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Can a Penny Machine Pay Off Better Than a Quarter Machine?

13 July 2009

By John Robison

In the old days, it was public knowledge that dollar slots paid better than quarters and quarters paid better than nickels. Where do the multi-denomination machines fit in?

My boyfriend and I like the Life of Luxury machines. We typically play 40 or 60 nickels. Most of the time we are playing on machines that allow you to play pennies and 2 cents, as well as nickels and quarters. I don't think we are being paranoid when we say that we feel that these machines pay off much better for someone playing 20 pennies than it does for us playing 60 nickels. Is that allowed? Shouldn't the machine pay exactly the same? When the payoff percent is calculated is it calculated per denomination or just on the machine itself? If it is just on the machine, then the high payoffs could come when a smaller dollar amount is being played and a lower payoff could come when the larger dollar amounts are being played.


Dear Karen,

It's still true that dollar machines have higher long-term paybacks than quarter machines, which have higher long-term paybacks than nickel machines, etc.

It is certainly possible for different long-term paybacks to be in effect at different denominations on multi-denomination machines. Multi-denomination video poker machines usually give the higher-denomination players a higher long-term payback than the lower-denomination players.

As for your observation, are you and the 20-penny players playing the same number of lines? If the 20-penny players are playing more lines than you are, their higher hit frequency could give the impression that the machine is paying off better for them.

Let's say you are playing the same number of lines. There are three possibilities: your long-term payback is higher, their long-term payback is higher, the long-term paybacks are the same.

It's very unlikely that penny players would have a higher long-term payback than nickel players on the same multi-denomination machine, so we can eliminate that possibility. Your long-term payback is either higher or the same. I think if you kept careful track of your hit frequency and the penny player's hit frequency, you'd find that both numbers are very close. As for long-term payback, you'd have to play a few million spins each to get a good estimate of your long-term paybacks and I would expect both numbers to be close or for yours to be higher.

To answer your questions: Is it allowed? Sure. Different denominations can have different long-term paybacks, even on the same machine. Should the machine pay the same? It could, but it doesn't have to.

The long-term payback is calculated for each payback program that is on the machine. If the penny denomination on the machine uses a payback program with a long-term payback of 88%, in the long run penny players will get back 88% of the money they play through the machine. If the quarter denomination uses a payback program with a long-term payback of 92%, in the long run quarter players will get back 92% of the money they play through the machine. Play at one denomination has no effect whatsoever on play at another denomination. If two denominations use the same payback program, then each spin at each denomination has the same chances of landing any particular winning combination.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert, at Because of the volume of mail I receive, I regret that I can't reply to every question.

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