The Ultimate Slot Machine Guide
The Ultimate Slot Machine Guide is the most extensive and comprehensive introduction to casino slot machine games that you will find anywhere.
WHY WE WROTE THIS GUIDE
Slot machines command an ever-increasing place in the world’s casino floors, including the United States, where they are by far the most popular casino games, and Australia, where there are more slots per capita than in the U.S. Yet few players understand how the games really work, what their chances of winning are, or how different games cater to different player personalities. This guide was written to fill that knowledge gap.
STRUCTURE OF THIS GUIDE
This guide consists of 14 chapters and a number of subchapters. Each chapter begins with bullet points that explain what the reader will find. Each chapter ends with Key Takeaways and a Test Yourself quiz. The guide begins with basics of why people play and the history of slots, then introduces topics that explain the multitude of different options on today’s slots and what they mean to you as a player.
WHO WROTE THIS GUIDE
The Ultimate Guide to Slot Machines was written by John Grochowski, one of the most widely published and respected authors in gaming. His twice weekly column on casinos and casino games originated in the Chicago Sun-Times, and today is syndicated to many newspapers and websites.
Grochowski is the author of six books on gaming, including “The Slot Machine Answer Book.” He brings his expertise to players and casino professionals alike, writing both in magazines for players and in trade journals for the casino industry.
A player for more than 30 years and a gaming writer for more than 20, Grochowski also has hosted a weekly talk show devoted to casinos and games, given classes on how to play many casino games, and spoken at seminars in the United States and Canada.
SLOT MACHINE BASICSSlot Machine
Slot machines are technological marvels that have evolved from mechanical, clockwork mechanisms to fully computerized units that take advantage of full video and audio capabilities. In order to understand modern games, it’s necessary to look to the past and learn how modern games came to be. In this chapter, you’ll find the reasons why people love to play the slots, definitions of slot machine terms, a history of slots’ invention and how they were used in their early days, and some of the important innovations that led to the games we play today.
1.1 The Rise of Slot Machines
You will learn why slot machines have earned their rising popularity and why players love to play them. It may come as a surprise that slot machines didn’t always pay off in cash, that early machines paid in chewing gum or other merchandise. Slot terms such as “stepper slots” and “wild symbols” are defined in this section.
1.2 Slot Machine Invention and History
Charles Fey invented the three-reel slot in 1895, but there were earlier coin-operated gaming devices. This subchapter includes early history and traces changes to the age of computerized slots and the influence of worldwide manufacturers.
1.3 Important Advances In Slot Machine Technology
Without inventions such as the virtual reel, ticket printer, bill validator and bonus wheel, today’s slots wouldn’t be possible. Here, you’ll find some of the key advances in slot technology and why they’re important.
THE HOUSE EDGE AT SLOT MACHINES
Like every other casino game, slot machines have a house edge that’s grounded in math. Unlike other casino games where you can see the cards or the numbers on dice or a roulette wheel, the elements that go into the math aren’t visible to the public. This chapter explains about how the house gets its edge as well as how results can be random and payback percentages programmed at the same time. You’ll even find examples and explanations of a rarity: slot machines that can be beaten.
Slot Machine Winning
2.1 How the House Gets Its Edge In Slot Machines
There are thousands, and sometimes even millions of possible outcomes on a slot machine. Learn what goes into turning all those possibilities into games with reliable payback percentages.
2.2 How Slots Can Be Both Programmed and Random
Slot machines have programmed payback percentages, yet each spin is a random outcome not affected by previous results. See how those seemingly contradictory statements can be true, and don’t actually conflict at all.
2.3 Beatable Slot Machines
Nothing you can do will change the results on slot machines. The random number generator is not affected by any methods of play. Still, there have been some games that give players a chance at profit. Learn how they work.
HOW MECHANICAL SLOTS WORK
Games with mechanical reels have been casino mainstays for decades and still have a loyal following, especially in the United States. There are constraints on what game designers and programmers can do with the format due to the games’ moving parts. This chapter explains what manufacturers have done with the games, including offering odds that lead to desirable jackpots.
Slot REEL3.1 Random Number Generator and Virtual Reel
To offer big jackpots, slot designers need more possible combinations than naturally arise from reels that will fit inside machine casings. Here’s how they make the reels behave as if they had more symbols and spaces than they really do.
3.2 Hit Frequency VS. Payback Percentage
Games with a high hit frequency have a high percentage of winning spins, but that doesn’t always lead to a high payback percentage. Games with fewer winning spins can have higher payback percentages than those with more winners. This section charts it out and shows how that works.
3.3 Progressive Jackpots: Standalone, Linked and Wide-Area
Standalone, Linked and Wide-Area: Jackpot hunters love progressive machines, where a portion of each bet is added to the pot. Progressives come in several varieties. Here’s how the major types of mechanical-reel progressives work.
VIDEO SLOT BASICSThe history of video slots
Since their rise in the mid-1990s, video slot machines have zoomed past mechanical reels to become the most popular electronic games in casinos. They have become multimedia extravaganzas with animation, film clips, high-quality sound, motion effects and more. This chapter discusses video slots and their history, along with how the random number generator is used, games with multiple paylines, hit frequency and networked games. See how it all works, and the choices these games open to players.
4.1 Video Slot and Their History
Video slots weren’t immediate hits, and were initially avoided by players. In this section, you’ll learn about the important developments that changed the games, such as multi-tiered jackpots, bonus events and pop culture themes.
4.2 Video Slots and The Random Number Generator
Gamemakers can program video reel strips to be as long as needed to create the desired playing experience. Learn how multiple paylines, wild symbols, scatter pays and bonus symbols expand the possibilities for pay and for fun on video slots.
4.3 Paylines and Slots Without Paylines
Video slots are common with 20, 30, 40 or more paylines to line up winning symbols. Some video slots have no paylines at all in 243 ways to win formats. Here’s how paylines and slots without paylines work.
4.4 Hit Frequency VS. Payback Percentage on Video Slots
Multiple-payline formats open the door to video slots with a large number of spins with paybacks. But those high hit-frequency games don’t necessarily have high payback percentages. Learn how that works in this section.
4.5 Networked and Server-Based Games
Technology is available for remote delivery of games, two-way interaction between the casino and the player right at the slot machine, and games that remember you on repeat visits for unlockable bonus packages. Here’s how these machines can enhance the slot experience.
SLOTS BONUS EVENTS
Bonusing is a staple of modern slot machines, with many mechanical-reel slots and nearly all video slots having some kind of bonus event. This chapter discusses the different kinds of bonuses you’ll find, such as wheel spins, pick’em events, free spins, mystery bonuses, skill-based games and community-style bonuses. See how they work, with examples of many games with such extras.
Slots bonus rounds 5.1 Wheel Spinning Bonuses
Prize wheels marked off in wedges give you the opportunity to win bonus credits, multipliers and entry into other bonus events. Here, you’ll learn why equal-sized wedges don’t bring equal chances of winning.
5.2 Pick’em Bonuses
Games have an extra degree of interactivity in pick’em bonuses, where you touch icons for prizes and the choices you make determine how big your bonus will be. Your choices really do make a difference, and here’s how that works.
5.3 Free Spin Bonuses
Free spins add volatility to slots, with a chance to win big offset by a chance that the bonus will bring no extra credits. Here are some of the factors game designers use to spice up the free spins.
5.4 Mystery and Skill Based Bonuses
Sometimes, bonuses are a mystery. They come up even when there are no winning symbols on the reels. This section unravels the mysteries, and also discusses bonuses where your playing skill matters.
5.5 Community Style Bonuses
Slot machines usually are solitary experiences, without the camaraderie you find at table games. Learn how game manufacturers have worked to change that with bonuses that bring players together, or have them competing against each other.
VIDEO SLOT PROGRESSIVESBig Jackpot
Gamemakers have taken progressive jackpots to a whole new level on video slots compared to the norms on three-reel games. Instead of a single jackpot building as you play, you have a chance at multiple jackpots that include small, frequent-hit payoffs, large pays that will make your day and several tiers in between. The mystery format that is sometimes used on bonus events is especially useful on multi-tiered jackpots. This chapter discusses the different types of progressives and how they work.
6.1 Multi-Tiered Progressives
Progressives aren’t just for big prize hunters on multi-tiered progressives, which have become some of the most popular games around. This section discusses how they work and what to expect.
6.2 Minimum Bettors Can Play For Maximum Jackpots
On three-reel progressives, you almost always have to bet the max to be eligible for jackpots. On multi-tiered video slot progressives, you don’t. Here’s why.
ONLINE SLOTSPlaying Online slots
Slot play online has its roots in video slots. The games work in basically the same way, and you’ll find many of the same games online that you’ll find in casinos. There are some special conditions that apply to online play, such as setting up accounts and who is permitted to play. This chapter looks at this increasingly popular way to play.
7.1 Types of games and how to play
Free spins, respins and pick’em events – you’ll find them all online. Here’s what to look for in choosing an online game.
7.2 Randomness online
Players new to online gaming sometimes express worry over whether the games are as random as those found in casinos. This section is an overview of what to expect.
MAXIMIZING PAYOUTSGetting the most out of your coins
You can’t change the outcome on slot machines. There is no strategy that will change the result the random number generator has chosen for you. However, there are choices you can make that will give you the best chance of getting the most out of what slot machines have to offer. This chapter discusses how you should go about getting the most out of slots.
8.1 Should you bet the max?
When three- reel slots ruled slot floors, it was said players should always bet the max to get the highest payback percentage. Learn why today, the situation is more complex and what you should do to get max payback.
8.2 Free spin bonuses vs. pick’em bonuses
Different styles of bonus events can lead toward the same payback percentages, but they get there in different ways. Here’s a guide to choosing the game that best suits your goals.
8.3 Banked bonuses
These are less common than other slot formats, but they give you an opportunity for profit. Learn what to look for and how banked bonuses work.
POP CULTURE AND THE SLOTS
Players love games that are themed after movies, TV shows and celebrities, and game manufacturers have brought us slot machines that use pop culture icons to enhance our entertainment experience. This chapter looks at some of the best-loved pop culture games and how they make bonus time extra special.
Slots in the spotlight
9.1 Celebrities and the slots
From Lucille Ball to Michael Jackson and from Frank Sinatra to Ellen DeGeneres, celebrities have lent their images, video clips and music to the slots. Here are a few player favorites.
9.2 TV and movie themes
Check out some of the slots that integrate television and movie favorites right into the games, whether you’re stroking the cat in Breakfast at Tiffany’s or going on a quest in Lord of the Rings.
9.3 Board games come to the casino
Monopoly has been an enormous success as a slot game, and players also have welcomed Yahtzee, the Game of Life and Battleship to casinos. See what board games have to offer slot players.
ETERNAL SLOT THEMES: LONG-LASTING GAMES WE LOVEMost famous slots
Slot games come and slot games go with manufacturers introducing hundreds of new games ever year. But there are some themes that really resonate with players and that hold popularity year after year, and even decade after decade. This chapter discusses why we continue to love games such as Wheel of Fortune, Blazing 7s, Jackpot Party and Reel ’Em In, and how they keep us coming back for more.
READERS FAQ: HOW TO WIN AT SLOTS AND SLOT MACHINE STRATEGY
Will slot system work?
Picking a slot game is largely about finding the ones that best suit your betting personality. One game may have the same payback percentage as another, but if you don’t enjoy playing it, what’s the point? This chapter discusses the pros and cons of different kinds of games, and how to pick the games that might best suit you.
SLOT MACHINES ETIQUETTESSlot myths
Whether you’re playing in online casinos ore live casinos, slots give you a chance to win big for a small wager. That’s an important reason for slots’ popularity, along with the fact they’re easy to play with no complicated strategy to learn, have affordable minimum bets and are fun, entertaining games to play.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONPlaying the right way
Players look for weaknesses in any casino games, trying to find betting systems that will overcome the house edge and lead to profits. This chapter examines some of the most popular systems for playing the slots along with their strengths and weaknesses.
SLOT MACHINE BASICS
You are reading this guide because you want to learn how slot machines work, what goes into developing games that are fun for players, and how to get the playing experience that’s best for you. You’ve come to the right place, because my more than 30 years as a player and more than 20 years as a gaming writer in books, newspapers and magazines, and as a teacher and speaker at seminars, have led me to explore the games, their history, their design and programming, and the odds of winning.
Slot machine growth is a worldwide phenomenon, and in many locations they surpass the popularity of all table games combined. There are several reasons:
Slots are easy to play.
Minimum bets are affordable
There’s a chance to win big for a small wager
Modern slots and online slots are fun and entertaining to play
The objective of this chapter is to introduce you to slot machines’ place in modern casinos, why they’re so popular, and some of the tools that go into making them exciting for players.
THE RISE OF SLOT MACHINES
Born of a San Francisco mechanic’s tinkering in the late 1800s, slot machines have gone through a multitude of phases and incarnations.
Among slot machines’ phases are:
They’ve been used as business builders on shopkeepers’ counters, sometimes dispensing sticks of chewing gum or golf balls instead of cash.
They’ve been relatively inexpensive entertainment for spouses or significant others to amuse themselves in casinos while their partners were doing the real gambling at the tables.
They’ve been mechanical, clockwork devices.
They now are high-tech marvels combining animation, film clips, Surround Sound and motion chairs for special effects.
Kiosk Slot machine
What slot machines are today is a worldwide phenomenon, from their U.S. point of origin to Europe to Australia and the Pacific Rim.
In the United States, where more than a million slots populate casino floors, they are a major profit center, long since having surpassed table games.
More than 70 percent of casino revenue in the U.S. comes from the slots, and in some state jurisdictions, that tops 80 percent and even approaches 90 percent.
In Australia, there are even more slots per capita than in the U.S.
Slots make up a lesser share of the business but are still important in the huge casino market of Macau.
Tens of millions of people play slot games online, whether for money at Internet casinos, where legal, or for entertainment through social media apps.
TYPICAL HOUSE EDGE
That’s happened even though slot machines by and large pay less than other casino games. It’s possible for blackjack card counters to gain a mathematical edge on the game and basic strategy players can get the house edge down to half a percent or so. Craps players face a 1.41 percent edge on the pass line, and can get that down to less than 1 percent with free odds.
Roulette players face a house edge of 5.26 percent on double-zero wheels, and 2.7 percent on wheels that have just one zero. On the slots, we speak of payback percentages. Those vary by nation and jurisdiction, but in the United States, where slot revenues are public record in most states. John Grochowski published an article here talking about payout percentages and how to maximize your slot payouts.
Typical payback percentages are:
typical payback percentages slot machines
Translated to house edges, that’s 13-to-16 percent at the 1-cent denomination, 10-to-12 percent on 5-cent games, 7-to-10 percent on quarter games and 5-to-8 percent on dollar machines. That means penny slot player might be spotting the house $16 per $100 wagered, while a basic strategy player spots the house only 50 cents per $100.
SO WHY PLAY SLOTS?
On a percentage basis, slots (and online slots) can’t compare to table games, but there are many reasons players choose the slots:
SLOTS ARE EASY.
There’s virtually no learning curve in playing a slot machine. At the most basic, you slide currency into a bill validator to buy credits, you push a button or pull a handle to start reels spinning, and you wait to see what symbols land on paylines. There are no strategies to learn, and no one to criticize you if you make a mistake, as sometimes happens at blackjack tables.
SLOTS HAVE LOW MINIMUM WAGERS
It’s rare that you’ll find minimum wagers of less than $5 a hand in Las Vegas casinos, and even $5 tables can be scarce. At busy times at premium properties, you might be looking at minimum bets of $25 and up.
Slot machines offer the low rollers a chance to play for much less. For example, some 1-cent video slots have 30 paylines, meaning lines across the video reels on which you’re paid if matching symbols line up.
If you bet 1 cent on each payline, then your wager is 30 cents per spin of the reels, far, far less than any table minimum you’ll find in a casino.
It’s possible to bet more – the same machine might allow bets up to 10 credits per payline, or a $3 maximum bet. But with minimum bets, slots can be inexpensive entertainment. There are tradeoffs not only in the higher house edge on the slots, but in the speed of the game. At a full seven-player blackjack table, you might make 50 to 60 wagers per hour, and if you’re playing one-on-one against the dealer, you might get that up to 200 wagers per hour. On slot machines, it’s possible to make upward of 500 bets per hour, even 800 on games where bonus events doing bring frequent pauses in wagering.
Winning the big jackpot
SLOTS OFFER BIG JACKPOT CHANCES
The allure of big money is a strong attraction, and big money is possible on the slots. It’s possible to win thousands of dollars, even millions on some games, with one lightningstrikes lucky spin. The largest slot jackpot in history, $39.7 million, came on a $3 bet on a $1 denomination International Game Technology Megabucks machine at the Excalibur casino in Las Vegas in 2003. Such large jackpots are extraordinarily rare events, but any dedicated slot player occasionally collects winnings of hundreds of times the size of the bet. It might not be millions, but a $300 win for a 30-cent bet is the kind of thrill that keeps slot players coming back.
SLOTS ARE FUN
The advent of computerized video slots (or online slots) has set game designers’ imaginations free, and slotmakers spend tremendous amounts of time and money developing interactive, entertaining slots games that will give you a good time even when you’re not winning. Whether you’re taking control of a video racecar to try to get to the head of the pack for extra rewards in NASCAR, picking gift boxes at party time to collect rewards in the longtime player favorite Jackpot Party, or having your picture taken and actually becoming part of the game as a reel symbol in TMZ, you’re taking an active role. If you want a game where you just sit back and watch the reels spin, they’re still around. But more and more, the emphasis on games that are fun as well as a chance to win.
Slot machines have higher house edges than table games, but are extremely popular.
Players are attracted by slots as easy games to play, with low minimum wagers, chances at big jackpots and for their entertainment value.
One goal of slot designers is to make players active participants so they have a good time even when they’re not winning.
The slots have a language and terminology of their own, whether you’re looking at mechanical reels through a game’s window or looking at representations of reels on a video screen.
SLOT MACHINE INVENTION AND HISTORY
Slot machines are such mainstays of modern casinos and slot games so widely played online today that you might think it’s always been so. But everything has its beginnings, and slots have evolved over the last 120 years.
The first three-reel slot machine had a maximum jackpot of half an American dollar.
Many early slot machines did not pay off in cash.
Computerized slots with random number generators enabled more volatility and bigger payoffs.
International gamemakers have had tremendous influence in shaping today’s slots.
Modern slot machines are computerized devices that use all the tools technology offers. It seems the only limit on game design is the designer’s imagination. However, slots were invented long before computers, and the first slots were mechanical, clockwork machines.
CHARLES FEY AND THE LIBERTY BELL
There were coin-operated gaming devices before San Francisco mechanic Charles Fey invented the Liberty Bell in 1895, but it’s with the Liberty Bell that the line that leads to modern slots begins. Fey devised a game with three spinning reels, a handle on the side, and a slot in which to drop coin.
Among the game’s features were:
Five different symbols were used on the reels – horseshoes, diamonds, spades, hearts and a Liberty Bell.
There was a single payline across the middle of the display.
The top payoff came for lining up three Liberty Bells.
The top jackpot was tiny by today’s standards – 10 nickels, or U.S. five-cent pieces, meaning a total jackpot of half a dollar.
The design was simple, elegant, and long-lasting. You can still find three-reel games in today’s casinos, though they’re driven electronically rather than by handle-initiated cogs and gears. If you placed the Liberty Bell in today’s casinos, it would immediately be recognizable as a slot machine.
