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Ask the Slot Expert: Slot machine dilemma: bet max at min or min at max

12 January 2022

Question: I play minimum bet at maximum denomination.

A good example is the popular Lightning Link slots. On pennies the mini jackpot is $10 and minor jackpot is $50 for a $5 bet. At max denomination (dime), the same $5 bet gives you opportunity to win the mini jackpot (now $100) and/or the minor jackpot (now $500). The major & grand jackpot winning amount is the same on minimum & max denomination.

I always enjoy reading your column, always trying to play "as responsibly as possible." Remember, someone has to pay for all those casino amenities, and it is the "player". Enjoy the casino visit and "maybe" luck will furnish you an extra winning reward.

Answer: Thanks for the kind words.

The reason I asked about max-at-min or min-at-max is that I have that dilemma at the Game of Thrones King's Landing. After a few sessions of good luck playing at the lower bet levels at penny denomination, I decided to up my bet. Playing at the top bets at pennies ($4 and $4.80), I wondered whether it might be better to bet the same amount at one of the higher denominations.

This machine changes with the higher denominations. The penny and tuppence denoms both have 80 paylines, while the nickel and dime denoms have only 40 paylines. The paytable doesn't change.

Playing around with different denominations or bets on other machines, I've seen messages saying that the paytable or the reel layout has changed. I can verify that the paytable didn't change on King's Landing by checking the help screens. Because the machine doesn't say that the reel layout has changed for nickels and dimes, I assume that the reel layouts are the same regardless of denomination.

This machine has a low hit frequency, even with 80 paylines. It's not unusual to go through tens of spins and win nothing or a couple of bucks.

This machine also has four jackpot amounts. In increasing value, they are: Direwolf, Dragon, Lion and Grand. The four jackpot amounts are the same at all denominations.

How can this machine reward its nickel and dime players -- not so much a piker like me who is just playing at a lower bet level at a higher denomination, but players who are betting at the higher levels at the higher denominations?

It can't alter the symbols that land on the payline. If dimes and pennies have the same reel layouts, the odds that symbols will appear on the screen are the same. Because there are half as many paylines at nickels and dimes, I have the impression that the hit frequency is lower than that of the penny and tuppence denominations. Even with the long cold streaks, I'm having too much fun playing the machine to collect low-level data.

Regulations require that the base game is sacrosanct, but all bets are off with features and bonuses. One feature on this machine is Drogon High Fire Reels. In this feature, Daenarys (Raise your hand if you're sorry you named your daughter Daenarys before seeing the end of Game of Thrones.) says "Dracarys" and Drogon the dragon flies up the screen extending the reels a randomly chosen number of rows and then he flies up and down the screen turning a randomly chosen number of positions on randomly chosen reels to wild symbols.

The machine can reward dime players by making this feature more likely to be triggered and it can have more generous outcomes -- that is, it can be more likely to extend the reels by more positions and more likely to put wilds on more reels and more likely to put more wilds on a reel.

This is a bonus event and probably uses different reel layouts. (Some machines display a messaging the "Bonus reels are in effect" during a bonus round.) I don't think I've ever seen credit amount symbols used in the next bonus during this event.

One bonus round on this machine is the Red Keep bonus. You've seen this bonus on other machines. When six or more credit amounts appear on the screen, they lock in place and you play a bonus game in which you try to land credit amounts in the other positions. This bonus has an expanding grid. Whenever you land a Dracarys symbol, Dany says "Dracarys" and Drogon files across the screen and activates the next higher row of positions. Sometimes he flies across the screen a second time and activates another row. A two-fer.

Whenever you land a credit amount or Dracarys symbol, your spins remaining resets to three.

While you're filling in these windows in the keep, you are also collecting symbols to win one of the four jackpots. I don't pay much attention to those displays. They're at the top of a very tall screen, so they're difficult to see. And it seems like you pretty quickly get to the point where you need just one symbol for each of the jackpots. Landing a symbol for a jackpot doesn't reset your spins remaining.

I don't think it would be against the regulations for a machine to use a more generous profile for the credit amounts that appear in the base game. And once the bonus is triggered, it could be more likely for amounts to appear in the empty windows and those amounts could be larger. It could also be more likely to get a Dracarys symbol and it could be more likely that you'll get two additional rows. Finally, the probability of winning one of the jackpots could be higher at the higher denominations.

The last bonus event on this machine is the Free Games bonus. If the same reel layout is used for pennies and dimes, the chances of getting the Free Games bonus is the same.

Once the bonus is triggered, though, the reel layouts used for the free spins can be more generous.Drogon, in addition, is part of this bonus too. (He's a busy dragon.) At some point during the five free spins, he flies up the screen to extend the reels and then he flies up and down the screen turning some positions on some reels into wild symbols. The wilds go away at the end of the spin, but the reels stay extended. Drogon may make a return appearance on a later spin and turn positions into wild symbols again.

You can also win extra "wild" spins during the free games. These are played after your five free games. Drogon turns positions wild on all of these spins.

Higher denomination players can be rewarded by making it more likely that Drogon extends the reels early in the free games. It can be more likely that he'll extend the reels more rows. Drogon can be more generous with handing out Wild symbols.

