Has This Happened to You?

Bonnie and I recently checked into a local casino comped room. We don’t really “need” a room — we’re locals living about 15 miles away — but Bonnie doesn’t drive anymore, I was planning on playing four hours or so in a particular promotion, and we wanted to eat dinner together at the casino.

Bonnie is a non-player (well, she allows herself $5 sometimes at nickels, until it goes). Video poker is basically my avocation/vocation. She’ll take along some books on tape. Often, she’ll get her exercise by walking through the air-conditioned casinos, which are much cooler than Vegas in the summertime. She knows how to use Zoom, and sometimes she’ll have a nice chat with one of her friends or relatives while she’s waiting.

This time, though, when we got there, all the machines were turned off on one-half of the casino — including the only machines that, in my opinion, were worth playing under the current promotion. I asked a slot floor person what was going on and she said the machines would be down for somewhere between two and six hours, depending on how the slot maintenance went. But in the meantime, there were still some video poker machines on the other side of the casino.

I briefly scouted the available machines and found them as bad as I remembered. Instead of regular 8/5 Bonus, which is the highest returning machine in this casino, they had the 8/5 Bonus version where all 4-of-a-kinds return 30-for-1. This turns a 99.17% game into one that returns 98.48%. No thanks.

There were no other nearby casinos where I had plays, our dinner reservation wasn’t for another five hours, and home was 15 miles away. I could scout other nearby casinos, which is frequently a good use of time. But I was a bit tired from several recent long plays. So, I went up to our room and took a nap. At 74 years of age, I find myself taking naps more than I ever did when I was younger. Still, if the machines aren’t available until after dinner, I’m going to be playing much later than I originally planned and the sleep from the nap would come in handy.

As I lay in bed, I contemplated what to do if pay schedule changes were included in this “slot maintenance.” This casino was currently on my “barely playable” list during some promotions, and a decrease in the pay schedules would remove it from that list altogether — probably, depending on what those changes were. With the current promotion, I could still live with 9/7/5 Double Bonus (99.11%), 9/6 Double Double Bonus (98.98%) or the 15-9-4-4-3 version of Deuces Wild (98.91%), but nothing worse.

If the games were changed to anything tighter than what I’ve just listed, I’d cash out what I’d already earned on the promotion and not finish it. The number of casinos that both welcome my play and have playable games keeps dwindling, and I hate to lose another place, but that happens periodically and is a fact of life in my business. I didn’t worry about it now. I just slept for a couple of hours and would figure it out when I saw the results of the maintenance.

Two hours later, some of the machines had been turned back on, but the bank of machines that were of interest to me were still down. I saw a man who looked like a slot technician and asked him if he was part of the slot department. 

When he said yes, I asked him how long it was going to be before the bank of machines I wanted to play were turned on. He graciously said that he was in the process of turning them all back on and if I tell him the bank of machines I’m interested in he’d go turn those games on right now. Perfect! This time, had I not asked, it might have been another 15 minutes or an hour before I had access to “my” game.

When the machines were turned on, I checked the game I wanted and it was still 8/5 Bonus. (I check pay schedules every time before I begin to play anyway, but especially after a maintenance. That’s the time that changes usually happen.) So, I sat down and began to play. We were a bit later leaving the casino than we had originally planned, but everything worked out okay. This time.

This particular time I lost more than average playing the game, but I put that down to normal variance. I do not believe that this maintenance “tightened” the machines in any regard. If I continue to do badly on these machines over time I’ll reconsider. A sample size of one play is far too little to draw conclusions from.

It doesn’t always turn out okay, and I’m prepared to leave a casino if conditions aren’t to my liking. But it’s much better if I can still play. For at least a little longer.

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