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Ask the Slot Expert: Do the amounts on the Wheel of Fortune affect how often you spin it?

22 November 2017

Question: At The Orleans in Las Vegas, there are three high-limit Wheel of Fortune slot machines in their high limit room. They are all right next to each other. Two of them are \$5 credit machines, and you have to bet two credits (\$10 per spin) to qualify for the wheel spin that appears only on the final third reel, center line pays only. The other machine is a \$10 credit machine, and you only have to bet one credit (\$10 per spin) to qualify for the wheel spin, center line only pays. The only visible different is the \$10 machine has much higher amounts on the wheel, up to \$4,000, while the \$5 machine has lower amounts up to \$1,195.

At first, I didn't even notice there was a \$10 machine and played the \$5 machine. When I returned a day later, I noticed the difference and played the \$10 machine and was fortunate to hit for \$800 after a \$90 investment.

Since both machines require \$10 per spin and the \$10 machine has higher wheel amounts, does that mean that there is a lower chance of landing the wheel spin on the \$10 machine than on the \$5 machine?

Answer: All other things being equal, you could guess that the higher amounts on the \$10 machine's wheel means that you're less likely to spin that wheel. If the expected value of a wheel spin is the same on all the machines, the higher values on the \$10 machine's wheel means that the probability of spinning it has to decrease to yield the same expected value as on the \$5 machines.

All other things being equal, though, is a loophole large enough to drive Tesla's new electric semi through. In this case, all other things are two things: the long-term payback of the base game and the long-term payback of the machine.

Without seeing the PAR sheets for the machines, we can only speculate about how the machines are set up. For instance, it's possible that the long-term payback on the base game and the probability of the wheel spin are the same on both denominations, so the long-term payback of the \$10 machine is higher than that of the \$5 machines. I don't think this scenario is likely for two reasons. One, it might push the long-term payback of the \$10 machine over 100%, which is not allowed. And two, there aren't as many options for long-term payback for higher denomination machines — especially single-coin machines — so I think the long-term paybacks on the \$5 and \$10 machines are going to be about the same.

Another possibility is that the payback on the base game on the \$10 machine is lower than on the \$5 machines, but the probability of spinning the wheel is the same. That would give us the same long-term payback on all the machines. This scheme may be popular with players who like high volatility because you don't win much on the base game, but you make up for it when you spin the wheel. It's like Double Double Bonus and Triple Double Bonus. You don't win as much as on other paytables when you hit the lower hands, but you can catch up when you hit quads and quads with kickers.

I think the most likely scenario is that the payback on the base game and the probability of spinning the wheel are both a bit lower on the \$10 machine than an on the \$5 machines. The slot designers have to maintain a delicate balance. In the process of creating a machine with a certain long-term payback, they have to make the base game pay back enough that players don't give up in frustration because they never win anything and the machine just sucks up their bankrolls. And the designers have to make the probability of spinning the wheel high enough that players don't say that you never get to spin the wheel.

That's my best guess. To paraphrase an old hair dye commercial, only the PAR sheets know for sure.

I like to play the kiosk games that casinos sometimes have. I earned the required number of points — actually, many more but who's counting — and tried my luck at a game today. I've never won anything big on the kiosk games, just minimal bonus points, minimal free slot play, and minimal dining credits. But today, I won a very valuable prize.

I won a free drink. Something I could get just by sitting at a machine. And a waitress will bring it to me. I don't have to go to the bar to get it and sign a voucher and show my ID. Plus I'm going to tip the bartender the same amount I would tip the waitress, so that's a wash. This is like winning free parking, which is still free at this casino.

Okay, technically the reward removes the requirement that you're supposed to be playing to get a free drink, but it still seems like I won something I could get for free anyway.

A little casino humor: A few weeks ago, Jean Scott, the Queen of Comps, asked me what I did on a particular day. I said that I went to a casino — the same one with the kiosk game, incidentally — and earned enough points to get a free movie ticket to the theater attached to the casino.

"How much did that ticket cost you?" she asked.

John Robison

John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots
John Robison
John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots