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Guide to Winning at Slots: The Best Number of Coins to Play

17 January 2000

By John Robison

Every casino guide to gaming recommends playing maximum coins on all slot machines. And almost everyone who's written a book about slots also recommends playing maximum coins when playing a slot machine. I analyzed over 1,000 slot machine programs and I discovered that there are times when playing maximum coins is advantageous to the slot player and times when the player is better off playing only coin at a time. In this series of tips, I'll reveal the best number of coins to play per spin on the different types of slot machines.

Note: You can hear me give my slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer with Frank Scoblete, which is broadcast live from Memphis on WHBQ over the air on 560AM and over the Internet on Yahoo! Broadcast on Saturday morning from 8-10 CT.


This Week's Tip

Multicoin/Multilines

Rule: Play one coin each on as many lines as you like.
Reason:   Play one coin on each line if having winning combinations land on paylines you didn't activate bothers you, otherwise play one coin. If there's a Hidden Buy-A-Pay, play enough coins to activate it.

This week we look at the new Australian-style, Multicoin/Multiline machines. These are the only kind of slot machines you find in Australia and they're getting more and more popular in the United States every day.

Australian-style slot machines give you betting flexibility you never had before. Not only can you choose how many lines to play, now you can also choose to play more than one coin per line. We have to decide how many lines to play and how many coins to play per line.

Australian-style slots have the most complicated paytables of any slot machine. Take the time to study the paytable. Look to see if there's a payout, like a scatter pay, that's available only when you play all lines. Also look to see what happens when you play more than coin per line. Is there a combination or bonus event that is activated only when you bet maximum coins on a line?

Even though the paytables look very complicated, they almost always are Straight Multipliers. Winning combinations and bonus events are multiplied by the number of coins bet on the line. There's no advantage to playing more than one coin per line.

So much for the Multicoin aspect of the machine. How about the Multiline aspect? Just as with a conventional Multiline machine, you can play more than one line if landing winning combinations on paylines you didn't activate bothers you. If not, play one coin on one line. I play one coin on each line.

Every Multicoin/Multiline paytable I've seen has been a Straight Multiplier, but that doesn't mean there will never be one with Buy-A-Pay feature. If you do find one with a Buy-A-Pay feature, make sure you play enough coins to activate the feature.

Prior Weeks' Tips

Progressives

Rule: Always play maximum coins.
Reason:   If you play don't play maximum coins, you're only increasing the jackpot for someone else with no chance of winning it yourself.

You can recognize progressive machines by the LED displays advertising the ever-increasing jackpots, some life changing, that you can win by playing the machine.

There are three types of progressives, but they all share one thing on common: A small percentage of each wager on a progressive machine is used to increase the amount of the jackpot. The types of progressives differ in the number of machines linked to an individual jackpot.

First, there's the Standalone Progressive. As its name implies, this machine has its own jackpot amount. When you play a Standalone Progressive, its jackpot is the only one to increase as a result of the action.

The second type of progressive is the Linked Progressive. A number of machines are linked together in this type of progressive and the machines all share the same jackpot. The jackpot increases on all of the machines in the link whenever anyone plays any of the machines in the link. The machines in the link are usually all in one carousel, although sometimes the machines are spread throughout a casino. And sometimes machines at more than one casino owned by the same company will be part of the progressive network.

The third type of progressive is the Wide Area Progressive. In this type of progressive, machines throughout an entire jurisdiction are part of the network of linked machines. Machines that pay the life-changing, lottery-sized jackpots are always Wide Area Progressives. But not all Wide Area Progressives pay huge jackpots. IGT and Bally's are both exploring Wide Are Progressive systems that pay lower jackpots more frequently.

The best number of coins to play is the same regardless of which type of progressive you are playing. You have to play maximum coins on a progressive machine to be able to win the progressive jackpot. If you don't play maximum coins, you're just building the jackpot for someone else with no chance to win it yourself. In addition, how would you feel if the three Megabucks symbols landed on the payline and you played only one coin, so you won $10,000 instead of $10,000,000? Always play maximum coins when playing a progressive.

Straight Multipliers

Rule: Always play one coin at a time.
Reason:   The payback and hit frequency are the same regardless of the number of coins you play.

Multipliers are machines in which the first coin you play activates all of the winning combinations on the machine and additional coins multiply the amounts you can win. A Straight Multiplier is a particular kind of Multiplier. On a Straight Multiplier, the amounts you can for each combination when playing two coins at a time are exactly twice the amounts you can win when playing one coin at a time. And the amounts you can win when playing three coins at a time are exactly three times the one-coin amounts.

