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Ask the Slot Expert: Slot machines with bet buttons labeled good, better and best

20 April 2016

Question: I know all about the RNG and slot machines. However, I noticed some machines have good, better and best on the choices. For example, the 30-cent bet will have good on the button. The 90-cent button and above will have better or best on the button. That does not sound like the machine is random. The higher the bet does not activate any additional ways to win. Please explain. I have seen this in Louisiana casinos.

Answer: I don't know the game(s) with these labels on the buttons, so I don't know for sure what aspect of the machine is being rated. Fortunately, there's a very short menu of possibilities -- only two, in fact.

First, you've ruled out hit frequency. You said that raising the bet does not activate any additional ways to win, such as additional paylines or enabling wins on additional symbols.

The second choice on the menu is long-term payback. The ratings on the buttons most likely mean that long-term payback goes up when you increase your bet. Note that the rating on the minimum bet is good. I guess the manufacturer couldn't say poor or lousy or wallet-emptying.

There are many ways to increase long-term payback without increasing hit frequency. One or more winning combinations, for example, can pay more when the bet is increased.

Another way to increase long-term payback is to use different sets of values in bonus rounds. Let's look at a pick'em bonus game. The set of values assigned to the items that you pick could range from $1 to $10 with a 30-cent bet. Rather than being a multiple of the total bet and increasing to $3 to $30 with a 90-cent bet, the range could be $5 to $50.

Let me backtrack a little on not increasing hit frequency with these final ways to increase long-term payback. Increasing the bet could add symbol modifiers to some symbols. There's a penny Megabucks machine that has four mini progressives in addition to the big one. You win these progressives when special sections of the reels are visible in the window.

Consecutive symbols on some sections of the reels on this machine are enclosed in green lozenges. If the first reel stops in a position in which all three symbols visible in the window are enclosed, a large lozenge appears over the reel. If all the symbols on the second reel are enclosed, a large lozenge appears over the second reel and you win the Mini Bucks progressive. If all the symbols on the third reel are also enclosed, you win the Minor Bucks progressive. You win the Major and Max Bucks progressives if the fourth and fifth reels, espectively, are also enclosed. When you increase your bet on this machine, you activate more of the lozenge enclosures so your chances of hitting one of the non-Megabucks progressives are better with higher bets.

Another way to increase long-term payback is to make a bonus event more likely to occur. There's a Lord of the Rings variation on which an archer can randomly appear and shoot one of the attackers displayed on the top screen. The likelihood of the archer appearing goes up with the higher bets.

I've noticed that many gaming guides provided by casinos say that you get your best odds (or something similar) with a max-coin bet. But is a max bet really best for the player?

Consider a dollar machine that pays back 94% with a one or two-coin bet and 95% with a 3-coin bet. You do get the highest long-term payback with the max bet.

But long-term payback is only half the picture. To know how much money a player will lose, on the average, we have to include the amount of each bet. The one coin player will lose 6 cents per spin ( (100-94)/100x$1 ). The two-coin player will lose 12 cents per spin ( (100-94)/100x$2 ). And the max-coin player, who is playing at the best level, will lose 15 cents per spin ( (100-95)/100x$3 ). Because the max-coin player is betting three times more than the one-coin player, the max-coin house edge has to be cut to one-third the one-coin long-term payback just to breakeven. The long-term payback in my example has to go up to 98% for the expected loss per spin at three coins ( (100-98)/100x$3 ) to be the same as that at one coin.

This an opportunity for me to give two good rules of thumb for slot mathematics:

  1. It rarely makes sense to bet anything between the minimum and the maximum bet.
  2. The increase in long-term payback for making a max-coin bet rarely makes up for the increase in risk.

Now, let's address your statement that the button ratings imply that the machine is not random. All of the techniques I described still take numbers from the RNG and use them to determine where the reels will stop, how to distribute amounts to pick, or whether something will happen.

All of the results on the machine are still determined at 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