While the Liberty Bell was the first reel-spinning game, there were earlier wagering machines with coin slots. Sittman and Pitt of Brooklyn, New York, produced a poker-based machine in 1891. It had five drums, each with 10 card faces. Each play would display a five-card poker hand. Also popular were color wheel games. These had vertical wheels divided into segments of different colors. Players would wager on which color would line up with a top indicator. These machines would quickly fade from the scene, while Fey’s invention spurred other gamemakers to design three-reel games.
A Chicago manufacturer, Herbert Mills, introduced a three-reel slot machine called the Operator Bell in 1907. Mills was a leader in coin-operated devices, which included:
A movie-viewing machine called the Autosteroscope.
An ice cream making vending machine.
Machines for dispensing Coca-Cola, both in bottles and cups.
Mills machines were the most widespread early slots, and it was Mills who first put fruit symbols on the games. The fruit symbols have been so durable that in some nations, including the United Kingdom, slot games are referred to as “fruit machines.”
Until the State of Nevada legalized casino gambling in 1931, slot machines that paid money were illegal in the United States. That didn’t mean such machines didn’t exist. But monetary payoffs couldn’t always be in plain sight.
Instead of being casino games, some machines were used as trade stimulators, placed on merchants’ counters to attract customers and help build business.
Trade stimulator slots paid off in merchandise, rather than in money. Among the prizes were golf balls and cigars.
Some popular games paid in sticks of chewing gum, notably Bell Fruit Gum. The trademark logo of the gum company was a black rectangular bar, and that inspired the “bar” symbols you still see on modern slots.
Gum flavors also inspired fruit symbols including cherries and watermelons, also still commonly in use. At some locations, players knew they could win something more, with merchandise prizes secretly exchanged for cash winnings. But at least in the open, the games were designed to pay in legal prizes.
Rise of bally
RISE OF BALLY
Another Chicago company was founded in 1932 as Lion Manufacturing.
One of its early successes was a pinball game known as the BallyHoo, and the company name was changed to Bally Manufacturing. In later years, it changed to Bally Technologies, moved its offices to Las Vegas, and today is part of Scientific Games. Several years after the legalization of gambling in Nevada, Bally positioned itself to challenge Mills for the slot machine leadership. Its first real slot was of the trade stimulator variety. The Bally Baby was a tiny countertop model that dispensed award cards to be exchanged for chewing gum.
Bally was an innovator, the leader in casino slots for decades. Among Bally’s innovations were:
The Bally Bell, which was the first slot machine to accept more than one coin denominations, with one slot for U.S. five-cent pieces (nickels) and one for 25-cent pieces (quarters).
The popular Hi Boy upright slot in the early 1940s, which established Bally as a major provider of slot games. By the 1960s, more than 80 percent of casino slot games were made by Bally.
Electromechanical slots, introduced in the 1960s, in which electronic components were added to mechanical workings.
The coin hopper, introduced along with electromechanical slots on the Money Honey machine. The coin hopper circulated in a pool for payoffs. That enabled bigger payoffs to be made by the machines without having to stop play to have an attendant pay by hand, and those bigger machine pays were a big step in increasing slots’ popularity.
INTERNATIONAL GAME TECHNOLOGY
In the 1970s, a Bally engineer, Si Redd, invented video poker. Bally didn’t want the game, so Redd received permission to take it on his own. He did, founding a company called Sircoma, and when video poker was a hit and the company went public and sold stock, it became International Game Technology. IGT, based in Reno, Nevada, went on to supplant Bally as the world’s largest slotmaker, and in 2014 merged in 2014 with GTECH, the Rome, Italy-based leader in lotteries and other gambling services and technologies.
IGT’s innovations have included:
Computerized slots with virtual reels and random number generators. Those made it possible to design games with much more variation in odds, enabling huge, lifestyle-changing jackpots.
Wide-area progressive games. IGT’s Megabucks game was the first to link machines at different casinos to offer multimillion-dollar prizes.
Popularization of the bonus wheel. A smaller company, Anchor Gaming, devised an add-on to slot machines called Wheel of Gold. IGT knew a good thing when it saw it. It licensed Wheel of Gold, worked out a licensing arrangement with the television game show “Wheel of Fortune,” and the rest is history. Wheel of Fortune slots have been among the most popular games since the mid-1990s.
Wheel of Fortune
Slots have their roots in the United States, and American slotmakers remain among the worldwide leaders. However, slotmakers with worldwide influence have arisen around the globe. Aristocrat Technologies has had enormous influence, leading the way in the development of games with five-reels (both mechanical and on video), multiple paylines and bonus events in the early 1990s. When then-Chicago-based WMS Gaming, now
part of Scientific Games, led the breakthrough of multi-line video bonusing slots in the U.S. in the mid-to-late 1990s, execs acknowledged they were confident the games would resonate with players because Aristocrat’s games had done so well on the Pacific Rim. Among other worldwide gamemakers who have made a big impact in the last couple of decades are Austrian-based Novomatic, Japan’s Konami Gaming and Aruze Gaming, with branches in the U.S., Australia, South Africa and Macau.
The large majority of slot machines in use today are on video screens instead of using mechanical reels. Early video slots, available in the 1980s, tried to mimic the three-reel experience, and they weren’t at all successful. To attract players, video slots needed to offer a different play experience. In the U.S., the first time slot games with video representations of spinning reels game when Bally introduced the Game Maker in 1994. It included slot, video poker and video blackjack games on the same unit. The slot games even developed a following, rare for the time. Poker and blackjack had carved out followings on a video format, but the Game Maker was the first machine where video slot games achieved a degree of popularity. Bonusing slots from Aristocrat and then WMS followed, and the popularity of video took off. Today, video slots dominate international markets. And even in the United States, which has a longer stronger tradition of mechanical games, video
slots make up more than 80 percent of modern casino slot floors.
Slot machines have been on the scene since the late 1800s, with San Francisco mechanic Charles Fey’s Liberty Bell setting the standard as the first reel-spinning game.
Companies including Herbert Mills and Bally Industries played key roles in the development of slots, with Bally contributing many innovations.
Early slot machines were used as trade stimulants for merchants, with payoffs in chewing, cigars, golf balls and other times instead of cash.
International Game Technology’s introduction of virtual reels coupled with random number generators made possible giant jackpots and variety in slot odds.
Australia’s Aristocrat Technologies use of five-reel slots, video and bonus events paved the way for the slot games we see today from manufacturers around the world.
Computerized slots with mechanical reels are still used in today’s casinos, but the large majority of modern games use video representations of reels.
IMPORTANT ADVANCES IN SLOT MACHINE TECHNOLOGY
Slot machines are more reliant on technology than any other casino games, and advances have changed the kinds of games that manufacturers can offer.
The coin hopper enabled bigger payoffs at machines, and ticket printers later replaced coin hoppers.
The virtual reel enables games with bigger odds and bigger jackpots.
Bonus wheels and video bonus play give players something extra to hold their interest.
If there’s one invention that could be classified as the most important in slot machine history, it’s Charles Fey’s Liberty Bell machine. But in the intervening 120-plus years, many innovations and inventions have gone into developing the games we play today. Here are some of the most important.
THE COIN HOPPER
When Bally engineers Frank Nicolaus and Bud Breitenstein invented the motor-driven hopper, it revolutionized slot play. Here’s why the hopper was so important:
Earlier slot machines used coin tubes. They were rigid; coins had to be stacked in them.
Space inside the machines limited how many coins tubes could hold, and that put severe restrictions on how many coins could be paid out before the tubes had to be refilled.
The coin hopper, first used on the Money Honey electromechanical slot in 1963, the coin hopper enabled slots to circulate coins for payouts from a large pool.
The larger pool of coins meant payouts could be bigger, initially up to 500 coins at a time. Later hoppers could circulate more than 1,000 coins.
Nicolaus and Breitenstein’s brainchild enabled gamemakers to design games with larger, more frequent payoffs.
THE VIRTUAL REEL
If slot machine odds were limited by the odds derived from the actual number of symbols on each reel, then jackpots couldn’t be very large. That we can play for jackpots reaching tens of thousands, even millions of dollars today is thanks to Inge Telnaes. In 1984, he developed the method for mapping symbols and spaces – or “stops” – from a physical reel onto a virtual reel.
That was a game changer for many reasons:
Big jackpots require big odds against winning, and increasing odds require increasing the number of possible combinations of symbols and spaces.
Before the virtual reel, the main solution toward increasing the number of stops on a slot machine reel was to increase the size of the reel.
Because reels had to fit inside a machine’s casing, gamemakers could go only so far in increasing the number of stops and combinations.
Telnaes’ virtual reel meant game designers could make the reel behave as if it had any number of symbols and spaces. A reel with one jackpot symbol and two triple bars, for example, could be mapped so the triple bars came up 10 times as often as the jackpot symbol, while still leaving a random game.
More stops mean more flexibility for game designers to give us games with high volatility, low volatility, big jackpots, frequent jackpots and everything in between. IGT Technology was quick to take advantage, as were other manufacturers who licensed the technology from IGT.
Without it the virtual reel big-money games like International Game Technology’s Megabucks wouldn’t have been possible, nor would even games that we today think of as having moderate jackpots.
LINKED PROGRESSIVE JACKPOTS
Slot machines with progressive jackpots add a portion of each wager to the jackpot amount until somebody wins it. Afterward, the jackpot resets to the starting amount and starts building again.
The first progressives were single-machine jackpots. They were followed by linked progressives, which electronically link multiple games so that a bet on any of the machines raises the jackpot available to all. The extreme version of the linked progressive is the wide-area progressive, and that’s where you’ll find the biggest jackpots. Wide-areas link not only neighboring machines, but machines in different casinos.
The first wide-area progressive game was IGT Megabucks, which launched in 1986, and the Nevada Megabucks link, which links machines throughout the state, including the dozens of casinos in Las Vegas, is the world’s longest-running link. It was on a Megabucks machine that the world-record jackpot of $39 million was won in 2003.
Early progressive slots put the progressive jackpot only on the top-paying combinations. That’s changed in the modern slot world, where any walk through a casino will find dozens of machines with multi-tiered jackpots, with names such as Mini, Minor, Major and Grand. The company that showed us how it’s done is Aristocrat Technologies. The format debuted in Australia, and came to the U.S. in the late 1990s with game called Cash Express and a jackpot system called Hyperlink.
Multitiered progressives share some key features:
The emphasis is on small, attainable jackpots, keeping the player involved with frequent wins. For example, a bottom tier starting at $10, a second tier starting at $50, a third tier starting at $500 and a top tier at $2,500.
Some multitiered progressives have even smaller rollover values for more frequent hits, while some have higher rollovers for less frequent but bigger jackpots.
Nearly all multitiered progressives have large jackpot displays stretching over a bank of several machines. Through the displays, players and passers-by can see that when the bank is full, progressives are being awarded often.
Hyperlink’s success has led to its competitors, including IGT, WMS, Bally and other manufacturers all bringing out their own multilevel progressives. Four-tiered games set the early pace, but multitiered progressives are available with as few as two levels, and also with 10 or more.
The Bill Validator
THE BILL VALIDATOR
If you were playing slots before the early 1990s, you remember games where you dropped in coins by hand for every pull. The bill validator changed all that.
No longer does a $20 investment in the slots mean dropping in 80 quarters, one by one. Instead, just slide a $20 bill into a reader to get 80 credits on a meter, and play off the credits.
Today’s bill validators must scan bar-coded payout tickets as well as currency, and must offer increasing flexibility to meet casino demands for rapid recognition of currency and detection of counterfeit money.
Developers of cash handling solutions have devised validators programmable and adaptable to different size notes to read currencies from nations around the world.
Before the late 1990s, most slot payoffs came on coins dispensed by the machine. Today, most payoffs come in bar-coded tickets as ticket printers have replaced coin hoppers.
When you cash out, you push a button, a ticket prints out, and you then can either use the ticket to buy credits in another machine or take it to a kiosk or the cashier’s cage to exchange the ticket for cash.
There are players who miss the sights and sounds of coins pouring out of slot machines, clanking and clattering into trays. But there are advantages both for casinos and players in using the tickets:
Payout by bar-coded ticket made hopper jams and fills a thing of the past. There is no more down time while waiting for an attendant to clear the jam or pour a huge bag of coins into the machine.
Ticket printers also made possible the introduction of small-denomination slots and games with dozens of paylines. Small coins jam hoppers frequently, and manufacturers weren’t about to introduce multiline 1-cent games until ticket printers were approved by regulators.
Modern printers also can serve operators as promotional devices, capable of printing coupons or vouchers right at the slot machine.
Use of printers means casinos don’t have to tie up huge sums of money in keeping coins in stock.
Installing multiple games on the same machine and allowing players to choose by touching an on-screen icon is common today, but the format didn’t exist a couple of decades ago. The innovation came from Bally, which introduced the Game Maker in 1994.
The Game Maker included slot, video poker and video blackjack games on the same unit. The slot games even developed a following, rare for the time. Poker and blackjack had carved out followings on a video format, but the Game Maker was the first machine where video slot games really worked. The success of multigame machines such as IGT’s GameKing can thank the Game Maker for blazing the trail.
SLOTS BONUS WHEELS
When Anchor Gaming introduced Wheel of Gold in 1995, it was a sensation. Players had never experienced anything like the bonus wheel that now is a reliable tool in the slot designer’s kit. The original wheel was affixed on a tower atop Bally slant-top slot machines, and was a sensation. When the tone sounded signaling an upcoming spin, everyone in the vicinity stopped to watch, to see where the wheel would stop and how many bonus credits the player would win. IGT’s Wheel of Fortune followed, and today many manufacturers use bonus wheels as extras on their games.
MULTI-LINE VIDEO SLOTS WITH BONUS PLAY
The Pacific Rim was the proving ground for what has become the hottest gaming trend of the last 15 years.
Australian manufacturer Aristocrat Technologies was having big success overseas with games on video screens with multiple paylines.
WMS Gaming had the first mega-success in the U.S. in 1997 with Reel ’Em In. There were just five paylines —- three across the five video lines, a “v” and a chevron. When three matching fishing lure symbols appeared on screen, the video reels faded and were replaced by a scene of fishermen on a lake. Players touched the screen to choose an angler to reel in a fish for bonus credits. Such bonusing, in varied, creative, entertaining forms, is a key to modern slot popularity.
Today, video slots dominate casino floors. From that five-line, second screen beginning we’ve seen the format grow to 9, 15, 20 even 100 lines, 243 ways-to-win games such as Aristocrat’s Reel Power slots, multi-tiered jackpots, mystery bonuses and community style play. Now that’s an innovation.
Advances in technology have changed the slot player’s experience.
Modern computerized slot games can offer bigger jackpots and more varied play experiences.
In addition to changes in the games themselves, the use of bill validators to buy credits and ticket printers to cash out credits eased play and enabled the development of low-denomination games.
Bonus wheels atop slot machines as well as bonus events on video screens added entertainment value to the games.
The online slots, and free slots are spreaded wide all over the internet and played daily by millions of people.
HOW TO WIN AT SLOTS
Slot machines are games with odds based in math, just like all other casino games. But few players understand just how those odds work, and whether they can do anything to improve their odds.
Here are a few basics:
Slots machine results are as random as humans can program a computer to be.
Odds of the game are set so the house will have an edge
Except in rare cases, slot machines are not games of strategy
The objective of this chapter is to introduce you to how slot machine odds work and what that means to your chance to win.
HOW THE HOUSE GETS ITS EDGE IN SLOTS MACHINES
Casino games make money for the house by paying less than the true odds of winning the bet. On table games, that can be relatively simple. At double zero roulette, for example with numbers 1 through 36 plus 0 and 00, the true Roulette odds against any specific number are 37-1, but the house pays single-number winners only 35-1.
HOW MANY POSSIBLE OUTCOMES?
Slot machine odds work in a similar fashion to the roulette example, except there are many more possibilities on the slots. There are thousands, and sometimes millions, of reel combinations. There also is an open field for game designers to assign how much each winning combination pays. The number of winning combinations and the payoffs per winner work together to determine a game’s odds.
The sheer number of possibilities makes the math that goes into slot machine odds more complicated than on table games.
On early three-reel slots with 10 symbols per reel, there were 1,000 possible combinations (10 x 10 x 10).
If blank spaces between lines are used as stops, the number of combinations increases to 20x20x20, or 8,000.
With bigger reels holding 20 symbols and 20 spaces, combinations increase to 40x40x40, or 64,000.
The change to virtual reels enabled programmers to make the reels to behave as if they had any number of stops. With 100 stops on each of three reels, there are 1 million combinations. The Megabucks three-reel slot that paid the world record jackpot of more than $39 million has about 50 million combinations. Most modern video slots have five video reels can be as long as the gamemaker needs them to be. With 100 symbols on each of five reels, there are 10 billion combinations.
A SIMPLIFIED SLOT
To see how slots pay less than true odds to give the house an edge, let’s set up an example that’s as streamlined as slot odds can get, a game of the type used in the early decades after Charles Fey invented the three-reel slot machine in 1895. A hypothetical three-reel slot game with one 7, two bars, three cherries and four watermelons per reel would have 1,000 possible combinations and return 83.2 percent to players with this pay table.
Simplified Slot Table
IN OUR SAMPLE GAME:
Each of three reels has 10 symbols. Each reel has one 7 – that’s the top jackpot symbol.
Each reel also has two bars, three cherries and four watermelons.
There are 1,000 possible three-reel combinations – 10 symbols times 10 symbols times 10 symbols.
Only one combination – or 1 x 1 x 1 – will be three 7s.
Eight combinations will be three bars, 27 will be three cherries and 64 will be three watermelons.
900 of the 1,000 combinations mix different symbols.
If the game paid at true odds, then the payoffs would be set up so that each 1,000 coins wagered would bring 1,000 coins in payoffs. One way to do that would be to have payoffs of 170 coins on three 7s, 30 on three bars, 10 on three cherries and 5 on three watermelons. But the casino must have an edge, or it couldn’t pay the bills and offer the game. So instead it pays 160 on three 7s, 25 on three bars, 8 on three cherries and 4 on three watermelons. Multiplied by the frequency of wins, those payoffs total 832 coins. By paying less than the true odds of the game, the machine has a payback percentage of 83.2 percent, or a little less than today’s 1-cent games.
Modern slot machine or online slots odds work in much the same way, except that the math is more complex for several reasons:
Random number generators work from much larger number sets, leading to exponentially greater possibilities.
Many more than four reel symbols are actually used.
Most modern slots have more paylines than the one line in the sample slot above.
Game programmers have to account for the effect of bonus events.
SLOTS EXAMPLES AND EXPLANATIONS
In the classic WMS Gaming video slot Super Jackpot Party, there are eight reel symbols that form winning combinations, plus the noisemaker and party guy symbols that launch a bonus event. All of the symbols need to be assigned sets of random numbers, and payoff values assigned to three-, four- and five of a kind winners. That makes calculations much more complex than in our example game above.
The number of paylines also complicates the math. Even if there’s only one jackpot symbol on each reel, a 30-line game means there are 30 chances to line up those symbols in a winning combination, instead of just one. So it goes for every possible combination – programmers have to account for each combination 30 times.
As for bonus events, nearly all modern slot machines have events in which regular play stops, and with no further wagers, you get a spin of a bonus wheel, a pick’em event, free spins or some other extra. Bonus event payoffs have to be included in the calculation of the game’s overall return.
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
We can’t see the random numbers being generated, and it’s those numbers that really determine whether we win. In fact, there’s a list of things we can and can’t see that are important to our chance of winning.
We can’t see the odds of the game.
We can’t tell if one machine is higher paying than another.
We can see a machine’s pay table, and that gives us a clue to volatility.
We can see what kinds of bonuses are offered, and that also is a volatility clue.
