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Ask the Slot Expert: Does my payback percentage go up when I bet more on today's penny machines?

26 February 2020

Question: I am aware that the expected return on a slot machine is directly related to the denomination played, i.e., a penny machine will have a much lower expected overall return than a $1 or $5 machine. However, today's penny machines can handle bets of $5 or even $10 or more per spin.

If I play a penny machine at say $2.50 per spin, is my expected return from that machine going to be higher than if I simply played 50 cents or a dollar per spin? I know my total amount bet is greater, but will it pay back more percentage-wise than a lower amount bet?

Answer: Fortunately this is one area in which a machine will tell you when there is a benefit to betting more. Just like the old bonus multipliers that highlighted the payout on the jackpot with a max bet, machines will either quietly inform you that something has changed when you increase your bet or boldly advertise the benefits of betting more.

First, the quiet notification. Some machines use different reel layouts for the different amounts of credits you can bet. They display a message somewhere on the screen, usually in the center of the bottom, indicating the reel set that is being used. The message might say, for example, "50-credit bet reels in play." If you switched to betting 150 credit per play, the message would change to "150-credit reels in play." The Hexogems games from Scientific Games are examples of machines that operate this way. Jinse Dao, similarly, displays "xx credit game active," where xx is the number of credits you bet.

The paytable used, in addition, may change when you change the denomination on the machine. On one of the many themes in the Dragon Link collection, when you change the denomination from one of the cent-denominated choices to one of the dollar-denominated choices or vice versa, the machine displays "New paytable active."

The changes when betting more on a machine may not be so subtly conveyed to the player. Some machines hit you over the head with them.

One advantage to betting the max that has been around for decades is qualifying for progressives. On many machines, you have to make a max bet to qualify for the progressive jackpots on the machine. On others, you can win the progressives with any bet. The display with the current progressive amounts will have phrases like "with max bet" or "progressives available at any bet" to let you know whether you can win the progressive or you're just building the progressive for someone else when you bet less than the maximum.

The graphics on a touch-screen button deck may also try to sell you on betting more. The different betting options are sometimes divided into two sections, with the bets in one section qualifying for extra features. The bets in one section of the button deck on The Flintstones machines, for example, enable bigger and more frequent bonuses according to the text in the section. The bets in the right section of The Lord of the Rings: Rule Them All buy you both bonus possibilities while the bets in the left section buy you only one.

It's interesting to note that the bet ranges in each section frequently overlap. In other words, you can bet, say, $2 without enabling the extra features and $1.50 with them. If you wanted to bet $2 per spin, I don't know why you wouldn't want to risk less per spin by betting $1.50 and having a shot at the extras.

Note that the key part of "bigger and more frequent" is "more frequent." More frequent is definitely more valuable to you. If a bonus is some randomly chosen multiple of your bet, 2 times a $2 bet is technically bigger than 2 times a $1 bet, but the only reason the payout is bigger is because you bet more. If betting more, on the other hand, changes the probabilities for the multipliers to make the larger multipliers chosen more frequently, then bigger is also more valuable.

Some machines give you the option of betting an extra amount per spin to enable extras. If I remember correctly, the first Star Trek machine gave you that option. I don't remember the actual bets, but they were something like 50-100-150-200-250 without the extra bet, and 85-135-185-235-280 with it. There were two rows of bet buttons. One row gave you the base bet and the other gave the base bet and the extra bet.

The button-deck graphics may also show you how much you have to bet to be able to win a progressive. Some of the newer Quick Hit machines display captions on the betting options to show you which bet or bets enable the progressives. I used to play a Quick Hit variation that enabled the progressives on the next-to-max bet, while the max bet gave the progressives plus bonus payouts on the progressives. Exactly what you got for each bet was clearly spelled out in the button captions.

Here are some steps to follow to find out if betting more changes something about the machine. First, check the game display(s), paying particular attention to the paytable and any text on the displays. Any benefits for playing extra coins will frequently be listed there.

Next, check the graphics on the button deck. There might be text there that tells you that certain bets enable different features.

And finally, check the help screens. Look for text that says that a bonus event happens more frequently or pays more when you increase your bet. Whenever you see the words "max bet," moreover, the help is telling you that you'll have to bet the max to be eligible to win whatever that section is describing.

Regulations require that machines have to tell you how things work, either on the game displays or in the help screens, and frequently both. I was recently playing a Smokin' Hot Stuff Jackpot Respins game next to a lady who was visiting the casino while her husband was in a meeting that was being held in the hotel's convention center. It didn't take much play to figure out that when you got three of the mini-game symbols on a spin, you played those games (like Bally's Hot Shot), and when you got four or more, it turned into a locking bonus game and you had multiple respins to try to fill all 15 position with mini-game symbols.

We couldn't figure out, however, why the devil sometimes came out and nudged a reel to fill it with three wild symbols and sometimes stayed hidden on one of the mini-games. Was it random or based on where the other two reels stopped?

After seeing him in action and not in action many times, I had decided that it must be random. I checked the help screens and finally found a statement that the devil may come out and nudge a reel. It's amazing what you can learn from the help screens.

So, we've looked at some of the benefits you might enjoy by increasing your bet and how you can learn about them. Your question, though, was whether you would also enjoy a higher long-term payback at the increased bet.

I've never seen a PAR sheet for a machine that didn't give a higher payback for a higher bet. Slot designers want to give bigger betters a better bet to keep them betting big.

That said, the real question is whether the increase in payback warrants the higher bet. Is your expected loss per spin lower at the higher bet?

It rarely is. If you double your bet from $1 to $2 on a machine that doesn't give you extra features, for example, your expected loss per spin doubles. When you get the extra features, they decrease your expected loss a bit, but usually they're not worth enough to drop your expected loss at $2 to below that at $1.

To sum up, if the bigger bets don't enable any extra features, then the long-term payback is the same whatever you bet. When bigger bets buy extra features, the payback goes up. But it's not really a better bet to bet bigger.

It is much more fun, though. I usually bet enough to enable all of the features on a machine.

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