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Best of John Grochowski

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Paybacks on video slots

1 March 2011

As long as there have been slot machines, there have been players looking for the highest-paying games.

That hasn't changed in the video age. While we can't tell a big-payer from a coin-gobbler from the outside, it doesn't stop players like Kathy from looking for a few clues.

"The video games are fun," she wrote, "but I need to know if they give me a shot to win. Do they pay as much as the old three-reel games?"

By and large, they don't. That's because most video slots are set at low denominations. The old formula of slots having higher payback percentages at higher coin denominations holds true on video, just as it long has done on reel-spinning games.

Dollar games pay more than quarters, which pay more than nickels, which pay more than pennies. Those popular penny video games almost always have lower payback percentages than quarter reel-spinners.

That's true even though players wager more coins on video, and total wagers can be as high or higher than on three-reels slots. If you're playing a penny game with 25 paylines, just covering all the lines with single-credit wagers gets you to a quarter bet. Bet three coins per line, and you've reached the 75-cent maximum on most quarter reel spinners. And it's not unusual to see a 20-coin per line max on a 25-line video, for a possible $5 per spin.

That's not penny ante stuff, yet the payback percentage on that penny video slot tends to be 4 to 8% lower than on the quarter reel-spinner. Doesn't seem fair somehow, does it?

There are a few factors that go into that. First, people LIKE the entertainment of video games with their free spins, second-screen bonuses, sharp graphics and fun sound effects. When players are filling the seats, there's little need to goose up the payback percentages.

Second, most players stick to one or two coins per line. There aren't many who really make maximum wagers on multiline video slots, so the total wager on a nickel game is a whole lot more likely to be very close to that on a quarter reel-spinner than it is to surpass it.

Third, play is slower on a video slot than on a reel-spinner that doesn't have animated bonus rounds. Whether you're getting free spins or taking a trip around the Monopoly board, you're getting playing time without making extra wagers. If you're betting 75 cents a spin on a video slot, and I'm betting 75 cents a spin on a three-reel game with no bonus events, then I bet more money per hour than you do because I'm not getting that free time.

Finding the games with the best payback percentage and the best shot to win is a worthy goal. It's why I concentrate most of my play on blackjack, certain video poker games and craps.

But there are other considerations. Your budget is one. If you're equipped with a bankroll that will support one coin per line on penny slots and won't stretch to bigger bets at other games, then the pennies are where you belong. Extended play is another thing to think about. Low-denomination video slots give back more of their return in frequent small pays, while three-reelers concentrate more winnings in bigger payoffs on less frequent wins. That leads to long cold spells on the reel-spinning games, so if your focus is on extended play for the day's entertainment, the video slots might be your game of choice.

And then there's the fun factor. The animation, sound effects, music and hands-on interactivity of the bonus events on video slots are what a day in the casino is about to a large segment of today's players. Whether they're taking a trip around the Monopoly board, riding the Batcycle while chasing the Joker around Gotham City or choosing the right Deal or No Deal suitcase, some players feel like they're playing the game rather than just waiting to see whether they win or lose.

"You know what was the most fun I've ever had in the casino?" one player once asked me. "It was playing a video game called Cash Crop with my Dad. We were playing together, and that bonus kept coming up, and we kept making the right picks, avoiding that gopher (who ended the round). We grew crop after crop after crop, and in the end I think we won 30 bucks or so. It wasn't a lot of money, but we had a blast."

That doesn't mean video slots are for everyone — a longtime slot fanatic who loves reel-spinners for their volatility and chances at big jackpots once told me, "There's nothing more boring than a video slot. I go through one of those bonuses and build up 200 credits and what is that? Two bucks!"

The three-reel traditionalists aside, there are reasons video slots are the hottest games in the casinos. The reasons just don't include the highest payback percentages.

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