The key to success is to stay in the game and wait out the odds
by Frank Legato
As we told you last month, when it comes to whether you win or lose on a given night at the slot machines, luck ultimately rules the day. However, there are ways to maximize your chances of bucking that hefty house edge on the machines to walk away a winner.
No, you can’t have a guarantee that you’re going to win on any given session. Every slot machine contains a computer chip, onto which a set of numbers is programmed, each corresponding to a reel result. Low reel results are assigned many numbers; higher results are assigned fewer numbers. From there, luck takes over. The computer’s random number generator (RNG) will call up hundreds of the numbers each second, and the number it happens to generate the instant you hit the spin button governs the reel result. Probabilities dictate that it will be a lower result more often than a higher one, but it’s still possible to hit any of the results, including the top jackpot, on any given spin.
The key to long-term success, as we noted last month, is to stay in the game long enough to wait out the odds, so you are still seated at the machine when that RNG happens to select a high-paying number. The best way to stay in the game is to know your game—how it can generally be expected to dole out its payback percentage. Different machines dole out the hits in different ways. Last month, we told you the visual clues present in various types of reel-spinning slot games reveal the kind of bankroll you’ll need and the average wagers you need to make to give you the best shot at success.
This month, we take a look at video. This was once a relatively simple proposition. When multiline video slots began to appear in the late 1990s, most followed a similar setup and math program. Originally introduced in Native-American jurisdictions and in Atlantic City by Aristocrat, the initial five-line quarter setups were soon replaced by nine-line nickel video slots.
That nine-line nickel model remained the norm for years, as video slots by WMS Gaming surged in popularity with games like Reel ’em In and, later, the video version of Jackpot Party. Aristocrat, meanwhile, maintained the popularity of its own video slots such as Trick or Treat and Enchanted Forest, as slot leader IGT revamped its own video line to release some of the most popular themed multiline slots ever, from Texas Tea to current mainstays like the various video versions of Wheel of Fortune.
During the year 2000, though, a single technological development appeared that would multiply the game styles in the video genre: the ticket. Ticket-in/ticket-out slots—by removing coins from the equation—cleared the way for expansion of video, first within the nickel denomination with more paylines, higher credit jackpots and more elaborate bonus events. Finally, tickets also enabled the penny denomination, and with it, some totally different video game styles.
Today, there are several different styles of video slots from which you may choose. And the way the math programs are written is different enough that knowing ahead of time how each style distributes its payback percentage can give you a boost in hanging on long enough to go home a winner.
Frequency vs. Volatility
You already know that the most prominent feature of all the video slots out there is a low initial stake—nickel, two-cent, even penny. Some will offer all three denominations in one machine.
What you may not know is that even within these denominations, and within similar themes, similar-looking machines may behave quite differently. On one machine, a small stake means you play a long time for very little money. On the next machine over, you may have to fish into your wallet to replenish the credit meter before that big hit comes.
For the better part of a decade, the proliferation of video slots mainly took place in the nickel denomination, and the vast majority of those games were similar. They had nine paylines and accepted bets ranging from one to five coins per line. Forty-five cents would get you a max-coin bet. Along with these similar games came similar bonus events. Every 60 spins or so, you would go into a bonus round that invariably gave you a choice of objects from which to choose—gold nuggets, treasure chests—to reveal a hidden bonus amount or bonus amounts.
With the advent of tickets, we began to see more paylines—20, 25, even 40 or 50. The nickel denomination was soon accompanied by the penny denomination, and more recently, pennies have begun to take over. The bonus rounds on the newer penny games often were more simple—a free spin round, or a straight credit award for a line symbol.
There are a few things that are similar regardless of the denomination you play, but there also are significant differences between the game styles that should change your approach to the game, in terms of bankroll and average wager.
So how do you tell which is which? There are three vital factors to look at: denomination, number of paylines and style of bonus event.
Traditional Multiline Video
Even though multiline video has been available in the U.S. for less than a decade, there is a game style that can be called the “traditional” style for the genre. Look for a game in the nickel denomination, with anywhere from nine to 20 paylines.
Now, touch the Help button and look at the style of the bonus round. It will be a second-screen event with animation or other cute features, and more often than not, it will be a so-called pick-a-tile game—one in which you are asked to choose objects to reveal hidden bonus amounts.
Some of the most popular games out there in this “traditional” style are IGT games such as Texas Tea, Creature of the Black Lagoon, and the original versions of the Addams Family and Beverly Hillbillies slots. From WMS Gaming, you have games classics like Reel ’em In, and the video versions of Monopoly, Hollywood Squares and Jackpot Party. Bally’s video Betty Boop and other “Cartoon Jackpots” games follow this mode. From Aristocrat, older games such as Enchanted Forest and Trick or Treat follow this model. Atronic games such as Sphinx and many of the newer “e-motion” games are like this.
Games of this style are almost always set up for high hit frequency and low volatility. What this means, in practice, is that the majority of the winning combinations will yield low or moderate jackpots, but there will be a lot of them. You will hit some winning combination every two or three spins.
