Mission146
Posted by Mission146
Sep 23, 2022

Introduction

At one point in time, a reasonably meaningful percentage of my income game from Advantage Play activities in land casinos specifically, but I find that such is almost not the case at all these days. It’s not that the games have become harder to figure out, or anything like that, but it mostly has to do with a general increase in competition over plays; at least, when any plays can be found at all.

As they say, “When one door closes, another opens,” so with that PA Skill Games came to the area (and I was able to perform really well on those during Covid, though they have since slowed down a ton) as well as relatively newly legalized online casinos in my state and quite a few surrounding states.

There’s even some potential in other states for online casinos that do not exist in states where I have already played, or alternatively, for those few casinos that are multi-state and don’t care that you have already played with them in a different state vis-a-vis New Member Promotions, not that there are a great many such casinos.

I don’t know that I will ever get around to going to those as the EV is definitely there, but between travel time and travel expenses, I would basically have to have exactly nothing else going on in my life and would probably need to cut out two or three solid weeks.

As far as my land casino visitation goes—almost never. I might pop in an average of once per month, or something, just to see if anything has changed or there are any interesting new games to figure out.

So, what happened?

Is the money that I am finding online and with the PA Skill Games so good that it would automatically give me no present reason to do land casinos? Nope. Don’t get me wrong, the money is okay, (though not as much as previous AP activities, on balance) but I’d much rather have my casino situation…which I’m not sure is ever coming back…from a few years ago.

Of course, much of that has to do with:

MY PREVIOUS CASINO PLAY

Okay, other than occasionally running cards for much smaller figures than a lot of guys do, (which we will discuss later) my previous casino play was largely based on hitting and running. Basically, I wanted to go into the casinos near me once, or sometimes twice, per day, be there for an hour (absent something like a good must-hit play), hit the vulture machines, and bounce. The EV every time I walked into one casino was about $70, on average, and I’d there for an hour, so that was pretty good even with factoring in time spent in transit.

What has changed since then is the competition as a great many more people are aware of some of the low-risk plays, and even if I wanted to angle towards high-risk high-reward plays, the wrong people (for me) are aware of those. In fact, because some of the people are aware of those, you won’t find any of those types of plays.

You won’t find too many of the low-risk, low-reward plays either, sometimes.

Vulturing Ultimate X, for example, is probably the oldest cat to be released from its bag that you will still regularly find in most land casinos. As far as I can tell, this game remains one of the most-popular, perhaps THE most popular, video poker variants. Vulturing this game is also incredibly easy–if there are multipliers on the next hand, then play, if not, then do not play.

Unfortunately, this tactic is now being employed by a great many non-AP’s (as far as I can tell) whereby they will circle the casinos checking UX machines and smartly take the EV from whatever multipliers that they happen to find in their route, then not so smartly, just play UX straight up on the last machine that they check.

Naturally, people who quasi advantage play the machines that they will just go on to play at a negative expectation has always happened to some extent. Ocean Magic is just one of many examples where this has happened.

There was a lady at one of the casinos that I used to frequently hit, and if you saw her at an Ocean Magic machine, (and the one next to it did not have a player) then there was no point in checking the vacant machine because she already had. She couldn’t have told you a darn thing about any other machine in the place; in fact, she probably couldn’t have told you much about OM as she would play ALL regardless of where the bubbles were or how few there were until there were just no bubbles anymore, but she knew she wanted the, ‘Free,’ bubbles.

Anyway, the same now seems to be somewhat true for UX, but this happening on UX is a bigger problem and bigger loss of EV when people do it simply because there are generally more UX machines in the casinos I visit (actually, always more) and the UX machines tend to get a lot more action than OM. As a result, lots of additional value is being removed by someone doing this on UX than the lady who would always kill all value on the OM machines and didn’t know any other plays.

In the meantime, when it comes to people who don’t play negative EV, or, if they do, at least don’t play it on the very machines they are vulturing, there are more such people. In my 2021 travels, I’ve even run into a couple of crews who were scouting places for value, which there wouldn’t be enough value to be found at any of these casinos to justify an entire crew, though I assume they ran some cards at each one to check things out in that regard.

