Do you ever wonder about your chances of winning on the slot machines at Red Hawk, Thunder Valley, Cache Creek, Jackson or other area Indian casinos?
California’s more than 50 Indian casinos earn around $7 billion a year, according to industry economist Alan Meister. About 70 percent of that – $4.9 billion – comes from slot machines, invented in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1891.
California’s Indian casinos are run by sovereign Indian nations that set their payout at whatever they think the market will bear. Paul Cornish, director of casino operations for Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino. The site at Coarsegold, north of Fresno, boasts 1,750 slot machines. Cornish, a 25-year veteran of the gambling industry, started on the Las Vegas Strip and has worked at casinos in Detroit, Indiana and California.
Do you play slots yourself and if you do, which ones and how much?
I generally play video poker, and I am not a big player. I might occasionally try a specialty-themed machine such as “Wheel of Fortune,” “Star Wars,” “CSI.”
What’s your money-management advice for slot players?
I recommend setting a budget before you go to the casino and make sure the budget is followed.
When is it time to switch machines or casinos?
If the machine becomes boring or I begin to lose interest, I look for another machine to try. I consider going to a casino to be an entertainment experience. When I no longer enjoy or have fun at a casino, it is time to try another casino. Of course, if I leave a winner, the odds of my returning to that casino are much greater.
So how do you know when a machine is likely to be a winner?
It all comes down to finding and playing the machine at exactly the right time. Guests on a daily basis ask me, ‘Which machine is hot or a winner?’ My response is always, ‘All of them.’ The challenge is finding that winning machine.
Why play Indian casinos if you have no idea what the payout is?
There’s a perception out there that games could be cheated and the casino might be cheating guests and you can’t win here. But you can win. We can’t put a machine on the floor unless it’s laboratory-tested and approved. On Saturday nights, traditionally our busiest, we get several thousand customers, and we had a wheel of fortune hit here for $250,000 a few months ago.
So players are a factor on payouts?
The customer dictates how the machines pay. If the slots are too tight, people are not going to come here and play. We have to have a payout percentage comparable to other facilities. Normally, penny slot machines are tighter; higher denominations get looser. All of that is determined by the customer and how competitive the industry wants to be.
What does 90 percent payout mean?
For every dollar you put in, 90 cents come back to you and the casino keeps 10 cents. But where that machine is in its cycle or what it’s doing is completely random. If you have a machine that should be holding 10 cents of every dollar and over 30 days it’s holding 75 cents, you have to investigate the machine and look at it further. It may have had a big jackpot.
We look at these machines on a daily basis. After a jackpot, we look at the performance of that machine, but to change a machine because it hit a jackpot has never been an industry practice. Now if you have a machine and it solidly loses every six, seven, eight months, we’re going to have to look at that. But if a machine hits three or four jackpots a night, we don’t even evaluate the machine’s performance for 90 days. I’ve seen back-to-back royal flushes.
Sometimes, players say they believe a machine is due to hit. Is there any truth to that?
When a progressive machine’s guaranteed to hit at $50,000 and you’re up to $48,000, you may want to play that machine, but your odds of winning when you push that button are the same. Most casinos follow this philosophy: Penny slots are tighter, $1 and $4 slots are looser.
Do you tighten up the slots when profits are down?
If profits are down, casinos generally increase their marketing. We can only change 20 machines a week if we wanted to. Anytime the casino makes a change to the programming of the machines, those changes have to be proposed to the tribal gaming commission. Each tribe has its own tribal gaming control commission that decides whether we want to make the machines tighter and looser.
When I put my rewards card in, they know they know I’m here. Do casino operators control the payouts according to my level of play?
No, you can’t control payouts on the spot or loosen or tighten the machine based on who’s playing it. There’s not somebody in the back control room, watching and monitoring and pushing buttons.
Call The Bee’s Stephen Magagnini, (916) 321-1072.