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HOME > STRATEGY > Strategies & Tips > Ask the Slot Expert: Paybacks on penny slot machines

Ask the Slot Expert: Paybacks on penny slot machines

7 February 2018

By John Robison, Slot Expert™

Question: Do you answer all questions? Or just the ones that agree with you?

Answer: No and no.

I don't answer all questions. I get too many to be able to answer all of them. I answer the questions that I think are the most interesting or that are about something new or are about something old but in a new way.

Whether the correspondent agrees or disagrees with me is irrelevant. I don't need constant ego-stroking like a couple of world leaders who come to mind. In fact, some of the best e-mails are from people who disagree with me.

Remember the back and forth I had with someone who thought he had uncovered a massive conspiracy about the RNG a little over three years ago? He wrote that "all business regarding the RNG is just a smoke curtain in use to hide the true, real functions of a slot (the Game Logics)...." One of his claims is that not all winning combinations were possible on each spin — a situation that is illegal in all U.S. jurisdictions whose regulations I've read.

After a bunch of back and forth, I discovered that this correspondent did not live in the United States and was mixing and matching regulations from different states and countries and assuming his ideas applied universally. He planned to publish a book that was going to shake the slot industry to its core. I'm still waiting to see the book.

Question: I agree with your answer that the reason the slot machines seem tighter is because we're playing with pennies instead of nickels or quarters like we used to, and many more pennies. I don't expect we'll do it but I think we should all go back to playing one or five nickels per spin instead of so many cents.

I'm doing basically the same thing by playing one penny per line, but as you suggest I'm still playing against a significantly higher vigorish. I think these new penny machines are wolves in sheep's clothing but until I have more money I think I'm going to keep playing them. They do have some advantage for us low rollers that they are cheap to play and entertaining. If they weren't so darn cheap and fun I think I'd quit playing them.

Answer: When the penny machines were just coming onto slot floors in the United States about 25 years ago, I attended a seminar that had speakers from Australia, where the multi-coin/multi-line model was developed. They cautioned the slot directors to not be fooled by the penny denomination. Players typically bet a quarter, a dollar or multiple dollars per spin. They said that slot directors should not order sub-90% long-term paybacks for these machines as they would for a traditional penny slot with a max bet of five or ten cents. They should order long-term paybacks more in line with other quarter, half-dollar and maybe even dollar machines. One speaker said that players betting dollars per spin deserve a dollar-machine payback.

Published slot payback info indicates that slot directors did not take their advice and ordered paybacks around 90% or less for their penny slots. Their rationale, not unjustified, is that they have to take into account the players who play per spin the number of pennies you can find in the Take-A-Penny/Leave-A-Penny tray.

There might be some hope for higher long-term paybacks on some machines, though. Many machines, particularly those with licensed themes, have dropped the multi-line/multi-coin (How many lines do you want to play? How many coins do you want to bet per line?) model to a "How much do you want to bet?" model. You play all lines on every spin. Your only choice is how much you want to bet per spin.

Note that I didn't say how much you want to bet per line. Some of the betting choices include an additional side bet that enables some features in addition to the line bet. The minimum bet on these machines is usually between 40 and 75 cents. These machines can certainly have quarter machine paybacks.

Slot manufacturers have also developed ways to reward players betting the higher bets on a machine. Certain features might only be enabled when you bet near the top end of the range. You might have to bet the max to be eligible for the top prize. Or if you don't bet one of the top two bets, scatter pays pay a fixed amount instead of a progressive. Another way to reward players making the larger bets is to make bonus rounds more generous. Finally, if the game has a randomly triggered bonus event, they can make it more frequent for the players betting big.

Your final statement, however, hints at why paybacks are likely to remain low on penny machines. You said that they are fun to play.

Penny slots have taken over a significant portion of the slot floor. There wouldn't be so many penny slots if players didn't play them. And as long as players keep playing them despite their low long-term paybacks, slot directors have no incentive to raise their paybacks.

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

Copyright © John Robison. Slot Expert and Ask the Slot Expert are trademarks of John Robison.

John Robison
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. Hear John on "The Good Times Radio Gaming Show," broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoons. You can listen to archives of the show online anytime.

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The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots
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