Even beyond crews and card runners, however, it is more often my experience to find campers that just hang out all day at casinos that really can’t generate enough +EV play for them to justify such camping, at least, it wouldn’t justify it for me.

Other people may have different observations on that, however. For example, one guy that I’ve frequently spoken to is retired and seems to just like hanging out at the casino. He doesn’t play anything most of the time, but I think he does dapple in sports betting. He mostly seems to just hang out and drink for free because of his card status, though, but he also seems to have an idea as to most of the machines (if not all) that can go positive and when they are in a positive state.

Anyway, it’s readily apparent that he enjoys being in casinos, whereas I do not. Even ignoring the drive, I can’t imagine ever visiting a casino unless I think my vulture visit is going to generate at least $40/hour in positive expected value plays. Based on some of my recent stops, that’s simply almost never the case anymore. Even when it is the case, it usually just happens by way of stumbling onto a single high-value play that was either recently left as a machine state or was somehow missed.

For example, one casino has high-limit UX on one of the bartop machines that, as far as I can tell, never gets checked. Unfortunately, it also would seem as though that machine also almost never gets played.

The reason that I think it never gets checked is because, when I do visit that casino, everything else related to UX has been totally cleaned out, (usually evident by five credits having been bet most recently at that game and bet amount with multipliers from the previous hand) except most of the people checking them there seem to ignore nickels, for some reason.

I have no idea why they would ignore nickels if they are on the machine anyway as the found value from those adds up and checking the denomination comes at an insignificant time cost, but, for one reason or another, they don’t seem to think it’s worth it.

Anyway, I will walk in and everything over nickels has been cleaned out, but then I will sometimes find multiple $2 denomination plays on this other machine. These left multipliers were not recent, however, which I assume simply due to the time of day that I wander into this casino, if I bother to stop at all. This is one that I would have to be going directly past to be 50/50 to even bother…actually, that pretty much describes all of them, these days.

With that, I would have to be willing to camp out in order to even get the total value that I used to get just by popping in, doing a sweep of the variable-state machines, and bouncing out of the place. Needless to say, but the hourly value on that would be absolute trash, and I have less than zero desire to regularly spend a lot of time in physical casinos anyway. I really don’t care for the atmosphere anymore, so I think I’m nearly totally burned out on ever doing it even a little bit recreationally. If I’m in there, I just want to grab whatever EV there is to grab and get the hell out of dodge.

However, it seems that there are a growing number of semi-recreational players and AP’s who are willing to camp out at these same casinos, regardless of whether or not the hourly value sucks, which it certainly does.

Granted, it’s still possible to stumble on the occasional high-EV play that is relatively easy to take down if you spend enough time there and happen to be there when another player either taps out, or alternatively, inexplicably decides that the particular moment is a good time to quit playing. However, that’s obviously not going to be the expectation for perhaps an entire day (especially if you have competition there) much less a short visit.

Besides that, the one thing that I liked when I used to do this regularly is that I didn’t have much competition at all, so most of what I did was a bunch of plays for small(ish) EV that I could just let add up. The variance even kind of comes out in the wash if you are getting enough plays, especially when they are relatively low-risk to begin with.

Of course, most of the competition that people will see for these plays doesn’t come from people who are just looking to beat the machines one on one, but rather, comes from people who are card running on them.

CARD RUNNING

Card running is the term I use to describe it when a person’s angle is to get, ‘Clean,’ players club cards, which typically means that someone has not been to that casino chain at all, but more often just means that they have not been to that specific casino, especially true outside of Nevada.

Here is a very long thread that gets into some of that discussion.

The idea is that the total Expected Value of the Free Play that a new player will be offered as a result of coming into the casino and putting in a particular amount of coin-in on that player’s first day will significantly exceed the expected loss of the coin-in that they are putting in.

For example, if a player played a slot machine with a 10% House Edge (expected) and ran $20,000 coin-in, then they would be expected to lose $2,000. If the Free Play offers that would generate would slightly exceed $2,000, (due to the free play also being done at a House Edge) then you would have a breakeven proposition.

Of course, there are casinos where this Free Play generated will exceed the expected loss of the initial action by orders of magnitude greater than this expected loss.

