusan at 9:00 AM on July 16, 2009

Yup, I once won over $100 on $20 of free play in slots from a Reno casino. The trick is to walk away once you've won the money.

Like Ignigokt says, they are counting on you to spend at least as much as the amount they gave you for free of your own cash after the free play runs out, and most people do that and more. It's the same reasoning they give you a free room, so you'll spend at least the amount of money you would have paid for the room down in the casino ("Hey, the room is free, let's go down and blow some money at the slots!"). It's a mental mind game and the house usually wins.
posted by HeyAllie at 9:14 AM on July 16, 2009

And yes, the money you win back is cash, not free points.
posted by HeyAllie at 9:15 AM on July 16, 2009

Gambling devices in legal casinos in Nevada are heavily regulated and it would be extremely difficult to implement a scheme like this without getting caught.

More importantly, they don't have any real need to do this because, as ignignokt you're probably not going to stop at $75, and because the only people who get VIP cards are people who have (probably) lost enough that giving them $75 is a drop in the bucket compared to what they've already lost and will continue to lose if they keep gambling there. Casinos give away all kinds of comps, not just free chips/credits, and they are all designed to make gamblers feel more like a "winner" even though the house always wins by a significant margin over the long run. Even if a few people luck into making more money than they've lost with one of the free $75 offers, the entire system is designed for them to come out ahead, without having to resort to illegal tactics.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:17 AM on July 16, 2009

Thanks, y'all.
posted by mudpuppie at 9:25 AM on July 16, 2009

The house doesn't have to win every game. They just have to win more than they lose.

The games are stacked in their favor, and the more gambling they managed to get to happen, the more money they make. But that also means that some particular players will win from the house.

The casinos like that, as strange as it may sound. They want such people going home and boasting about how they won a lot of money, because it encourages other people to come gamble. And when someone wins a million bucks on a dollar slot machine, they publicize it out the wazoo with newspaper articles and billboards.

When they give $75 free-play bonuses to specific people, it is not the case that they'll make it back from every single person they give it to. But over the long haul, taking into account everyone they do that for, they'll make more than they lose. The casinos are playing a big game, and their business plan depends on the principle of "regression toward the mean".
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:30 AM on July 16, 2009

In case you're curious about the technical side of it... The free play is usually either coming in through the ticket printer or through a player management system. Regardless of where it comes from, the slot machine only has one bucket for credits. Once value gets added to that bucket, you're playing exactly as you would if you'd put in dollar bills, XC, or any other funding source.

Basically, in a nutshell the slot machine can't tell the difference between free play and any other type of money.

Plus, since you're in Reno, that's NGCB jurisdiction. They tend to ride herd over the casinos _and_ the slot manufacturers pretty closely. The only real places you have to worry about shenanigans is cruise-ship casinos (they're usually honest, but set really low). And, to a lesser extent, tribal casinos. But at any place in Nevada, you're safe from the casino doing anything dishonest. Mississippi and Michigan are also pretty strict.

In a second nutshell - the casinos have the house advantage. They have math on their side. If they ever did anything dishonest, such as rigging a game, it would get out and it would be pretty bad for the industry. The element of trust is a pretty key component of the gambling industry.
posted by krisak at 10:02 AM on July 16, 2009

Since the payoff schedules on casino machines are already designed to guarantee a profit for the casino over the long run and failing a review by the Nevada Gaming Control Board would at a minimum put a casino out of business, it's in the best interest of the casinos not to rig their machines.

Tampering with slot machines is killing the golden goose.
posted by turaho at 10:03 AM on July 16, 2009

Incidentally, if you want to know just how boring the industry is, start here:
posted by krisak at 10:29 AM on July 16, 2009

tuaho - the casinos actually can't tamper with the slot machines. The only thing they can do is set the payback percentage.

The machines are pretty well guarded against tampering. The best result a casino could hope for if they did try to tamper is that the machine would tilt. The worst result would be the manufacturer figuring out they were trying to tamper with it - then NGCB would get involved and the results wouldn't be pretty.
posted by krisak at 10:34 AM on July 16, 2009

I regularly take my bonus plays and cash them out.
posted by JJ86 at 11:07 AM on July 16, 2009

I drop in just to add- I was in Ft. Lauderdale for work, and decided to visit Hard Rock Cafe and Casino... I didn't have any cash, but wanted to see what was up. I signed up for their Players Card, and they handed me a card with $20 on it. I played for about 3 hours with that card, getting close to $400 - but ultimately walking out with $75. Actual cash.
posted by TuxHeDoh at 11:09 AM on July 16, 2009

The overall payout for slots at most casinos is 92%-94% range (lets use 93% as the example). Over time the casino keeps $.07 for every $1.00 bet.

So from the casino's perspective they have actually given you $5.25 not $75.00.

Many casinos can expect to average $50-$100 cash lost by each patron per visit. The $5.25 cost of "acquisition" is low compared to the potential profit.

So no need (or method for that matter) for the casino to change odds, the odds are already hugely in their favor.
posted by SantosLHalper at 11:20 AM on July 16, 2009

SantosLHalper, I think you calculated that wrong.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:38 AM on July 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Chocolate Pickle, I did calculate that wrong.

That $5.25 businesses is way wrong, that it just what the casino would expect to make on $75 wagered.
posted by SantosLHalper at 12:22 PM on July 16, 2009

There's no reason to assume the machines will behave differently, because it's not necessary for the casino.

1, As a poster above said, the Expected Value of every 100 $ you put in the slots should be about 85 to 95 $ (not sure of the actual number). So every time you play on the slot machines, you lose 5 to 15 $. Get this, please: it doesn't matter that you "can win 200 $" at blackjack when you play for 100 $. You lose 15 $ in every single hand.

In poker, this is called Sklansky bucks: the amount of $ you stand to win (or lose) based on your play. Poker is the only game where it's possible to play +EV (make decisions that have a positive expected value). Every casino game is -EV, however, so every play you make has a negative expectation. You just give a few Sklansky bucks to the casino, whatever your decision is, as long as you hand over money to the croupier. Over a sample of a few millon or billion games per year, the Expected Value and the actual value converge. In essence, the casino is giving you money that you will give back to the casino. So they don't care. BUT

2, They expect you to play higher stakes with your "free" money than with your own money. It's free, right, so why not aim for the big bucks. Only: it will be a lot less exciting to play the penny slots after you've played a couple of rounds on the 1$ or 5$ slots. Up goes the profit for the casino.
posted by NekulturnY at 2:35 AM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

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