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Penny Slot Paybacks

1 July 2004

By John Robison

My sister, her husband, my husband and I enjoy taking gambling trips. We all like to play the slots. Our favorite is the Cleopatra video. In most casinos we needed to wait for a machine to be open. They seemed to be very popular. However, in the last few months these machines seem to be disappearing. Why would casinos take them out if they were so popular?


Dear Karen,

Casinos sometimes remove machines because rights or patent problems arise after a game is introduced. Other times, problems in the machine's software causes a game to be removed pending a fix.

Most of the time, though, casinos remove machines in order to replace them with newer and maybe more popular machines. Most machines go through a honeymoon period in which they get a lot of play because everyone wants to try out the new machine. After the honeymoon, play drops off and only the people who really like the game continue to play it. Sometimes it seems like a casinos just can't have enough of a hot new machine. After the honeymoon, they need far fewer.

Cleopatra has been around for quite a while, so her honeymoon was over long ago. And her age may be the reason the casinos you visit are removing the machines. They may want to replace them with newer games.

If I were running a casino and I had people lined up to play an old slot--even a steam-powered one, if such a beast existed--I'd keep operating the machine for as long as the regulators let me. But then the problem I'd have is that the machine may not be able to use ticket technology or some other upgrade I have planned for my slot floor.

In any case, write letters to the slot directors at your favorite casinos and let them know that you miss the Cleopatra machines.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

I always enjoy your newsletter.

My questions concern the video slots, particularly penny slots. They seem to be getting more and more popular at places like the Ameristar in St Louis, also at Philadephia, Mississippi and Biloxi. As a senior who enjoys playing but wanting to limit my losses, I play them almost exclusively.

1. Is the payback on penny slots a lot less than on higher denominations?

2. On machines with 15, 20 or 25 lines, is there any advantage to playing a high number of lines? It seems to me that if I play only 10 lines, I do better than playing a higher number, that playing 20 lines does not double my chances of a winning combination. In other words it seems that two cents on 10 lines would be better than one cent on 20 lines. Please comment.


Dear Alan,

Traditionally, penny slots have had abysmal paybacks. It's tough to make money from a machine with a max bet of three cents.

Now that players can bet a couple of dollars per spin on a penny slot, they should be getting a dollar-slot payback. But here's the problem: How do you design a paytable that gives a high payback to someone playing full coin and a very low payback to someone playing a few cents per spin?

I checked the latest Strictly Slots for penny slot paybacks, but I couldn't find a jurisdiction that reported those paybacks separately. Until I get some hard evidence proving otherwise, I would guess that today's penny video slots have paybacks similar to the paybacks on nickel video slots and that those paybacks are usually three or more percentage points lower than the paybacks on dollar and up slots.

As for your second question, the only advantage usually in playing more lines is getting a higher hit frequency. The payback stays the same. Your chances of hitting a winning combination when playing 20 lines should be about twice that when you play only 10 lines because you have twice as many paylines. They might be a little less than twice because playing more lines may not increase your chances of hitting a scatter pay.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,


Do cell phones work in Atlantic City casinos? I.e., Can you receive and make calls? if they work, are they banned throughout the casino?


As far as I know, none of the Atlantic City casinos has done anything to prevent a cell phone from working in the casino. I've never tried to use one and I can't recall ever seeing anyone use one, but I would expect a dealer at a table game to ask me to step away from the table for the duration of the call.

Different casinos have diffent rules at different times. When in doubt, ask a dealer or security guard.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

With some effort you can get the slot payoff percentages from any casino owned by a corporation with public stock ownership. Just look in the annual report, of money in and money out of machines. Simple division will show the percentage.

I own stock in one of the lesser corporations and was pleasantly surprised over 3 years they boosted the percentage from 88% to 92.8% and you know it when you play.

The info is there, just a little accounting knowledge goes a long way.


Dear Tim,

I don't know which company's annual report you looked at. I checked a recent one from Mandalay Resort Group. I couldn't find anything in the report that listed how much money was put into its machines and how much money its machines paid out. I know that these numbers are available, however, because they've been given at shareholders meetings I've attended.

In any case, you'd want these numbers broken down by property, at the very least, and also by denomination, if possible. I don't think there's much value in knowing what the payback percentage is across all machines in a corporation. Consider Mandalay Resorts. Circus Circus has quite a few high-payback video poker machines. Mandalay Bay has none.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,

I have a question: Do you know if the Price Is Right slot is in Delaware Park, or any casinos on the East Coast?


Dear Kelly,

Just about every slot manufacturer has a "Where to Play" page on its website, so I went to the IGT site to see where Price Is Right machines are.

Sheesh. Every time IGT redesigns its site, it makes it more difficult to find things and, I think, they have less information available. I couldn't find The Price Is Right under either Games by Category or Games by Product Line. I then entered "The Prise Is Right" in the search box and got a page back that said that my search returned no matches. I clicked on Advanced Search and got a page that required me to log in. I suspect IGT will never give me access to the protected areas of their site. There's this dearth of information about the machine despite the fact that it's listed as an award winner on the page describing the latest Best of Slots poll in Strictly Slots magazine.

The only thing I could find about the machine is a boring seven-minute commercial for the game.

All hope is not lost, though. You can send an e-mail to and they will send you a list of casinos with IGT games. Note that because casinos add and remove machnies all the time, they may not be able to tell you that a casino has a particular game. Your best bet is to e-mail or call the casinos directly.

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