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Best of John Robison

Gaming Guru

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Ask the Slot Expert: Do low top jackpots on slots hit more frequently?

28 December 2016

Question: I read your articles on 88 Fortunes. I hit the Major Jackpot recently at Mohegan Sun Pocono in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. I was playing 68 cents and won $900 plus. I did not realize that I didn't have a shot at the Grand prize of $10,000 plus. I picked two Grands, two Major, two Minor, two Mini and then another Major.

I did not realize that this could have been determined prior to my actual selection of coins.

Answer: The anecdotal evidence on 88 Fortunes indicates that the odds of hitting each jackpot are not the same. Players hit the Mini much more than 25% of the time and the Grand significantly less than 25% of the time — if ever!

There are plenty of ways a machine can award a randomly chosen bonus without having the player pick coins and giving the misleading impressions that the player's choices matter and that the bonus has not been predetermined.

The method used on 88 Fortunes is misleading and I don't think it should be allowed. If you agree, you can do as I did and send an e-mail to your state's gaming commission and tell them that you think your choices should determine the outcome anytime a slot machine has a picking feature.


Question: Does a slot pay more jackpots if the jackpot is lower? Does a Double Diamond jackpot of 2,400 pay out more frequently than a 5 Times Pay jackpot of 10,000? Are machines programmed by jackpots or by something else?

Answer: The answer to your first question is definitely maybe. Let's answer your second question to find out why.

How frequently a slot hits any winning combination is determined by the number of times each symbol appears on each reel. The more times a symbol appears on the reels, the more frequently a winning combination using that symbol will hit. The slot mathematicians take into account how frequently every winning combination hits when they lay out the reels and calculate the long-term payback.

Let's say we have the two machines in your question and each has a long-term payback of 95%. The Double Diamond machine could pay its jackpot four times as frequently as the 5 Times Pay machine and the rest of the winning combinations on each machine contribute the same amount to the long-term payback for both machines to have the same long-term payback. Another possibility is that the jackpots hit with the same frequency on both machines, but the Double Diamond pays the lower jackpots more frequently in order to have the same long-term payback as the other machine.

The best I can say is a lower jackpot could hit more frequently than a larger jackpot. Slot machines aren't always set up this way, but the potential is there.

It's been a long time since I've scouted 3-reel machines to play, but I usually favored the ones with lower jackpots in the hope that their jackpots would hit more frequently.


Question: Are some slot machines programmed for a lot of small pays while others are programmed for a few large pays? Can both have the same payout percentage?

I believe that this is how they use to be programmed (a lot of small jackpots), but now they are more programmed with fewer, larger jackpots. Am I onto something?

Answer: Your observation is correct, but it's not new. For the last 30 or so years — since the development of Blazing 7s — slot designers have been trading off hit frequency and payout size.

Machines with high hit frequencies pay out small amounts frequently. Many video slots are perfect examples of high hit frequency machines. They pay out a little, usually less than your total bet, on nearly every spin. IGT even had a machine that paid on every spin, but I haven't seen it for a year or so.

Machines with low hit frequencies, on the other hand, don't hit often, but when they do it's frequently for a good amount. I played a new Willy Wonka video slot today that rarely hit, but I did win more than $5 on a number of spins and $20, $50 and over $100 on the bonuses. Not bad for a 75-cent bet.

Hit frequency doesn't imply anything about long-term payback. High hit frequency machines can have low long-term paybacks (e.g., penny slots) and low hit frequency machines can have high long-term paybacks (e.g., Blazing 7s machines under "98% and above" signs).

There are no rules for identifying high hit frequency machines, but I did identify some rules for identifying low hit frequency machines. Search for "low hit frequency" in my area on Casino City for these columns.


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