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Best of John Robison

Gaming Guru

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Ask the Slot Expert: Playing the high-limit slots

2 December 2015

Just started getting into $1, $5 and sometimes $10 slots. Playing mostly in Mohegan Sun and Atlantic City. I was wondering what slots are best to play and if I should always play max bet when playing these slots?

The best machines to play are the ones you enjoy playing. Today's slot directors order roughly the same long-term payback percentage for all of their machines in a particular denomination, so it's not likely that one machine is going to have a higher long-term payback than others.

I don't like having to feed machines, so I look for machines that I think will have high hit frequencies. A high hit frequency means that a machine tends to give frequent small hits instead of less frequent, larger hits. The frequent hits keeps a player in what used to be called "tray money," money to keep playing with instead of having to reach into your wallet. If you don't mind having to feed a machine to see you through a cold spell, you can look for low hit frequency machines and trade off the frequency of the hits to have larger hits.

There's no way to identify high hit frequency machines by the paytable, but we can identify low hit frequency machines. I have a series of articles on this site about identifying low hit frequency machines. I'll summarize the articles here.

If a machine has a wild, multiplying symbol, the higher the multiple, the lower the hit frequency. Thus a Ten Times Pay machine will usually have a lower hit frequency than a Double or Triple Diamond machine.

The higher the value of the lowest-paying winning combination, the lower the hit frequency. A machine that pays 5-for-1 for the lowest-paying combination will usually have a lower hit frequency than a machine that pays 2-for-1 or 1-for-1 for the lowest combination.

Finally, some machines have low hit frequencies because they're designed that way. Blazing 7s, for example, is a low hit frequency machine. It doesn't have a wild symbol and the lowest-paying combination pays 2-for-1, yet the way its virtual reels are set up, it doesn't hit the lower-paying bar combinations very frequently so it can hit the 7s combinations more frequently. You can't tell that these machines have low hit frequencies by looking at their paytables. You won't know they have low hit frequencies until you play them.

Moving on to the next part of your question, playing max coin, it almost never makes mathematical sense to make a max bet. It makes mathematical sense to make a max bet if your expected loss per spin is lower at max bet than at a lower bet.

Let's say you're playing a $1 machine with a max bet of $3. The house edge at $3 per spin would have to be one-third that at $1 per spin just to break even. For example, if the long-term payback is 91% at $1 per spin (house edge is 9%), the long-term payback would have to be 97% at $3 per spin (house edge is 3%) just to break even. Your expected loss is $0.09 (9% of $1 and 3% of $3) in both cases. If the long-term payback is any lower (house edge is higher) at max bet, your expected loss will be higher than when you make a minimum bet.

The long-term payback almost never goes up enough for it to make mathematical sense to make a max bet. Even when there's a large bonus on one or more winning combinations when you make a max bet, the bonus is rarely enough to overcome the increase in risk by upping your bet. I suggest you only play max coin if you need to to activate all the ways to win on a machine or if you're playing a progressive. (I also have a series of articles on this site about the best number of coins to play.) In either case, ensure you have the bankroll to play max coin.

And speaking of bankroll, also ensure you have the bankroll to play $5 and $10 machines, unless you just try a few spins on them to see if you get lucky. Bankrolls can disappear quickly when you're betting $5 or $10 -- or more -- per spin.

My question concerns multi-hand (e.g., 10-play) video poker machines. When I’m doing well, I like to up the stakes. I would like to know whether the same “chip” is used on all the stakes. In my case, the stakes are $0.05, $0.10, $0.25, $0.50 and $1. My exact question is whether the nickel and dime stakes are on the same chip.

There's only one microprocessor in the machine, so from that perspective every denomination is on the same chip. The only thing that could be different between 9/6 Jacks for pennies and 9/6 Jacks for dollars (or any other denomination) is the paytable. The game program is the same. Paytables take up very little memory space, so all of the paytables for all the game/denomination combinations on the machine can be on the same memory chip.

Changing denomination is the same as running a different program on your computer or app on your smartphone. All the hardware stays the same.

Now, what I think you're really concerned about is whether a hot machine at nickels will turn cold when you move up to dimes. You don't want to move off of the hot "chip".

The machine might turn cold, it might not. If it does go cold, it's not because the dime game is on a different chip.

The odds of being dealt any particular card are the same regardless of the game or denomination you're playing. It's just like you're playing poker at the kitchen table and you raise the value of a pretzel stick from a nickel to a dime. The deck doesn't change and your chances of being dealt any particular hand doesn't change.

Your hot machine might go cold if you stay at nickels. It might stay hot if you stay at nickels. It might be hot or cold if you move up to dimes.

In short, it's all random.


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