Playing more than coin at a time on a Straight Multiplier doesn't buy you anything. You don't activate any new winning combinations, so you don't buy increased hit frequency. The payouts are straight multiples of the one-coin payouts, so you aren't buying increased long-term payback. You're increasing the amount you have at risk on each spin and you're not getting any benefit from it. Always play only one coin at a time on a Straight Multiplier.

Bonus Multipliers

Rule: Always play one coin at a time.
Reason:   The chances of hitting a payout with a bonus are so small, it's not worth the extra risk.

Bonus Multipliers are Multipliers with a twist. They pay you a bonus for some combinations when you play maximum coins. The bonus is usually paid on the top jackpot only, but some machines pay a bonus on the second jackpot, too. I even found a Wild Cherry paytable that paid the bonus on the second jackpot only.

Ask yourself this question: How frequently do you hit a combination that pays you a bonus? Not too often, right? The Bonus Multiplier acts like a Straight Multiplier on the overwhelming majority of the spins you play on the machine. Treat it like a Straight Multiplier and play one coin at a time.

Some people argue that you're playing at a lower long-term payback when you play only one coin at a time on a Bonus Multiplier. That statement is true. But, again, how times do you hit the top jackpot? In addition, a 100-coin bonus like on a three-coin Double Diamond that pays 800/1600/2500 for the top jackpot increases the long-term payback by very little. Even large bonuses increase the long-term payback by very little. A typical RWB machine that pays 2400/4800/10000 for the top jackpot pays back 91.7% when playing one coin at a time and 92.5 when playing three coins at a time. It's not worth tripling your risk per spin to decrease the house edge from 8.3% to 7.5%.

Buy-A-Pays

Rule: Play maximum coins.
Reason:   The increase in payback and hit frequency purchased by the additional coins can turn a terrible machine into a good one.

Buy-A-Pays are machines on which each additional coin played activates additional winning combinations. On a two-coin Red Hot 7s machine, for instance, the first coin activates the bar combinations and the second coin activates the combinations with the sevens. If you play only coin and three sevens land on the payline, you don't win anything.

Buy-A-Pays can have very high hit frequencies. Unlike a Multiplier, a Buy-A-Pay can pay less than a push. Suppose you had to bet two coins to activate combinations with cherry symbols, and one cherry on the payline paid one coin. You win less than you bet when you land one cherry on the payline.

Because each coin activates a completely different set of winning symbols, the game designers have a great deal of flexibility in setting the hit frequency and payback of each coin--much more flexibility than they have on any other game type. Each coin played is like a completely different machine.

I analyzed one Buy-A-Pay machine in which the first coin played had a terrible payback of 83%. But the second coin paid back well over 100%. If only we could play the second coin without playing the first! But we can't. We have to play the first coin, on which the casino has the edge, to be able to play the second, on which we have the edge.

Additional coins played on a Buy-A-Pay purchase increased hit frequency and payback. The machine may have a very low payback at one coin and a very high payback at maximum coins. One or more of the additional coins may even pay back more than 100%. Always play maximum coins on a Buy-A-Pay.

Hybrids

Rule: Play just enough coins to activate all winning combinations.
Reason:   Extra coins are rarely worth playing in a multiplier, and hybrids are multipliers when you're in the multiplying section of the paytable.

Hybrids are the mongrels of slot machines. Part Buy-A-Pay, part Multiplier. Does the Buy-A-Pay aspect of the paytable overpower the Multiplier aspect and make it worthwhile playing extra coins?

Hybrid is a name that I use to describe these machines. There is no official industry name for them. Bally's describes Blazing 7s, the most famous Hybrid game, as a "2 coin option buy pay - 3rd coin multiplier." I'll stick with Hybrid.

The Buy-A-Pay part of the paytable acts like a pure Buy-A-Pay paytable, and the Multiplier part of the paytable acts like a pure Multiplier paytable--and the same rules apply. It's worthwhile activating all of the possible winning combinations, but it's not worthwhile multiplying their values.

On a Blazing 7s, your choice is between playing two coins and playing three coins. The first coin buys the bar combinations, the second the sevens combinations, and the third multiplies the sevens combinations. We follow the rule for Buy-A-Pays and play two coins to activate all the winning combinations, and then we follow the rule for Multipliers and we don't play the third coin.