Casinos don’t post payback percentages on individual games, and there’s no way for a player to calculate the odds since all the random number details are regarded as proprietary and not revealed. Even on different machines with the same game, we don’t know if the paybacks are the same. Game manufacturers make several versions of the same game available to casino operators, and each version has its own payback percentage. Two machines can look identical, but have different payback percentages.
However, a machine with a large top jackpot gives back less on smaller wins than a game with a smaller top prize, and that means the big jackpot games usually are more volatile. That’s not always the case – the big jackpot can be rare enough that the game still has a normal percentage of lower payoffs, but it’s a starting point.
In addition, games with free spin bonuses are more volatile than games with pick’em bonuses. Volatility matters in choosing what you want out of a game. Are you the type of player who wants to maximize chances at a really big win and are willing to accept that fast, bankroll-eating losses are part o f the game? Then you want a high-volatility game.
Would you rather have a game that gives frequent small wins and extends your playing time, but rarely pays big? Then you want a low-volatility game. But regardless of whether the game you choose has high volatility, low volatility or something in between, you can be sure the house has taken an edge with payouts that are less than the true odds of winning your bet.
Casinos have an edge on slot machines because winners are paid less than true odds.
Slot odds are mathematically complex because of the number of possible outcomes and the different paybacks per winner.
You can’t look at a slot game and tell the odds. In fact, two identical-looking games can have different odds.
Looking at a machine can give you a clue as it its volatility, and that can help in choosing a game.
HOW SLOTS CAN BE BOTH PROGRAMMED AND RANDOM
When a casino buys a slot machine from a manufacturer, it can choose from a variety of targeted payback percentages. The manufacturer might make the same game available in 87-, 89-, 91- and 93-percent versions, and it’s up to the operator to choose which works best in game mix and for its competitive position.
That the games have targeted payback percentages in their programming leads to misconceptions from players. A common theme in my email over the last 20 years has been, “How can games be both programmed and random? The programming must keep them on track for the percentage.”
The short answer is that slots are programmed for a target percentage in the same way table games are: Odds of the game are set so they will naturally lead to an expected payback percentage.
A TABLE ANALOGY
Let’s use roulette as an example, because the math is uncomplicated.
A double-zero roulette wheel has 38 numbers – 0, 00 and 1 through 36.
The odds against any specific number coming up on any spin are 37-1.
The casino pays only 35-1 on any winning single number.
The two-unit difference between 37-1 odds and 35-1 payoffs is kept by the house.
Divide that two-unit difference by 38 possibilities and you get 0.0526, for a 5.26-percent house edge.
In that way, roulette is “programmed” so that in the course of thousands of wagers, the house will keep 5.26 percent. Results can be random. The same number can turn up three or four or five times in a row. But over time, the odds of the game lead to that percent-edge.
What if instead of reels with symbols and results driven by a random number generator, we set up a slot-like game with slot-like payoffs by using a series of roulette-like wheels?
Let’s say we line up three roulette-type wheels, each marked into 100 segments.
We mark each segment with a slot symbol. Each wheel gets one 7, five bars, 10 cherries and so on.
We have a dealer spin and drop a ball on each wheel.
The total number of three-wheel combinations is 100x100x100, or 1 million.
That’s the same number of possible combinations you’d get on a slot machine if the random number generator was working with sets 100 numbers for each reel.
From there, it’s easy to calculate the number of possible combinations that have the ball landing in the same symbol on each wheel. For the 7, since there is only one on each wheel, it’s 1x1x1 – there is only one three-7s combination. For bars, it’s 5x5x5, or 125 out of the million total combinations. For cherries, it’s 10x10x10, or 1,000 three-cherry combos.
Note that we’re not using computer software here. We’re using physical equipment, but it’s giving us the equivalent of “programmed” combinations and odds. That’s just how the odds work on modernized computerized slot machines. They don’t force a game to pay an exact percentage, they just let the normal odds of the game drive long-term results to an expected percentage, the same way table games do.
PROGRAMMED VS. RANDOM, FAQ
The notion that slots are both programmed and random can be difficult to fathom. Confusion over slot programming has jammed my email box for years. Here are some of the questions readers ask most often.
A. “Random results” is not the same as saying “equal results.” A game doesn’t have to be programmed so that a jackpot symbol shows up as often as a blank space, or a bonus symbol as often as a cherry.
The odds of the game are set so that blank spaces will show up more often than winning symbols and small winners will show up more often than big winners. On three-reel slots, that will lead to there being more losing spins than winners, and on five-reel video games it will lead to more “wins” for amounts less than the size of your bet than bigger winners. The programmer sets the odds of the game, and then lets random chance take its course.
A. Streaks are a normal part of the probability of the game. Let’s take a three-reel game with a 12% hit frequency — you’ll have a winner an average of once per 8.333 spins. On your first spin, there’s an 88% chance it’ll be a loser. There’s a 77% chance you’ll lose two in a row, 68% chance you’ll lose three in a row, and so on.
At 20 in a row, there’s still a 7.8% chance of every spin being a loser. That’s easily within normal probability. Anyone playing a machine with a 12% hit frequency for very long will have streaks of 20 or more losses.
Random Slot question
A. Your choices do make a difference in pick’em-style bonus events, but not in any way you can predict or control. The programmer knows that over a very long time, the bonus even will yield an average payback.
Let’s make up a simple slots bonus event, in which you pick one of three symbols to reveal a bonus award. If you touch one symbol, you get 25 credits, if you touch a different one, you get 50, and if you touch the other you get 75. You don’t know which symbol hides each award, so your results are random. However, over a very long time, you’ll get each award about a third of the time, so will average 50 credits.
The programmer can build that average into calculations for the payback percentage. You have a random result contributing to odds that drive paybacks into a long-term average – the same as on the reel-spinning part of the slot game, and the same way table games work.
Slot machines have targeted payback percentages built into their programming, but results are random.
Programmed percentages on the slots work in the same way as percentages on the tables – the odds of the game lead to expected returns.
Random results are not the same as equal results. Odds are set so big winners turn up less often than other combinations.
BEATABLE SLOT MACHINES
With some rare exceptions, Las Vegas-style slot machines with random number generators are not designed to be tests of skill. There is no strategy that can overcome the house edge.
Games are not beatable in the long run. There could be a change coming as both brick-and-mortar casinos and online operators try to reach out to the Millennial generation. The State of Nevada legalized fully skill-based electronic games in 2015, and it’s expected some games will make their way onto casino floors in 2016. In some international markets, skill already is part of the mix. Japanese pachinko parlors offer games known as pachisuro, a blend of slot game play and traditional pachinko, and skillful play can improve your results. Still, Las Vegas is the trend-setter in slot development, and its random number generator slots are designed to so the house can count on its edge. Even so, a few beatable games have made it to casino floors.
In the mid-to-late 1990s there were a flurry of games where you could collect coins or symbols on a video screen until you reached a trigger point for a bonus award. Players in the know could look for machines that were already part way toward slots free bonus territory, and play only when enough of the trigger was completed to give the player an edge. Such games are rare today.
In a casino with older equipment, you still might spot such games occasionally.
Here’s how they worked:
This WMS Gaming three-reel slot was the banked bonus trend-setter. Piggy Bankin’ had a Dotmation screen in the top box, above the mechanical reels. Every time the reels showed three blank spaces, a coin was added to a piggy bank animated in orange dots. When the Break the Bank symbol landed on the payline, an animated hammer broke the bank, and the player collected the amount displayed. It was soon discovered that if you played only with enough coins in then bank, you had an edge.
Before taking a full plunge into video, IGT had its “Vision Series” with a color LCD panel in the top box. Racing 7s featured red, white and blue 7s on a track. Each time a corresponding 7 would land on the payline in the main game, that color 7 would move a notch closer the finish line. To get an edge, you looked for a screen with 7s already close to the finish and a bonus payout.
Fort Knox and Buccaneer Gold:
Silicon Gaming, no longer in business, offered several games with banked bonuses.
On Fort Knox, if five numbers in a 10-digit code had already been solved through reel spins, you had an edge. Once the full code was solved, the vault would open for your bonus. In Buccaneer Gold, the object was to collect five daggers sticking in the ship’s rail. If there already were three or four daggers when you started, you had an edge.
S&H Green Stamps:
This was Bally Technologies’ entry into the banked bonus field. During play, you’d collect Green Stamps as they landed on the video reels. If you filled a book of 1,200 stamps, you’d go to a slots bonus event. The trick was to look for machines with 600 stamps or more already in the book. At that level, the player had an edge. In casinos with all new equipment, you won’t find these games. In casinos with older equipment, it’s possible. More important than the specific games is that you understand that if you ever see such a build-a-bonus, banked game, starting close to the finish improves your odds.
A number of players over the years have told me they beat the slots by looking for larger than usual progressive jackpots. It’s a method that works better on video poker where the house edge on the base game is smaller than on the slots. Slot payback percentages are low enough that even what looks like an oversized jackpot may not be enough to overcome the full house edge. Still, if you always wait to play a game until its jackpot is a certain size, you will be playing a game with a lower house edge than if you played for lesser amounts.
Here’s the method a jackpot-hunting player relayed to me:
She starts by making daily rounds and charting jackpot amounts on different machines.
Of the machines she tracks, she notes the payoff amount when someone wins the jackpot.
Over many readings, she gets an idea of the average size of the jackpot when it hits.
She then plays only when the jackpot reaches that average. For example, if the jackpot starts building from a $1,000 base and her chart of dozens of jackpots or more shows it hits at an average of about $2,500, then she starts playing the game only when the jackpot is $2,500 or more.
JACKPOT HUNTERS, BEWARE
If you’re going to play such games anyway, there’s no harm and some gain in delaying your play until the jackpot exceeds a targeted amount. However, profits are not guaranteed.
Knowing the average size of the jackpot does not tell you the break-even point.
There is no guarantee that you’ll be the one to hit the jackpot.
Waiting for the jackpot to be a certain size does not increase your chances of winning the jackpot.
Let’s expand on that a little. Imagine a game where the jackpot usually hits at about $2.500. Unbeknown to you, the jackpot has to reach $5,000 before the game’s return reaches 100 percent. That means even if you start playing only when the jackpot is $2,500 or more, you still are playing a game on which the house has an edge. Waiting does ensure that when you do hit the jackpot, your average payout will be higher than if you started playing at the base level.
So if you’re jackpot hunting, good luck, but be aware there are pitfalls as well as big rewards.
SKILL-BASED BONUS EVENTS
Chapter 5, BONUS EVENTS, will deal more extensively with skill-based events. For now, understand that even though fully skill-based gaming has not yet launched in Nevada, there are games with skill-based bonuses. Among those marketed in recent years are IGT’s Centipede, where you play a version of the old arcade game in your bonus event, and GTECH’s Zuma, based on the popular online game.
Though your skill makes a difference in these games, they are not beatable slots. Even if you’re a Centipede grand master, the house still has an edge. With some variation by jurisdiction, a maximum of 4 percent of a game’s overall payout can be based on skill, and the house edge is high enough that getting the full 4 percent will not take you into profitable territory.
As games that are not strategy-driven, most slot machines are not beatable in the long run.
Banked bonus games offer an opportunity to get an edge, if you see that you’re already part way toward triggering a bonus.
There might be profit opportunity in games with progressive jackpots, but there’s no certainty.
Your skill matters in skill-based bonuses, but expertise doesn’t give you an edge on the games.
True or False: The house gets an edge on slots by blocking winning combinations.
On a mechanical slot with three reels and 10 symbols on each reel, how many possible three-reel combinations are there?
How many reel combinations are possible on modern slots with video reels or virtual reels?
A. 1 million | B. 10 million | C. As many as the game designer needs.
Do identical-looking machines always have the same payback percentages?
True or False: Slot payback percentages are “programmed” only in that the odds of the game are set to lead to a desired payback percentage.
Does randomness mean all symbols must turn up on an equal portion of spins?
Do long winning or losing streaks defy the odds of the games?
On most slots, is there an opportunity to overcome the house edge and be consistently profitable?
What is a “banked bonus”?
Does waiting until a progressive jackpot reaches a certain size increase your chances of winning the jackpot?
False. The house gets an edge on slots by paying less than the true odds of winning.
On a mechanical slot with three reels and 10 symbols on each reel, there are 1,000 possible combinations.
C. Slots can be programmed with any number of slots on a virtual reel or video reel, so there can be as many reel combinations as the game designer needs.
No, identical-looking machines don’t always have the same payback percentage. You can’t tell a game’s odds by looking from the outside.
True. Slot payback percentages are “programmed” only in that the odds of the game are set to lead to a desired payback percentage.
No. Results can be random while still setting the odds so some symbols occur more often than others.
No. Long winning or losing streaks are part of normal probability.
No. Most slots do not offer an opportunity to overcome the house edge and be consistently profitable.
A banked bonus is an event in which you collect representations of coins or symbols until you have enough to trigger a bonus event.
No, until a progressive jackpot reaches a certain size does not increase your chances of winning the jackpot, but it increases your average payout when you win the jackpot.
HOW MECHANICAL SLOTS WORK
Most modern slot games are played on video screens, whether in brick and mortar casinos or online. But slots with mechanical reels still have a loyal following, especially in the United States with its more than a century-old tradition of three-reel games. But today’s mechanical-reel games are software-driven, just like video slots, with a few important things to understand before you play:
Results are determined by a random number generator, which tells the reels what to display.
Symbols are mapped onto a virtual reel.
The frequency with which each symbol lands on a payline is not necessarily proportionate to the number of symbols on the physical reel.
The hit frequency, or percentage of winning spins, does not necessarily correlate to the payback percentage.
Making the maximum bet a mechanical-reel slot allows often brings you the highest payback percentage.
RANDOM NUMBER GENERATOR AND VIRTUAL REEL
For many decades after reel slot machines were invented, the number of symbols on each reel coupled with the payoff on each winner determined the game’s payback percentage.
That’s no longer the case. The random number generator and virtual reel have led to machines where the real game is being played internally, in the machine’s software. When the random numbers have been selected, the game programming tells the reels which symbols to display.
ABOUT RANDOM NUMBERS
It’s said that nothing in the universe above quantum level is truly random, but random number generators are close enough that players can’t discern any repeating patterns, and the long-term percentages are those you would expect from randomly occurring outcomes. Here are a few key points about the RNG:
RNGs use algorithms to calculate their numbers.
RNGs are very fast, generating dozens and sometimes hundreds of random numbers per second.
The RNG keeps running even when the machine is not being played.
The only function of the RNG is to generate random numbers. It doesn’t know how those numbers are used.
The RNG works with a full set of numbers on every spin, so all results are possible on every spin.
How many random numbers are used and how they are mapped onto symbols differs from game to game. So do the entry points to start the next calculation. With more sophisticated RNGs, hitting the “Bet One Coin” button, the “Max Bet” button or pulling the handle could start the algorithm from different points. Because the RNG works so fast, if you pause slightly before your next play or stop for a few seconds to order a beverage or chat with a neighbor, your result will be different than if you kept at the same pace. That doesn’t mean your result will necessarily be better or worse, just different.
If you leave a machine and someone else takes your place and hits the jackpot, that doesn’t mean you’d have won if you’d stayed. The RNG would be at a different point in its calculations.
ABOUT THE VIRTUAL REEL
The virtual reel makes it possible to have a much larger range of outcomes than if odds were determined by the number of symbols and spaces on a mechanical reel Mechanical reels must fit inside a machine’s casing. You can increase a reel’s size from 10 symbols and 10 spaces to 20 and 20, 30 and 30 and so on up to a point, but if you want to drive odds that make a really big jackpot possible, you need more combinations than physical reels alone can handle. Mapping symbols and spaces onto a virtual reel dramatically increases the number of possible combinations.
Let’s keep the arithmetic simple, and say you have a reel with 10 symbols and 10 spaces. The symbols can be the same as the example in Chapter 2-1: Each reel has one 7, two bars, three cherries and four watermelons.
But instead, let’s map all those symbols and spaces onto a virtual reel, so there are 50 stops on each reel:
Slots Virtual Reel Table
A FEW THINGS OF NOTE:
Compare Virtual Reel
In this example, each like symbol was given the same number of stops on the virtual reel. That doesn’t have to be the case. Cherry No. 1 could be given three stops and Cherry No. 2 six stops, or any other number, if that’s what fits the desired odds of the game. Mapping does not have to be identical for each reel. Cherry No. 1 could have three random numbers on reel No. 1, four on reel No. 2 and five on reel No. 3, if that led to the desired odds. On mechanical-reel machines today, the spaces between symbols also are stops. Symbols alone were counted here to simplify the arithmetic for the same of example.
Now let’s compare what the virtual reel does to the number of combinations, compared to the physical reels alone.
With odds determined by the physical reel, the chances of lining up the rarest combination, 7-7-7, are 1 in 1,000, so the jackpot can’t be very large. Even if you keep paybacks very small on other three-symbol combinations, it would be difficult to have a top jackpot of more than a couple of hundred coins. By mapping those symbols onto this simplified virtual reel, the jackpot chances become 1 in 125,000. Now the jackpot can run into thousands of coins, and there’s a lot more room for paybacks on other symbols. Let’s use physical reels and virtual reels to make up pay tables that are identical, except with the jackpot set high enough to bring the total return to 90 percent:
Both those games have odds that would lead to a 90 percent return, but letting the number of symbols on the physical reel dictate the odds leads to a jackpot of not quite 300 coins while using the virtual reel enables jackpot of more than 25,000 coins.
Everything’s easily adjustable with so many possibilities. Game designers can give you a less volatile game by making the jackpot smaller and increase paybacks on lesser winners. There’s not the same kind of wiggle room when you’re dealing with only 1,000 possible combinations.
A combination of a random number generator and a virtual reel determine what symbols and spaces you see on a slot with mechanical reels.
The random number generator operates continuously, even when a machine is not being played, and any change in your timing will lead to a different result.
The virtual reel can make a physical reel behave as if it has many more symbols than it really does, and leads to more possible combinations.
The increase in the number of combinations enables bigger jackpots and more variation in payoffs.
HIT FREQUENCY VS. PAYBACK PERCENTAGE
Winning the most often doesn’t always translate into winning the most money. There are two separate concepts:
Hit frequency is the proportion of spins that pay money to players.
Payback percentage is the proportion of wagers returned to players as winnings.
Let’s start by considering two games with identical pay tables, but different hit frequencies. These are not real games; it’s just an example set up to make the arithmetic that follows easy. Reel stops include blank spaces as well as symbols, but only three of the same symbol form a winning combination. Odds are set so there are 10,000 possible combinations, so what’s listed in this table are the number three-symbol possibilities per 10,000 spins:
We can tell several things from the chart above:
Of 10,000 combinations, Game A has 1,336 winners to only 1,005 on Game A.
The 1,336 Game B winners give it a 13.36 percent hit percentage, to 10.05 percent on Game A.
Both the hit frequencies and paybacks per win are the same on 7s, bars and cherries.
The 331 extra melon winners give Game B both a higher hit frequency and higher payback percentage.
Per 10,000 coins wagered, each game pays 1,000 on 7s, 3,500 on bars and 3,000 on cherries, for a total of 7,500. But Game A pays 1,338 on melons, and game B pays 2,000. That makes the total return 8,838 on Game A, giving it an 88.8 percent payback percentage. Game B has a total payback of 9,500 coins for a 95 percent payback percentage.
If these two games were sitting side-by side in the casino, they would appear to be identical. Winning combinations and their paybacks would be displayed, and those are the same. Players would not be able to tell one machine had a higher hit frequency and payback percentage.
