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Best of John Grochowski

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Max Bet Myth Busted

22 March 2005

"Hey John! You have to settle something for us."

Anything for a couple of readers, I told the guys who'd called out as I wandered through a bank of reel-spinning slots.

"We were talking about slot myths. You know, the idea that the machine pays less when you use your player rewards card," said an older, gray-haired man.

"Or that the machine pays more when you only bet one coin and gives you less winners when you bet the max," added a younger, bearded fellow.

The random number generator that determines what you see on the reels or on a video slot is on its own microchip and doesn't know whether you're using a players card or whether you've bet maximum coins. But loads of people believe those myths.

"Right," said the bearded one. "What we want to know is, what do you think is the biggest myth? If you could play 'Mythbusters,' like the TV show, where would you like to put the big 'Busted!' sign?"

I told them I had one that might surprise them. The biggest myth surrounding slot machines today is that players should always bet maximum coins.

"That's a myth?" said Mr. Gray, giving me a double-take. "I thought you were supposed to always bet the max."

"I know what he means," his friend Mr. Beard piped in. "It's the video games, the ones that take 45 coins or more. Who's going to bet the max on those?"

Video slots certainly are part of it. Not only does it take 45, 90, even 200 or more coins to bet the max on a video slot, but many are pure multipliers. They multiply winnings by the number of coins wagered per line, with no disproportionate reward for betting the max. You get the same payback percentage by betting one coin per line as if you were betting five, nine or whatever the maximum is for that machine.

"OK, I understand that," Mr. Gray said. "But these machines here, with the reels, do have a jump in the top jackpot. So you should always bet the max, right?"

In the long run, you will get the machine's highest payback percentage by betting the max. But that's not the same thing as saying you should always bet maximum coins.

"How is it different?" Mr. Beard asked.

One of the most important things in casino gambling is to play within your bankroll. A player who can't really afford to bet the max shouldn't force it and risk going broke quickly. Anyway, on most machines you actually lose more money by betting maximum coins, even though you're getting back a higher percentage of your wagers.

It was Mr. Beard's turn.

"What do you mean?"

I took a notebook and pen out of my pocket to show them in blue and white.

Right behind us was a dollar reel-spinner with a two-coin maximum bet, one that paid 400 coins for a top jackpot with one coin bet, but which jumped to a 1,000-coin jackpot with maximum coins. Let's say that with maximum coins wagered, 95 percent of all coins are paid back to players --- about average, give or take a percent, in the Midwest. And let's say that machine pays its jackpot at a moderate average of once per 10,000 spins.

In 10,000 spins, the max-coins player would wager 20,000 coins and get back an average of 19,000 --- understanding that sometimes returns would be much lower, and sometimes higher. Of coins returned, 1,000 come from the jackpot, meaning 18,000 come from smaller hits.

We can say that our 10,000 first-coin wagers bring us back 9,400 coins --- 400 for the jackpot, and 9,000 as half the smaller returns. The second coin brings us 9,600 coins --- 600 for its share of the jackpot, and 9,000 for the smaller hits.

But notice that we're still losing money overall on the second coin. If we made only one-coin wagers, we average 600 coins in losses per 10,000 wagers. By betting the max, we average 1,000 coins in losses instead.

Mr. Gray looked puzzled. "So we shouldn't bet the max?"

I wouldn't say "shouldn't." More like, "It's not imperative," especially for a short-bankrolled player.

There are certainly bet-the-max situations. Progressive slots, with a high percentage of their return tied up in the jackpot, shouldn't be played for less than max coins. Buy-a-pay machines that activate different symbols for each coin should be taken as a max-or-nothing situation. I once saw a woman line up three jackpot symbols and get nothing --- not a reduced payback, but NOTHING --- because she'd bet only one coin and hadn't activated the jackpot symbols. Ugh.

But for a non-progressive machine in which paybacks are proportionate to coins wagered except for a max-coins bonus at the top of the pay table, it's really player's choice. You'll get a higher percentage if you can afford max-coin bets, but don't sweat it if you can't.

"What do you say to that?" asked Mr. Beard, turning to his friend.

"I came with enough money," said Mr. Gray. "I'll keep betting the max."

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:

The Craps Answer Book

> 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