Reason #1 I like Bovada:
Play for free
with no hassles
Most online casinos
annoy the hell out of me. They insult
you with popup windows and spam, and do everything
they can to separate you from your money. Even if
you want to just play with fake money for free,
they make you register for an account so they can
pester you by email trying to get you to deposit
On the whole Internet, I found exactly one
online casino that's different: Bovada.
You can play their games for free, with absolutely
no hassles. And that's the main reason why I promote them
Here's what I mean by no hassles:
- Completely free. It's not one
of those "Buy 1 get 1 free" kind of deals, it's
absolutely free. You can click over and
start playing with fake money right away, with
no cash out of pocket. Here, go ahead and
- No registration required. Most
casinos let you play for free, but there's a
catch: They make you register an account first.
That's not just a hassle: after you do it you
can expect them to badger you by email trying to
get you to deposit real money. But Bovada lets
you play right away with no registration
required. One click and you're in. Honest. Here,
- Plays right in your browser. If you'd
rather not download the casino software to your
hard disk, you don't have to. The games play
right in your web browser. Nice.
- Works on Macs. The play-in-browser
games are MacOS compatible! Before Bovada, Mac
users were pretty much out of luck for gambling
online. Not any more.
- No popups. I'll never understand why
companies think it's a good idea to annoy their
visitors, but that's standard practice at most
online casinos. Bovada is one of the rare
exceptions -- no popups, no popouts, no browser
hijacking, just the website with no B.S.
All in all, I think Bovada is the best bet for U.S. players.
Call the 800-522-4700 hotline, and read this.
Also, know that Parkinson's drugs encourage gambling.
by Michael Bluejay, Feb. 2002
to thank you for writing the Flip-it analysis. (I teach game design at
MIT and handed it out in class.)" -- Jon
- You've probably seen Flip-It: You insert quarters or dollar
tokens into the machine, mechanical spinners flip the coin up onto a
shelf, and mechanical pusher arms push the stack of coins towards the
edge. You win coins that spill over the edge.
- Often in Flip-It the coins don't flip, but instead fall
through the spinners and straight into the payout tray. I see people
playing the game for the first time who are confused and think they're
doing something wrong, especially when the coins fall through
repeatedly. If your coin doesn't flip, just keep trying.
When I first wrote this article in February 2002 you could
find Flip-It in Vegas at the Four Queens and Golden Gate (downtown),
the Stratosphere (on the Strip), and Vacation Village (R.I.P.) As I
update this article in Feb. 2005, the only place I've seen it recently
is Terrible's. (Don't sign up for a player's card there because they
spam you like crazy and don't honor unsubscribe requests.)
- The casino makes its money on the coins that spill over on
the extreme left or right edges, which get sucked into the machine
instead of being returned to the player. This fact is not so obvious,
because the chutes that take coins which spill over the edges are
hidden behind signs that say "Spill Pay Area". These signs have arrows
pointing to the middle of bottom shelf, indicating that you receive
only coins that spill over the middle, not on the sides.
- Your coin goes into one of four slots arranged left to
right on the front of the machine. Typically there's a left-hand slot,
two middle slots, and a right-hand slot. Coins tend to land in front of
the slot they're inserted into, so you'll want to play the middle
slots. This is Basic Strategy for Flip It. Playing the slots on the
sides will mean that more of your coins will land on the sides, and you
won't get those coins back when they spill over.
- Contrary to popular belief, the coins don't keep stacking
ever higher and higher. Each machine seeks its own equilibrium for the
depth of its stack, and will always return to that depth over the long
run. That might be 2 coins deep on one machine and 5 coins deep on
another; each machine has its own unique personality, because, after
all, these machines are mechanical, not electronic.