ADJUSTING THE PAY TABLE
What if a slots game designer wanted a machine with Game A’s hit frequency, but Game B’s payback percentage, or Game B’s hit frequency but Game A’s payback percentage? One route is by adjusting the pay table.
Adjusting the pay table
The hit frequencies are still 13.36 percent on Game B and 10.5 percent on Game B.
The payback on cherries has been changed to 120 on Game A, and down from 100 to 80 on Game B.
Game B still has a higher hit frequency.
Game A now has a higher payback percentage.
The larger payoffs on cherries are enough to bring Game A up to a 95.38 percent payback percentage, just a fraction more than Game B paid in the first example. Game B is now down to 88 percent, a fraction less than Game A paid earlier. So here, the game with the higher hit frequency is actually the lower payer.
WHAT YOU SEE VS. WHAT YOU GET
In the above example, it looks like you can tell which is the higher payer, because Game A both pays more on cherries and has a higher payback percentage. Can a glance at the pay table tell you which game is a higher payer?
The answer to that is no, a look at the pay table can be misleading. Let’s try one more example, in which one game pays more on every winning combination. Once again, we’re using an example with 10,000 possible reel combinations.
what you see vs what you get
From the outside, Game A looks like a much higher payer, paying 1,500 vs. 1,000 for Game B on three 7s, 150 vs. 100 on 100 on bars, 20 vs. 10 on cherries and 2 vs. 1 on melons.
But internally, out of your view, the hit frequencies also have been changed. Game A now has a hit frequency of only 5.76 percent, while Game B has been increased to 25.31 percent.
Let’s look at what that does to the overall payback, adjusting for the number of winners for each three-symbol combo:
Game A pays more on every winning combination but has a lower payback percentage, 90.5 percent vs. 92 percent on Game B.
On 2,200 spins, the melons on Game B pay only the size as your bet.
On Game A, there are only 400 melon winners, but they pay double your bet.
Such a large number of low-paying spins means Game B will have low volatility, which has the effect of extending your play.
Games with such a large difference in hit frequency but such a small difference in payback percentage were used to show you the kind of leeway game designers have. If 2,050 melon combinations were used instead of 2,200, the games would have identical payback percentages, but would be vastly different playing experiences.
In that case, you would have a better chance at winning big at Game A, but a better chance at extended playing time at Game B. Real games are more complex than these examples, but offer the same kinds of different playing experiences.
On real three-reel mechanical slot games, hit frequencies as low as 5.76 percent and as high as 25.31 percent are rare. Real three-reel, single-payline games have hit frequencies that cluster between about 9 and 13 percent. Games with more paylines have higher hit frequencies.
The examples above are to illustrate principles. Real mechanical slots and their math are more complex. Three-reel games usually have more than four symbols, opening more possibilities, and game programmers aren’t confined to using number sets that yield 10,000 combinations – in fact, on big jackpot games, the number sets are much, much larger.
Here are a few additional factors that add complexity, texture and fun to the mechanical-reel portion of modern slot floors:
Many newer three-reel slots have more than one payline.
Games with more than three mechanical reels have a niche in casinos, with five reels often used.
Many three-reel games today also incorporate bonus events.
Games with multiple paylines open more possibilities and add complexity to the calculations. Three lines across the screen plus two diagonals take a game to five lines, and more lines can be created with Vs and zigzags, just like on video slots. In recent years, game manufacturers have produced three-reel mechanical games with as many as 27 paylines. Bonus events also add complexity to calculation. A diminishing number of games put all the focus omn the spinning reels. However, many three-reel games incorporate free spins, bonus wheels on top of the games, or secondary video screens to create a hybrid mechanical-video game. Any bonus payouts have to be accounted for in calculating the game’s overall return.
Higher hit frequencies don’t always bring higher overall returns.
A game that looks like a high-payer to a player could actually be a lower-paying game than one with a lower pay table.
Game designers and programmers use a combination of hit frequency and payback per win to get to a final payback percentage.
Additional factors in modern mechanical slots include multiple paylines, using five reels instead of three and incorporating bonus events into the games.
PROGRESSIVE JACKPOTS: STANDALONE, LINKED AND WIDE AREA
Walk through any sizable casino and you’ll see a slot floor lit up by clusters of machines with electronic jackpot signs on top. Penny by penny, the jackpot grows, from $12,355.67 to $12,355.68 to $12,366.69 and beyond. When somebody wins the jackpot, the total on the sign is reset to a base value, then starts building again for the next big winner.
These games with the building prizes are progressive slot machines, and they’ve been favorites of jackpot hunters for decades. The base awards can be small, as in the $250 starting point on 25-cent Blazing 7s slot machine from Bally Technologies, or can be life-changing, with jackpots of millions of dollars in $1 Megabucks machines from International Game Technology.
On games with mechanical reels, there are three basic types of progressives:
Every player should know that on any of these, it almost always takes a maximum bet to be eligible for the jackpot. If you’re playing a dollar machine with a three-coin maximum bet and you wager only $2, you can’t win the progressive award.
Mechanical slots sometimes are set up with multi-tiered progressives and mystery progressives, but those are more common on video slots. They also don’t usually require a max-coins wager to win the jackpot.
You can read more about them in Chapter 6: Video Slot Progressives.
Standalones have jackpots that that build at a single machine.
The lighted jackpot display usually is within the top portion of the top box above the main reels.
A portion of each bet players make at that machine is added to the jackpot.
After a player wins the jackpot, it is reset to the base value to start building again.
Standalone progressive machines usually are in a bank with several machines of the same type.
Each machine has its own jackpot, so, each machine will display a different jackpot amount.
Linked progressives electronically link the jackpots at a number of machines in the same casino.
The same jackpot is available to players at any machine in the link.
A portion of each bet players make at any of the linked machines is added to the jackpot.
After a player wins the jackpot, it is reset to the base value for all machines in the link.
Machines in different parts of the casino can be on the same link.
All machines on a progressive link will display the same jackpot.
Sometimes there will be a large lighted sign over the top boxes of several machines in the bank, displaying the jackpot award. Such a display ties the machines together visually, emphasizing that all have the same jackpot. Then ability to link games in different parts of the casino can sometimes confuse players. I was once in a riverboat casino in the State of Illinois, playing in the downstairs level, when the jackpot reset on a bank of IGT Double Diamond machines. No one at the bank had won the jackpot, and players were baffled. It turned out someone had one upstairs, on another Double Diamond bank on the same link.
wide area slot machine
Wide-areas are linked progressives on a bigger scale. They link jackpots at machines at different casinos. The biggest jackpots in a casino almost always are wide-area progressives. GT launched Megabucks as the first wide-area system in 1986, and IGT remains by far the biggest provider of wide-area progressives with links including Wheel of Fortune and TV Hits (with game themes based on television shows).
Often, a big, bright jackpot stretches above several machines. Displays attract attention from all over the casino.
The same jackpot is available to players at any machine on the link, even if at different casinos.
The jackpot starts at a base value, then a portion of each bet players make on any machine in the link is added.
When a player wins the jackpot, the jackpot is reset to a base value at multiple casinos
All machines on the link display the same jackpot.
When the jackpot display resets on a linked progressive, players know someone, somewhere has struck it rich. The winner might be hundreds of miles away, but you know from the reset that there’s been a big hit. That jackpot is built by players who can be hundreds of miles apart. On the IGT’s Megabucks Nevada link, a wager made in Reno contributes to the jackpot building in Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe or anywhere else in the state.
PROGRESSIVE PROS AND CONS
Should you play a progressive slot machine?
That depends on your goals as a player. Pros and Cons of Slot Machines
The jackpots are the attraction.
They draw in players who are looking for the chance at a win that can change their lives.
Games with smaller base jackpots usually pay more often than bigger jackpot games.
The chance of winning the top prize at Megabucks is about 1 in 50 million. Megabucks goes years at a time between jackpot payouts. On the other hand, Bally’s Blazing 7s, with a base prize of $1,000 on a $1 machine, was designed as a rapid hit game. If there are 10 to 20 machines in a casino, someone will hit the jackpot an average of once every 15 minutes to half an hour. It’s up to you: Do you want
to take a long shot at millions, or have a better chance at a much more modest prize?
A larger portion of the overall payback is tied up in the top jackpot than in non-progressive games.
That means progressive machines usually give less back to players in smaller wins, whether through reductions in the pay table or a reduced hit frequency. The chance at a big jackpot is a tradeoff for an increased risk of a rapid bankroll drain.
It’s important to read the machine glass and understand the conditions of the game before you play.
On three-reel mechanical games, it almost always takes a max-coins bet to be eligible for the progressive. If you don’t bet the max, some games will pay you a reduced amount if you line up the jackpot symbols. But on some, called “buy-a-pays” in the slot industry, each coin activates a set of symbols. On a three-coin Blazing 7s game, for example, the jackpot 7s are not winning symbols unless you bet the third coin.
Jackpot hunting can be fun and sometimes rewarding, but if your bankroll won’t stretch to betting enough to be eligible for the progressive award, you’re better off at a non-progressive machine.
Progressive slot machines build jackpots by taking a portion of each wager and adding it to the jackpot until somebody wins.
Standalone progressives build at individual games; linked progressives build a jackpot shared by a number of machines within a casino; and wide-area progressives link the jackpot at machines in different casinos.
It almost always takes a maximum-coins bet to be eligible for a progressive jackpot on a machine with mechanical reels, and if you’re not prepared to bet max coins, you should play a non-progressive machine.
What determines the combinations of symbols you see on the reels of a mechanical-reel game?
How can slot programmers and designers make a reel behave as through it has more symbols and spaces than it really does?
True or False: Increasing the number of possible reel combinations enables gamemakers to design slots that offer bigger jackpots and more variation in pay tables.
What is the percentage of spins that win for the player called?
Do slot machines with high hit frequencies have higher payback percentages than those with lower hit frequencies?
True or False: All three-reel slots have just one payline, as opposed to as many as 100 paylines on video slots.
Can you tell by looking at two machines which is the higher payer?
How do progressive slot machines build big jackpots?
What is the difference between standalone, linked and wide-area progressives?
When should you bet maximum coins if you play a buy-a-pay slot?
The combinations of symbols you see on a three-reel game are determined by a random number generator and virtual reel.
Slot programmers and designers make a reel behave as through it has more symbols and spaces than it really does by mapping the symbols to a virtual reel.
True. Increasing the number of possible reel combinations enables gamemakers to design slots that offer bigger jackpots and more variation in pay tables.
The percentage of spins that win for the player is called the hit frequency.
No, machines with high hit frequencies do not necessarily have higher payback percentages than those with lower hit frequencies. The overall payback can be higher, lower or the same with a higher hit frequency.
False. Not all three-reel slots have just one payline.
That’s a common configuration, but some has as many as 27 paylines.
No, you can’t tell by looking at two machines which is the higher payer. They can look identical, but don’t necessarily have identical hit frequencies or payback percentages.
Progressive slot machines build big jackpots by adding a percentage of each bet to the jackpot until somebody wins.
Standalone progressives build the jackpot from bets at a single machine, linked progressives build a jackpot from bets on a number of electronically linked machines and wide-area progressives build jackpots from bets on machines linked at more than one casino.
If you play a buy-a-pay slot, you should bet the max when big-paying symbols become non-paying symbols without a max-coins wager.
SLOTS BONUS EVENTS
Bonus features are where much of the creative, interactive fun of slot machines is focused.
Much of game development centers on getting the bonuses just right to get us to try a game and keep us playing once we’re there. As one slot exec told me in 2013, “Bonuses are what it’s all about.” What form the bonuses take is limited only by designer imagination and public acceptance. Some casino bonuses resonate so well with the public that gamemakers turn to them over and over again, adding new twists and wrinkles as they go. Among the most popular formats are:
Wheel spinning bonuses
Free spin bonuses
Community style bonuses
Free bonus slots
In this chapter, we’ll look at how each format works, with examples of some popular favorites
WHEEL SPINNING BONUSES
In their classic form, wheel bonuses involve a mechanical wheel fixed at the top of a slot machine. The wheel is divided into wedges containing prize amounts. When you win a will spin, you touch a button or touch the screen to start the spin. When the spin stops, you win the indicated prize amount. The concept has expanded, so today there are wheels on video screens, and wheels used to select a bonus event as well as to award credits.
Wheels are driven by random number generators, just like slot reels. The segments don’t have to occur in equal proportions.
If the wheel landed on segments equally as often, we could tell a few of things by looking at the machine:
We would get the top bonus of 1,000 credits an average of once per 10 spins of the wheel.
We would get the bottom bonus of 20 credits an average of once per 10 spins of the wheel.
The average return per spin would be 213 credits.
Bonus wheels don’t actually pay their top prizes so often. Game designers need events that occur frequently enough to hold player interest, while offering the chance at a big payoff. To achieve that balance, game designers use something much like the virtual reel described in Chapter 3. Wheel segments can be of equal size, but not have equal chances of stopping at the indicator.
To create a hypothetical example, a 10-space wheel could be set up with 50 random numbers:
Table Chapter 5.1
With that number set, we can tell the following things:
The top prize of 1,000 credits now occurs only once per 50 spins.
The bottom prize of 20 credits still comes up once per 10 spins.
The set is weighted so that 60- and 50-credit wins are the most frequent.
The average win is 105 credits.
With an average win less than half the 213 you’d get if all numbers occurred equally as often, game designers can have the bonus events occur more often. And since the weighting of numbers means frequent 60- and 50-credit wins, players aren’t discouraged by the bottom 20-credit wins coming up too often.
The same kind of weighting applies to bonus wheels that initiate other bonus events in addition to awarding credits.
Not all bonuses occur equally as often in Bally’s Michael Jackson: King of Pop, WMS’ Journey to Oz or any other game that uses a wheel spin to initiate free spin or pick’em bonuses. The most lucrative bonuses will occur the least often. One more twist on the bonus wheel has been Bally’s U-Spin technology. Introduced on the game Vegas Hits, U-Spin puts a bonus wheel atop the machine, but also puts a video representation on the screen.
You touch the onscreen wheel and move your finger to drag it forward or backward, fast or slow. When you let go, it moves at a speed that corresponds to your motion. The wheel at the top of the game moves at the same speed as the wheel on screen, and in the end they stop on the same space. It’s a cool visual effect that gives players the illusion of control, but the result is determined by a random number generator.
Wheel spins are used to award bonus credits or launch other bonus events.
Results are determined by a random number generator.
A virtual reel concept can be used so top prizes occur less often than smaller awards.
Pick-a-prize bonuses, or just pick’em bonuses, have been a staple of video slots since the late 1990s. They can be as simple as touching one icon on the screen to collect bonus credits. They also can be longer events where you keep picking until you touch an icon that ends the event.
Here are some things you should know about pick’em bonuses:
Pick’em bonuses are designed to make you an active participant in the game.
Possibilities are set by a random number generator.
You touch and icon on the screen, which then is either overlaid or replaced by a prize amount.
Your choices matter, though there is no strategy that can find the biggest reward.
Some games use pick’em bonuses to award icons, free spins or launch other bonus events.
One classic one-pick game is Reel ’Em In, in which the player picks one fisherman to reel in a fish. The bigger the fish, the bigger the bonus. A long-lasting multipick favorite is Jackpot Party, where the player picks from a grid of gift boxes. You keep picking until the prize you pick reveals a party pooper instead of a prize. The pooper ends the bonus.
YOUR CHOICES MATTER
Players often ask if their choices matter, or if the bonus award is predetermined.
Do you win the prizes you pick, or are the prizes adjusted so you whatever you pick, you get what you were supposed to?
The answer is that you really do get what you pick, and your choices matter.
Let’s make up a round where you’re picking color segments from a 16-space grid, like so:
Color Segment Table
When you touch the screen, either you will get bonus credits, or a “Round Over” message.
You can’t see what color blocks hide which awards, but those have already been set by the RNG.
It’s as if there is a second grid under the first. If you could see it, it might look like this:
Color Segment Grid Table
If you pick the second block in the second column, you will get the top prize of 100 credits and keep picking.
If you pick all the credit amounts without hitting “round over,” you get all 395 credits.
If your first pick is “round over,” your bonus is zero.
There is no preset bonus award that you are “supposed” to win. The RNG doesn’t set a prize for you of, for example, 75 credits, then adjust what’s in the blocks you pick to get that 75 total. The RNG just set the possibilities, and you get whatever your picks bring. There is no strategy to find the high-paying blocks. Because you choices make a difference, you get the feeling of control. But since there’s no way to tell what’s in each block, no strategy will yield results any better than random picking.
BONUS RESULTS AND THE PAYBACK PERCENTAGE
Players sometimes struggle with the idea that bonus payouts can vary with your choices.
“How can it not be a fixed amount?” they ask. “Doesn’t there need to be a fixed amount so they can program the payback percentages?” As we’ve seen in earlier chapters, games aren’t programmed to always hit a fixed payback percentage. Instead, the odds of the game are set so that over hundreds of thousands of plays, they will lead toward a targeted percentage.
That’s the way it works with awards on pick’em bonuses. Programmers don’t need to know the amount of every award. They just need to know an average award, given random choices.
For an easy example, let’s make up an easy, one-pick bonus event. Let’s say we have an African wildlife-themed slot game, with a one-pick bonus in which you choose either a lion, and elephant or a hippopotamus.
The RNG will randomly scatter awards so that picking one brings 25 credits, another brings 50 and the other brings 75.
There is no way to know which is which. What you see on the screen is this:
Jungle Bonus Round
Credit awards are hidden from view, just as on the color block game. For example, they might be distributed like this:
Jungle Bonus Round Grid
The order in which the awards appear changes with every play. Your pick makes the difference of what you get on any one free bonus round. However, the game designer knows that over many plays, about a third of picks will bring 25 credits, a third will bring 50 and a third will bring 75. The average award will be 50 credits, and the designer can use that in building the odds leading to a targeted payback percentage.
PICK OF THE LITTER
Over the years, pick’em bonuses have been used in many ways to give you an active part in playing the games.
Here are a few examples:
FORTUNE COOKIE, IGT:
The bonus event gave you a Chinese restaurant menu on screen and had you pick dishes in different categories – a poultry dish, a seafood dish, and so on. Each dish you picked was worth bonus credits, and after you’d made your picks, you could see if you picked the best dish in the category.
THE FLINTSTONES, WMS:
The Bedrock Bowling bonus started with you choosing a stylized bowling ball. Did you want the ball made of cash?
The Stone Age stone ball? Then you could let it fly down the lane to see if you could strike it rich.
Deal or no deal
DEAL OR NO DEAL, ATRONIC/SPIELO/GTECH:
Tying in with the TV show, Deal or No Deal slots offered the Suitcase bonus slots, in which you’d try to have your picks eliminate the suitcases with the least cash.
The bonus event played much like the classic board game. You’d touch squares on an ocean grid, trying to locate ships to sink them for cash. That’s just a sampling of what can be done with pick’em event. There have been hundreds of these, and there will be hundreds more with plenty of new twists and fresh fun to come.
Pick’em bonuses are designed to get players to interact with the games.
Your choices really make a difference in the size of your bonus.
Game designers can used an expected average award to help lead to a targeted payback percentage.
FREE SPIN BONUSES
Free-spin bonuses have become the most widely used bonus events on modern slot machines, and they’re just as advertised. You get a number of free spins of the reels, during which you collect payoffs on any winners without having to make any wagers.
A few important points about free-spin bonuses:
Free spin bonuses are designed to add volatility to slot games.
Many free spin bonuses use the same reels as the regular games.
Some free spin bonuses add extras, such as wild symbols or stacked symbols not available on the main game.
When free spins are on the main game reels, you can get extra free spins if the trigger symbols come up again.
When video slots first achieved U.S. popularity in the 1990s, the most popular slot bonus events were pick’em games.There was room for variation.