I used to do this at a few casinos near me years ago, but I don’t do multi-carding any longer. I believe that at least two casinos near me would allow me to do so with a profitable expectation, but again, I have no desire to spend any great amount of time in casinos or to have a daily commitment to going and picking up the free play all the time. The play on the initial day would also take me a while to accomplish as my tendency is to always bet as low as I can stand so there won’t be a ton of variance vis-a-vis actual results of the coin-in.

Beyond that, I only ever really got into it at all for two reasons:

1.) I didn’t mind spending more time in casinos back then than I currently do. I mean no offense to the folks who do a great job pumping out the +EV and spend a ton of time in casinos and in orchestrating people for the cards, as well as other plays and promotion-based things, but I simply have things that I perceive as better to do with my time.

For example, I can sit around and research about a non-gambling topic that I happen to find interesting. There’s really no pure fun in casinos for me anymore, though I will say that I sometimes enjoy putting through coin-in online. That aside, however, I just look at writing about gambling and being in casinos at all as work.

Most people who work, to one extent or another, do so because they have to. For the most part, between writing and the other forms of AP I am currently engaged in, I can make enough money for my satisfaction (my demands aren’t particularly high) that I don’t really feel the need to bother with land casinos right now; especially not if I am going to have to spend a lot of time there.

2.) I was usually in these casinos regularly as a result of vulturing the +EV plays and looking around to try to analyze other machines to see when they were +EV and get plays on those. It seemed, as long as I was going to be doing those things, then I might as well work in some players card stuff to get added EV from that.

However, for the most part, it was beating the machines straight up (which, you’re really not, ‘Beating,’ anything, just taking advantage of the variable states) that I enjoyed and figuring out how to go about doing that. I didn’t really enjoy generating the free play and picking it up very much at all as most of that involved the same Video Poker paytables all the time that I could probably play in my sleep, or could, at that time.

With that, most of the fun is out of it when there aren’t so many straight up machine plays to do as I find the card running aspect of it patently boring. I also greatly prefer to work alone on these things, so I don’t even have the benefit of company to make being there slightly less boring.

As mentioned, I don’t find too many plays even when I do stop in, so more than anything, I’m mainly there to see if there are any interesting new machines (my market gets them later than many other markets) to try to figure out both from observation of other players and seeing if I can find some basics about them online.

Anyway, where the card runners come in is that many of them generate a huge majority of their EV by running players club cards and then they are also frequently in there to pick up the free play. That’s not much of a problem by itself, except they also tend to look for must-hits and certain other machines to run the aforementioned initial coin-in on, ‘Clean,’ cards.

One example of such a machine that card runners sometimes like is Hexbreaker 3, where must-hit games are another example.

If you follow that link and then follow the link from there to the WoO page, then you will find some observations that the Wizard has made about the game, which include:

The advice given is for the average casino, which I assume to have an RTP (Return to Player) of 90%, including the value of points. In borderline line cases, the player should be more inclined to player at generous casinos and less at stingy ones.

That said, my preliminary advice on Hexbreak3r is to play if any of the following conditions are met:

The number of combinations is at least 3,500.

The height of reel 3 is at least six. Five is borderline.

Any reel is under a Bonus in the Luck Zone has a height of eight.

If reel 2 or 4 has a height of 8 and is under a win the Luck Zone of at least 20x the bet.

Please note that the reels advance at different rates. Reel 3 advances very slowly, about 1 position every 1,900 spins. Reels 2 and 4 advance the fastest. In general, the faster the reel advances, the lower the prize in the Luck Zone.

I tend to agree with the following observations, though I would include that playing a Reel 3 play also comes with significant variance. Also, the progressive amount relative to the bet amount would be a relevant factor in deciding when to play, or not to play.

To wit, I have seen five plays starting from position six on the third reel and only one of them was even profitable by the time the progressive was hit. Naturally, that’s a small sample size, but those are the ones that I have seen.

The majority of AP on this game is guesswork, though I will say that a lot of variable machine state play consists largely of guesswork. I tend to start out more conservative on variable state games and then broaden my range if my results have been excellent within my initial parameters. For example, when Ocean Magic was discussed on the forums, I gave my observations on when I found it to be playable and pretty much nailed it before the final analysis was done that agreed, almost entirely, with my conclusions. As I recall, the final analysis was slightly more aggressive than I liked to be.

