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Best of John Robison

Gaming Guru

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Ask The Slot Expert

22 April 2002

Hi John,

I have quite often seen it stated that if a slot machine has been paying out less than it has been programmed to do, then it will start improving its payout rate until it gets back to that "average setting."

For example, if a machine has been set to pay 95% over a prolonged period and it has only been paying out, say, 90% in the short to medium term, then it will start paying out at a better rate until the "average" payout rate of 95% is once again achieved.

Is this possible? Or is ALL payout action by the slot machine governed ENTIRELY and COMPLETELY by the way the stops have been set? In other words, if there has been a poor run of payouts in a slot machine, this has been purely as a result of the way the random numbers have come up from the RNG, and there is no "internal software" which can influence future payouts in order to get closer to the designed percentage payout.

Regards, John

Dear John,

Your second statement is correct. All payouts are governed entirely and completely by the way the stops have been set.

It's unfortunate that we say that a machine is "programmed" to pay back a certain amount. Players infer that there is some sort of governor to keep the machine's payback close to the programmed payback. Some people also then conclude that some RNGs are looser than others.

As you know, the machine is really programmed to choose stops at random. The layout of the symbols on the reels determines the long-term payback of the machine.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John

Hi John,

Many thanks for providing answers to all my questions so far. Three important aspects of slot machine functionality have now been cleared up for me, namely:

  1. The slot machine payout is not influenced by the number of coins played.
  2. The rate of payout of a slot machine is in no way affected by how much, or how little, it has paid out in the past.
  3. The slot machine payout is governed by the actual and virtual stops on each reel. Each stop has a reference number and a symbol or blank allocated to it. The number generated by the RNG determines where the reel stops in relation to the payline.

Now that I understand the "nature of the enemy", the next step is to logically decide which are the most advantageous slot machines to play. The following are some suggestions on my part. I would certainly appreciate any comments, or additional suggestions, you may have in this regard.

  1. Machines with too high a maximum payout should be avoided. The higher the payout, the greater the number of combinations would have been set into the slot machine to ensure that enough money will be earned by the machine to pay out winnings.
  2. Play machines with as few reels as possible. More reels means potentially more combinations thus reducing the odds of winning.
  3. Play machines where certain symbols double or triple payouts and also where they substitute for other symbols.
  4. Play machines where the ratio of "number of spins per payout" is as low as possible. What ratio would you regard as especially favourable?

Regards,
John

Dear John,

Wow. More good questions. You really do understand how these machines work.

(A) Maybe. There are two ways to handle large maximum payouts. First, we could take away quite a few of the smaller hits so we can pay the big jackpot. Second, we could just make the big jackpot less likely to hit. So you might be able to find a machine with a high maximum payout that has a hit frequency similar to a machine with a low maximum payout.

For what it's worth, I prefer machines with smaller jackpots figuring that, as you implied, these machines can pay the jackpot and the smaller hits more frequently than machines with high jackpots.

(B) More reels do mean potentially more combinations, but that doesn't necessarily mean the odds of winning are reduced. It all depends on how the reels are set up. In any case, the vast majority of today's machines are 3-reel reel-spinning machines and 5-reel video slots and there's no reason to play one over the other just because of the number of reels.

(C) Machines with multiplying symbols tend to have lower hit frequencies than machines that do not have multiplying symbols, and the higher the multiple, the lower the hit frequency. I usually avoid these machines.

(D) I think what you're going for here is "pulls between hits," which is the reciprocal of the hit frequency.

It all depends on what characteristics you like in a machine. Many video slots will give you something back on nearly every spin, but most of the time what you get will be less than what you bet.

Other machines, like Five Times Pay and Ten Times Pay, can have long dry spells, but when you do get a hit, it can be a big one.

If you don't want to be bothered with small payouts and prefer machines that pay big when they do hit and you have the bankroll to weather dry spells, play machines that have low hit frequencies.

If you prefer to get more frequent, but smaller hits that keep you playing without having to feed the machine again, play machines that have high hit frequencies.

I prefer high hit frequency machines, which tend to give a lot of play for each bill inserted.

There's no standard for what is a low hit frequency and what is a high hit frequency, but for reel-spinning machines, I would say anything below 10% (that is, one hit per 10 spins, on average) would be low, 10% to 15% (about one hit per 7 spins) would be medium, and 15% or higher would be high.

My two best pieces of advice:

1) If you like reel-spinning machines, play ones that are straight or bonus multipliers. On a straight multiplier, the increase in each payout is the same for each coin played. A two-coin Double Diamond paying 800/1600 for the jackpot is a straight multiplier. On a bonus multiplier, the increase in the jackpot is a little more for the last coin played. A three-coin Double Diamond paying 800/1600/2500 is a bonus multiplier. Play these machines one coin per spin.

On the straight multiplier, playing more than one coin doesn't buy you anything. The hit frequency and long-term payback are the same for each coin played. On the bonus multiplier, the hit frequency is the same for each coin played, but the long-term payback on the last coin is a little higher because of the bonus on the jackpot. Nevertheless, the jackpot hits so infrequently that it's rarely worth playing full coin on them.

2) If you like video slots, play one coin per line. That will give you the highest hit frequency the machine can give. Some machines may have a higher long-term payback when played with max coin, but again it's usually not worth betting so much more per spin. You can also play just one coin per spin, but I think it's more fun to have all the paylines working.

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.


For more information about slots and video poker, we recommend:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots by John Robison
Break the One-Armed Bandits! by Frank Scoblete
Victory at Video Poker and Video Craps, Keno and Blackjack! by Frank Scoblete
Slot Conquest Audio Cassette Tape (60 minutes) with Frank Scoblete
Winning Strategies at Slots & Video Poker! Video tape hosted by Academy Award Winner James Coburn, Written by Frank Scoblete
The Slot Machine Answer Book by John Grochowski
The Video Poker Answer Book by John Grochowski
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