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Best of John Robison

Gaming Guru

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Ask the Slot Expert: Betting more and winning less

17 October 2018

Question: Do you play the slots?

My observation is that as you increase your bet, the winning slows down.

I have witnessed this repeatedly over the past 10 years. I watch a player on a penny slot making a minimum bet, say 40 cents, hit a lot and get five times more bonus rounds than I get playing max. I have even moved to their machine, increased the bet and the machine went cold. Even if I play the minimum and switch to the maximum, payouts and bonuses become very scarce, how can this be?

I tell you, there is another set of factors we are not aware of. I own four machines that were retired by various casinos which give me the privilege to change the pay back percentage at any time. My machines once set for, say, 98% payback pay that regardless of the denomination but I see nothing regulating the distinction between minimum and maximum bet. This industry is way too protective and I really feel there is something else we just don't understand.

I would be interested in your thoughts especially if you gamble. Check out what I am saying.

Answer: Yes, I play the slots, but not nearly as much now that I live in Las Vegas than when I was a visitor. I think I'd be broke if I played slots instead of video poker — but I'd surely have much better slot club benefits!

I agree with you that the slot industry is way too protective of some information regarding the machines. There's no reason for slot manufacturers to protect the machines' PAR sheets like the recipe for Coke or the Colonel's chicken. Why shouldn't players who want to know be able to find out the range of paybacks available on the machines they play? After all, I can get an estimate of the calories in the items on a restaurant's menu.

I don't think knowing the payback of a machine will deter many players. I play machines based on movies and TV shows even though I know they tend to have low paybacks. And I see near breakeven video poker machines sit idle while players play lower-paying paytables.

On the other hand, I fully understand why manufacturers are reluctant to reveal technical details about the inner workings of their machines. It's not because there's some grand conspiracy as some people claim. It's because some people want to cheat the machines. The more information there is available about the hardware and software inside the machines, the easier it is for cheats to find vulnerabilities in the machines.

Getting back to your questions, it's not unusual for there to be a difference in the long-term paybacks between the different bets available on a machine. One way to give a max bet player a higher long-term payback than a minimum bet player is to pay a bonus on one or more combinations when making a max bet. This is the method frequently used on reel-spinning slots.

Another method is to require a max bet to qualify for one or more progressives. This method is used on both reel-spinning and video slots. Another way video slots increase paybacks for higher bet players is by making randomly triggered bonuses happen more frequently. Note that these bonuses are not triggered by where the reels stop.

Slot regulations require that the RNG is not affected by the size of the bet. In other words, how much you bet doesn't affect where the reels — video or physical — stop.

Machines go through hot, cold and choppy streaks all the time. It's not unusual to have times when you just keep on hitting and it's also not unusual to have times when you couldn't hit anything to save your life. And it's also not unusual to have times when you break even. It's all a consequence of the randomness of the outcomes.

The biggest problem with trying to determine if bet size has an effect on results is deciding what to measure. You could measure win/loss percentage, but then you'd have to play a few million spins or so because payouts vary so widely. You could use how frequently you hit a bonus round, but most rounds hit so infrequently that you'd need thousands (if not tens or hundreds of thousands) of spins to have a fair comparison.

The best statistic to track is hit frequency. You can get a good estimate of the hit frequency of a machine with a thousand or so spins. Play a thousand or so spins at minimum and the same number at maximum and the number of hits should be pretty close.

Finally, there is something that many people just don't understand — or, really, just don't know. You can't draw any conclusions about a machine from just a few spins. The sample size is way too small.


Question: I see more and more slots around today that feature TV shows or movies. These are a lot of fun and I'm sure they attract a lot of curious customers. However, I've been told that, because of their nature, there are royalties that must be paid out, just as in any advertisements or endorsements. This, I'm told, results in lower payouts in the specific slots.

I've been playing slots for 45 years and have seen and heard it all, but this is a new entity. Do "celebrity" and "media" type machines present a new deal here, and thus, possible lower payouts, such as do progressive machines?

Answer: Slots based on movies and TV shows are nothing new. Wheel of Fortune has been around for over 20 years.

As you point out, the people or corporations that own these properties get paid for the use of them. Likewise, celebrities get paid for the use of their images and voices. The Penn & Teller slot clearly uses the real Penn and Teller, but take a close look at the Casablanca and Three Amigos slots. The images are only reminiscent of the actors in the films, not actual images of the actors.

The casino needs a certain hold percentage on a machine and it's usually not willing to give up some of its profit to pay the licensee. So the machine has to hold a little bit more to give the licensees their due. (You can tell there's some sort of profit-sharing plan for a machine when it has a sign that says you can't use free play on it. The casino is willing to give some of your money to the licensee but not some of the money it gave you to play with.)

Progressive machines don't necessarily have lower payouts than non-progressives. It's the wide-area progressives that have lower payouts. The operator of the wide-area progressive gets some of the winnings from the machines to help pay for operating the wide-area network and to help its profit.

The bottom line is that the more hands there are in the pie, the less is left for the players.


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