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Is It Worth Playing $5 Slots?

6 May 2004

By John Robison

Hi, John,

I purchased an e-guide from a site called "Winning at the Slots" ( mostly because of something they coined a "trailing" strategy. I know that most strategies are schemes, however this one did work pretty good, although it does require 3 or 4 players. The author also mentioned his theory as to why slot bonus rounds seem to be harder to hit at the higher wagered amounts.

Here is the theory and do you think it's possible?

"Many slot experts will tell you that the number of coins bet does not effect the outcome of the RNG. Yet it seems that when a player bets maximum coin they never seem to get a bonus round or many hits. Then as soon as they lower the bet they hit something or get a bonus round. The answer to this question is two fold. First players are a little panicky because they know they are betting an enormous amount per spin. In the case of the 25 cent Winning Bid, for example, betting maximum coin is $9 dollars per spin or 36 quarters. A $20 dollar bill will be eaten pretty fast.

"Assume a 5-line, 4-quarter maximum bet per line slot machine was advertised as having a payback percent of 90%. Maybe the slot paid back at 92% when 1 quarter per line was bet and only at 91% when 2 quarters per line were bet. In addition, it paid only 89% with 3 quarters and 88% with 4 quarters. This would give an average payback of 90%. This could explain why a slot machine seems to have more payout and bonus round hits more often on the lower wage bets than the higher bets."


Dear Jim,

The author of the theory makes two good points. First, players frequently get panicky when they're betting more per than their bankroll really allows. That panic filters their memories and maybe they don't remember the sessions in which they did get to the bonus round as well as the sessions in which they didn't.

Another point, one which he only hinted at, is that many players don't have the bankroll to bet max coin. As a result, the scenario is something like this: They play a couple of spins at max coin. They don't hit anything. They don't have the bankroll to continue playing max coin, so they switch to one coin per line. They play hundreds of spins at this level because now they do have the bankroll to see them through the dry spells. They hit a couple of good combinations, plus they get to the bonus round a few times. Then, they compare a few spins at max coin with hundreds at a lower bet and claim that the machine is programmed to not hit as frequently and to not hit the bonus round when they play max coin. It's not a fair comparison.

The situation described in the last paragraph is unlikely. I can only think of one instance in which a slot machine paid back less when you played max coin than when you played less than max.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

On the Triple Diamond and Double Diamond slots, the Triple Diamonds pay off considerably more than the Double Diamonds. Does that mean that the Triple Diamonds machine is set up for a lot less frequency of hits than the Double Diamond slot?

Enjoy your articles!


Dear Phil,

There does tend to be an inverse relationship between the multiplying factor and hit frequency--that is, the higher the multiple, the lower the hit frequency. I would think that, on the whole, Triple Diamond machines would tend to have lower hit frequencies than Double Diamond machines. But slot designers have a lot of flexibility in how they lay out the virtual reels and there's not that much difference between two times and three times, so the hit frequencies on Triple Diamond machines could be very close to those on Double Diamond machines.

How's that for a definite maybe?

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

If the average 5-dollar slot pays out 95 percent over its entire run, and the average mid-sized percentage 1-dollar slot pays out 94 percent over its entire run, wouldn't it be more advisable to play the 1-dollar slot, in lieu of the 5-dollar slot, given the fact that it would take an awful lot of spins for the one percent increase of a 5-dollar slot to make a difference in your play?

Also, I know I've been advised to stay away from novelty slots, but the Wheel of Fortune and Monte Carlo slots get an awful lot of action. So I'm wondering if these two novelty slots are the exception to the rule? And do you think the casino would throw in a 'loose' slot amongst such a popular bank of slots, or do you think they get enough play without the casino wasting a 'loose' slot amongst them?


Dear Gail,

You're right that it would many spins, one hundred thousand or more, for that one percentage point difference in payback to have a greater effect on your results than randomness.

But here's an even stronger reason to avoid the five-dollar machine. Let's say you're going to play one credit per spin on both machines at 500 spins per hour. On the dollar machine, you'll give $500 in action per hour and on the five-dollar machine, $2500. Your expected loss on the dollar machine is $30 (6% of $500) per hour. Your expected loss on the five-dollar machine is $125 (5% of $2500) per hour.

In terms of minimizing expected loss, it only makes sense to increase your bet when you have a commensurate decrease in house edge. To have the same expected loss per hour as the dollar machine, the five-dollar machine would have to have a payback of 98.8%.

I don't know anything about Monte Carlo slots, but Wheel of Fortune is the most successful slot in history. But just because a slot is popular, that doesn't mean it's a good bet. Wheel of Fortune, and the other wide-area progressive slots, have some of the lowest paybacks of all slots in the casino.

There are no 'loose' Wheel of Fortune machines. IGT owns all of the machines. The casinos get a percentage of the win for the machines on their slot floors. All of the machines have roughly the same payback.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

When playing some nickel machines, one can bet from one coin to 75 coins. Since the difference in bets can range from a nickel to more than five dollars, will the percentage payoff of the machine vary? I.e., 90 plus percent return on a five-dollar bet versus a less than 90% return on a 25 cent bet?


Dear Bill,

You point out one of the challenges facing slot designers. It's very difficult to design a machine that gives someone playing a few nickels per spin a nickel-slot payback and someone playing a couple of bucks per spin a payback similar to the paybacks on dollar or five-dollar machines?

One way to give a higher payback to someone betting more per spin is to have a bonus on one or more combinations when you play full coin or when you bet multiple coins on a line.

The paytables on most video slots are straight multipliers, so you get the same payback regardless of whether you play one coin or 90. Even when there is a bonus for playing multiple coins, the increase in payback is usually minimal.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,


Is one video poker game better than the rest when you double up on every hand?

Thanks, Dan

Dear Dan,

Assuming all the games deal from a fair deck (a safe assumption in any state-regulated casino in the U.S.), your odds will be the same on each machine. You should check the rules to ensure that the "double up" bet is a 50/5o proposition. I haven't heard of a machine on which it wasn't, but you never know what might turn up in a machine.

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 send a reply to every question. Also be advised that it may take two or more months for your question to appear in my column.

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