The Australian slotmaker Aristocrat Technologies was focused on free spins even while American manufacturers WMS Gaming and International Game Technologies put pick’ems first.
The big change came in the middle of the first decade of the 21st century as one-cent slots displaced five-cent slots as player favorites. Five-cent, or nickel, slots were designed to be low-volatility games offering players high hit frequencies and extended play.
Penny slots needed to put more volatility in the games in order to offer players paybacks worth playing for. On nickel games, fewer credits can be a worthwhile prize. Take the Jackpot Party field of gift boxes. If a player makes a few good picks and accumulates 200 credits, that’s worth $10 on a nickel game.
At many casinos, a player who won $10 in the 1990s could have bought a lunch buffet and had a substantial meal. What if you put the same game on a penny format? Then a 200-credit win is worth only $2. That won’t come close to buying a lunch buffet – it might fetch a bag of chips and a candy bar at the snack bar. Free spin bonuses are a way to give the player a chance at bigger prizes. All the payoffs available on the main game are available, right up to the top jackpot.
FREE SPIN PLUSES AND MINUSES
Free Spins Retriggered
Free spins give players a chance to accumulate thousands of credits.
If you win additional free spins while in the bonus, you can have long stretches without making a bet.
It’s possible to have free spins with no payoff.
The average free-spin bonus is about the same as the average pick’em bonus, but the distribution is far different. There are both more very large bonuses and more very small bonuses when free spins are used.
CLASSIC FREE SPINS
The first free spin games added no extras. The spins stood on their own as a bonus event.
That’s a format still used today, although some games add more bells and whistles.
Take the Aristocrat game Queen of the Nile, a longtime player favorite.
15 free spins are triggered when you land three pyramid symbols on the screen.
The pyramids herald the bonus by shining beacons out their peaks, to the tops of their spaces.
During bonus spins, winning combinations pay the same amount as in regular play.
If you land another three pyramids on the screen during free spins, you win 15 more spins.
That’s a format that has stood the test of time.
Many free-spin games work in much the same way.
FREE SPIN EXTRAS
Many free spin games go beyond the classic free-spin bonus to give players an enhanced experience in the slot bonus event.
Here are a few examples of ways free spins have been used:
MICHAEL JACKSON KING OF POP, BALLY:
In the “Smooth Criminal” bonus, Jackson’s music video is overlaid on the reels during free spins. At the sound of cymbal clash, Jackson stops, points, and the indicated symbol turns wild.
WONDER WOMAN, BALLY:
Wild symbols add to your potential wins. In Wonder Woman Gold, there are extra wild symbols on the reels. In Wonder Woman Wild, wild symbols randomly are added to the screen to substitute for the low-paying A, K, Q and J symbols.
TIGER TIGER, AMERICAN GAMING SYSTEMS:
All the emphasis is on big payers in the free spins bonus. All the low-paying symbols are eliminated, and what are left are long stacks of the high-payers – Bengal tigers, black tigers, huntresses and wild symbols. A screen full of the same symbol stacks brings roaring big wins.
You’re part of the action in a game that has a camera to capture your image. The Celebrity Spin Cycle Bonus launches when the police pull over a speeding car driven by you. You’re a reel symbol, too.
WICKED WINNINGS LEGENDS, ARISTOCRAT:
Free spins feature Sticky Stacks. Full columns of stacked symbols stick in place for the next spin, opening big win possibilities.
ZEUS II, WMS:
WMS, and now its parent company, Scientific Games, offer a number of games with respins. Zeus is one of them. If the first column is filled with a Zeus symbol, all Zeus and wild symbols are held in place during two respins. You can also win standard free spins with three lightning bolts on the reels.
JOLLY ROGER, IGT:
Players can choose their volatility in the free spins bonus by choosing either fewer free spins with a big multiplier for winnings, or fewer spins with a small multiplier.
For example, you could pick five free spins with winnings multiplied by 10, 10 spins multiplied by five, 15 by three or 20 times 2.
Pick five free spins, and you’ll win less often but have bigger payouts when the winning spins come. Pick 20 spins and you’ll win more often, but individual wins will be smaller, giving you a less volatile game.
GOLDIFY, GTECH (SINCE MERGED WITH IGT):
A different take on choose your volatility, Goldify lets players choose a symbol. Payoffs then are doubled on winners using that symbol. Doubling high-paying symbols leads to higher volatility, while doubling more frequent winners lowers volatility. You won’t find all these specific games in any one casino. Games come and games go, but bonusing tools remain available to game Extra wilds, high-paying stacks, respins and choose your volatility features all are tools in use in many games today.
Free spins are widely used to bring big wins to low-denomination slot.
Big wins on free spins are offset by the possibility of zero-payback bonuses.
Extra wild and stacked symbols, respins and choose your volatility features all are used to make free spins attractive to players.
MYSTERY AND SKILL BASED BONUSES
With all the variations available on live slots and online slots, especially since the advent of video slots, two things are almost absolutes:
Your reels or screen show you exactly why a payback is coming.
Game results are pure chance.
Whether you’re seeing winning symbols on a payline, a credit segment on a bonus wheel or a prize determined by your choice in a pick’em bonus, you see why the payoff is made and what it is worth.
There is nothing you can do to change where the reels stop, which wheel wedge wins or which prize a pick’em icon is hiding. That’s all left to chance.
What makes those two statements “almost absolutes” instead of “absolutes” are the availability of mystery bonuses and skill-based bonuses.
SLOTS MYSTERY BONUSES
Instead of being triggered by symbols landing on the reels, mystery bonuses are awarded randomly as a complete surprise to the player.
Mystery bonuses were devised by John Acres, who today is CEO of Acres 4.0. In more than 30 years in gaming Acres invented electronic player tracking systems as well as progressive jackpot systems.
The first mystery bonus game to make a big splash in live casinos was Money Time from Mikohn Gaming, in 1997.
At random times, flashing lights and sound effects would signal the arrival of “Money Time.”
During the Money Time period, all active players at the bank of machines would receive random awards until a full, randomly selected amount had been paid. Today, mystery triggers are used most often on games with multi-tiered progressive jackpots, but some non-progressive bonuses are mysteries, too.
Take WMS Gaming’s Super Jackpot Party, where you can get to the gift-box pick’em bonus in two ways.
If noisemaker symbols land on the first, third and fifth video reels, you hear the cheer “Jackpot Party!” and the bonus begins.
At random times, the chant is “Surprise Party!” and that brings the same bonus event.
The Mystery Fish
At Surprise Party time, there’s no landing noisemakers on the first and third reels, then hoping the fifth reel brings the bonus. There’s no clue the party is coming at all, until it’s here.
Similarly, in WMS’ Goldfish, one bonus is triggered on the reels. Three fish food canisters launch a pick’em bonus.
Other bonuses are mysteries, themed on the different fish in the game. Fanfare sounds, drums roll, and one of the five fish drop from a seascape in the top box into a fish bowl on the main screen to kick off a bonus event.
There is no hint on the reels that a bonus is about to happen. It gets you by surprise.
Mystery bonuses are triggered by a random number generator, and can be programmed in several ways:
They could launch at a randomly selected time.
They could launch after a randomly selected number of coins have been played.
They could launch when a jackpot or prize pool reaches a randomly selected amount.
You can find more detail on how that random selection works in Chapter 6: Video Slot Progressives, since progressives have the largest segment of mystery games.
SLOTS SKILL-BASED BONUSES
Here’s a segment you’re likely to see growing in the coming years as casinos reach out to players used to games of skill online.
In 2015, Nevada legalized fully skill-based gambling. Once the Nevada Gaming Commission approves regulations, we’ll start to see what gamemakers can do with the format.
For now, there already are games in the field with elements of skill in bonus events. The older regulation in Nevada permitted up to 4 percent of a game’s payback to be based on skill, and such games are available in many states.
That’s not enough to make skill games a profit opportunity for players. That 4 percent might mean a game might offer a payback range from 88 to 92 percent, depending on skill, but it’s still a money-earner for the house.
Here are some of the games with skill-based bonuses that have made it to casino floors.
PONG, Bally Technologies:
Bally was a pioneer in skill-based bonuses in 2007 with Pong, based on the 1970s arcade game that was essentially a two-dimensional table tennis simulation. The slot machine bonus was a game of Pong, and if you could beat the machine, you got a bigger bonus.
BREAKOUT, Bally Technologies:
Breakout was a follow-up to Pong in the ‘70s in arcades, and in 2008 on the slots. You deflect a ball toward a block of colored blocks. Each block you hit disappears and adds to your bonus, but if it bounces back past you, the round is over.
TULLY’S TREASURE HUNT, International Game Technology:
In the bonus, you use a joystick to guide a sea turtle through an underwater chase to collect bonuses. Make him swim through the right icons, and your bonus grows.
CENTIPEDE, International Game Technology:
Based on an arcade classic, Centipede rewards skill as you use a joystick to move into position, then one of four buttons to fire at the crawling centipede. Destroy the full centipede, and you move to a more difficult second level for more bonuses.
GTECH has since merged with IGT, but under a license with online game provider PopCap Games, it introduced Zuma in 2013. A skill-based bonus event has the player take the role of the Zuma frog as it shoots colored balls to hit the moving Kahtiki Khan boss.
Players who don’t trust their skill, or would rather just have random rewards, have the option of playing free spin bonuses on Tully, Centipede or Zuma, or letting the game computer play for them on Pong or Breakout.
All of these games have carved out small followings, though none have been megahits.
Bally temporarily put skill-based games on the shelf after breakout, but in 2016 plans to introduce Space Invaders, another game with a bonus based on an arcade favorite. Gamemakers believe younger generations will demand games of skill, and are preparing to meet the demand.
Even players who don’t trust their skill like to feel as if they have some control over outcomes. Gamemakers sometimes address that with “perceived skill” or “illusion of skill games.”
Perceived skill games can introduce real skill in bonus events, but award bonuses randomly.
One example is SkeeBall from Bally. The bonus event is based on the arcade favorite SkeeBall, in which you roll balls up a lane, trying to land them inside concentric circles. The smallest circles are worth the most points.
In SkeeBall the slot:
A SkeeBall game appears on the screen.
You touch and drag balls on the screen, and when you let go you can roll them fast or slow.
You can try to roll the balls straight, or you can try to bank them off the sides toward the circles.
If you land the balls in the circles you get points.
There is real skill in all that. A good player will earn more points than a poor one.
When the round is over, your points are exchanged for a corresponding number of tickets, and you take the tickets to an onscreen redemption shop.
In the shop, there are shelves of gifts, each with a ticket price. You choose: Do you want to redeem a lot of tickets for the giant stuffed animal, or divide your tickets to get several smaller prizes?
After each selection, a credit award is revealed under the chosen prize.
That’s where the randomness factors in. The awards you receive are determined by the RNG, and not by how many points you’ve earned. Skilled players will earn more tickets than unskilled tickets, but their credit awards will be about the same.
Bally has used the perceived skill format on a number of games. IGT used it on Big Buck Hunter, which attacked a plastic rifle to the side of the machine for use in a hunting bonus. Better shooters got more points, but not necessarily bigger rewards.
Perceived skill games are likely to have a place in casinos for a long time, but casino operators and game manufacturers alike are banking on the big growth coming in true skill games.
It’s not necessary to land bonus symbols on the reels to trigger mystery bonuses.
Mystery bonuses can be triggered by randomly selected times, amounts of play or jackpot size.
On games with skill-based bonuses, skilled players will do better than unskilled players, but do not have an edge on the house.
Perceived skill games involve real skill in game play, but credit awards are random, so unskilled players will get about the same paybacks as the skilled.
COMMUNITY STYLE BONUSES
Slot machines are solitary experiences, man or woman vs. the machine, without the win-together feel that comes when a whole blackjack table wins on a dealer bust, or a hot shooter has a whole craps table cheering and giving high fives.
Gamemakers have tried to give players in live casinos a heightened social experience with community-style slots in which multiple players are involved in a free bonus event at the same time.
Community bonuses can come in several forms:
Simultaneous bonuses in which players may or may not participate in the same event.
Bonuses where all players win together.
Bonuses in which players take turns building credits for each other.
Bonuses where players compete against each other.
The first community slots bonus game on a live slot was Bonus Road Rally, by A.C. Coin. In Bonus Road Rally, a display above a bank of $1 IGT three-reel mechanical slots had a track and 10 cars, one for each machine at the bank.
As customers played the main slot game, their wagers would advance the cars along the track.
The player whose car reached the finish line first won the biggest bonus.
Bonus Road Rally was a game ahead of its time. It never really caught on with players. Instead, the breakthrough for community games would come about a decade later, once video slots were well established.
SIMULTANEOUS SLOT BONUSES
In 2005, International Game Technology brought its popular Wheel of Fortune theme to community-style live slots with Wheel of Fortune Super Spin.
Super Spin features included:
Nine seats and game screens circling a colossal wheel.
Each customer played his own base game.
When a player won a bonus wheel spin, he could play now or wait to play the bonus later.
More than one player could choose to play their bonuses on the same wheel spin.
Each player had his own wheel wedge indicator, and the wedge that stopped in front of him determined his bonus.
With that format, customers could play together, but their slot bonuses would be different sizes. You weren’t necessarily cheering for your neighbor, because you wanted the highest-paying wedge. A.C. Coin used a similar format in Super Bankroll Bonus, which had a central column that contained stylized depictions of U.S. currency.
In the bonus event, the column whirled around and around, and where it stopped determined your slot bonus size. If two or more players were in on the bonus, they’d get different payoffs, because the currency that stopped in front of you was different than that in front of your neighbor.
WIN TOGETHER BONUSES
The pace-setter in win-together community-style bonuses has been WMS Gaming. It launched its Community Gaming lineup with Monopoly Big Event, introduced to the industry in 2005 and rolling into casinos in 2006.
Monopoly Big Event features include:
Individual games with their own free bonus events
A large plasma screen stretching over the tops of several machines.
Among the bonus events is an around-the-board bonus, where virtual dice rolls take players around a Monopoly board on the plasma screen.
Players win credits for each Monopoly property on which they land.
Players who bet more or play faster earn a multiplier for bonus credits won.
This is a win-together experience because players all collect the same properties at the same time. If the dice take players to Marvin Gardens, all players win the Marvin Gardens credit award. However, players won’t win exactly the same amount. Since wager size plus speed of play earns a multiplier, you might find a win of 2,000 credits multiplied by two, while your bigger-betting neighbor has it multiplied by three.
That format had success for WMS, and it turned to win-together bonuses on games including Jackpot Party Community and Press Your Luck.
Collaborative bonuses are a spinoff of win-together games in that players all collect the same bonuses at the same time. However, collaborative bonuses have the added feature of players taking turns in parts of the game that build bonuses.
A win-together game might have a single player push a button or touch a screen to launch an event that then is played out by the random number generator, or might have a single player taking action for the entire group. Collaborative bonuses have multiple decision points, and all players take part. WMS again turned to Monopoly to introduce the concept with Monopoly Bigger Event, Monopoly Bigger Event features individual games with their own bonuses, plus a number of collaborative bonuses on big screen overhead.
Among the collaborative bonuses are:
Water Works and Electric Company. Players take turns choosing water valves or power switches for bonuses.
Community Chest and Chance: Players take turns drawing cards for bonuses, including chances to launch other events.
Around the Board: Players take turns launching onscreen dice for a trip around the Monopoly game board.
If you throw the big-money power switch, or launch the dice-roll that takes the group to Boardwalk, you’re a hero to all. If you land on a smaller bonus, others still have a chance at the big one.
International Game Technology also has players working together in Hot Roll Community, part of its Connected series of games.
In the Hot Roll Community bonus:
Three players go to the bonus event together.
They take turns rolling virtual dice by touching and dragging on individual screens, then flinging toward the big screen overhead.
When one player has a winning roll, all players collect bonuses.
A roll of 7 ends one player’s participation for the round, but the others keep rolling until all three seven out.
Players who have sevened out keep collecting bonuses as long as at least one other shooter is active.
It’s a win-together experience, but it’s also collaborative since your rolls build bonuses for other players.
The archetype of competitive bonuses is Reel ’Em In: Compete to Win by WMS.
Players go to fishing bonuses at the same time on the overhead screen, but they don’t win the same prizes.
In the Fishing Derby bonus:
Each player has a fishing line in the virtual sea on the plasma screen overhead.
Fish of different sizes swim past.
You earn bonus credits for each fish you catch, with bigger bonuses on bigger fish.
At the end of the round, all bonus credits are tallied, and whoever has the most wins the derby and an extra prize.
Landing the most fish doesn’t necessarily win the derby. If you land 10 small fish, each worth 25 points or less, and your neighbor lands only one fish, but it’s a 500-credit monster, your neighbor wins.
Instead of winning together, the fun here comes from competition.
As with all slot games, community-style games rise and recede in popularity quickly, and you may not find these specific games in any one casino. However, through the trend-setting games, you can spot the kinds of things game designers have in their toolkits for future community-style bonuses.
It’s not necessary to land bonus symbols on the reels to trigger mystery bonuses.
Mystery bonuses can be triggered by randomly selected times, amounts of play or jackpot size.
On games with skill-based bonuses, skilled players will do better than unskilled players, but do not have an edge on the house.
Perceived skill games involve real skill in game play, but credit awards are random, so unskilled players will get about the same paybacks as the skilled.
What kinds of prizes can you win on bonus wheels?
When wedges on a bonus wheel are of equal size, are all results equally likely?
What is a pick’em bonus?
True or false: The random number generator determines your prize in a pick’em bonus, and your picks are just for show.
Free spin bonuses: A. Makes extra-large wins possible even for penny players; B. Enable you to play for long periods without betting, especially if the free spins can be retriggered during the bonus; C. Add volatility because large wins are offset by rounds of small or zero wins; D. All of the above. E. None of the above.
Name some extras gamemakers use to add interest to free spins beyond the game on the main reels.
What causes mystery bonuses to launch?
What’s the difference between a skill-based bonus and a perceived-skill bonus?
True or false: Community-style slot machines were invented after video slots rose to popularity.
On win-together games, do players always win the same amount of credits?
On bonus wheels, you can win credits, multipliers or launch other bonus events, though not all games have all those possibilities.
A wheel divided into equal-sized wedges does not necessarily give each wedge an equal chance of being the winner. A random number generator determines the winner, and some wedges can be assigned more random numbers than others.
A pick’em bonus is an interactive event in which you touch icons on the video screen to reveal bonus awards.
False. Your choices in a pick’em bonus are not just for show. A random number generator sets the possibilities, but your picks determine your prize.
D. All of the above. Free spin bonuses make extra-large wins possible even for penny players; enable you to play for long periods without betting, especially if the free spins can be retriggered during the bonus; and add volatility because large wins are offset by rounds of small or zero wins.
Among the tools gamemakers use to add interest to free spins are extra wild symbols, extra stacked symbols, respins and choose your volatility formats.
Mystery bonuses are launched by a random number generator, and it can be according to randomly selected times, amount of play or size of prize to be awarded.
On skill-based bonuses, player skill directly affects how much you win. Perceived-skill bonuses may involve skill in accumulating points, but translating those points into your credit prize is done by a random number generator.
False. The first community-style bonus, Bonus Road Rally, was on three-reel mechanical slots and came in 1996, shortly before the breakthrough of video slots.
On win-together games, players do not always win the same amount of credits because a multiplier can be added so that those who bet more or play faster get more credits
VIDEO SLOT PROGRESSIVES
Just as on slots with mechanical reels, progressive jackpots that build as you play are big attractions for players on video slots.
There also are some differences in the way progressives work on video, whether on live slots or online slots.
