Introduction to Choosing Slot Machines
Once a specific casino has been determined to currently be the best of any available, choosing slot machines becomes the next step towards making a profit at slots.
Remember, statistics supplied to state gaming commissions show that the odds of winning are, on average, somewhere around 90%. By assessing all available casinos, then selecting the best possible, you’ve already improved your odds of winning – perhaps by several percentage points.
Whatever your gambling goals are, we’ll talk about those in the next step Identifying Gambling Goals. For now, we need to consider choosing slot machines that will most likely improve our overall odds even more.
So, we’ve walked into our best casino to choose slot machines with the highest odds of winning we can find. How do we select a good slot machine? Most people don’t – they dive right in without much of a plan. Well, we have a plan.
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Why? Because everybody says it’s all about luck. If you pick wrong, “Well,” they say, “better luck next time.” Remember, casino employees are trained to say things like that. If you’d won a jackpot instead, you can believe they would have said, “You’re lucky! I’ll see you later when you win another jackpot!”
Slot attendants have a job to do, and it most certainly isn’t to get you to leave when you should. And, it’s difficult to not to influenced by such comments. But, try not to be.
In the following sections, I’ll briefly explain the following aspects of choosing slot machines:
- How odds are set within a slot machine
- Choosing denomination and maximum credits based on bankroll
- Basics of reading a slot machine’s paytable
- A simple way to use paytables to pick the best machines, and avoid the worst
Two Separate Odds of Winning
The odds of winning for a slot machine is a limited number of settings from the manufacturer. Besides understanding limited settings are available, it may help to understand that slot machines have two odds of winning to determine:
- If a player will or will not win anything
- How much that win will be, i.e., the jackpot amount
Why is understanding these two types of odds significant when choosing slot machines? Because winning slot machines come in all jackpot sizes. You’re still winning if you’re getting enough small jackpots that your bankroll isn’t shrinking. Even if it is slowly depleting, the bankroll can last quite a bit longer, so that’s also a winning slot machine.
Winning many jackpots this way is bankroll cycling. It may not seem very satisfactory, but whether it does or not depends entirely on what your gambling goals are. One type of gambling goal, earning maximum complimentary gifts, is most often achieved via bankroll cycling.
Another point about setting slot machine odds is, how often they change? Of course, it depends on the age of the casino, as discussed in the previous step Assessing Casinos, or if it’s been renovated lately.
In my experience, older-style casinos change their slot machine odds every 7-10 days. Newer-style casinos can change their slot machine odds whenever the machine has been idle for 15 minutes or more, without a players club card inserted or the machine temporarily locked by a slot attendant.
Matching Bankrolls to Denomination/Credits
Only you can decide how much bankroll you want to risk gambling. I highly recommend bringing only as much money you can safely afford to lose comfortably.
Bankrolls quite literally determine which slot machines you can play. But, there’s more to it than understanding a $100 bankroll lets you play a 1-credit, $100-denomination exactly once, with very, very little chance of winning.
Whatever bankroll you have limits which slot machines can be played and how much it can be played. Slot machines have denominations ($0.01, $0.25, $1, $5, $10, etc.) and the maximum credits that can be placed in a single bet.
Slot machines typically must run for a while before wins become more likely. Yes, wins can occur at the first press of a button. They can also happen within the first few bets, where casinos offer a taste. But, usually, they need to run for a while.
About 100-120 bets is the right amount to be prepared to play to determine if you’re sitting at a winning (or breakeven) slot machine. Yes, be careful initially, perhaps making as few as 20 bets, to determine if it happens to be a “bad” machine. Trust your instincts!
If it is a poorly performing machine, a “tight” slot machine, it won’t pay out anything at all. Quick decisions are necessary here, so limited betting gives a clue to its performance, yet still leaves enough to gamble with on another machine if it isn’t – assuming you stop playing it as soon as you notice it’s not performing well enough.