On some Hybrids, the first two coin will be a Multiplier and the third a Buy-A-Pay. Play three coins on this machine in order to activate all the winning combinations.

Hidden Buy-A-Pays

Rule: Play maximum coins.
Reason:   The feature activated by playing the last coin frequently makes the last coin pay back over 100%.

Some machines have bonus events that are activated only when you play maximum coins. You can spin the wheel on Wheel of Gold, for example, only when you play full coin. Another example is Banana-Rama. You can get to the bonus screen only when you play full coin.

I call these wolves in sheep's clothing Hidden Buy-A-Pays. The paytable on these machines appears to be a Multiplier or Multiline, but there's a feature that's activated only when you play maximum coins. This feature is usually a bonus event like spinning a wheel or a bonus screen, but it could be practically anything. Read the paytable carefully to see if there's some feature of the machine that is activated only when you play full coin.

Just like on a pure Buy-A-Pay, this feature could make the last coin pay back more than 100%. The increase in payback when playing full coin versus one coin may make playing full coin the better bet.

The rule is to play enough maximum coins on these machines to activate all the features of the machine.

Multicoin/Multilines

Rule: Play one coin or maximum coins.
Reason:   Play maximum coins if having winning combinations land on paylines you didn't activate bothers you, otherwise play one coin.

This week we'll look at the conventional Multiline machines on which you can bet a maximum of one coin at a time on each line. We'll look at the new Australian-style, Multicoin/Multiline machines next week.

Multiline machines act very much like Multipliers. The chances of landing a winning combination is the same on each line. Therefore, just like on a Multiplier, even large bonuses for the top jackpot make small increases in the long-term payback. It is rarely worthwhile, mathematically speaking, to play full coin on a Multiline machine.

Emotionally speaking is another matter. It bothers me when winning combinations land on paylines that I didn't activate. I was playing a three-line Multiline machine at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas once. I had the program for the machine, so I knew that playing one coin was the best play, mathematically. It seemed like a winning combination landed on the upper or lower payline every other spin. I switched to playing full coin.

Multilines are not like Multipliers in one very important respect. Extra coins played on a Multiplier buy only increased payback, while extra coins played on a Multiline buy increased hit frequency, too. The increased hit frequency takes away some of the sting of the increased risk when playing the extra coins.

Note: I've assumed that the Multiline machine pays a bonus for playing full coin. The rule is the same even if there is no bonus. The only difference is that the extra coins buy only increased hit frequency; they do not buy an increase in payback.


The following table repeats all of the tips without the accompanying text to make it easier for you to take them to the casino with you.

 

The Slot Expert's Guide to Winning at Slots
The Best Number of Coins to Play
Type of Machine Rules and Reasons
Progressives Play maximum coins.
If you play don't play maximum coins, you're only increasing the jackpot for someone else with no chance of winning it yourself.
Straight Multipliers Play one coin at a time.
The payback and hit frequency are the same regardless of the number of coins you play.
Bonus Multipliers Play one coin at a time.
The chances of hitting a payout with a bonus are so small, it's not worth the extra risk.
Buy-A-Pays Play maximum coins.
The increase in payback and hit frequency purchased by the additional coins can turn a terrible machine into a good one.
Hybrids Play just enough coins to activate all winning combinations.
Extra coins are rarely worth playing in a multiplier, and hybrids are multipliers when you're in the multiplying section of the paytable.
Hidden Buy-A-Pays Play maximum coins.
The feature activated by playing the last coin frequently makes the last coin pay back over 100%.
Multilines Play one coin or maximum coins.
Play maximum coins if having winning combinations land on paylines you didn't activate bothers you, otherwise play one coin.
Multicoin/Multilines Play one coin each on as many lines as you like.
Play one coin on each line if having winning combinations land on paylines you didn't activate bothers you, otherwise play one coin. If there's a Hidden Buy-A-Pay, play enough coins to activate it.


Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert, at slotexpert@home.com.


For more information about slots and video poker, we recommend:

Break the One-Armed Bandits! by Frank Scoblete
Victory at Video Poker and Video Craps, Keno and Blackjack! by Frank Scoblete
Slot Conquest Audio Cassette Tape (60 minutes) with Frank Scoblete
Winning Strategies at Slots & Video Poker! Video tape hosted by Academy Award Winner James Coburn, Written by Frank Scoblete
The Slot Machine Answer Book by John Grochowski
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