To sum up, a machine can reward player who bet more (or who, like us, have the ability to bet more) by:

  • Changing the paytable
  • Changing the reel layouts
  • Changing the paytable and the reel layouts
  • Making a feature not triggered by an onscreen combination more likely and/or making it more generous
  • Making features triggered by onscreen combinations more generous

I've played some sessions at $4 and $4.80 at pennies and some at $4 at dimes to try to get a feel for whether there's an advantage at dimes. I've had good and bad sessions at each bet. I've had generous bonuses and chintzy bonuses at all bets. I won the Lion (Major) jackpot ($664.27) in the Red Keep bonus when I had bet $3.20 per spin. I'm afraid that my sample size will always far too small to come to any conclusion.

I wish I could see the PAR sheet for this machine so I could compare the hit frequencies and long-term paybacks at the different bets.

In the meantime, I'll just have to have fun collecting data.

Question: If you can afford to get a comped limo trip, you should be able to afford a $40 tip ($100) max. I think that's a very appropriate amount for a strip ride.

Answer: Thanks for confirming that a $40 tip (more for exceptional service) for a comped limo from the airport to a strip hotel is appropriate.

As I was finishing last week's column, the CDC updated its guidance on isolation for people who test positive for Covid. The original guideline was:

  • Isolate for five days
  • If asymptomatic or symptoms are resolving, end isolation but wear a mask around others for five additional days

It's implied in the second instruction that people should continue isolating as long as they have symptoms.

Immediately some talking heads on TV criticized the new guidelines. They said that a negative test should be required to end isolation, never mind the fact that the news was filled with stories of people not being to find tests.

In response to the original guidelines, Dr. Ashish Jha said on World News Tonight something like, Medically, we would like to have a negative test before ending isolation. But many people are having trouble getting tested. This is a good compromise.

Let's think about the test for a moment. Dr. Jen Ashton always says that doctors don't do a test unless they know what they're going to do with the results. What are we going to do with the results of this test?

If it's negative, you can end isolation but still wear a mask in public.

If it's positive, stay in isolation. Maybe for another five days, until you test negative, whatever. You stay in isolation for some period of time.

The CDC pretty quickly updated its guidance to say that if you can get tested, follow the if-then I just gave.

CNN showed a chart with the new guidance on January 4. It said that if you can get tested and it's positive, isolate for 5 more days.

Dr. Leanna Wen told Wolf Blitzer that she was concerned that the new guidance was a disincentive to get tested.

WTF? I don't recall her advocating for a negative test to come out of isolation, but what other action could be recommended if you still test positive?

I admit that my first thought when I saw the chart was that if you didn't want to take a chance on having to isolate for 5 more days, you shouldn't get tested. But you have to recommend continued isolation when you test positive.

The next day, Dr. Sanjay Gupta showed a chart from a UK study that showed that 31% of the people who test positive are still infectious at day 5.

He missed an important point in the guidelines. You're not supposed to even think about ending isolation if you still have symptoms. Better charts to look at would be: percentage of asymptomatic people infectious x days after positive test and percentage of symptomatic people infectious x days after symptoms have resolved. The 31% includes people with symptoms who are not eligible to end isolation.

Another complaint is that guidelines are confusing. They only things I've found confusing are the talking heads (and government officials) on TV trying to squeeze in a detailed explanation before the next commercial break. I have always found the guidelines published on the CDC to be clear. Furthermore, I think anyone who wants to say guidelines are confusing should be required to present their unconfusing version of the guidelines. It's easy to criticize, maybe not so easy to improve.

This exchange happened on the same program (transcript):

BLITZER: Dr. Harmon, let me ask you about the new isolation guidance we have received from the CDC. You say it is, and I am quoting you now, confusing and counterproductive. So, what are they getting wrong?

DR. GERALD HARMON, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION: Well, it is a good point, Wolf. And to your point, what we at the AMA have is a concern that if you are going to end a period of isolation after an active COVID infection, it would be nice to have, in fact, we would recommend a valid negative COVID test, an antigen test, a rapid test in order to ensure that you are no longer shedding the virus, no longer transmissible and you tend to validate you are not contagious before you go back into your workforce, your family and potentially spread the virus more.

Um, isn't that mostly what the new guidelines say? The only thing missing is that the guidelines do not specifically recommend a test, which many people still have difficulty finding. That and maybe recommending that you continue testing until you get a negative.

Stephen Colbert played a clip of a doctor on CBS' morning show criticizing how the test outcome alternatives were worded. The doctor said, If-then, if-then. It's very confusing.

How else are you supposed to say what to do based on the results of the test? If negative, then do this. If positive, then do that.

Another complaint is that changes are announces abruptly. Well, what is the government supposed to do? Tease new guidelines for a week like an upcoming very special episode of a sitcom? And isn't another common complaint is that the government acts too slowly on new data?

Let me quote a great philosopher and deep thinker, Groucho Marx:

I don't know what they have to say
It makes no difference anyway
Whatever it is, I'm against it
No matter what it is or who commenced it
I'm against it

Your proposition may be good
But let's have one thing understood:
Whatever it is, I'm against it
And even when you've changed it or condensed it
I'm against it

I've noted recently that some of the talking heads and government officials have gotten much more careful with their statements now. I've noticed that many of them are now explicitly saying "We don't know yet". Many of them have finally realized that the amount of airtime they get is too short to say much of substance.

Most importantly, some of them have finally realized that we're not in a perfect world. We will never have perfect data, we can't construct perfect guidelines, and the American public will not follow those guidelines perfectly.

Click here for the latest Covid data.

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