It’s very difficult to take spin data on games that have a Free Games feature simply because you can’t get a meaningful enough sample size to draw conclusions, so you almost always end up making vague assumptions. That’s why, for these types of games, there is a certain degree of trial-and-error involved, but I’d rather know that I am starting off with conditions that should be profitable, then if highly profitable, expand my range of what I will play from there rather than start off too aggressive and lose money while figuring out what I need to tighten my range to.

Anyway, the problem with games like Hexbreaker 3, Must-Hits and certain other games is that card runners want to generate a high amount of coin-in, which is how the offers come to be and these games do that.

As a result, they are not looking for, ‘Good,’ plays when they are deciding on what will generate sufficient coin-in for them; they are looking for, ‘Good enough,’ plays.

When it comes to many casinos, free play offers tend to be differentiated based on whether a person is playing slots, or something with a much lower House Edge, like Video Poker or Video Blackjack. Hell, I forget the name of it now, but someone was even marketing something that would differentiate good Video Poker players from poor ones and adjust their offers accordingly! I have some creative things that I would like to call him if I ever see him, but I won’t do it here.

Essentially, people who are going to use the slots for card running only need these variable state machines to be somewhat better, in terms of perceived expected return percentage, than the other machines on the floor. With that, they might hop on if they perceive the current machine state to be at 95%, or so, and what I find is that many AP’s, when asked about the EV of a current state, tend to be overly optimistic as it is.

What ends up happening is that you simply aren’t going to find any great high-risk high-reward plays because the card runners have scouts and they end up being all over the machines sometimes even before they are ever in sniffing distance of being good on their own. Naturally, that makes it much more difficult for people who, while probably playing on their own cards, are just looking to beat the machines straight up and without the need for new player offers.

The other problem with games like Hex 3, and why I suspect that the units are mostly empty while other machines are occupied is that players playing it in a -EV state, or something close to a base state (read: worst state possible) are absolutely getting hammered. In my last ten, or so, casino visits to casinos that have Hex 3, I have found exactly zero people playing and a Reel 2 + Reel 4 (one away and two away) which I would always take regardless of the prize level.

Anyway, people playing these machines in a terrible state have the following combination of problems:

1.) Low Top Hit Frequency:

-Because they are starting with the reels so low, it’s going to be awhile before they hit anything on top. Even when they do, it’s probably going to be Reel 2’s and Reel 4’s, which won’t impact their results too much when compared to a significant amount of play when the game is in a terrible state.

2.) Low Number of Ways:

-If you don’t have the ways, then you’ll get killed on the base pays if you’re crazy enough to choose that machine for your play. The base pays are really just not going to keep a player going very long, relative to whatever they put in, if they are low all the time. It’s for that reason that, when it comes to isolated Reel 2 or Reel 4 only plays, I always want to look at not only the amount that the thing is going to pay when it hits, but also at the number of ways I have.

Furthermore, I’ll even take double two-aways on Reel 2 and Reel 4 as long as the jackpot amounts are decent and the number of ways overall is significant enough.

3.) Reduced Probability of Free Games:

-As with most machines, a substantial percentage of the return of Hex 3 comes from Free Games, which probability is itself associated with the number of ways a player has. With that, if Reels 2-4 are all low, then the player is significantly less likely to hit Free Games and will take an absolute bath over most meaningful amounts of play.

That’s especially true if Reel 3 is at base as Reel 3 is a necessary requirement for Free Games and also is the slowest moving. I don’t have what I would need to quantify this in any way, but make no mistake, people playing a low Reel 3 are absolutely not seeing many bonus games compared to other people.

Breakdown:

Of course, the problem with Hex 3 and a few other games where all the value is in a somewhat longer (overall) variable state in term of spins is that recreational players get absolutely manslaughtered if they sit down to play for any appreciable length of time and then many of them decide never to play the game again.

