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Ask the Slot Expert: How often do bonus rounds hit?

26 January 2022

A long, long (long) time ago, I attended a slot design talk at the big gaming show. This was the time when slots with bonus rounds were just starting their invasion of the slot floor -- I said it was a long, long (long) time ago.

The designers said that bonus rounds, like any other winning combination, involve a trade off. Generally speaking, the more often it hits, the less it can pay. Bonus rounds presented a particular challenge, though. Players don't feel entitled to get a jackpot or a royal flush each time they play. But we all feel entitled to get one or more bonus rounds when we play a machine for a while.

The bonus has to hit often enough that players hit it or see other players hit it and hitting the bonus is an incentive to play.

Consider Wheel of Fortune machines to see what I mean. We all want to hit the top jackpot on those machines, but the thing that makes us continue playing the machine is the desire to spin the wheel. Triggering a bonus round is an incentive to play over and above the incentive of landing a winning combination.

The bonus also has to pay enough that it truly is a bonus. I don't know about you, but I hate it when I finally get a bonus, like free games, and get nothing or next-to-nothing on each spin and leave the bonus winning low four figures -- that's including the two decimal places.

I've had a few very disappointing free games bonus rounds on Game of Thrones: Red Keep. I've had some very good results, but I've also had some rounds that paid me a few bucks or $10 or $20, which isn't much of a bonus at $4 per spin.

I've also had disappointing bonus rounds on Monopoly Hot Shot. In the Hot Shot bonus round on this machine, you get to take a spin on different slot games when their symbols land on the screen. I used to play a game with the same type of bonus but not Monopoly-themed at Gold Coast. On that game, if you didn't win anything on your spins on the sub-games, you got another chance. The bonus was essentially re-triggered. You kept re-triggerring the bonus until you finally won something.

On Monopoly Hot Shot, though, you had one bite of the bonus round apple, win or lose. I would usually win at least a few bucks in the bonus, but I had a few rounds in which I didn't hit anything on any of the sub-games and I left the bonus empty handed.

This is the tradeoff the designers have to make with bonus rounds. The bonus round has to hit often enough that it's an extra incentive to play (but not so often that it becomes just another winning combination and is no longer special). It also has to pay enough often enough that players get excited when it hits. They don't want it to pay so little so often that players quote my favorite literary bear when it hits, "Oh, bother."

If we had access to our favorite machines' PAR sheets, we could see exactly how likely it is to trigger their bonuses. Even without access to the horse's mouth, so to speak, we can make a pretty good guess just by tracking how many times we've hit a bonus in the number of spins we've played. The more spins we play on a machine, the more accurate our estimate will be.

My empirical, rule-of-thumb estimate for how often your average bonus round hits is once per 100 spins.

My typical game plan for playing a machine is to give it 100 spins. If the machine is stingy, I can bail out before reaching 100 spins. On the flip side, I can play more spins if the machine has been generous or I'm having a really good time playing it, ideally both.

Sometimes I'll keep playing a machine just to hit the bonus. (That is the real purpose of the bonus, right?)

A while ago I saw a pirate-themed slot machine, Coin-O-Mania, at Red Rock that looked like it would be fun to play. I played a few hundred-spin sessions on it without hitting the free games bonus. That didn't faze me. My 1-in-100 estimate is just that -- an estimate. The bonuses on each game theme have their own frequencies.

On one multiple points day, I decided I would play the machine until I finally hit the free games. Well, within reason. I wasn't going to spend a fortune or hours and hours trying to get lightning to strike.

I finally got my free games this session around 700 spins in. All told, I figure I played about 1000 spins before finally hitting the bonus. I haven't played this machine enough to know whether I was just very unlucky or its free games bonus really does hit infrequently.

I have much more experience with Quick Hit Blitz, Quick Hit Reel Boost, Red Keep, and Monopoly Hot Shot.

On both of the Quick Hit machines, I've had a few hundred-spin sessions without a bonus. Maybe one-in-a-hundred is too generous for these machines.

But maybe not. I've also had sessions in which I hit more than one bonus round. A few weeks ago on Quick Hit Blitz, there was a woman playing the machine next to mine. It seemed like one of us was always in a bonus.

When I was finished with my bonus, she played a few spins and she got the bonus. When she was done, I hit the bonus after a few spins. When I was done, she hit the bonus a few spins later. And when she was done, she hit the bonus again after a few spins. And then after a few more spins, she hit the bonus again. And then I got jealous because I was barely breaking even and she was up over $700 so I left to play Monopoly Hot Shot (MHS).

MHS has two bonus features. Hot Shot, in which you get free spins on bonus sub-games and which can end with $0 won, and Around the Board. In Around the Board, you get three rolls of the dice to move around a Monopoly board. You win amounts based on the spaces on which you land. You can't end Around the Board empty handed.