- Also contrary to popular belief, the casino doesn't come in
and scoop out coins once they stack up very high. That's because the
coins don't keep stacking infinitely, and because the casino
makes all the money it needs to on the coins that spill on the sides
which aren't returned to the player. These facts are obvious enough
with careful observation of a machine, but just to be certain, I
confirmed this with an employee at the Four Queens casino in downtown
- Machines that gravitate towards shallow stacks have low
volatility. You will hit frequently, but get just a few coins when you
do. Machines that stack high will have greater volatility: You won't
get payouts as frequently, but when you do, they'll be larger. The long
run expected return is the same. The machine with the least volatility
that I found was the dollar machine at Four Queens, which preferred to
be about only two coins deep. The four-deep dollar machine at
Stratosphere was much more volatile.
- Quarter machines have more volatility than dollar machines
because the coins are smaller and tend to stack up higher. Quarters
played in the middle slots also tend to flip to the sides much more
frequently than dollars do, because they're lighter. Since you
ultimately lose coins on the sides, you'll lose almost as much money
playing quarter machines as you would dollar machines. The one
redeeming value of quarters is that they're more likely to flip into a
basket (discussed below), although the baskets themselves are nearly
- There are small baskets at the very top of the game, and if
your coin flips all the way up there and into a basket, you win the
number of coins listed on the basket (usually 10, 20, 50, or 100
coins). On some of the dollar machines, the 50-point baskets move
continuously back and forth, left to right, for added excitement. If
you hit one of these baskets, there's a bonus round where slot machine
reels on the very top of the game spin, and various combinations pay
various numbers of coins, with the top jackpot being $2500 or $9999.
This jackpot is often listed in an LED marquee to make it look like
it's a progressive jackpot, but it's really just a fixed jackpot being
advertised with a marquee.
- The baskets are nearly worthless. In thousands of Flip-It
hands, I hit a basket maybe three times, each time the lowest-payout
basket. As further proof, in the six weeks I was in Vegas, nobody hit a
50-point basket at the Four Queens dollar machine to get a reel spin. I
know this because for the entire six weeks, the reels were stuck on the
exact same combination. (And that was a losing combination to boot,
that paid out zero coins for its bonus round.) The machines entice you
to play the sides by putting the higher-point baskets on the sides.
Don't fall for it. You won't hit the baskets, and your coins going to
the sides of the machine won't get returned to you when they spill.
Note that although I believe baskets to be nearly worthless, you're
more likely to hit them on quarter machines than on dollar machines,
because the quarters are lighter and flip up higher.
- I estimated the house edge on the dollar machine at the
Four Queens to be about 11.1%. This was based on 405 coins in, 360
coins out, taking about an hour of play, and using Basic Strategy. On
any other casino game, 405 rounds would be pitifully small and not at
all statistically significant, but Flip It is different. A few hundred
rounds of Flip It easily cycles most of the coins in the machine, and
it's very clear from playing even 15 minutes that it's an even-sum
game, with your eventually getting back all the coins you put into it,
except for the ones that spill on the sides.
- Because these are mechanical machines, different machines
will have different house edges. Machines that flip to the middle
consistently will have a lower edge, and machines that send more coins
to the sides will have much higher house edge. Also, different machines
will have different levels of volatility. One machine may tend to stack
four levels deep (high volatility), while another tends to stack only
two levels deep (low volatility).
- I started to do a trial to determine the house edge on a
quarter machine, but I was losing so quickly I got frustrated and gave
up. I found that quarters tended to flip to the sides more often than
dollars because they're lighter and their trajectory is all over the
map. I made a rough estimate that you could easily lose almost as much
on quarters as on dollars, just because of all the extra quarters that
go to the sides.
- Blackjack players can move beyond their basic strategy and
count cards, giving them an advantage over the house. Flip It players
can likewise move beyond their basic strategy and count coins, so the
odds are in their favor. The concept is simple: Play only when the
machine is primed, so that coins are more likely to spill than stack. I
tested this theory by playing a trial of 558 coins over several days,
playing only when I thought the machine was primed, and I wound up
ahead 9 coins. This is a 1.6% advantage, which is more than you can get
from counting cards at blackjack. (Blackjack is still more profitable,
obviously, because you can bet more than a dollar at a time, and
because profitable decks occur more frequently than profitable Flip-It
shelves.) At one point in a separate trial, my advantage was 83% after
playing only 24 coins.
