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Taking It To The Limit in Slots

How much should you bet on a slot?


Many games require a certain minimum wager to activate all the features, but not all require the maximum bet.


Some of the most frequent questions we receive concerning slot machines boil down to this question: “How much do I have to bet?”

More often than not, what the reader is really asking is, “How little can I bet?” In these trying economic times, many players want to stretch their gambling budgets, but in the case of a slot machine, they want to assure that by doing so they still can enjoy all the features of the game they’re playing.

Many games require a certain minimum wager to activate all the features, but not all require the maximum bet. On most multi-line video slots, you will need to cover the paylines—that is, wager at least one credit for each payline. So, you’ll need at least 30 cents a spin on a 30-line slot game to assure that you are paid for all winning combinations. If paylines are inactive, you could experience the chagrin of landing five 7s, or five of whatever the top-paying jackpot symbol is, and getting absolutely nothing. If you didn’t bet the line, the jackpot won’t count.


Many of the newer video slots also require an “ante” wager—five or 10 credits, normally—in addition to covering the paylines. The game screen will always tell you if you need to wager this extra amount, usually to activate one or several bonus events. The good news is that many of the newest games do the math for you—there are wagering buttons that have the ante wager and payline-covering amount already added together, so you are always assured you’re getting all the game’s features.

One complaint I’ve heard from players concerning these types of games is that it is a “forced wager”—you don’t have the option of making your money last by betting less than it takes to cover the paylines, even though it’s a conscious decision (although I can’t imagine why one would not want to bet a minimum that is 40 cents or 50 cents per spin.)

And, what if I want to bet a single coin? This question invariably refers not to a multi-line slot, but a traditional three-reel, single-line game. There are a lot of players who still love this type of game, and in the old days, you could find games on which there was no inherent disadvantage to making your money last by betting a solitary coin at a time.

Not so much any more, but you do still have the option. Let me explain.

Before the 1990s, there were many traditional reel-spinners out there that were what’s known in the trade as straight “multipliers.” What this means is that the amount of a jackpot for every paying combination on the game when two or three coins are wagered is exactly two or three times the amount paid for a single-coin wager. Thus, the payback percentage and hit frequency are exactly the same for a single-coin wager as for a three-coin wager. You only win one-third the amount of a max-coin bet, but the odds and return are the same.

Most of the games introduced as straight multipliers way back when have added a bonus for the top jackpot at max-coin. For instance, three 7s will pay $100 for a single-coin wager, $200 for a two-coin bet and perhaps $500 for a three-coin bet. This skews the payback percentage higher for a max-coin bet.

That doesn’t mean you can’t still bet a single coin. In fact, for those so inclined, that max-coin bonus for the top prize really makes no difference, since you were only getting $100 for three 7s with a one-coin bet anyway. It only makes a difference to those interested in achieving the maximum possible payback percentage. You can still pinch your pennies, or in this case, your quarters or dollars, just like the old days.

Just make sure the traditional game is a multiplier and not a “buy-a-pay.” You can spot this kind of game by looking at the pay schedule. There will be jackpot combinations under “Second Coin” “Third Coin” that are not present under “First Coin in the pay-schedule columns. In this case, you are missing jackpot combinations if you bet a single coin, so we’d advise you to bet two or three coins to avoid that big-jackpot-that-pays-nothing scenario I mentioned before.

But if it is a multiplier, go ahead and bet a single coin if you want to. Just make sure you’re still getting all the slot game has to offer.



Quick Tip


Read the screen. Before deciding how much you’re going to wager on a slot machine, it’s always best to read the screen—it will tell you exactly what you need to bet and what your wager activates. It also will tell you if you need to bet the maximum to activate the top jackpot—big-money progressives often require a max-bet. Your best bet: Make sure you know going in what’s required.

Taking It To The Limit in Slots.

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