What makes the concept of most penny slots successful is that players tend to enjoy a steady stream of small and intermediate pays, but the intermediate pays usually need to come with enough frequency that players believe that they can do well just by running enough of them within a somewhat short number of spins. Obviously, most of these players have no idea what the probabilities of certain results are, and some probably couldn’t accurately define, ‘Probability,’ but that is the usual thinking that will lead players to playing a particular game several times.

For example, let’s take a really simple variable-state game such as Scarab:

Okay, for this game, you collect symbols that will surround a particular reel position in gold, then on the tenth spin, all reel positions surrounded in gold will turn wild at the end of that spin. It goes, “Wilds,” and then turns all of those into wild positions.

With that, the worst possible game state is always to be on the first spin of this ten spin cycle, because you cannot possibly have any reel positions that will turn Wild on the tenth spin already in place and have no way of knowing, if any, how many you are going to get.

However, even with that being the case, the maximum variable state cycle can only be ten spins. On a game like Golden Egypt, while coins generate quickly, and maximum cycle to start with zero coins and end up back at zero coins again would only exist theoretically, but would still be several spins.

The point is, if a player plays 100 consecutive spins on Scarab, then in a worst case scenario, they have still seen the, ‘Wilds,’ feature happen at least nine times. In other words, there’s really no reason, short of just variance, that they should run abysmally on this game. With Hex 3, on the other hand, players playing in an awful game state will generally run abysmally for several spins by design.

Other games such as Ocean Magic and Golden Egypt are more similar to Scarab; with the former, you can have bubbles come up at any given time, and with the latter, you can collect enough coins to turn two reels (or more) wild in just a few spins. Of course, people playing from poor game states aren’t going to have the returns that people who start with positive game states do, but they don’t have it so badly that the vast majority of them just get crushed without ever feeling like they had a prayer of winning anything.

Another comparison one could make is to Video Poker, except we are going to change the rules a little bit. Imagine if you sat down to play a Video Poker game, except the rules were that you couldn’t be awarded a straight, or better, until you had played 300 hands. Also, you aren’t aware of this rule going in.

On Jacks or Better, I believe that would make your expectation just under 70% for those 300 hands, although, I suspect many base game Hex states are far worse given the greater difficulty in climbing up to any of the reward amounts and decreased probability of hitting Free Games. Quite frankly, it wouldn’t shock me for the worst possible game state (if it could be played in perpetuity) to have an expected value to the player of some 30% of all monies bet.

Players simply have grown to expect a steady slide downward with enough positivity to give them hope that they can do well overall, over a limited enough time, on a machine…and Hex in its worst state generally does not offer that.

Imagine this: You have 324 Ways and you cover all available reel positions with the cats, which is the best paying symbol on Base Pays, you win $.15 per way on an $0.80 bet, which represents a win of $48.60. You just got the best thing that could possibly happen short of lucking your way into free games out of that terrible situation, and even that happening is extremely unlikely.

It’s generally a bad day if you play a variable state machine in its worst possible state, but Hex might take the title for the longest bad day a casual player could have playing this way. I guess Aladdin starting with zero lamps (which would be incredibly rare) could also be really bad, but it would probably still be leaps and bounds above playing Hexs in a terrible state.

Anyway, that’s my theory as to why people who start in poor machine states on those sorts of games have it much worse and the amount of play those machines get tends to have dropped off faster when compared to other variable-state games.

With that, if you have card runners who are taking them as low as a 95% return given the variable state, and keep in mind, the current state will continue to improve as they play, then leaving the device in an even worse state than that…people are simply going to get killed. As AP’s, the card runners are also well-aware of the fact that the probability that they will do well until they hit whatever it is they are targeting (usually a middle play) is not particularly high. They’ll be thrilled just to knock out the middle and not take a huge loss in the process.

Again, they don’t need to actually beat the machine, they just need to be getting in better than they would on any of the other machines on the floor.

At the same time, card runners will often work in pairs, or teams, so while any plays like this are going on, one of the guys will often be checking the rest of the machines on the floor that are shorter cycle variable state machines to grab the value from those as long as they are going to be there anyway.