Most progressive video slots offer more than one progressive jackpot.
You usually do not have to make a maximum-coins bet to be jackpot-eligible.
Many video slot progressives do not require you to line up symbols on a payline to win.
This chapter will discuss different types of progressive video slots, what to look for and how players betting different amounts can be eligible for the same jackpot.
Just as on mechanical-reel slots, progressive jackpots are a huge draw for players. To some extent, the types of progressive games are similar:
Standalone progressives, in which jackpots build by adding a portion of each bet to the pot on one machine.
Linked progressives, in which a portion of bets on multiple machines is added to the jackpots on all linked machines.
Wide-area progressives, in which a portion of bets on machines at different casinos are added to a common jackpot.
All those formats exist on video for live slots. Online casinos have emulated the progressive experience, but we don’t yet ﬁnd as many progressives on online slots as on live slots.
A few examples on live slots include:
Zorro, in Aristocrat Technologies’ Double Standalone line in which jackpots build at separate machines;
Jackpot Party Progressive Deluxe, from WMS Gaming, in which linked machines at a single casino build a jackpot together;
International Game Technologies’ TV Hits links, where games of several themes based on television shows build jackpots at multiple casinos.
From that base, however, game manufacturers have been able to take progressive excitement and kick it up a notch, or several notches.
The most important difference is that most video progressive slots feature multiple jackpots, while most mechanical-reel progressives have a single jackpot.
The multi-tiered jackpot format has proved so popular on video that is also used on some mechanical reel games, though video remains its main domain.
There are big differences on what you see on the game. On a mechanical-reel, single-jackpot machine, you might see a pay table that looks like this for the top few symbols:
There is one progressive jackpot, and it increases wager by wager. On this machine, you might see it creep up on a lighted display from $1,023.44, and build penny by penny, depending on how much play the game is getting.
On a video slot with a multi-tiered jackpot, you won’t see the full pay table unless you push the “Menu” or “See Pays” button.
However, the progressive awards are there big as life, in the top box of the game you’re playing, on a large plasma display stretching over the tops of several machines, or both.
A top box display might look like this:
The games are designed to have small, easily attainable jackpots so that on a full bank of machines, someone is winning every few minutes. The number of tiers varies. Four tiers are common, but games with anything from two to 12 jackpot tiers have had niches in casinos.
Different gamemakers and different games use their own terms for the jackpot levels. You might see Mini-Minor-Major-Grand, but you also might see Bronze-Silver-Gold-Platinum, or even just numbered levels.
Multi-tiered jackpots were introduced by Aristocrat Technologies with its Hyperlink series of linked progressives.
The first Hyperlink game in American casinos was Cash Express. Features of the original Cash Express included:
Four progressive levels – Mini, Minor, Major and Grand – started at $10, $50, $100 and $1,000.
A railroad theme for the jackpot round.
The main bonus event was launched when you landed railroad cars across the video reels.
When the bonus launched, animation of a railroad train would chug across the plasma screen overhead.
Each car of the train contained a number of bonus credits, and you would collect credits from several cars.
You also would build points during the round, and if you collected enough points, you’d win one of the progressives.
Cash Express was very popular, and spurred other game manufacturers to design their own multi-tiered jackpots. Aristocrat itself has followed with many Hyperlink games, including a new Cash Express version called Cash Express Gold Class. Gold Class adds a fifth progressive level that starts building at $9,500.
HOW TO WIN
Some video slot jackpots work just like the traditional reel-spinning progressives: Line up the jackpot symbols across the reels, and you win. However, most multi-tiered jackpots aren’t so straightforward. There is a division between symbol-driven jackpots and mystery jackpots. Mystery jackpots are related to the mystery bonuses discussed in Chapter 5.4: Mystery Bonuses and Skill-Based Bonuses. They happen without any clue on the reels that they’re coming.
You don’t need to line up winning symbols to win a mystery progressive. That’s something that will be a focus of discussion in Chapter 6.2: Minimum Bettors Can Play for Maximum Jackpots.
On symbol-driven progressives, you do need to line up winning symbols to win a jackpot or to trigger an even to lead to a jackpot.
Under both mystery and symbol-driven bonuses, there often is an extra step before you win a progressive.
Sometimes it involves a spin of a bonus wheel, which can award credits, launch other bonus events or award a progressive.
Sometimes it involves playing a bonus event in which you need to win your way toward a progressive.
One example is Jackpot Party Progressive Deluxe, which has a five-tier progressive marked by stars:
a blue star for a level that starts at $5, green for $15, silver for $50, gold for $200 and red for $10,000.
A bonus event launches when you land “Bonus” symbols on the first and third reels and a gift box symbol on the fifth. That takes you to a free spin bonus. During the free spins, you can win trips to a Jackpot Party gift box grid. On the gift grid, an animated hand points to a box. It opens to reveal either a credit award or star.
If the box contains a star, you advance a progressive level.
It’s all part of the fun, a format designed to keep you involved and entertained. Similar games within a game are used to put you on the progressive trail under both symbol-driven and mystery formats.
Regardless of whether your progressive is symbol-driven or a mystery game, you usually do not have to bet maximum coins to be eligible for the jackpot, as you do on mechanical-reel progressives.
How casinos can allow players who don’t bet the max to play for progressive jackpots is the focus of the next subchapter.
Progressive jackpots on video slots usually have multiple tiers.
Progressives can be either symbol-driven or mystery games.
Winning a progressive jackpot often involves playing a game within a game.
MINIMUM BETTORS CAN PLAY FOR MAXIMUM JACKPOTS
Just as video technology has brought creative opportunity for slot designers, it has brought challenges.
Progressive slots have provided one big challenge.
The mechanical-reels format of requiring maximum-coins bets to be eligible for the progressive jackpot hasn’t proved practical on video slots for a combination of reasons.
Video slots, which include live slots and online slots, have many more paylines than three-reel slots.
Video slots accept wagers of many coins per line – five, 10 and 20 coins per line are common maximums.
A few players make maximum bets that can total hundreds of coins.
Players commonly cover all paylines, but the majority bet only one or two coins per line.
If a machine has 30 paylines and will accept bets of up to 10 coins per line, that’s a 300-coin max bet. Some player bet that max, but many more are betting 30 or 60 coins per spin. That leaves a couple of important problems.
How do you offer a progressive to players who come nowhere near max bets?
How do you make players who bet 30 coins and 300 coins eligible for the same jackpot?
Two main solutions have emerged, and you’ll find both in today’s live casinos and online casinos:
Extra wagers on the progressive jackpot.
The easiest way to put minimum and maximum bettors on a level playing field in pursuing the same jackpot is the make the progressive jackpots a separate wager.
Instead of a portion of each bet going into the progressive pot, the progressives are funded by a side bet. The side bet differs from game to game and manufacture to manufacturer. Progressive wagers as low as 15 cents and as high as $1 have been used.
Usually, you are required to cover all the paylines along with making the progressive bet.
On a 30-line game, for example, the button panel might have buttons for bet one line, bet five lines, bet 10 lines, bet 20 lines and bet 30 lines, as well as one marked, “30 lines plus feature.”
Below those are the usual array of buttons for betting one, two, three or more credits per line, up to the game’s max. If you are playing a 30-line game with a 15-cent bet on the progressive jackpot, and you want to play one coin per line and make the progressive bet, you would:
Push the button to play 30 lines plus feature.
Push the button to play one coin per line.
That would give you a total wager of 45 cents – 30 cents on the main game, and 15 cents on the progressive.
If the max wager is 10 coins per line, then the total max bet would be $3.15 – $3 on the main game and 15 cents on the progressive. That puts players with vastly different bet sizes on a level field in pursuing the progressive. The max bettor is wagering 10 times as much on the main game as the player betting the minimum per line, but they are contributing the same 15 cents per spin to the progressive pool.
That enables them to play for the same jackpot.
As discussed in Chapter 5: Bonus Events, mystery bonuses are triggered without lining up winning symbols on a payline. Mystery pays can be triggered when:
A randomly selected time is reached.
A randomly selected wagering total is reached.
A randomly selected jackpot amount is reached.
For progressive jackpots, let’s look at that last item more closely.
Let’s say the third level of a four-level jackpot starts building at $100, and that one cent of every dollar wagered is added to the pot. Further, let’s say the game is programmed so that the jackpot must be paid before it reaches $200.
A random number generator selects a total between $100 and $200. The player whose wager pushes the jackpot to that amount wins it. To make up an example, pretend you’re betting $3 per spin of the reels and I’m betting 30 cents.
Now let’s say the RNG has selected a payoff amount of $142.34. As you and I play, we see the jackpot at $142.31. We don’t know it’s getting close to payoff time, but it is. Each time you make your $3 bet, you’re adding 3 cents to the jackpot. It takes 10 of my 30-cent bets to add 3 cents to the pot.
So to push the jackpot from $142.31 to the payoff point of $142.34, you only have to make one more bet. I would have to make 10 more bets. You can see how it works in this chart. In a casino, neither player would necessarily be playing alone, and another player might win the jackpot before Player A or B makes the crucial bet.
Bigger Bets Brings Faster Jackpot
You’re betting 10 times as much per spin as I am, but you’re also adding 10 times as much to the progressive pot and have 10 times as many chances per spin to push the jackpot to the payoff point.
Now we can play for the same jackpot, even though we’re betting vastly different amounts, because you have proportionately more chances to win with your bigger bets. The same principal applies if progressive jackpots are triggered through mystery bonus events that also could bring credits or free spins instead of a jackpot.
Instead of a jackpot amount, imagine a mystery bonus event is triggered when a certain wagering total is reached. In a hypothetical game, let’s say a mystery bonus that could lead to a progressive is triggered when total wagers on the bank of linked machines reaches a total between $250 and $500.
Let’s walk through a few steps:
The RNG selects $383.17 as the target.
The player whose wager pushes the total wagers at the linked games to $383.17 goes to the bonus.
You’re betting $3 per spin; I’m betting 30 cents.
Each bet you make pushes the total $3 closer to the target. Each bet I make pushes only 30 cents nearer the target.
You are 10 times more likely than I am to make the bet that triggers the bonus event.
None of that interferes with the randomness of the game. The odds per wager size are the same for everybody. But bigger bettors will go to the bonus event or win the jackpot proportionately more often. And that allows bettors big and small to play for the same jackpot.
Players with vastly different bet sizes can play for the same jackpot on most video slots.
Some video slots use side bets to fund jackpots.
Mystery progressives use a random number generator to set a payoff target.
Do you have to bet the max to be eligible to win video slot progressives?
True or False: The biggest jackpot is always paid for lining up five jackpot symbols on the center line.
Video slot progressives usually have: A. a single progressive jackpot; B. four progressive tiers; C. multiple progressive tiers, though the number can vary.
True or False: Wide-area progressives such as Megabucks, popular on three-reel slots, aren’t used on video slots.
You can win a progressive jackpot: A. by lining up winning symbols on a payline; B. as a mystery payoff, without any clue that it’s coming; C. as part of a bonus event; D. any of the above, depending on the game.
What slot manufacturer popularized multi-tier progressives with its Hyperlink series?
Name two ways slot manufacturers can enable players betting different amounts to play for the same jackpot.
True or False: When separate progressive bets are required, all players contribute the same amount to the jackpot.
In a game with a mystery progressive, does a small bettor have the same chance to win as a big bettor?
True or false: Games with mystery payouts use a random number generator to select a time, total wager amount or jackpot amount to trigger a payoff.
No, on most video slots you do not have to bet the max to be eligible to win progressives.
False. The biggest jackpot on video slot progressive is not always paid for lining up five jackpot symbols on the center line. Some jackpots are awarded without lining up winning symbols.
C. Video slot progressives usually have multiple progressive tiers, though the number can vary.
False: Wide-area progressives are used on video slots, with IGT’s TV Hits links being one example.
D. You can win a progressive jackpot by any of the following, depending on game: lining up winning symbols on a payline; as a mystery payoff, without any clue that it’s coming; or as part of a bonus event.
Aristocrat Technologies popularized multi-tier progressives with its Hyperlink series, with the first U.S. Hyperlink game being Cash Express.
Slot manufacturers can enable players betting different amounts to play for the same jackpot by using separate jackpot bets or with mystery payoffs.
True: When separate progressive bets are required, all players contribute the same amount to the jackpot. You might bet 30 cents, $3 or some other amount on the main game, but still must make the specified progressive bet to be eligible for the jackpot.
In a game with a mystery progressive, small bettors get fewer chances per spin to trigger the jackpot or jackpot event than big bettors. Big bettors will win more often, though small bettors will win in proportion to their bet size.
True: Games with mystery payouts use a random number generator to select a time, total wager amount or jackpot amount to trigger a payoff.
Playing the slots doesn’t have to stop when a trip to a live casino is over.
Today, there are a multitude of options for online slots players, whether they prefer their desktop or laptop computers, or mobile devices including pads and phones.
In this chapter, you’ll find out about options for playing at online casinos, including:
The types of games available and how they work.
Game development and crossover between online and live casinos.
Opportunities to play for money at online casinos, and for free at social casinos.
Regulatory issues, including who may play and game randomness.
TYPES OF GAMES AND HOW TO PLAY
Online slots are basically the brothers and sisters of video slots in live casinos.
Among the similarities:
Results on online slot machines are determined by random number generators, just as are results on live slots.
Nearly all online slot games have multiple paylines, and most have five video reels, just like live video slots.
A minority of online slot machines has three reels and either one or only a few paylines, mimicking mechanical-reel slots at live casinos.
Bonus events account for a large percentage of payback on online slots, just as they do on live video slots.
Casino vs Online casino Slot bonuses
That’s only natural. Many of the same game designers and manufacturers that produce games for live casinos also sell their games to online casinos. You can find games from International Game Technology, Scientific Games through its Williams Interactive division, and Aristocrat Technologies online just as you can in live casinos.
Many online casinos also have their own proprietary games. And some game designers will use online casino space to try concepts they later will apply to games for live casinos.
High Five Games has been particularly active in that way. High Five, an independent design firm that has sold games that has sold games to IGT, Bally and WMS, is noted for creative touches such as double symbols – two of the same kind in one space, making 10-of-a-kind combinations possible.
There also are some differences between online slots and video slots at live casinos.
There are fewer games with progressive jackpots.
There are fewer games with bonus wheels.
Online slots often have a wider range of wagering options.
Online players just trying thing out have no-wagering options, whether on trainers at full-play casinos or free games at social casinos.
Let’s explore each of those points a little further:
There are fewer games with progressive jackpots:
At some live casinos, progressive games take up a third or more of the slot floor. That’s especially true of games with multilevel jackpots and bright, lighted displays that practically shout out their availability to players all around the casino. Such games exist online. There are jackpot hunters online just as there are in live casinos. However, the proportion of progressive games is lower at online casinos.
There are fewer games with bonus wheels:
In live casinos, bonus wheels typically tower above the base games, providing a visual attraction to players looking for a game.
At online casinos, there are no towers to rise above other games, so that benefit of wheel games doesn’t apply. As with progressives, wheels exist online, but for the most part, bonus events online focus on free spins and pick’em bonuses, with free spins the more common.
Wagering Options in an online slot
Online slots often have a wider range of wagering options:
Many machines in live casinos are tied to a specific coin denomination – you’ll see 1-cent machines, where you can wager 1 cent per payline, or 25-cent machines, or $1 machines. Even on machines that offer multiple denominations, players in live casinos have a limited number of options. The most common configuration is for players to be able to choose among three denominations – 1 cent, 2 cents or 5 cents per line, for example, or on high-denomination games, 25 cents, 50 cents or $1 per line.
Online slots can be more flexible, depending on the regulations of their host jurisdiction. It’s possible to offer all those potential wagers per line, along with amounts in between and above, all on the same game, if you have the available credits.
Online players just trying thing out have no-wagering options, whether on trainers at full-play casinos or free games at social casinos:
Playing for free isn’t an option in live casinos. But millions of people play free games online. Of course, when you play for free, you don’t collect winnings in cash. For that, you have to turn to wagering games in online casinos.
There are dozens of games available in almost any online casino. Different casinos contract with different game producers to provide their games, so the selection won’t be exactly the same everywhere you look.
What follows is a brief selection of games found online with different play characteristics to demonstrate the kinds of
In the first months after online casinos began operating in the U.S. state of New Jersey, Cleopatra was the most popular game. It helps to have a familiar face. The original Cleopatra game has maintained a niche in live casinos for more than a decade and has inspired sequel games including Cleopatra 2 and Cleopatra Wild Tiles. Symbols are Egyptian-themed, such as scarabs, the Sphinx, the Eye of Horus and, of course, Cleopatra. The Cleopatra symbol is wild and worth double payoffs on any winning combinations that include it. Three scattered Sphinx symbols launch 15 free spins, with winning payoffs tripled. If you get three more Sphinx symbols on a free spin, you retrigger the event and get 15 more free spins. The retrigger feature and the multipliers mean bonus wins can get quite large, and that’s a key to Cleopatra’s popularity both online and in live casinos.
Cool Jewels bejeweled slot
Instead of usual video slot screen of five reels that are each three symbols deep, Cool Jewels has six reels, each six symbols deep. All symbols are gemstones, and they move down the reels in a “cascading reels” format. When jewels of the same type are grouped together in a winning combination, they explode, add credits to your meter, and leave blank spaces. The gems above then slide down to fill the blank spaces, and new jewels slide onto the screen to replace those that have moved down. That opens the potential for new winning combinations, and each play continues until no more winners are formed.
In addition, there’s a meter to the right of the reels that keeps track of how many times the cascade has formed winners. If you win at least four times on a spin, you qualify for free spins. During the free spins, adjacent wild symbols do not disappear from the screen after a win. They continue cascading together, forming new winners as the go.
Super Jackpot Party:
This is an enhanced take on the classic Jackpot Party format that has been a popular favorite in live casinos since the end of the 1990s. The bonus is a pick’em event, the famous Jackpot Party field of gift boxes that rock and sway to the background music.
You pick boxes to reveal bonuses until you reveal a “Pooper” character that stops the bonus round.
There are several extras. When you pick a box you might win a “Whack-A-Pooper” bonus, a variation on the old whack-a-mole arcade game. Here you get a chance to build bonuses as you bop Pooper character such as the irate neighbor, party-ending cop or green space alien. Another extra is a dance bonus, where the animated host character boogies onscreen. Your bonus builds until he does the splits and you hear his jeans rip. Even after you pick a pooper, you get an extra chance. You choose among five party favors that either award you one final bonus amount or reveal a Party Saver logo that returns you the bonus screen to pick more gift boxes.
Black Knight slot
Medieval times are the theme of this game with the traditional video configuration of five reels, each three symbols deep. Symbols include kings, queens, scepters, orbs – the sights of a European court of the Middle Ages. The black knight on horseback is a wild symbol, and he expands to fill all three spaces in a vertical column to create extra potential wins. The knight is on horseback, animated with a galloping motion. The free-spins bonus is launched with three shield symbols. The shield is black with a gold chess knight, befitting the black knight. In the free spins, the black knight symbol is something special. He not only expands to fill a column, he stays in place for all remaining free spins.
When you land knights on the reels during the first couple of spins, they keep galloping away and forming winning combinations, and your bonus can be something really special.
Cat lovers will have to try this one, with its three kitten characters. There’s the orange Tiger, white Bubbles and brown and white Whiskers. Most symbols, including balls of yarn, milk bottles and kitty collars, take up only one space. But Tiger, Bubbles and Whiskers take up full columns, and the big wins come with multiple columns of kittens. Kittens can add extra value on the fifth reel.