- Had I played more conservatively (playing only when the
machine looked extra good), I'm confident that I could have
achieved greater than a 101.6% return. But the return is not the
ultimate indicator of how much money you make. What you ultimately walk
away with is a function of your advantage multiplied by your action
(how much money you put into the machine). Playing 500 coins
conservatively with a 4% advantage yields the same profit as playing
1000 coins more aggressively with only a 2% advantage ($20, either way).
- To count a machine accurately, you must first know how many
coins deep that machine gravitates towards, which I'll refer to as the
machine's "level". You could find this out by playing the machine for
15-30 minutes, or you could back-count the machine by simply watching
someone else play. Once you know the machine's level, you can use a
simple +/- count. Count only coins in the middle, not on the sides:
Every space and level where the stack is less than
the level. For example, if this is a 3-deep machine, and there's a spot
that's only 2 levels deep, there's one coin missing, so that's
&endash;1. If there's a spot that's only one level deep, then
that's &endash;2. Count every deficient spot this way.
Every half-coin space and level where there's about
a half-coin hole. The coins are not pressed together snugly, and you
can see straight through to the shelf. When this happens and gap is
about the size of half a coin in square inches, count &endash;1 for
each level. Let's say you have a 3-level machine with four half-coin
gaps. You have 4 x &endash;3 = -12.
Every space and level where the stack is greater
than the level. For example, if this is a three-deep machine, then
count every coin on the 4th level as +1.
Every coin that is teetering over the ledge by at
least 1/3 coin.
- Add these all up and you have a rough idea of your
advantage, or lack thereof. When you have a positive count, play the
machine. If the machine is negative, don't play. If the machine is
positive, and you play, and you win, count the machine again. If it's
still positive, you can continue playing. Unlike blackjack, the pit
bosses don't care if you back-count and Wong in when the count gets
high, but you can't Wong in whenever you like, since only one person
can play the machine at a time. You'll just have to hope that the
person playing the machine before you leaves when you want them to.
- I had an interesting experience at the Four Queens. I had
been playing the machine for a while, and had relinquished it to a
young woman who was watching me and was eager to play. I waited her to
finish, and then she turned the machine over to me (in about the same
condition as I'd left it), though she continued to watch me although
she was ostensibly done playing. Soon I had a major hit for a bunch of
coins, which instantly made the machine seriously negative. But as she
jealously watched me get that big hit, she asked anxiously, "Can I play
now?" I was only too happy to turn the negative machine back over to
her at her request, so she could prime it for me again.
- The summary, though, is that although you can play Flip-It
at an advantage, you can't make a living at it, unless you can live on
a few dollars a day.
- In the Dec. 2001 issue of Casino Player, the
executive editor ran an article about how she lost $240 playing quarter
Flip-It. It was hard for me to believe that someone could be so bad at
Flip-It as to lose $240 playing for quarters. That's a loss of 960
coins! You'd have to play at least two hours straight and lose
every coin to lose that much money! Further, I had always suspected
that with proper play, Flip-It could actually be played at an advantage
-- in other words, profitably. I was further challenged by the editor's
assertion that "You simply can't win on this machine." That's why I set
out to prove that I could win at Flip It. And I did.
- Unfortunately, Flip It doesn't accept slot club cards. It
should, considering that the house edge (~10%) is way higher than the
edge on a typical slot machine.
- Most machines have a sticker that says "Game is over 35
seconds after last coin is played. Coins spilled after this time will
not be returned to the player." So if a batch of coins is teetering on
the brink and about to spill, and you're waiting and watching while it
takes a while for them to actually drop, you might not get them. But
don't worry, 35 seconds is longer than it seems. I timed it and found
that it took 20 strokes of a pusher arm to equal 35 seconds, so while
waiting for coins to fall, I simply made certain that I didn't go
longer than 15 strokes before I played my next coin.
- I now know more about Flip-It than any man ever should. I'm
not sure which was the bigger waste of my limited time on this planet:
Trying to beat an insignificant casino game for an insignificant amount
of money, or writing a lengthy article about it. Either way, this
probably explains why I don't get many dates.
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