John Grochowski

John Grochowski

A shuffle through the gaming mailbag:

Q. You sometimes use first-time stories from slot players, but I don’t think I’ve had yours. Do you remember the first time you played the slots?

Mine was in 2000, the year I turned 21. We had a family birthday party at a riverboat casino in Iowa. My mom, dad, sister, and a few aunts, uncles and cousins took me to dinner and bought me my first legal drink. It was sparkling wine, though I had a beer later on.

In the casino, my mom wanted to play three-reel slots, my dad wanted to play blackjack, but they stayed to watch when I went with my cousins to try the video slots. The first game I tried was Jackpot Party for nickels. I didn’t win much for the first few minutes, but then I got the noisemakers and the bonus.

It was a lot of fun. I opened a lot of winning packages before I got a party pooper. I still remember the exact amount of my win. It was 465 nickels. I know that’s only $23.25, but it was more than the $20 I’d started with. I felt like I was rich!

A. The first time I played slots was in 1989 at Bally’s in Las Vegas, and to tell the truth, I don’t remember much about it. My wife and I played a little that first night on quarter three-reel slots, but I don’t remember winning much.

I have clearer memories of the next day when we went casino hopping. I’ve written about this before. Starting from Bally’s, we worked our way north on the Strip and back down for four or five hours, and between us, we were $60 ahead. That was mostly on Jacks or Better video poker.

My clearest slot memory was at the first post-Bally’s stop, across Flamingo Road at Bourbon Street. I was playing a nickel three-reel slot – the video slot revolution had not yet started – and I hit three triple bars for a 200-nickel payoff. Back then, you fed coins by hand into a slot for each play, and coins dropped into a tray after each win. Two hundred nickels made quite the din.

Q. The casino about 20 minutes from me has reopened at half-capacity, with a lot of machines and table seats shut down. I looked around and found they still had 9-6 Double Bonus Poker for quarters. I like that game, and I know it averages 98.98% payback with expert play, so 99%, really.

I also play blackjack. I know basic strategy but am a little fuzzy on some of the soft doubles. So let’s say that’s also a 99% game for me. How wide is the gap in losses per hour on 99%, 25-cent video poker vs 99%, $10 minimum blackjack?

A. Speed of blackjack depends on the number of players. With seats blocked off so there are only three players at a seven-player table, you can expect roughly 100 hands per hour.

At 100 hands per hour, $10 wagers would mean $1,000 at risk. A 1% house edge, or 99% return, would yield an average loss of $10 per hour.

A fast video poker player can play 800 hands per hour. At $1.25 per hand as a five-quarter max bet, that would lead to a risk of $1,000, and a 99% return would mean an average loss of $10.

So under the conditions you describe, it’s a wash.

However, with fewer players, the speed of blackjack increases, and so do average losses. With more players, hands per hour and average losses decrease.

Look for John Grochowski on Facebook ( and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).

Look for John Grochowski on Facebook ( and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).