They may carry random multipliers of two, three, five, 10 or 100 times your win. A big winning combination with a 100x multiplier will put your credit meter into overdrive.
The free spins bonus launches with kittens on the first four reels and an OMG! symbol on the fifth. That awards a minimum of five free spins. Kittens do not need to be the same to launch the bonus. As long as kitten symbols occupy the first four reels and you get the OMG! symbol on the fifth, you’re on your way to the bonus There are extras, depending which kittens are on the reels.
Tiger multiplies winnings on the free spins, Bubbles awards extra free spins and Whiskers awards bonus credits. You could wind up with 45 extra spins, or have all wins multiplied by 10 for that OMG! touch.
Shadow of the Panther slot
Shadow of the Panther:
This looks like a standard five-reel game with each reel being three symbols deep, but look closely. The high-paying big cat symbols come in two varieties. Some symbols contain only a single leopard, tiger or black panther. But some contain two, and a two-image space counts as two symbols. If you have a single panther on each of the first three reels, then you have three in a row and will get a small payback. But if symbol with one panther on the first reel lines up with a symbol with two panthers on the second reel, then you have also have three in a row, worth the same return. Five single symbols in a row bring a nice return. But five double symbols on a payline is 10 in a row, and that’s a credit- building bonanza. A common pay table for Shadow of the Panther shows a six-credit return per credit wagered on a winning payline if you have three black panthers, rising to eight for four panthers, 10 for five and so on, up to 250 for 10 panthers. Not only that. Shadow of the Panther uses stacked symbols. It’s possible – though not common, of course – to land stacks of the same symbol to entirely fill columns all across the screen.
Five stacks in a row of the same double symbol fill the whole screen and means 10-in-a-row paybacks on all 30 of the game’s paylines
Online slot machines are essentially video slots brought to an online environment.
Many online slots have live casino counterparts, though online casinos also have proprietary games.
Online slots use many of the same attractions as live video slots, such as free spins and pick’em bonuses.
Online casinos have their own set of conditions and requirements, largely imposed by the jurisdictions in which they operate.
Among the factors that must be taken into consideration are:
Who may play?
Where may they play?
How may players fund their wagering?
Are the games offered are as random as those in live casinos? Let’s take that list from the top.
WHO MAY PLAY, AND WHERE MAY THEY PLAY?
There are dozens of games available in almost any online casino. Different casinos contract with different game producers to provide their games, so the selection won’t be exactly the same everywhere you look.
What follows is a brief selection of games found online with different play characteristics to demonstrate the kinds of
online casino legality within the U.S
Online slot play is legal through much of the world. Who may play and where they may play is governed by the regulations of the host country.
In the United Kingdom, for instance, the Gambling Commission regulates online play just as it regulates live casinos, sports and race betting shops, bingo and gaming machines at arcades.
Geolocation tools are critical. Online casinos must be able to tell where their players are located.
Online casinos may accept wagers from any nation in which online gaming is legal.
However, the situation is much different in the United States.
Through most of the U.S., online slot wagering is not legal. For the most part, U.S. players not only don’t have access to online casinos in their own states, it is illegal for them to play in online casinos based in other states or nations.
The exceptions are in the states of New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware.
For the most part, a player must be physically in New Jersey to play in a New Jersey casino, or in Nevada or Delaware to play in those states.
However, that situation is fluid. In 2014, Nevada and Delaware agreed to a compact allowing poker players in each state to play in the other’s online casinos.
The online casino industry is optimistic that more states will legalize online play, and that more such compacts will develop.
Another piece of “Where may they play?” is that each jurisdiction has its own regulations on licensing online casinos.
In New Jersey, for example, online casinos are required to be affiliated with the state’s live casinos. To that end, Atlantic City casinos forged alliances with companies that already had online casino expertise.
Caesars Interactive Entertainment, associated with Bally’s, Caesars and Harrah’s casinos in Atlantic City, forged an alliance with 888casino for online gaming.
Atlantic City’s Borgata, Golden Nugget, Resorts and Tropicana formed their own alliances with other companies.
Whether other states adopt similar restrictions on where we may play is an unknown that will have to wait for legalization in more states.
HOW PLAYERS MAY FUND THEIR WAGERING?
In order to play, you must have credits in an online casino. And unlike playing in live casinos, you can’t just walk up to a machine and slide currency in a bill validator. Instead, you must sign up for an account in an online casino, and you must add funds to the casino account.
You can add funds in several ways:
Buying online casino credits with your credit card is fast, easy and available worldwide. This was problematic in the United States for several years after 2006 bill prohibited credit card transactions for illegal online gambling.
However, in a 2011 then-assistant Attorney General Virginia Seitz issued an opinion that the Wire Act of 1961, which had been interpreted as banning online gambling, applied only to sports and horse betting. Since then, the U.S. federal government has left it up to individual states to ban or legalize online gambling, and has opened the door to credit-card funding of accounts.
The well-known facilitator of electronic funds transfers works with online casinos just as it does with eBay and online merchants.
A United Kingdom-based electronic wallet system, Neteller allows you to open account for funds transfers to and from online merchants, including casinos.
BANK TRANSFER (ACH):
The ACH stands for “Automated Clearing House,” and it facilitates funds transfers between banks. It can transfer funds from your bank account directly to your online casino account.
This works especially well in jurisdictions such as New Jersey, where online casinos are affiliated with live casinos. You can deposit funds at the live casino cashier’s cage and have the money credited to you online account. There are other methods of funds transfers – when you investigate signing up for an online account, check the site of the casino you select.
ARE THE GAMES OFFERED AS RANDOM AS THOSE IN LIVE CASINOS?
Regulation is the key to randomness. In order to know how random the games are, you must know who’s regulating them. In the United Kingdom, where a number of online casinos run from the Isle of Man, games have a reputation of being well-regulated. In many jurisdictions, especially in Caribbean nations, online casinos seek to build player trust with independent certification of their games.
If you see games have been certified by services including eCogra, GLI and its test labs either in Europe or Canada, Gaming Associates or iTech, you can be confident the games have been tested for randomness. Games in the United States must live up to the randomness standards of their host jurisdiction. Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware all are vigilant about randomness in live casinos, and online games are overseen by the same regulatory bodies. Regardless of whether you’re playing OMG! Kittens in a live casino or online casino, you’re getting a random game.
A WORD ABOUT SOCIAL CASINOS
Millions of people play slots in non-wagering social casinos, whether via social networking sites such as Facebook or through mobile device apps. Social casinos are not regulated in the same way as wagering casinos. There are no age limits, and restrictions on who may play and where.
These social sites are not making money off game results, and there has been no regulatory concern over whether the games are random. However, social casinos are not nonprofit organizations with no interest in your money. Standard procedure is that they will give you free credits every day, or every few hours. If you want to play for free, you can, and no money need ever change hands. Like many online games, there’s a level-up feature. The more you play, the more levels you move up, and as you move up you unlock more slot games to play.
Some players want to level up faster than playing with their allotment of free credits will permit. For those players, social casinos have credits for sale. Some social casinos have premium games, and if you want to unlock them, you must pay a fee.
That’s how social casinos make money on the slots, by charging for premium games and selling you credits to play.
However, there is no cash out feature. You can spend money in a social casino, but you can’t take cash away. If you could redeem for cash, then the regulators would take interest, fast.
Still, most players in social casinos are there just for fun, and it’s a minority that every pays for credits.
Who may play and where you may play in online casinos is determined by regulation in host nations and states.
There are many ways to fund accounts in online casinos, including credit cards and bank transfers.
Game randomness is assured by regulators or independent certification companies.
Which live casino slots are most like the slots you’ll find in online casinos?
True or False: The main bonus events in online slots are free spins and pick’ems, with fewer wheel spins and progressives than in live casinos.
Who produces slot games for online casinos?
Is everyone permitted to play at online casinos worldwide?
Who assures that online slot games are random?
Video slots found in live casino slots are most like the slots you’ll find in online casinos. In fact, some of the same games are used both in live casinos and online.
True: The main bonus events in online slots are free spins and pick’ems, with fewer wheel spins and progressives than in live casinos.
Many of the slot manufacturers, such as IGT, Scientific Games and Aristocrat, who provide slot games to live casinos, also provide games for online casinos. However, some online casinos also offer proprietary games.
Not everyone is permitted to play at online casinos worldwide. Jurisdictions including nations and states may restrict their citizens from playing.
Either regulators in the host jurisdictions or independent certification companies offer assurance that online slot machines are random.
MAXIMIZING SLOT PAYOUTS
Slot machines are not games of strategy. Live casinos and online casinos offer them as games of pure chance.
Only rarely does skill come into play, although skill-based slots loom as a coming attraction.On most slot games, there’s nothing you can do to change the outcome. So how do you go about maximizing slots payouts, preferably while minimizing losses?
In this chapter, we’ll focus on three ways that can maximize return:
Betting maximum coins
Playing machines with banked bonuses
Maximizing returns does not mean making a long-term profit on the slots. The house edge is not as flexible as in games with strong skill elements such as blackjack or video poker. These strategies are more a matter of giving yourself a chance at some nice wins, while recognizing that in games of chance with a house edge, losing sessions are part of the game.
SHOULD YOU BET MAXIMUM COINS?
Live casinos long encouraged players to bet maximum coins on slot machines, and players have long wondered if that was really to their advantage.
The answer depends on what kind of machine you’re playing.
On most live slots with three-mechanical reels, you get a higher payback percentage by betting max coins.
On most video slots, including live slots and video slots, covering all the paylines with a minimum bet per line yields the same percentage as betting the max.
Let’s look at the situations separately, with three-reel mechanical games first.
BETTING THE MAX ON THREE-REEL MECHANICAL SLOTS
On most three-reel slots with mechanical reels, you do get a higher payback percentage if you bet the max. But it might not be worthwhile to bet extra to get that higher percentage. To see why, let’s first look at the basic types of mechanical-reel slot machines.
max betting and Slot Multipliers on 3 wheel
On a multiplier game, each win is proportional to the number of coins or credits wagered.
Here’s a sample of a multiplier pay table:
Payoffs are proportional to wager size, so betting three coins brings payoffs exactly triple payoffs for betting one coin.
With that format, the payback percentage is the same no matter how many coins you bet. There is no incentive to bet the max built into the pay table Pure multipliers are rare in casinos on slots with three mechanical reels, though many video slots and five-reel mechanicals are pure multipliers in the non-bonus, reel-spinning portion of the game.
MULTIPLIERS, WITH DISPROPORTIONATE JACKPOT
Muiltipliers with disproportionate Jackpot
Most three-reel mechanical slots give you an incentive to bet maximum coins by including a big jump in the top jackpot.
Here’s a sample pay table:
Like the pure multiplier, this game has proportionate payoffs through most of the pay table.
However, there is a disproportionate jump in the top jackpot when you bet three coins. Three 7s pay five times as much when you bet three coins as when you bet one.
That has the effect of giving the game a higher payback percentage when you bet max coins.
Three-reel progressives are this type of game, amped up with a growing jackpot. You have to bet the max to be eligible for the jackpot.
To see how the effect this has on payback percentages, let’s imagine the above pay table on a $1 game that returns 95 percent when you bet the max and in which the odds lead to the top jackpot hitting about once per 20,000 plays.
Play Per 20000 Plays coin bet
If you bet the max, then per 20,000 plays, you’re betting $60,000.
A 95-percent payback means that on average, you’re getting $57,000 back.
Of the $57,000 in returns, you get $5,000 from the jackpot and $52,000 from the smaller pays.
If you bet only one coin, then per 20,000 plays, you’re betting $20,000. The smaller pays are proportionate, so you get one-third of $52,000, or $17,333. The one-coin bet brings a jackpot of only $1,000 on your one 7-7-7 hit. That brings your total payback to $18,333.
To calculate payback percentage, divide your $18,333 in returns by $20,000 in wagers, then multiply by 100 to convert to percent.
That shows a payback percentage of 91.7 percent.
Bottom line: If you bet the max, this machine returns 95 percent. If you don’t, it returns 91.7 percent.
Betting the max doesn’t make the jackpot come up any more or less often than if you bet fewer coins.
However, the normal odds of the game, coupled with the disproportionate pay table, make the payback percentage higher if you bet maximum coins.
HIGHER PERCENTAGE VS. GREATER RISK
On multipliers with disproportionate jackpots, you get a higher payback percentage if you bet max coins.
Does that mean you should always bet the max? Let’s do a little arithmetic.
Per 20000 Plays with Higher Payouts
The machine detailed under multipliers with modified jackpots returns 91.7 percent to players who bet one coin.
Per 1,000 plays, one-coin wagers bring a 917-coin return. The house keeps 83 coins.
If you bet three coins per play, the payback percentage increases to 95 percent.
Per 1,000 three-coin bets, you get back 2,850 coins. The house keeps 150.
Even though you’re getting a higher payback percentage, your average losses are higher because you’re risking a lot more money.
Just how big the difference in percentages and average losses differ from game to game, but you need to weigh the larger risk when weighing whether to bet more to get a higher payback percentage.
On buy-a-pay slot, each coin wagered unlocks a portion of a game’s potential pays. On some, it’s as simple as three pay lines across the reels, so that you win only on combinations across the center reel if you bet one coin, also win on the top line if you bet two, and add bottom line wins lines if you bet three coins.
Here’s an example:
Since the winning combination is on the third line, you would get the three 7s winner only if you bet maximum coins.
Other buy-a-pays unlock paying symbols with each coin wagered.
Here’s a sample pay table:
Slot Pay table
The first coin wagered unlocks the fruit symbols, the second coin unlocks the bars and the third coin unlocks the 7s
If you line up three bars but have wagered only one coin, you do not win. Likewise, if you line up three 7s and have bet only one or two coins, you get back nothing.
Do not play a buy-a-pay if you are not willing to wager enough to unlock all the symbols.
The last thing you want is to see the three jackpot symbols line up when you haven’t bet enough to unlock them.
I’ve seen it happen. A woman playing across the aisle from me saw the jackpot symbols line up. She started screaming and her friends surrounded her, offering hugs and congratulations.
And then … nothing. No lights, no music, no money. It was just a losing spin.
You don’t want to be that player. On a buy-a-pay, you either bet the max or don’t play.
THE BOTTOM LINE FOR MECHANICAL-REEL GAMES
The number of coins you wager makes no difference to the payback percentage if the game you’re playing is a pure multiplier.
However, if you can’t bet max coins on a buy-a-pay or most progressive games with mechanical reels, you should find a different game.
SHOULD YOU BET THE MAX ON VIDEO SLOTS?
The situation is different on five-reel video slots. Paybacks are proportional to coins wagered per payline on these games, with no jackpot jump for betting the max.
Here’s a sample pay table for a 20-payline, five-reel video game:
20 Line Paytable and bonuses
There are a few notable things about that pay table:
In order to give easy examples and streamline the math, this game is simplified from the pay tables you actually see in casinos. Casino games often use more character symbols and also often use generic symbols such as A-K-Q-J-10. Many video slots also include more than one bonus event. Despite the simplification, there are many more possible winning combinations than on the three-reel slot. Even two in a row of the top-paying symbol brings some payoff.
As set up, this game with 20 paylines and a five-coin maximum bet per line would have a maximum total bet of 100 coins.
Games you’ll find in casinos often have much higher maximum bets, such as 20 coins per line on a 20-line game, or 10 coins per line on a 40-line game, for a total of 400 coins. The pay table is proportional from to bottom, so betting maximum coins does not increase payback percentage. That is typical on video slots.
Fruit Machine slot 1 payline
BE ELIGIBLE TO WIN
On the video slot game illustrated above, there is no pay table incentive to wager maximum coins per line. However, it might be to your advantage to make sure you bet on every payline. Why? Because on some machines, the bonus symbols must land on an active payline for you to be eligible for the free spins, wheel spin, pick-a-symbol round or whatever other special event has been designed into the game.
You decide to bet a single coin. That activates only the center payline.
You go to the bonus event if three bonus symbols land on the center line, since that line is active.
However, if the reels land on any line you have not activated, you do not go to the bonus.
Time spent in bonus events is time you spend building credits without making extra wagers, so you want to maximize your chances of going to the bonuses. To maximize slot machines payouts, make sure you’re eligible for the bonuses offered. Some newer games avoid the issue by eliminating the option to play fewer paylines than available. A 40-line game might have buttons labeled “Bet 40,” “Bet 80,” “Bet 120,” “Bet 160,” and “Bet 200,” giving you options to bet one, two, three, four or five credits per line, but no chance to play only one line.
In the slot industry, these are called “forced bet” machines.
On mechanical-reel slots that don’t have pure multiplier pay tables, you get the highest payback percentage by betting maximum coins.
A disproportionate leap in the top jackpot is the most common incentive for betting the max on three-reel games.
Getting the highest payback percentage for betting the max doesn’t mean average losses are lower because bigger bets bring more risk.
On most video slots, betting the max does not increase payback percentage.
Covering all paylines, even with minimum coins per line, is important on video slots, especially if bonuses require symbols to land on an active payline.
Betting maximum coins on three-reel slots and making sure to cover all the paylines on video slots are methods for insuring maximum payback percentage, but they can’t overcome the house edge entirely.
Odds of the games are set so the house will make money, no matter what your bet size, and regardless of whether you are playing in a live casino or online casino. It’s only natural that some players would try to turn that edge around.
Slot Machine Scouting
One method is by scouting progressives, which can be broken into two major areas:
Scouting top jackpots, especially on three-reel games, to find those that are larger than usual.
Scouting “must hit by” slots, which advertise that jackpots must hit by a certain amount. These are not fool-proof methods, for several reasons.
Scouting is a time-consuming business, especially live slots.
Players don’t have the necessary information to know if a jackpot is big enough to give players an edge.
On most games, results remain random and you are no more likely to win than if the jackpot is small.
When you play linked progressives, there’s always the possibility that another player on a linked machine will win the jackpot you scouted.
However, if you play progressives only when the jackpot is high, your payback percentage rises.
You may not be able to overcome the house edge, but skipping low jackpot times means you’re always playing for a higher than average pay table.
Let’s look at how all this works.
SCOUTING TOP JACKPOTS
Progressive slots start each jackpot with a base amount, and the jackpots build with each bet thereafter.
For example, after a player wins a jackpot, you might see a pay table like this:
A player who scouts progressives will not play when the jackpot is at that minimum level.
Instead, the jackpot hunter does some scouting and charting in an attempt to determine an average payoff when the jackpot hits. The jackpot hunter keeps a record, whether in a computer file, a diary or on scraps of paper.
A diary entry might look like this.
Progressive Jackpot advance
You can’t count on being at the casino every time a jackpot hits. So the entries in the jackpot column carry several provisos:
The player who is serious about scouting must make frequent visits to check jackpot levels.
If a jackpot has hit since the last visit, the serious scout asks a slot attendant or supervisor if they know the payoff size.
Some casinos put photos of recent winners and their jackpot amounts on a wall.
Sometimes, the jackpot entry will have to be an estimate based on the last previous known level.
More data collected over a longer time is better.
In this case, the jackpot scout would regard the low jackpot of $5,981 as an outlier.
He’d see that all other jackpots were at least $7,888, with most over $8,000.
Therefore, he wouldn’t start playing until the jackpot reached at least $8,000.
That doesn’t guarantee profit, but does mean he’s playing games with a higher payback percentage than if he played when the jackpot was $5,000.
JACKPOT EFFECT ON PAYBACK PERCENTAGE
Players have no way of knowing a game’s targeted payback percentage, nor is there any way to know how much the top jackpot contributes to the overall return.
However, we can make up a realistic example to see how this work. Our hypothetical game is a $1 machine that returns 92 percent when the jackpot is at the base value of $5,000. Non-progressive dollar slots typically pay a little more than that in the U.S., but progressives start at lower returns while the building jackpot also increases the percentage.
