Don't be fooled by 'hot slots' data

Whoever came up with the idea of the "Fitz Hot Slots" sheet deserves a raise.

The sheet, distributed at a Mississippi casino I recently visited, is an ingenious casino come-on. It purports to give you insider information that can help you beat the house; in reality, it's just an enticement to spend money on a losing proposition.

The "Hot Slots" sheet, free at Fitzgerald's Tunica -- one of my favorite casino destinations -- reveals exactly which machines hit jackpots in the past week. It goes beyond the denomination and type of game; it provides the machine's identification number.

For example, machine 13202, a penny Playboy Platinum game, paid a jackpot of \$8,154.61, the casino's largest non-progressive jackpot for the week ending March 12. The largest progressive hit was on machine 12040, a \$5 Lucky Irish game that paid \$22,977.

"Hot Slots" goes on to identify the video poker and reel and video slot machines with the biggest payouts in each denomination.

What should you do with this information?

Ignore it. It's all, to borrow a Bob Dylan phrase, useless and pointless knowledge.

The "Hot Slots" sheet is similar to the electronic displays at roulette tables that show which numbers hit in the past 10 or 20 spins.

Such gimmicks delude some gamblers into thinking they can outwit the slot machine, the roulette wheel or maybe the dice at a craps table.

You can't.

Each push of the slot-machine button, spin of the roulette wheel and throw of the dice is what math geeks call an "independent event." In other words, what happened last time -- or the past 10, 20 or 1,000 times -- has no influence on what happens the next time.

Let's examine why, as the saying goes, "dice have no memory." Each die has six sides, so there are 36 possible combinations when you throw two dice. Six of those combinations give a total of seven (1-6, 2-5, 3-4, 4-3, 5-2 and 6-1); in other words, your chances of getting a seven on any particular roll with honest dice are one in six.

After you roll a seven, what are your chances of rolling another on the next toss• They're still one in six. The outcome of the previous roll doesn't change that. Your bet is not whether you'll roll two sevens in a row; your bet is whether the next roll will be a seven, and the chances of that always are one in six.

Likewise, each roulette spin is separate from every other one. The ball can land in one of 38 spots on a double-zero wheel. The odds of it landing on your favorite number always are one in 38, even if that number has hit three times in a row -- or, not at all for the past 1,000 spins.

Regardless of players' beliefs in hot and cold slot machines, the chances of hitting a winner are the same on every spin. The random number generator that determines each outcome guarantees that. Even on a machine that just hit a jackpot, the odds of hitting another on the next spin haven't changed.

The Fitzgerald bosses should congratulate the originator of "Hot Slots." But if you come across something similar in your favorite casino, don't fall for it.

Two other lessons from my "research trip" to Mississippi:

Have fun or don't play : A classic sourpuss at third base ruined what might have been an enjoyable blackjack session at another Tunica casino. This guy groused about everything -- where someone put the cut card; how often the dealer's up-card was an eight, nine, face-card or Ace (hey, those account for more than half the deck); that he got a blackjack after reducing his bet; that someone would hit a 12 when the dealer shows a two or three (he said that's not basic strategy in Mississippi). If you can't stomach a run of bad cards, leave the table. You don't do yourself any good by complaining. Even strong basic-strategy players will lose more than half their hands. When a dry spell hits, take a break.

Don't play with money you can't afford to lose : Many gamblers ignore this important rule. At one blackjack table, a woman who doubled down and lost when the dealer made a hand loudly berated a player who took "her" card. When that player noted he also lost, the woman scoffed. "You can afford it," she said, clearly indicating she couldn't. If losing a blackjack bet, or session, will keep you from paying the bills, you shouldn't play.

11th casino opens in PENNSYLVANIA

Valley Forge Casino Resort opens Saturday in King of Prussia, Montgomery County. It has 486 guest rooms, 600 slot machines and 50 table games. The resort casino is open to hotel guests and to customers who spend at least \$10 at a resort restaurant, bar or similar attraction or buy a membership in a resort dining or health club.

Money trail

Slot players lost \$48.68 million in the state's 10 casinos during the week ended March 25, the Gaming Control Board reported. That's down from \$48.95 million in the comparable week last year.

The state takes 55 percent of that gross slot revenue, or what's left of players' bets after jackpots are paid.

Statewide, slot machines have paid out at a 90.06 percent rate since the fiscal year started in July; for every \$100 wagered, the machines returned an average of \$90.06.

Payout rates for Western Pennsylvania casinos:

• 89.86%: Rivers; weekly revenue of \$5.45 million, down from \$5.54 million last year.
• 89.79%: The Meadows; weekly revenue of \$4.82 million, down from \$5.29 million last year.
• 90.44%: Presque Isle in Erie; weekly revenue of \$3.19 million, down from \$3.34 million last year.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK

How much does the state get in casino gambling taxes per year• (from Michael McFadden of Philadelphia)

In the first eight months of the 2011-12 fiscal year, those taxes total \$946.8 million -- \$876.8 million from slot machines, \$61.4 million for the state from table games and \$8.7 million for local municipalities from table games. If the revenue trend holds, the fiscal year total will be about \$1.4 billion. Slots and table games have generated about \$5.5 billion in taxes since Pennsylvania's first casino opened in November 2006.

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