You will always win something on Around the Board, so it might hit less frequently than Hot Shot. That guess matches my experience. I don't think I've ever had a 100-spin session without a Hot Shot and sometimes I've gotten it four or five times. It's very typical for me, though, to go without an Around the Board bonus.

My experience is that Hot Shot hits much more frequently than 1-in-100 and Around the Board much less frequently.

Bonuses on Game of Thrones: Red Keep are around 1-in-100 too, but the situation is more complicated. It has two bonus rounds, Free Games and Red Keep. I usually get at least one of the bonuses in a 100-spin session. Sometimes I get one twice, sometimes one of each. My guess is that each event is less frequent than 1-in-100, but overall you hit a bonus around 1-in-100.

Alas, I won't be able to refine my estimate or continue my investigation of whether it's better to bet the max at the minimum denomination or bet the minimum at the maximum denomination because the game is no longer at Suncoast.

Monopoly Hot Shot is gone too, but it may have been moved and I just haven't found it yet.

Game of Thrones machines don't last more than a few months at Suncoast. I think these machines are placed on a participation basis with the manufacturer. In this arrangement, a casino lets the manufacturer decide what games to place in an area on the slot floor in exchange for a cut of the winnings. When the manufacturer thinks that a game has run its course, it replaces it with another game.

The Game of Thrones machines were replaced with another entertainment-themed machine, Crazy Rich Asians. These games may be hot for a while, but they don't have legs after the novelty has worn off.

Let me know how frequently you hit a bonus on your favorite machines.


Here are the latest Covid data. There is a difference in the hospitalization data for US versus NV. The CDC reports total number of Covid hospital admissions. Nevada reports current hospitalizations, not admissions.

All data comes from the CDC (https://www.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#cases_totalcases, https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#new-hospital-admissions), except for Nevada current hospitalizations (https://nvhealthresponse.nv.gov/).


