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Best of John Robison

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A denomination dilemma

3 September 2007

Hello,

I have a very simple question that you probably have answered in the past.

If I am playing $1 per pull on a slot machine, what denomination of coin is it better to play - pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, etc?

Thanks.

That's a simple question that doesn't have a simple answer. Before we look at the pros and cons of each of your choices in this denomination dilemma, let's make sure we understand two important slot-playing statistics.

The first statistic is long-term payback. This statistic tells what percentage of the money played through a machine will be returned to its players. That's the "payback" part of the name. The word "long-term" is part of the name because anything can happen in the short run, but as a machine gets more and more play, the amount of money players have won from it will get closer and closer to the machine's long-term payback. The higher a machine's long-term payback, the better it is for the players — in the long run.

Long-term payback is not the only slot-play statistic that affects your experience playing a machine.

The second statistic is hit frequency. This statistic tells the percentage of spins that pay something. In terms of hit frequency, a hit is a hit and a 10,000-coin jackpot carries the same weight as a one-unit hit.

I consider hit frequency to be a short-term statistic in that a slot player could play a machine long enough to have a high probability that the hit frequency in his session is very close to the machine's hit frequency. It takes only about 1,000 spins to be very likely to be close to a machine's hit frequency, but it takes millions of spins to be likely to be close to a machine's long-term payback.

Machines with high hit frequencies are good for players in the short run. Because the hits are frequent, the machines tend to keep players in tray money — that is, money to keep playing the machine without having to feed fresh money to it. Machines with high hit frequencies have fewer and shorter losing streaks than machines with lower hit frequencies. In the long run, however, hit frequency is irrelevant and only long-term payback matters.

Now, let's look at your denomination choices when playing $1 per spin.

First, you could play a $1 machine at one coin per spin. Because long-term payback usually rises with denomination, this choice will give you the highest long-term payback. You'll have to be careful with machine selection, though. Try to find a straight multiplier, which is a machine like a two-coin Double Diamonds, on which the payouts on the second coin are exactly twice those on the first. The long-term payback on each coin played on a straight multiplier is the same. The long-term payback on each coin on other types of machines can be different and you usually have to play full coin to play at the highest long-term payback possible on the machine.

Because you only have one payline in play with this option, your hit frequency will almost certainly be lower than that on your lower denomination choices. If you don't mind feeding a machine and you have the bankroll to see you through dry spells, then this is a good choice, economically speaking.

Let's skip fifty-cent machines (there aren't that many of them on most slot floors) and look at quarter machines next. Now we have the option of playing traditional reel-spinning machines or multi-coin/multi-line video slots. I don't recommend playing the traditional machine because, like the dollar machine option, you'll have only one payline in action. Your hit frequency could be the same as on the dollar machine, but your long-term payback will almost definitely be lower.

Instead of the traditional slot, I recommend that you play a video slot, betting one coin on each of four lines. Because most video slots are straight multipliers, you get the same long-term payback when you play four coins on one line or one coin on four lines. The advantage of playing one coin on four lines, though, is that you spread your risk and you have four chances at winning something. In other words, you'll have a higher hit frequency. Your wins will be smaller than if you bet it all on one line, but you will hit something more often.

With the machines below a quarter in denomination, your only choice will be video slots because there's no way to bet $1 per spin on traditional machines of that denomination. You have increasing flexibility as the denomination goes down, so let's jump down to the penny machines and look at them.

As with the quarter machines, there's no sense betting it all on one line, if you can find a machine that allows 100 coins per line. The long-term payback on a penny machine is almost certainly lower than that of a higher-denomination machine, even though players may be betting the same amount per spin as on the higher-denomination machines. Some slot directors may take average bet into account when ordering long-term paybacks for their machines, but I fear most order based on denomination only without regard for how much players are betting on the machines.

One advantage to dropping down in denomination is being able to activate more paylines and thereby increase your hit frequency. If you can find a 100-line machine, you can bet a penny per line. You won't win much on any line and you'll usually win less than $1 on each spin, but you should hit something on almost every spin.

Perhaps the main advantage to playing the lower-denominations slots is that you have the whole world of video slots available to you. Many players think video slots, with their graphics and bonus rounds, to be far more entertaining to play than traditional reel-spinning slots.

As you can see now, there isn't a simple answer to what seems like a simple question. To sum up, to play at the highest long-term payback, play dollar machines. Be prepared to feed the machines during dry spells and you'll need the bankroll to see you through those dry spells.

To have more tray money, play the low-denomination video slots. You probably won't have to feed these machines as frequently as the dollar machines. Your long-term payback won't be as high, but many players accept the lower long-term payback because the find the video slots more fun to play. In addition, for the vast majority of players, luck has a greater effect on their results than a small change in long-term payback.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert, at slotexpert@comcast.net. Because of the volume of mail I receive, I regret that I can't reply to every question.

John Robison

John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots
John Robison
John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots