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Best of John Grochowski

Gaming Guru

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A shuffle through the gaming mailbag

19 July 2012

Q. I've read several times that dollar slots pay more than quarters, and quarters more than nickels, and so on. My question is, why? And, if that's the case, shouldn't we all be playing dollar machines?

A. In days of yore -- and by yore, I mean before about 1997 -- when nearly all slots had three mechanical reels and the majority had a single payline, the payback percentages reflected bet size.

Casinos always have catered to their bigger-betting customers, and a player who was betting three coins at a time on a dollar slot was risking four times as much money as someone betting three quarters at a time. Each game has to make its contribution to the bottom line, or it's removed from the floor. The smaller bets on lower-denomination slots always have brought lower payback percentages to keep profitability up.

If a casino had its dollar three-reel games pay 95% and its quarter games only 92%, that seemed only natural. The dollar player was risking more money, and on average was losing more -- 15 cents per spin when betting three coins, compared to 6 cents per spin for the quarter player.

Things are more muddled in the video age, where the hottest slots around are pennies, and might have 25, 40, 50 or more paylines, or 243 ways to win in the Reel Power format. Some penny games have maximum bets of 400 credits, or 500 credits, meaning a $4 or $5 wager that's higher than the $3 max bet that's common on dollar three-reel games.

So why are the paybacks nearly 10% lower on penny slots than on dollar games, depending on specific casino and jurisdiction?

In part, it's because most players don't bet maximum credits on penny slots. A large percentage of players cover all the paylines, but bet only one or two credits per line. On a 40-line game, that's a bet of 40 cents or 80 cents, less than even the minimum bet on dollar slots. That's such a common way of playing that casinos just aren't going to put dollar-level payback percentages on penny machines.

Then there's the matter of player acceptance. Today's video slots are as much about entertainment as they are about gambling. Players flock to the games because they're fun, and the lower payback percentage doesn't seem to bother them much. As in any business, casinos are affected by supply and demand, and have found there is sufficient demand for the penny paybacks they supply.

Should everyone be playing dollar slots? No. It still takes more bankroll to play dollar games than penny slots. If you're betting $3 at a time on a dollar slot, your losses still average 15 cents a spin, and if I'm betting 80 cents on a penny game that returns 86%, I'm losing about 11 cents a spin. Also, the dollar games are more volatile than penny slots, with more big jackpots offset by fewer winning spins. Long losing streaks and large, fast losses are part of the deal with dollar three-reel games. Penny slots have more small wins for a smoother ride that extends play. They take your money over time, but usually keep you in your seat longer.

And there's the entertainment factor. If you're playing for fun, can view losses as the cost of the day's entertainment and don't overbet your bankroll, then the game you should play is the one that gives you the most pleasure.

Q. I was reading a website about poker probabilities. It said there are 40 possible straight flushes, and that four of them are royal flushes. If you separate out the royals like you do in video poker, there are nine times more straight flushes than royal flushes, 36 to four.

So why do royal flushes pay 16 times as much as straight flushes in video poker? You get 4,000 on the royal, but only 250 on the straight flush? Shouldn't you get more like 400 or 450 on straight flushes?

A. Some video poker games do pay 400, and even 500 on straight flushes. I've seen IGT Double Bonus Poker games that paid 400 -- though not in a long time -- and WMS' Multi-Pay Poker not only paid 500 for the straight flush, but also paid on the flush and straight contained in the hand.

But that's all really beside the point. Video poker pay tables are not designed to reflect the exact odds of the game. They're designed to be fun to play and to keep us coming back for more. Maybe someday a gamemaker will come up with a pay table with an enhanced straight flush that proves to be an attraction to players, but that hasn't happened yet.

Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski