Question: Recently at a Detroit casino, I sat down at a penny machine, put my $5 in and a gentleman four seats down said to me, "that is my wife's machine." I said you can't hold machines when she's not here. He kept going on. A minute later, his wife came back and said that it was her machine. I repeated, "You can't hold machines." I said, “Call a manager or security over then.” A slot floor employee came over and said that the lady had been playing the machine. I told her, “You can't hold machines” and to get a manager. Instead of going on and on, I pulled my $5 out and said you can have the machine instead of carrying on a scene. Was I correct in my response (for future reference)?

A: Many slot players protect their machines as a mother bear would her cubs. They tend to be territorial, as well as with very superstitious. Together, these two characteristics coalesce for some very combustible conditions when another player encroaches on “their” slot machine. Fortunately, most casinos have some form of policy that regulates saving (capping) a machine.

Yes, I can see a player who wants to take a short bathroom break and doesn't want anybody else to touch the machine while they're gone. It happens all the time. The operative word here is “short.”

A lot of confrontational conduct occurs between players due to misinformation about how a slot machine operates. The ill-informed believe his or her machine is ‘due,’ and you, Cheryl, are in the crossfire because certain players, besides being superstitious, are unwilling to share ‘their’ machine with anybody else.

The fact is; all modern slot machines come equipped with a random number generator, with symbol combinations constantly changing every millisecond from the time you insert the coin until you hit the spin button. The machine is not, “due,” “hot,” or anything else along those lines.

Some telltale "no trespassing" indicators are someone leaving their player's club card inserted (not recommended), abandoning credits on the machine to hit the head (highly not recommended), place a coin bucket over the handle – if there is such a thing as handles anymore, leave an ashtray on the seat, or lean a Naugahyde stool against the machine. Although these unwritten rules are intended to indicate that someone is operating that particular machine, they don’t necessarily pass muster at some joints, nor stop a ruckus from ensuing.

Most casinos do have some form of capping policy. Some will place a floor attendant next to the machine until the player returns. Others, allow you to ask a slot supervisor to reserve your machine. Here they will 'cap' a game for 20-30 minutes by actually shutting the machine down. For their high-end player’s club members, they will shut the game down even longer.

Casinos tend to be more accommodating for high-level slot players. By restricting access to selected slots for a lengthy period, the casino is counting on a big-spender gambling more money than all the other potential slot players would within the same timeline. If this is the case, you are caught up in another form of slot mathematics. Your potential bankroll doesn’t match theirs.

Self-saving a machine for a five-minute break to answer the call of nature is a reasonable action that courteous slot players should honor. It is those longer periods, like someone spending two hours at the seafood buffet, that you have a legitimate beef against; and you might want to summon a slot supervisor if you really, really want that machine. Besides, in your Detroit casino market, there are 225,000 square feet of casino floor space with countless slot machines on standby equipped to let you insert multiple $5 bills.

In the future, if slot management decides to side with Mama Bear, at least you know what their policy is.

Mark Pilarski is a nationally syndicated gaming writer. Visit him online at or follow him on Twitter @MarkPilarski.

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