Moreover, this style of game is designed for sustained entertainment rather than being a gambler’s game. As such, your bankroll requirement will be relatively low. Expect a fairly long play session for a small investment. Don’t be discouraged if a large jackpot doesn’t come immediately—really big hits are comparatively rare on this type of game. However, as with all slot machines, the big hits are in the program. The best chance to walk away a winner? When you do hit a big score, consider it a cash-out event. Cash in that ticket and pocket the winnings. You can then go back to your original stake of a $20 bill or two, but hang onto those winnings for another session.
Your average stake? It should be as much as you are comfortable with, as long as you bet enough to activate all the paylines. Usually, that means nine coins on a nine-line game. Once you’ve covered the lines, the payback percentage and hit frequency remain constant from that point. You can start with the minimum required to cover the lines and raise it later if you want, should your credit bank rises.
When should you quit and look for another game choice?
If you are faced with a game that has all the features described above and you experience a lot of dry spells—if you go through a couple of $20 bills without the credit meter rising, for instance—it may be time to move on. It may not have a high enough hit frequency, or if it does, those frequent hits may not include enough positive wins. If you’re betting 45 credits a spin and consistently scoring 20-coin hits, you’re obviously getting no place fast—move on.
The other thing to look for is the frequency of the bonus round. These games devote a good portion of the overall payback percentage to the bonus round. Make sure it is frequent enough to take advantage of it. If you see big bonus awards advertised on the screen but you never get to the bonus round, even after you’ve fed the bill acceptor a couple of times, that bonus is no “bonus” at all. Move on.
The Penny Revolution
The ticket-in/ticket-out revolution has spawned a different style of multiline video slot—the ones that are multiplying in the penny denomination at casinos across the country.
Most of the newest penny games behave in a significantly different manner than their nickel cousins. A few are simply lower-denomination clones of the traditional nickel games, and should be played with the mind-set.
How do you tell the difference? Again, look at the number of paylines and the style of the bonus game. If you see a penny denomination with more than 20 paylines, hit that help-screen button again and check the bonus feature. If there is nothing other than perhaps expanding or multiplying wild symbols; or if the only bonus feature is a free-spin feature, that game is likely to be much more volatile than the more traditional nickel multiline games.
What that means to you is that a single bill may not last an hour as it does on that more traditional-style nickel multiline game. However, most of the newer penny video slots should not be approached from the standpoint of soaking in entertainment all night on a small investment. The newer penny games are built for gamblers.
You won’t get a hit every time like on the nickels, but you will get occasional hits that bring you hefty chunks of credits.
The newest penny video slots follow this model—the Bally “Alpha” games like Hot Shots and Money Money; IGT games like video Double Diamond or Stinkin’ Rich; WMS games on the new “CPU-NXT” platform like Men In Black or Quacker$; just about any newer Aristocrat game, such as 50 Lions, Line King, Jeff Foxworthy, etc.
Here’s how you should approach these games: Bankroll as if you were playing a quarter reel-spinner. In other words, start with several $20 bills. You will probably need more than one, particularly if you are betting the maximum. (Max-bets on these games can be $2 or $3.) You don’t have to bet the max, though. As with the more traditional video slots, start by simply covering the lines. Then play it as if you were at a table game. If you get a juicy hit, raise your stake. If you hit a dry spell, lower it back down to just covering the paylines. These are gambler’s games. Play them like a gambler. Take advantage of the opportunity to raise your stake when you can afford it, and lower it when necessary to make sure you stay in the game to wait out that big hit.
If there is a free-spin feature, make sure it happens with reasonable frequency. The free-spin rounds—often occurring with all jackpots doubled, tripled or more—are typically lucrative on this type of game, and will replenish a depleted credit meter. If there is a free-spin round advertised that you never see, even though you’ve fed the acceptor a couple of times, it may be best to move on.
Video progressives should be approached in the same way as the stand-alone games, with a few exceptions. Most of the multiline video progressives out there include the same kinds of bonus features as their stand-alone cousins, so you will not experience the same kinds of excruciating dry spells that can be typical on a reel-spinning progressive.
However, the big money is the reason you play a progressive—so again, look at the help screen. If max bet is required to qualify for the progressive, go ahead and bet the maximum.
Wanting to shoot for the progressive pie is the only reason you should be playing this style of game in the first place. If you don’t want to bet the max required to win the big prize, there are plenty of stand-alone choices on the floor in which there is no inherent advantage to betting the max.
Many progressive video slots, though, do not require you to bet the max to qualify for a jackpot. Aristocrat’s Hyperlink games—Zorro, Cash Express—do not require a max bet to qualify for one of four progressive prizes. A larger stake does increase your chance at one of the higher jackpots, though, so know that going in and increase your bet when you can afford it.
Atronic’s latest video progressive series, called “eMillions” (see our “Slot Spotlight” section), includes incentives for max bet, but cool features even if you do not bet the maximum. If you simply cover all the lines on this game, you qualify for a million-credit jackpot as opposed to a $1 million jackpot. That’s still a cool 50 grand, and you still get an extra chance at a re-spin if you get four of the five symbols required for the progressive.
Other new video progressives include features allowing for fun, good returns and high hit frequency even if you do not bet the maximum. Again, look at the help screen and then decide whether it’s worth your while to play for less than a maximum bet.
Knowing how your game will behave before you plunk your hard-earned money into the machine will give you the best chance of staying in the game and bucking the inherent slot house edge. We hope these guidelines give you a general idea of how to get the best bang for your slot buck.
Just remember: Have fun!