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Ask the Slot Expert: Slot machine hit frequency18 December 2013
I would say that every penny slot machine that is a multi-line/multi-coin machine has a high hit frequency (more than 20 percent). There might be some old penny reel-spinning slot machines in downtown Las Vegas that don't have high hit frequencies, but all of the penny video slots that let you bet more than one coin on more than one line will have high hit frequencies. High hit frequency is one of the distinguishing characteristics of the multi-line/multi-coin machine.
Remember that a hit is a hit is a hit, regardless of how much it is or how much you bet. You could have 400 coins bet on the spin and win 10 and that would still be counted as a hit.
Multi-line/multi-coin machines can have such high hit frequencies because they can pay less than a push -- sometimes much less than a push!
Hit frequency is determined by the layout of the symbols on the machine's reels. The only way to change it is to change the layout on the reels. Because the manufacturer lays out the reels, it sets the hit frequency and the long-term payback. A manufacturer will typically make a few different payback programs available for a slot game. That way, they have a low-paying program available for McCarran and higher-paying programs available for the casinos that cater to locals. The operator chooses which payback program it wants in the machine when it orders the machine.
Hit frequency is one of the playing characteristics that some players look for in a slot game, so manufacturers won't create high and low hit frequency versions of the same game. Regardless of their long-term paybacks, all of the payback programs available for a particular game (Double Diamonds, say) will have about the same hit frequency. Otherwise it's like putting a sport-tuned suspension in a limousine -- you're not giving patrons the experience they were expecting.
Thanks for the kind words about my columns. Because the results on machine are determined by the random number generator, which is constantly running, you have to hit the button at the right time to hit a winner. There are no tricks.
Slot designers have to balance how much can be won in the base game versus how much can be won in the bonus rounds versus how frequently the bonus rounds hit. If too much of the potential winnings are in the bonus rounds, players who don't hit their share of bonus rounds will think a machine is tight no matter how high its long-term payback. We all like to hit the bonuses frequently and for big amounts, but a machine can't have high-paying bonus rounds that hit frequently. As a general rule, the more frequently a bonus round hits, the lower its average award.
Like I said in my answer to the first letter, slot designers don't usually create payback programs with different characteristics for a particular slot game. It's not likely that the machines in your third casino have a different balance between what can be won in the base game versus what can be won in the bonus rounds. Slot designers want players to have similar experiences whenever they play a particular game. Any differences are due to randomness. I think the paltry payouts you saw were just the luck of the draw.
I'm not surprised that you didn't see any "handpays." With the advent of tickets, the only time you need a slot floorperson is when a jackpot is $1,200 or more. And with the shift to lower-denomination machines, jackpots of that size are rarer than they used to be.
Finally, winning $583 on a 40-cent bet sounds more like macadamias than peanuts!
Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert™, at email@example.com. Because of the volume of mail I receive, I regret that I can't reply to every question.
Best of John Robison