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Best of John Robison

Gaming Guru

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Ask the Slot Expert: Are fewer slot players hitting jackpots today?

18 September 2013

John,

I greatly enjoy your column.

I go to Vegas maybe once a year, learned to be a session gambler, and collect Silver Strike coins (Sam's Town, 4 Queens, and some others still have them).

Like John who wrote you on your 14 November 2012 column (Are slots tighter today?), I miss the good old days, although I am too frugal for the casinos to offer me a lot, and I tend to visit many casinos in one day, enjoying the variety versus sitting at a table/machine for hours.

I notice that the penny machines have brought a sea change in wagering, where casino players win $500 and $1000 jackpots versus the old days where you would see the casinos promoting the big $30,000, $50,000, etc. jackpots. I first noticed this at the Hollywood casino in Perryville, MD, where I stop on the way back from NY (just off the highway, with clean bathrooms and good coffee).

While this does not change my play, I do note that many penny machines have $3 - $5 max bets at a gazillion lines. My penchant for 3-coin 25-cent machines (at 75 cents a pull) seemed to give bigger payouts. Perhaps it just seems that way, but I play for entertainment value AND the possibility of a big payday without pumping huge amounts of my hard-earned money into machines with confusing multiline paytables.

So I ask you, have the casinos adapted to making the penny slot players make low bets at machines where the max bet may not give a progressive-style payday, maybe have fewer big winners to promote, and thus show signs with people who win $500 like it's a huge payout?

Even with my three college degrees slot psychology seems a bit transparent.

And, if this is so, where should the smart player place his bet to get more spins at a higher payout possibility?

Keep the good advice comin'.

Regards,
Alan

Dear Alan,

Thanks for the kind words about my column.

There definitely is a change in slot psychology. It began about 15 years ago when the Australian-style, multi-line/multi-coin, video slot machines started appearing on American slot floors.

For the first hundred years or so of slot play, the primary reason players played slot machines was to win money. Depending on the playing experience that the manufacturer wanted to give for a particular slot game, the manufacturers balanced these aspects of the slot game: the value of the top jackpot, how frequently it hit, the values of the other winning combinations and how frequently they hit. Some games had large jackpots that hit infrequently; others had smaller jackpots that hit frequently.

When the video slots took over the slot floor, the primary reason that slot players played changed. Players now said that being entertained was the main reason they played slots. Winning money had moved from first to second place. A new phrase was used frequently: time on device. Players said they didn't mind losing as long as they felt like they got entertainment value for their money. Most of the video slots have high hit frequencies, which tend to keep players in "tray money" (an old phrase), which enables them to keep playing longer. More time on device.

As you pointed out, most of the video machines are penny and nickel machines. Even a 100,000-coin jackpot is only $1,000 to $5,000. Hardly enough to make the winner's wall in the old days. In addition, if you haven't won a jackpot on a traditional, reel-spinning slot machine, you probably know someone who has. I've hit some myself But I've never hit the top jackpot on a video slot and none of my friends and relatives have either.

So, I think that these two differences between reel-spinning slots and video slots account for fewer players hitting jackpots, which are worth less. One, jackpots are lower on the video slots because the denominations are lower. Two, jackpots don't hit as frequently on the video slots in order to pay for having the lower-paying winning combinations hit more frequently.

Where does a smart player get more spins at a higher payout possibility? In other words, is there a game that gives the players a reasonable chance at a good-sized jackpot and a good chance at getting some play from their money?

I would bet one coin at a time on a traditional, reel-spinning machine that is a straight multiplier, that has a low top jackpot, that has a low (one or two coin) lowest winning combination, and that does not have any multiplying symbols. I think that game will give you your best chance at getting a good amount of play from your money and giving you a chance at a good-sized jackpot.

Jackpots for all,
John


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