It cost plenty for a shot at slot immortality

Dear Mark,
Which machines have a more reasonable chance of winning? A Megabucks progressive, or the typical slot machine? Caroline R.

If you are looking for the life-altering big score, Megabucks will give you a miniscule chance at champagne wishes and caviar dreams. Megabucks'progressive bonus allows you to fantasize about beating the odds of 30,000,000 to one. By the way, Caroline, your state lottery is a much better wager.

Personally, I prefer "straight multiplier" or "equal distribution" machines. Examples of them would be IGT's Red, White and Blue slot machine or their Double Diamond product.

Typically a Megabucks machine keeps at least 10 percent of every dollar played, whereas a Red, White and Blue dollar slot machine can keep less than three percent in certain gaming jurisdictions. Where Megabucks shakes you down on the smaller payoffs, playing a straight multiplier keeps you in play longer by doling out low-end jackpots.

Dear Mark,
My brother diligently reads your column weekly. The problem is, when he enters a casino, he reverts back to his old habits and makes wacky bets at craps, misplays far too many blackjack hands, and even plays the Big 6. I guess the saying is true: "You canšt turn a mule into a race horse." Jim M.

There is a real problem with getting the darn horses (gamblers like your bro) to drink; you can lead 'em to water, but you can't make them sip from the trough.

What I hope my column does for them is to stir up a little thirst for some casino smarts. At least hešs reading; tutelage has begun.

Dear Mark,
At our weekly poker get-together, our host pulled out a deck of cards from the Rio in Las Vegas. They were the most intriguing cards I have ever seen. Are these cards easy to get? Bert D.

There is no better bargain in a casino gift shop than a deck of cards used on a live table game. Expect to pay about 50ĸ a deck. Yet, no local from Nevada that I know of has ever paid for a deck of cards. This souvenir can easily be conned from most pit bosses by politely asking for them. Of course, you may have to go through the likes of yours truly, who has literally given away thousands of decks over the years just by answering one of my nugatory trivia questions. For example, name me the four founding musicians of Creedence Clearwater Revival. Which state has the most shoreline? If you didn't know the answer to those, fear not, Bert. As long as you knew your middle name, I still would give you a free memento to solemnize your gambling losses.

Dear Mark,
Even at the lower payoffs, how often do slot machines actually hit? Debra A.

The "hit" in your question is called "hit frequency" in the gaming industry. Hit frequency is how often a player can expect to receive some kind of payout from the machine. Most slot machines have hit frequencies of around 15 percent. Roughly, one in seven yanks on the handle will result in the player's getting his/her money back. Note, Debra, the big difference between getting your money back and actually winning. The happy sounds of winning - coins falling in drop bowl - could also mean losing. You could have a machine with 100 percent hit frequency but still lose money if it is programmed to return one or two coins on a three-coin bet.

Gambling thought of the week: Fortune knocks at every man's door once in a lifetime, but in a good many cases the man is in a neighboring saloon and does not hear her. - Mark Twain