Totals Weekly Changes
US NV US NV
Date Cases  Hosp. Adm.  Deaths  Cases  Curr. Hosp.  Deaths  Cases  Hosp. Adm.  Deaths  Cases  Curr. Hosp.  Deaths 
 01/25/22   71,818,876   4,167,033   866,968   630,343   1,971   8,760   5,102,999   143,329   16,393   57,574   99   133 
 01/18/22   66,715,937   4,023,704   850,575   572,769   1,872   8,627   4,983,654   147,105   13,301   25,927   (1,787)   99 
 01/11/22   61,732,283   3,876,599   837,274   546,842   3,659   8,528   5,421,565   139,572   12,168   32,486   2,594   100 
 01/05/22   56,310,718   3,737,027   825,106   514,344   1,065   8,428   3,501,427   104,272   8,867   20,966   276   61 
 12/28/21   52,809,291   3,362,755   816,239   493,378   789   8,367   1,693,987   63,185   11,127   7,977   89   56 
 12/21   51,115,304   3,569,570   805,112   485,401   700   8,311   1,063,296   55,734   9,102   5,639   9   110 
 12/14   50,052,008   3,513,836   796,010   479,762   691   8,201   853,262   57,885   8,946   5,008   17   91 
 12/07   49,198,746   3,455,951   787,064   474,754   674   8,110   821,215   66,191   8,575   5,011   23   125 
 11/30   48,377,531   3,389,760   778,489   469,743   651   7,985   563,746   28,426   6,309   3,343   (50)   55 
 11/23   47,813,785   3,361,334   772,180   466,400   701   7,930   667,924   41,145   10,754   4,784   (24)   86 
 11/16   47,145,861   3,320,189   761,426   461,616   725   7,844   604,748   63,164   7,862   4,577   22   85 
 11/09   46,541,113   3,257,025   753,564   457,039   703   7,759   516,764   33,219   8,290   5,539   34   103 
 11/02   46,024,349   3,223,806   745,274   451,500   669   7,656   555,915   38,028   9,226   4,327   45   109 
 10/26   45,468,434   3,185,778   736,048   447,173   624   7,547   488,829   42,265   9,842   4,753   (87)   96 
 10/19   44,979,605   3,143,513   726,206   442,420   711   7,451   578,396   11,963   4,381   136 
 10/12   44,401,209   714,243   438,039   7,315   795,586   14,067   15,710   149 
 10/05   43,605,623   700,176   422,329   7,166   554,194   10,642   3,852   121 
 09/28   43,051,429   689,534   418,477   7,045   817,218   14,463   6,160   165 
 09/21   42,234,211   675,071   412,317   6,880   971,637   14,691   7,466   152 
 09/14   41,262,574   660,380   404,851   6,728   1,176,763   12,919   10,256   145 
 09/07   40,085,811   647,461   394,595   6,583   975,725   10,076   5,237   104 
 08/31   39,110,086   637,385   389,358   6,479   1,113,414   9,385   7,592   173 
 08/24   37,996,672   628,000   381,649   6,306   1,045,491   7,507   8,117   116 
 08/17   36,951,181   620,493   373,649   6,190   959,978   4,715   7,065   150 
 08/10   35,991,203   615,778   366,584   6,040   819,524   3,987   7,652   122 
 08/03   35,171,679   611,791   358,932   5,918   622,832   2,279   7,489   81 
 07/27   34,548,847   609,012   351,443   5,837   652,251   2,394   8,347   79 
 07/20   33,896,296   606,618   341,096   5,758   169,933   1,478   3,351   28 
 07/13   33,726,363   605,140   339,745   5,730   181,047   1,959   4,982   33 
 07/06   33,545,316   603,181   334,763   5,697   75,104   1,373   2,234   27 
 06/29   33,470,212   601,808   332,529   5,670   87,507   2,057   3,020   24 
 06/22   33,382,705   599,751   329,509   5,646   75,420   2,157   1,930   22 
 06/15   33,303,285   597,594   327,579   5,624   95,797   2,293   1,560   17 
 06/08   33,207,488   595,301   326,019   5,607   114,250   3,762   2,271   21 
 06/01   33,039,238   591,539   323,748   5,586   123,333   3,709   991   27 
 05/25   32,969,905   587,830   322,757   5,559   174,125   4,234   1,676   26 
 05/18   32,795,780   583,596   321,081   5,533   223,966   4,230   2,301   27 
 05/11   32,571,814   579,366   318,780   5,506   303,856   4,687   2,541   33 
 05/04   32,267,958   574,679   316,239   5,473   343,348   4,908   2,559   40 
 04/27   31,924,610   569,771   313,680   5,433   383,163   4,958   2,747   65 
 04/20   31,541,447   564,813   310,933   5,368   464,556   5,072   2,590   36 
 04/13   31,076,891   559,741   308,343   5,332   480,061   5,321   2,986   57 
 04/06   30,596,830   554,420   305,357   5,275   448,935   7,124   3,084   38 
 03/30   30,147,895   547,296   302,273   5,237   439,510   6,793   939   63 
 03/23   29,708,385   540,503   301,334   5,174   388,928   7,446   1,863   53 
 03/16   29,319,457   533,057   299,471   5,121   381,695   8,362   3,078   81 
 03/09   28,937,762   524,695   296,393   5,040   480,902   11,573   2,413   83 
 03/02   28,456,860   513,122   293,980   4,957   463,356   14,129   2,835   75 
 02/23   27,993,504   498,993   291,145   4,882   451,083   13,923   2,406   162 
 02/16   27,542,421   485,070   288,739   4,720   602,906   21,411   4,149   198 
 02/09   26,939,515   463,659   284,590   4,522   779,305   21,828   5,444   244 
 02/02   26,160,210   441,831   279,146   4,278   1,007,777   22,004   7,249   249 
 01/26   25,152,433   419,827   271,897   4,029   1,312,565   23,385   10,324   250 
 01/19   23,839,868   396,442   261,573   3,779   1,317,119   21,318   11,324   279 
 01/12   22,522,749   375,124   250,249   3,500   1,790,345   22,660   17,217   294 
 01/05   20,732,404   352,464   233,032   3,206   1,499,561   18,435   14,655   233 
 12/29/20   19,232,843   334,029   218,377   2,973   1,258,540   15,460   12,493   186 
 12/22   17,974,303   318,569   205,884   2,787   1,656,411   18,537   16,472   239 
 12/15   16,317,892   300,032   189,412   2,548   1,494,763   17,247   18,825   229 
 12/08   14,823,129   282,785   170,587   2,319   1,375,502   15,483   18,418   175 
 12/01   13,447,627   267,302   152,169   2,144   1,114,175   10,286   15,942   121 
 11/24   12,333,452   257,016   136,227   2,023   1,197,199   10,784   14,130   106 
 11/17   11,136,253   246,232   122,097   1,917   1,099,790   8,501   11,115   65 
 11/10   10,036,463   237,731   110,982   1,852   767,645   6,838   8,868   68 
 11/03   9,268,818   230,893   102,114   1,784   588,207   5,809   5,936   35 
 10/27   8,680,611   225,084   96,178   1,749   492,026   5,585   5,238   (10) 
 10/20   8,188,585   219,499   90,940   1,759   401,037   5,053   4,501   48 
 10/13   7,787,548   214,446   86,439   1,711   351,270   4,886   3,910   48 
 10/06   7,436,278   209,560   82,529   1,663   306,965   4,962   3,232   36 
 09/29   7,129,313   204,598   79,297   1,627   303,616   5,136   3,058   54 
 09/22   6,825,697   199,462   76,239   1,573   288,070   5,370   2,196   82 
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