The age-old adage that higher wagers lead to higher wins is still valid, but with important conditions
By Frank Legato
Slot lovers for the better part of a century have been able to count on one truism—the more you bet, the more you can win. While that is still true, there are certain provisos that should be considered when picking from the variety of choices available on the modern slot floor.
Before the turn of the 21st century, the bet-more, win-more truism played out mainly in the denominations in which the various games were offered. Slot manufacturers have always offered most games to casinos in a variety of game programs, each carrying a different theoretical payback percentage, also known as return to player or RTP.
The RTP is the percentage of all wagers on a game that is returned to players in the form of winnings, over the lifetime of a machine. While the number is calculated by a slot programmer and tested over mil- lions of spins, machines usually accomplish their theoretical payback through a couple of months of actual play.
Over the years, casino slot managers made the determination on RTP according to their particular casino’s policy with respect to de- nominations. Back when all slot machines paid out winnings in physical coins or tokens, the lowest slot denomination found in a casino was the nickel slot.
In the era of mechanical-style reel-spinning slots with one to five paylines, nickel slots were not necessarily placed to make a profit— they were used to fill empty or obstructed spaces, to get at least some revenue out of an otherwise dead area of the casino. Nickel slots were typically set at the lowest payback percentage allowed by law. Thus, on a nickel slot, one could expect an RTP of 75 percent in Nevada and 83 percent in New Jersey, the only two legal U.S. casino jurisdictions before the 1988 law that opened the way for Indian casinos.
As a general rule, payback would go up from there. Quarter slots would return anywhere from 91 percent to 95 percent of wagers to players, depending on the casino. Dollar slots would go beyond that, into the high 90s, with larger denominations typically returning 98 percent or higher.
The formula began to change when Australian-style video slots with multiple paylines began to appear in the mid 1990s. More pay- lines meant larger wagers—say, a 45-coin maxi- mum on a nine-line game. Since the average bets were higher, operators began to treat nickel slots the same as quarter slots, typically offering payback percentages in the low 90s for a formerly bottom-feeding denomination.
But the real change came in the early 2000s, with the spread of ticket-in/ticket-out slot technology. Suddenly, the number of credits on the meter did not represent a number of physical coins to be paid out. The credit total of wins could be in the thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, since the machines now paid out in redeemable tickets.
This led to what is now the most popular denomination on the slot floor, the penny game. The penny slots were much more volatile than the 1990s nickel games, the low denomination allowing for huge credit wins.
This is where the “bet more, win more” philosophy breaks down. With pennies, some casinos took advantage of players by lowering the RTP chosen for pennies to well below 90 percent. Others—particularly in the Las Vegas locals casinos—kept the return closer to the old quarter games, since average bets on pennies are more than those quarter reel-spinners took in.
Penny players are typically forking over a bet of $1 or more for each spin, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are getting a higher payback percentage than quarter reel-spinners that require only 75 cents for a maximum per- spin wager.
Slot manufacturers have responded to the popularity of pennies by offering a wealth of variety, including high-profile themes and new ways to play. Players love these games. But if you’re a penny player, you should know a bit about how to avoid games that don’t give you a higher return for your higher wager.
First, avoid games that have ridiculous maximum bets required to activate all the features. If you have to bet $5 or $10 per spin to qualify for the top jackpot on a game, or to qualify for the best bonus features—and you don’t have an unlimited bankroll—it may be best to avoid that game.
Even the higher-payback penny games out there don’t have a hit frequency that is high enough to sustain $5-$10 per spin for most average slot players. Even if you’ve bankrolled the game with a $100 bill, without a lot of luck, your money can disappear in a heartbeat at those kinds of required wagers.
Secondly, there are a lot of games out there that devote a large portion of the payback percentage to an elaborate bonus event. There’s nothing wrong with that—if the bonus event is frequent enough. If you put your money into such a game and never see the bonus, you’re not being rewarded for your higher wager.
Finally, look for games with flexibility in what’s required for the big payouts. There are plenty of games out there that offer the same frequency of wins and bonuses regardless of the wager. Some offer all the features at any bet level. Others actually raise the jackpot amounts as the wager gets higher. Those are easy to spot—they generally trumpet the advantage to the player.
Modern technology has thrown doubt on the principle that higher wagers yield higher re- turns. Look for games that enable that principle to continue thanks to flexible rules.