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Choosing Your Game

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Percentages are important, but picking a game you’ll enjoy is more important

By Frank Legato

 

Most of those reading this column are seasoned slot players, but for those who are not, the variety on a given slot floor can be intimidating. How do you choose your game?

There has been much written over the years about seeking out the slot games that have the highest payback percentage, also known as return-to-player, or RTP. First, a definition: Payback percentage is a theoretical number that represents the percentage of all wagers on a slot machine that is returned to players in the form of winnings.

Note, that is all players of a given slot machine. The programmers who create a slot game calculate the payback percentage after mapping all the possible reel results. Following that are simulations of millions of spins to come up with a theoretical percentage—an RTP that is normally proven out over several weeks of actual play on a slot machine. Most jurisdictions have a minimum RTP somewhere around 80 percent (in Nevada, it’s 75 percent), and offer games—usually high-denomination games—that return 97 percent or more to players over time.

These days, online casinos make identifying the RTP easy—it is typically listed with the game. For physical casinos, it’s better to check magazines such as this or our sister publication Strictly Slots, to see what the overall percentages registered in actual play have been for a given casino. Our charts break down the games by denomination, so it’s relatively easy to see which denominations have the highest return to the player.

However, that doesn’t mean you should always pick the highest payback available. The highest returns are still given on the same machines as 30 years ago—the dollar, $5 and higher-denomination traditional reel-spinners. To play these consistently takes a big bankroll and a lot of patience. They are for gamblers who don’t mind watching reels spin for long periods and little return before ultimately landing that big win.

The most popular games these days are multi-line video slots that have a much lower return. But remember, a high payback percentage does not mean you are going to win. In fact, on a 100 percent payback machine like full-pay video poker, you’ll win half the time over the long run. It’s like the flip of a coin.

So, don’t pick a game by RTP alone. Above all, pick what you enjoy playing. The penny games with frequent hold-and-spin bonuses and free games are not going to return anywhere near those traditional reel-spinners, but they don’t require the bankroll of those older games, and they are a lot of fun to play.

And you will win—maybe lower jackpots, but more consistently, and while having fun along the way.

Many players worry about the size of the maximum bets on the newer video slots. Instead of two, three or five credits per spin as on a traditional game, you may have maximum bets of 500, 600, even 1,000 credits or more. Two things to remember here: First, you’re talking about pennies. A bet of 200 credits equals two coins on a dollar reel-spinner.

More importantly, though, is the fact that you are not required to bet the maximum on every spin. The big, big progressives still, by and large, require a maximum wager. However, there are definitely many fewer games than there were even five years ago that require you to bet the maximum for the top jackpot. These days, there are more games that automatically adjust the progressive meters according to your wager, making the top prize available at any bet.

Today’s video slot games have a minimum bet, almost always the minimum required to activate all the paylines. You can normally experience all a game has to offer by meeting that wager, and it’s usually well under $1. Consider your bankroll, and start out with a wager you can consistently afford. Sooner or later, you’re going to hit a big win that will jack up your credit meter into the hundreds or more. This is when you raise your bet—to the maximum if you can afford it.

Those wins will eventually come at the higher wager as well, and that’s how you end up with a winning slot session.

Slot machines are random devices. There is no strategy that you can employ that will guarantee you a winning session. (If someone tells you differently, they are wrong.) There is no way to figure out when a game is going to hit that juicy win. Therefore, your best bet is to outlast the house average by ensuring you can stay in the game. That means knowing how the game is likely to behave, and having a big enough bankroll to outlast that inherent house edge.

Slot machines are meant to provide an entertaining experience. That’s why the most important factor in picking a game from the wealth of variety available on a modern slot floor is simple: Play what you can afford. Calculate the bankroll that will allow you to play the longest. And, above all, play a game that you have fun playing.

Fun is what it’s all about. •

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