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# A shuffle through the gaming mailbag

26 April 2012

Q. I've been playing the slots for 40 years and have played in 96 casinos, by my count. I have a question that I've never been able to get a response to, even from IGT.

We're told to check the payout schedule on the back glass on every machine. Fine. If you hit three bars, a standard payout is times 10. If you hit two bars and a double multiple, you win 20 times whatever you bet. Red sevens may pay, say, 70. Hitting two of them with a double brings 140.

Why, then, do cherries have a completely different payout schedule, albeit to the player's advantage, than any other symbol? For example, hitting a cherry symbol on most any machine pays twice your bet. Yet, if you come up with a cherry and a double symbol, it will pay 10x, not four! Similarly, coming up with a cherry and a triple multiple, you will win 15 times your bet, not six.

The payout schedule on, for example, a \$10 Triple Double Diamond machine states that you will win \$20 if you hit a cherry symbol. Yet, if you hit a cherry and a triple diamond, you win \$150, not \$60.

This anomaly has happened thousands of times, whether I'm playing a \$10 machine or a dollar or a quarter game. My question is, why does this happen, which goes against the paytable? Sure, it's certainly a nice advantage to us but why wouldn't the manufacturer simply pay what should be simple math?

Just curious and not complaining!

A. Slot machines are designed to make the game interesting and fun for players, to keep them at their seats. If you find a pay table anomaly, such as an extra-large payout on cherries with a Triple Double Diamond, it's because the designer thinks the added attraction will keep people playing.

All that is accounted for in the math of the game. It's possible to design a game that pays \$60 on a cherry with a Triple Double Diamond with the same payback percentage as one that pays \$150 on the same combination. That the \$150 payoff exists tells us the designer thinks players are more likely to stay in their seats for a game with that payoff than for one with the lower payoff, but perhaps slightly more frequent wins.

Unlike video poker, the pay tables on slot machines don't tell us anything about the payback percentage on the game. In video poker, we can calculate the odds of drawing any given hand, and calculate the payback percentage on the machine just by looking at the pay table. On slot machines, we can't tell the frequency of winning combinations without inside information, and can't calculate payback percentage from the pay table.

Q. If a slot player plays one unit instead of the three maximum units, and wins, say \$100, would the winning combination still have necessarily occurred if the three maximum units had been played for, say, a \$300 win?

It seems that the relatively higher dollar winning combinations usually occur more frequently when only one or two units are played rather than when the maximum three units are played. In other words, the \$100 win for the one unit play may not have happened at all if the maximum three units had been played at that particular time.

Is this just an inaccurate perception? I realize that conventional wisdom dictates "always play the maximum units," but aren't there many specific instances where maximum play can work against you?

A. I'm going to give you a two-track answer here that might be a little more involved than your question.

First, the combinations that you see on the reels are not dependent on your bet size. The random number generator that determines which symbols land on the paylines does not know how much you've wagered. On the average, you will get as many winning combinations if you bet the max as if you bet less.

However, on any one spin, you're likely to get a different result when wagering different amounts -- not necessarily better, not necessarily worse, but different. That's because your timing in reaching for the max bet or repeat bet button is going to be a fraction of a section different than if you reach for a button to bet a different amount. The RNG runs continually, and dozens of numbers per second, and any change in timing will yield a different result.

The most sophisticated RNGs use other factors, too, in determining an entry point for the algorithm that generates the random number. It could make a difference whether you touch the screen or touch the physical button, or whether you bet the max by using the max coins button or the repeat bet button.

So yes, your bet size does make a difference on any one spin, but not in any predictable way. It's just as likely that you hit a top jackpot with a max coins bet that you wouldn't have gotten if you'd wagered less as is the opposite scenario.

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John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.