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Best of John Robison

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Ask the Slot Expert: How do video lottery terminals work?

11 February 2015

A friend of mine and I were debating the differences between a slot machine and a VLT machine. We live in Cleveland, Ohio and we recently got both casinos and racinos. The racinos are controlled by the Lottery Commission. I'm not sure I totally understand how a VLT works, but here is a situation we were discussing and I wanted to see if you could offer an opinion.

If we had 500 free spins on both types of machines, would a slot machine have better odds of returning a greater payout than a VLT? We understand the basics of the random number generator with a slot machine, but we are not sure how this process works with a VLT.

VLTs (video lottery terminals) and Class III slot machines differ in how they determine the results of their spins. Class III slot machines — the kind you find in Las Vegas, Atlantic City and Tunica, for instance — have RNG functions in their programming, and they determine the results of their spins completely independently. VLTs are Class II gaming devices; they do not contain RNG functions and they require a separate system to determine the results of their spins.

In Native American casinos, the Class II slot machines are really bingo drawings under the hood. VLTs, on the other hand, usually mimic high-tech scratch-off tickets. The central server maintains a pool of possible outcomes, like the collection of tickets printed in a scratch-off game. When a players hit the spin button, their machines essentially request a scratch-off ticket from the central server. The central server chooses a ticket from the pool of tickets remaining, scratches off the coating to reveal the amount won, and sends the results down to the machine. When there are no more tickets left, the server starts with a fresh pool of tickets.

VLTs are not inherently better or worse than Class III slot machines. A 95 percent payback machine is a 95 percent payback machine regardless of how its results are determined. That said, lotteries usually return a smaller percentage of player bets than slot machines, so you'll probably win more money on the Class III slot.


I have been reading your archives and there is a wealth of tips, suggestions, and information in them. All readers would do themselves a favor by checking these out.

Here is my two part question:

Part I: I am playing slots at a Native American casino that has Class II machines. A penny slot offers 1, 2, 5, 10, or 20 coins to be played on 1, 5, 10, or 20 lines. Which type of play is better - 20 coins played on one line for each pull or 1 coin played on 20 lines for each pull?

Part II: Next question is the same one but I am at a casino with Class III machines.

By the way, is there a publication or book (printed in the last two or three years) which lists (or describes) the "banking" or "advantage" type slots currently available in the Northeast casinos?

Thanks for the kind words about my columns.

Let's look at the two scenarios. When you put your entire bet on one line, it's like playing a traditional reel-spinning slot machine with a single payline. When you play one coin per line, on the other hand, you're spreading your risk over multiple lines.

Your hit frequency is higher when you play 20 lines; you have more paylines in play. But, because you have only one coin bet on a line, when a winning combination lands on it, the combination doesn't pay as much as landing it on a payline with 20 coins bet. Bankroll swings are less severe (volatility is lower) when you play 20 lines because the machine can pay less than a push. When you play a single payline, you're either going to win 0, 20, 30, 80 -- some multiple of 20 -- coins. Your bankroll will tend to last longer in the multiple-payline scenario.

In summary, you win more frequently when you play 20 lines, but your wins tend to be less than when you let everything ride on one line.

Notice that I didn't address Class II versus Class III. It doesn't matter how a machine's results are determined. The differences are the same.

Which method of play is better? It's player's choice. If you don't mind feeding a machine and you have the bankroll, you can bet everything on one line. If you're like me, on the other hand, and you like to get some play for your money, play multiple lines.

Frank Scoblete's Slots Conquest contains two chapters written in conjunction with Jerry "Stickman". You can Google "advantage slots" to see if there are any web pages listing advantage slots currently in casinos. Many casinos now have web pages or apps that list the machines on their slot floors and some even have maps to help you find specific machines.


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