BUT, MOSTLY…

I mostly don’t see guys who I think are doing that as there aren’t going to be many great card running plays available in my area and it cannot be done for the kinds of massive profits you see from it in other markets. When it comes to big plays, I often see people who come in and take must-hits, and the like, entirely too early. At a small locals casino, there’s even a lawyer (nice guy) who has someone who is there all the time anyway act as his spotter for must-hit plays, which he also takes entirely too low, unless he’s running cards as well-which he quite possibly is.

Depending on the casinos near you, it will be highly difficult if not near impossible to find the high-risk and high reward longer plays due to competition from other machine advantage players and card runners. As I understand it, there are many poker players and former poker players who used to turn their noses up at guys like us who are now doing the same thing.

You might say that it makes them hypocritical, but I don’t care, because it makes me right.

Personally, I think the best casino even theoretically possible, at least in terms of SINGLE casino, for someone who just wants to try to beat the machines straight up would be one with ten or more quick turnaround variable-state games, no competition, and crappy free play. If the free play is known to suck, then that might enable the person to get on one of the longer high-reward plays when it’s actually positive. Beyond that, I’ll take a casino that I can just pop in and out of, grabbing what’s there, and go on with the rest of my day any day of the week.

The problem that is more specific to me is that there is an increased amount of competition in casinos that I don’t think have adequate value to justify camping out all day, especially since I can’t think of a way that I’d less rather spend most of my days than being in a casino. Although, if I ever happened to live near one with at least a mediocre spread of variable-state machines and zero competition again, then that might change my tune a little bit. I’m honestly not sure. I think the novelty of the land casino experience has almost entirely worn off after all these years. Some guys seem to genuinely enjoy being there all the time, so I say good for them. Far be it from me to ever fault someone making money doing something they enjoy.

I guess another problem is that I am very conservative as I place a high priority on only taking down strong winning plays. For example, on this game, I’m not interested in blue unless it is in the double digits. Fortunately, I do sometimes find that, as it can get there somewhat quickly. This is yet another example of a machine where people looking to generate coin-in will take sub-100% in perceived expectation, simply because it can be that, but still at a better perceived EV than most of the stuff on the floor.

CONCLUSION

That covers it for where I am at on things for the time being. It’s mostly writing, then online stuff and to a decreasing extent, the PA Skill Games. It seems that most players aren’t leaving things behind anymore, either that, or the employees/owners of places are kind of getting high on their own supply and checking the machines themselves when people leave.

Of course, the fact that I told them all about it probably doesn’t help matters. Both here and in some of the Facebook groups.

It really doesn’t bother me all that much. If the advantage play ever dries up with the stuff that I am currently doing and I feel the need to make money that way, then I am pretty confident that I can find something else. Alternatively, I could also have people who are new online signups at the various websites do stuff and I give them a cut of the profits. I doubt that I will get into all of that, though, as it seems like far too much of a headache for what I’d be getting out of it. Besides that, I think doing something along those lines would be shakier legal ground than something like multi-carding.

I suppose I could also get into that again, but would probably only do that if I felt like I absolutely had to, which is unlikely, because at this stage of my life, I would just as soon get a part-time job to supplement my writing income. If anything happened to the writing, then I would probably just get a full-time job somewhere and abandon advantage play altogether because I don’t feel like there’s a ton left for me to learn on the machine side, other than figuring out new machines as they come out, but that alone wouldn’t be enough to keep my interests if there were no income in writing about it.

Do you try to beat the machines straight up? If you do, is it more or less full time? Let me know in the comments!

Comments

TheCapitalShip
TheCapitalShip Sep 23, 2022

Good article, and I enjoyed the read.

As for the question at the end, for the most part when I DO play slots I rarely ever play them straight up, I just do not enjoy the no-skill aspect of slots and there's really only a couple I would play if I absolutely could not play video poker at all. Beating a slot straight up honestly is more enjoyable for me overall though, the rare opportunity I get to. Though I admit the plays I get to do...are not the best I think, my intuition makes me feel like it's +EV, but perhaps there's a reason some of the vultures don't check the machines I do. Who knows.

Mission146
Mission146 Sep 24, 2022

Thank you very much; I'm glad you liked it!

It's really hard to say on the competition; it might not actually be a play or you might just be more aggressive than they are. I would say that if you and I were working the same casino that there is a better than fair chance you'd be the more aggressive of us two.

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