So, again, you determine how much bankroll you can afford to spend. Now, take that number and divide it by 120 bets. If your bankroll is $60, then that’s 50 cents per bet. In such a way, the right choice is a 2-credit, quarter-denomination slot machine. Or, a 50-credit, penny-denomination slot machine.
Always remember to play maximum credits for the highest odds of winning. Meaning, your casino may not have a 2-maximum-credit quarter or 50-maximum-credit penny machines. But, perhaps they have a 1-maximum-credit quarter or less-than-50-maximum-credits penny machines. Such slot machines would provide more than 120 bets of play, which is going in the right direction!
Reading a Slot Machine’s Paytable
When choosing a slot machine to play, a crucial aspect of winning is to review its paytable before playing. Frankly, the casino industry gains an advantage over players that don’t read slot machine paytables.
Located somewhere on a slot machine is one or more tables showing the number of credits won if specific combinations of reel symbols appear in the pay line after the player makes a bet. Below is a relatively generic example of a paytable.
The figure shows reel combinations along with their jackpot depending on the number of credits bet. Paytables don’t typically explain how much credits
Not every reel combination and its associated jackpot are usually shown in a paytable. Other reel combinations not shown in the top rows are also presented in the paytable area. Slot machines with WILD symbols can represent it with a myriad of other possible reel symbols.
A final element of paytable example provided is specific information on winning reel combinations, which can include an indication of how the slot machine operates during play. The bottom row of symbol explains that that slot machine has reel symbols which will move after the reels stop momentarily.
Such additional features may not activate until the maximum credits are bet. It can sometimes be difficult, or impossible, to determine this. Most slot machines with bonus rounds will provide at least some information about it within its paytable.
Developing a habit of reviewing and studying a slot machine’s paytable can help improve your ability to judge the financial risks involved with playing that slot machine.
How to Avoid the Worst Slot Machines
The best way to improve the odds of winning via slot machine gambling is to stop making “sucker bets”. In less colorful language, avoid playing slot machines with terrible odds of winning.
First and foremost, understand when choosing slot machines that there are indeed terrible slot machines at a casino. By merely avoiding them whenever possible, on average, your long-term gambling return will improve. Each time we raise our odds like this, we’re pushing closer to achieving our gambling goals. So, let’s make sure we do that, shall we?
Calculate this “Goodness Ratio” as follows:
- When choosing slot machines, as discussed above, find the paytable with the denomination and maximum credits that best matches your available bankroll.
- Take a close look at the paytable. What is the maximum possible jackpot when maximum credits are bet?
- If the top jackpot is displayed in currency, divide it by both the denomination of the machine and the maximum credits
- If the top jackpot is displayed in credits, divide it by only the maximum credits
This “Goodness Ratio” tells us how worthwhile a specific slot machine is to play relative to others. By using this approach, any slot machine can be compared to any other slot machine.
Example: In the paytable above, the maximum jackpot is 2,400 credits with three maximum credits. Therefore, its Goodness Ratio is 2,400 / 3 = 800.
Repeat this calculation for slot machines of interest. While this Goodness Ratio will be similar for many slot machines, it can be startling to find “sucker bet” slot machines that might not otherwise be avoided.
Summary for Choosing Slot Machines
After a casino has been chosen, it’s time to select candidate slot machines most likely to result in a relatively high-value win. The size of your available bankroll, whatever it is, is an essential factor in this selection process. The bankroll size needs to be matched to the slot machine’s denomination and the number of maximum credits.
Here, we’ve also discussed how slot machines calculated odds twice: once to determine if you’ve won, and again to determine how much you’ve won. Another critical aspect discussed to improve a player’s performance was the basics of reading a slot machine’s paytable.
Finally, we talked about the “goodness” ratio to help select candidate slot machines and, perhaps critically important when improving our odds of winning, knowing precisely which slot machines must be avoided.
The next step on your journey to improving slots performance is Identifying Gambling Goals. Enjoy!
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Have fun, be safe, and make good choices!
By Jon H. Friedl, Jr. Ph.D., President
Jon Friedl LLC