Of that 92 percent return, let’s say 87 percent comes from smaller wins, and 5 percent from the jackpot.
So per $100,000 wagered, you would get back $87,000 in smaller pays and $5,000 from the jackpot, for a $92,000 total.
But if the jackpot hunter doesn’t play until the big payoff is $8,000, he’s paying a game with a different payback structure.
In that case, per $100,000 wagered, he’d get back $87,000 in smaller pays and $8,000 from the jackpot, for a total of $95,000.
That makes the payback percentage 95 percent. Buy delaying play until other players have built the jackpot, he’s playing a machine with a higher payback percentage.
We can do this for our hypothetical machine at different jackpot levels:
PAYBACKS FOR HYPOTHETICAL PROGRESSIVE
On this machine, the payback percentage rises 1 percent for each $1,000 added to the jackpot. It reaches a break-even point where there is 100 percent payback, or no house edge, at a $13,000 jackpot. That $13,000 jackpot is higher than the largest payoff in our jackpot scout’s diary, meaning he’d never be playing a game with 100 percent return and a profit opportunity. This hypothetical was set up to yield easy arithmetic. Real-world examples would be more complex, but the message here is realistic:
You do play for higher payback percentages if you reserve your play for times when the jackpot is high.
Even at seemingly high jackpot levels, that payback percentage rarely reaches 100 percent.
There’s one more factor to consider: Higher jackpot levels don’t make the jackpot occur more often. If the odds of the game are set so the top jackpot will hit once per 20,000 plays, the odds of it hitting ALWAYS are 1 in 20,000. It doesn’t matter if the jackpot is $5,000, or $15,000, something higher or something in between. The odds are the same on every play.
It doesn’t matter if someone hit the jackpot on the last play, or if it’s been 100,000 plays since the last jackpot. If the odds were 1 in 20,000 on the first play, they’re still 1 in 20,000 on the next one. And to underscore a point made earlier, the casino doesn’t post a machine’s payback percentage. On any specific game, we don’t know the odds that go into determining how often a jackpot hits.
Bottom line: If you want to use jackpot scouting as a way to play for higher payback percentages, great.
Slots Must win
SCOUTING “MUST WIN BY” GAMES
Some slot machines, especially on video slots, tell you its jackpot must be awarded by a certain level. Take the WMS Gaming slot Mystical Fortunes as an example. The top box features game title graphics plus two progressive jackpots, labeled “Minor” and “Major.” Under the word “Minor,” you’ll see a jackpot amount in big yellow numerals, and underneath is the message, “Must Award by $50.00” Under “Major” and its jackpot amount, the message reads “Must Award by $500.”
These are mystery jackpots, of the type detailed in Chapter 6.2: Minimum Bettors Can Play for Maximum Jackpots. The jackpots are separate from the main game. You still spin the video reels, collect on winning combinations and launch bonus events. If you want your scouting to give you an edge over the casino, that’s not likely at all.
You collect a jackpot when your wager pushes the total to an amount selected by a random number generator. Let’s say the base jackpot on a hypothetical game is $200 and must be awarded by $500. The RNG selects an amount between those two values. If the percentage of your bet that’s added to the jackpot pushes it to that total, you win. The payoff isn’t driven by symbols, and the outcome of your spin doesn’t matter. The machine will just tell you you’ve won the jackpot.
All amounts have an equal chance of being selected by the random number generator. However, the closer the jackpot is to the “must win by” amount, the better your chance of winning on the next play. The reason is that the possibilities narrow as possible jackpot amounts are left behind. The possibilities are in 1-cent increments so between $200 and $201 there are 100 possibilities — $200.01, $200.02 and so on. With a $300 difference between the base and the maximum, that means the RNG has 30,000 possible jackpot totals to choose from.
If your bet increases the jackpot to $200.01, there is a 1 in 30,000 chance that is the jackpot amount. However, if your bet increases the pot to $201.01, then 100 amounts already have been eliminated, and the chance of your bet triggering the jackpot improves to 1 in 29,000.
Let’s take a sample of possible jackpots and your chances of winning if your bet pushes it to that level:
Your Bet Winning Level
The closer the total is to “must win by” amount, the better your chances of winning the jackpot. About half the jackpots will hit for less than $350, and about half will hit for more than $350. However, there are so many possible jackpot totals that you almost always are a sizable underdog. Keep that in mind if you decide to scout the “must win by” slots.
Waiting to play progressives until jackpots are at higher levels will yield a higher payback percentage.
However, playing for bigger jackpots is not necessarily a profit opportunity. In most cases, the house still has an edge.
On “must win by” progressives, you are more likely to win if you wait until the jackpot is closer to the designated maximum
Slots in which it’s possible to get an edge on the house are very rare, but you should never say “never.”
The reason you can’t say “never” on the slots are games with banked bonuses, though they are rare today.
Banked bonus games give players a target to shoot for, with two main types:
Credit awards that build until a player wins.
Games with objects to collect to trigger a bonus award.
The key to profit opportunity is that partially completed bonuses remain in play for the next player. If each player starts anew in building toward a bonus, you can’t get an edge. These games were hot commodities in live casinos in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but have largely faded from the scene. They are occasionally found in live casinos that have older equipment on their floors. Games that build toward bonuses can be found in online slots, but there is no carryover from one player to the next. Banked bonus games are included here mainly as an example of profit opportunities on the slots and how to recognize them.
The prototype banked bonus with building awards game was Piggy Bankin’, a 1996 slot from WMS Gaming. The base game was a three-reel mechanical slot, but the top box had a Dotmation screen.
On the Dotmation screen, orange dots on a black screen formed an image of a piggy bank, with a credit amount on its side. The starting value in the bank was 10 coins. Each time three blank spaces landed on the payline of the main game, a coin was added to the bank. When the break the bank symbol landed on the payline, a Dotmation hammer smashed the bank, and animated coins came flying out. The player collected the number of coins in the bank.
Sharp players soon figured out that if they waited until enough coins were in the bank, they could have an edge on the game. A published report by mathematician and gambling expert Stanford Wong suggested the break-even point was 15 coins. Players hunting for an edge would play Piggy Bankin’ only when there were 15 or more coins in the bank. They would play until they broke the bank, and then leave the machine. Profits were never large using that method. It was a matter of padding your bankroll by a few dollars, then moving on. Should you see a game with a credit-building banked bonus today, that’s how to approach the game.
Look for the machine with the most coins to be awarded, and play only until you win that award.
In the peak time of banked bonuses, games of collecting objects outnumbered building-credits games. Today, if you see a banked bonus game, it’s likely to be a banked bonus game – S&H Green Stamps seems particularly long-lasting, even though it was introduced in 2004. These collection games were born with Silicon Gaming, one of the first companies devoted entirely to video slots. Silicon Gaming’s signature Odyssey slots, released in 1997, featured an elongated, high-definition video screen with icons to choose from among multiple games. Odyssey slots were the first with hard drives and had high-quality animation. The games were more like traditional three-reel slot games than the pick’em bonusing games from other manufacturers. However, banked bonuses were a feature starting with the initial Odyssey release, which included a game called Fort Knox.
In addition to three video reels, Fort Knox included a 10-digit code. During play on the reels, you could collect code digits. There was no skill in collecting the digits, nor were there choices to make. You’d just collect digits at random times. With each digit collected you would be one step closer to cracking the code. When you had all 10 digits, the screen would change to animation of the door to the vault at Fort Knox. The door would swing open to reveal all the gold, and a credit amount for your bonus payoff.
Before long, players learned to scout for machines where the code had been partially solved by other players. If a game was available with five or more digits already solved, players had an edge. At that point, those playing for profit would play the game until they opened the vault, then leave and let someone else solve the early digits. Silicon Gaming produced a number of such banked bonus games. Another was called Buccaneer Gold. In the pirate-themed Buccaneer Gold, instead of collecting code digits, you collected daggers. Each time a dagger appeared on the reels, a dagger would be stuck into a pirate ship’s rail. When you collected five daggers, you won a bonus award. This time, the magic number was three. If you found a machine with three daggers already in the rail, you had a profit-making opportunity.
Other gamemakers also produced banked bonus collecting games. International Game Technology went that route with its Vision Series, which put a bonus screen in the top box of mechanical-reel slots. One Vision Series game was called Racing 7s. Three 7s – one red, one white and one blue – were on a track divided into segments. Each 7 had a credit amount associated with winning the race. In the highest-paying version, the red 7 could win 100 credits, the blue could win 25 and the white could win 10. Each time a 7 landed on the payline of the main game, the 7 of the same color would move up one notch on the track. When your spin took a 7 to the finish line, you won the prize for the 7 of the indicted color. The trick was to look for machines with 7s within two notches of the finish. If you could find a higher-paying red 7 near the finish, so much the better.
Bally Technologies had S&H Green Stamps, which still occasionally is spotted in casinos. The object is to fill a book with the trademarked Green Stamps. It takes 1,200 stamps to fill a book. When stamp symbols appear on your video reel spins, stamps are transferred to the book. Some symbols put one stamp in the book, some two, and on up to 50-stamp symbols. In the onscreen book, you see spaces for 12 stamps. Each represents 100 stamps collected. That’s an easy visual shortcut, but the actual number of stamps also is displayed on the screen. If you spot four stamps in the book, you know immediately at least 400 stamps are collected. Then if you look for the number you might find the actual total is anywhere from 400 to 499. If you spot a game with at least 600 stamps already collected, you have an edge. That’s when to start playing. When you fill the book by reaching 1,200 stamps, you’re given the option of taking free spins or starting another book. Always take the free spins. Leave the early stages of filling a book to someone else.
You’re rarely going to encounter banked bonus collecting games today. When you do, choose machines where other players have taken you at least halfway toward completing the collection.
Banked bonus games involve either building a credit award onscreen or collecting objects through reel spins to reach a specific target.
Players can get an edge on banked bonus games if the credit award is large enough or players have left a game with at least half the required objects already collected.
Banked bonuses are rare today. If you spot one, play if others have partly completed the collection, but don’t play if the collection is just beginning.
Is it more important to bet maximum coins on mechanical-reel slots or video reel slots?
What is a buy-a-pay slot?
True or false: Slot machines’ payback percentage always is higher when you bet maximum coins.
Does getting the highest payback percentage always minimize losses per hour?
If video slots require bonus symbols to land on an active payline to trigger the bonus event, should you always bet max coins?
Scouting jackpots on slot machines usually can: A. Give you an edge on the games. B. Increase your payback percentage. C. Bring you more frequent jackpots. D. All of the above. E. None of the above.
rue or false: Determining a profit point on progressives would require knowing a base payback percentage and the proportion of payback that comes from the jackpot, and that information is not available to players.T
On “must win by” slots, do you have a better chance of winning when the jackpot level is higher or lower?
What is a banked bonus game?
Is it possible for players to get an edge on banked bonus games?
It is more important to bet maximum coins on mechanical-reel slots because pay tables usually feature a disproportionate jump in the top jackpot for a max coins bet. Video slots usually don’t feature that jump.
A buy-a-pay slot is a game in which increasing your bet unlocks winning symbols. Don’t play buy-a-pays unless you’re prepared to bet enough to unlock all symbols.
False. Slot machines’ payback percentages don’t always rise when you bet maximum coins. If payoffs are strictly proportional to your bet size, the payback percentage is the same no matter how much you bet.
No, getting the highest payback percentage always minimize losses per hour. On games where betting the max brings a higher payback percentage, the bigger bets bring more risk and can mean higher losses per hour.
No, if video slots require bonus symbols to land on an active payline to trigger the bonus event, you don’t necessarily need to bet max coins. You should, however, bet enough to unlock all paylines to make sure you’re always eligible for the bonuses.
B. Scouting jackpots on slot machines usually can increase your payback percentage, but not give you an edge on the games or bring you more frequent jackpots.
True. Determining a profit point on progressives would require knowing a base payback percentage and the proportion of payback that comes from the jackpot, and that information is not available to players.
On “must win by” slots, you have a better chance of winning when the jackpot level is higher, because some potential winning totals already have been eliminated.
A banked bonus game is one that gives players a target to shoot for, either with bonus awards that increase until a bonus trigger lands on the payline or by giving players objects to collect to trigger a bonus event.
Yes, it is possible for players to get an edge on banked bonus games, when other players have increased the credit award enough or have collected enough of the bonus trigger objects.
POP CULTURE AND THE SLOTS
For most of slot machine history, the games were gambling devices, pure and simple.
Bells, stars, bars and fruit symbols sufficed as long the emphasis was purely on wins and losses.
But the 1990s brought an expansion of legalized gambling across the United States, and that attracted millions of new players. Slotmakers made it a goal to keep those new players entertained by making the games fun to play beyond wins and losses. One way to that’s been accomplished has been through licensing pop culture icons and adapting elements into game play with bonus events, video, audio and specialty reel symbols.
Categories sometimes overlap, but slots turn to pop culture in three key areas:
This chapter will look at those areas of pop culture and how we experience them on the slots.
CELEBRITIES AND THE SLOTS
Slot machine floors are filled with games from different manufacturers. Each gamemaker works hard at attracting you to play its slots, rather than the competition’s games.
That goes for online casinos as well as live casinos. All of the celebs below have been featured on live slots. Some also are featured on online slots, with Elvis Presley being a particular favorite.
What better to entice you to play than the familiar face of a favorite celebrity?
It’s only natural that early celebrity slots focused on celebs who had been regulars in Las Vegas showrooms – Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Elvis Presley among them. The range has expanded over the years so that now we see games featuring Michael Jackson, Ellen DeGeneres and many more. Once you’re playing, the games work just like other slots. Results are determined by random number generators, there are a variety of bonus events, and some machines have progressive jackpots.
Let’s look at a few of these games and how they use their celebrity tie-ins to keep us entertained.
Part of IGT’s Diamond Cinema series that also featured Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and other celebs, Old’ Blue Eyes made his slot debut in 2001. The game featured Sinatra’s image and four songs that played while the reels rolled – “My Way,” “Fly Me to the Moon,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” and “My Kind of Town.” Frank Sinatra was a three-reel game that didn’t have the bonus excitement that was beginning to take over casino floors. What the Sinatra slots did have was a big jackpot. It was a Megajackpots wide-area progressive, with the jackpot building at multiple casinos.
For the jackpot chasers hoping to score the big bucks, why not listen to Frank while you wait?
DEAN MARTIN’S WILD PARTY:
Dean Martin’s Wild Party
Sinatra’s Rat Pack crony has had a long run with this game, which still is played in casinos a decade after its release.
WMS Gaming went to video on this one, with a reel configuration that was revolutionary at the time and since has been used in other games. Instead of having five reels, each three symbols deep, Dean Martin’s Wild Party has five reels, but the first two are only two symbols deep, and the last three are four deep, like so:
If you have matching symbols on the first two reels, they can set you up for big wins across multiple paylines. But since those reels are only two deep, you have fewer chances to start winning combinations than on games with three-deep reels. Reel symbols include roulette wheels, musical notes and clefs, showgirls, martini glasses and Dino himself – just what you’d expect in a Martin theme. There are two ways to start a bonus event. Three bonus symbols will do it, but so will matching all four symbols on the first two reels.
During the free-spin bonus, Dino sings his hit “Go! Go! Go!” while you hope to win! win! win!
Clint Eastwood Pistol
WMS Gaming based a series of video slots on Eastwood and his movie characters. The first Eastwood games, A Fistful of Dollars: Wanted, and A Fistful of Dollars: Wild Shot, had Clint shooting straight in the Old West. Later, Eastwood featured in the 15-line Dirty Harry slots.
The main feature was the Make My Day bonus. That put Harry on the trail of a criminal – roll the dice in the top box and hope you’re on the right track. The Do You Feel Lucky? Bonus gave players a fun option. The machine would offer a bonus, and you could decide if you liked your bonus, or felt lucky enough to try for a bigger one.
Elvis Slot machine
The Elvis theme has resonated with casino players for more than a decade. The King of Rock ’n’ Roll was also Las Vegas royalty with a record 636 consecutive sold-out shows at the Landmark and Las Vegas Hilton. IGT’s first Elvis slot, released in 2002, was a Megajackpots game that featured his music while you played. It was a success in its own right, but spawned a line of successor games that has carried the King’s legacy right up to the present.
The game that best blends the sights and sounds of the Presley era with a slot game that’s fun to play is the Elvis progressive released on 2012. Reel symbols depict Elvis at different stages of his career. And there’s Elvis music. LOTS of Elvis music. There are four progressive jackpot levels, each named for an Elvis hit –
“Hound Dog,””Jailhouse Rock,” ”Heartbreak Hotel” and “Viva Las Vegas.”
Jackpots are tied to other bonus events, such as the Heartbreak Hotel bonus. An onscreen hotel has seven stories and a penthouse. You choose hotel room doors to find bonus credits, and if you find Elvis, he awards you all the credits on that level. You don’t want to find broken hearts. They keep you from advancing to the next level.
Then there’s the Juke Box Bonus. You choose a song such as “That’s All Right Mama” or “Blue Suede Shoes.” Your song blares out the speakers and credits rolled up on the screen alongside Elvis video and trivia. When it’s over, a voice announces, “Elvis has left the building.”
MICHAEL JACKSON: KING OF POP:
King of Pop Slot Machine
Bally Technologies was a little later than some other gamemakers in getting to the celebrity party, but has scored big with Jackson slots. The first Jackson release was King of Pop, and Bally went all out to create a mega-hit.
The game was designed with a big-money wide-area progressive jackpot, but there was plenty to play for even leaving the jackpot aside. King of Pop was topped with a bonus wheel, and any time you won a spin of the wheel you could advance to one of six bonus events spotlighting Jackson and his music. Video, graphics and songs including “Beat It,” “Bad,” “Smooth Criminal,” “Billie Jean” and “Dirty Diana” made the game and its bonuses come to life.
Lots of slots add wild symbol during bonuses. Michael Jackson: King of Pop made that a show-stopper in itself. In the “Smooth Criminal” free games bonus, the music video is overlaid on the reels, and at a cymbal clash Jackson will halt, point – and the indicated symbol will turn wild.
During the base game, Jackson’s image will moonwalk across the screen at random times to add wild symbols. At the end of a bonus round when a golden statue of a bandolier-clad Jackson rises in the top box, you’ll know you’ll have been through an entertainment extravaganza.
One hit game is a good thing. If a brand is strong enough to inspire a series of successful games, the gamemaker knows it has hit the jackpot. That’s what IGT is aiming for with Ellen, using images, video, animation and audio of comedian/actor/talk show host Ellen DeGeneres. The first release of Ellen in 2014 included two versions: Dance Party, a 432-ways-to-win game, and 12 Days of Giveaway, a five-reel video slot with traditional paylines.
Both play off elements of DeGeneres’ talk show for bonus fun. In one Dance Party Bonus, a stack of Ellen symbols on the first reel sends an animated Ellen dancing across the screen, adding more Ellen symbols as she goes for potential big wins. In 12 Days of Giveaway, fans of DeGeneres’ talk show will know the Wheel of Riches bonus before they even play – and you get to spin the wheel by touching the screen, dragging and letting it fly.
That’s barely a beginning in the world of celebrity slots. Look around live casinos, and you’ll see Britney Spears, Dolly Parton and many more entertainment icons, and many of the same icons populate online slots, too. When you see such games, you should have a good idea of what to expect, with bonuses, sights and sound tied to the celeb’s work and image.
Game manufacturers use celebrity images to attract you to their games.
Bonuses are tied to the celebrity’s work and public image.
The games work the same way as other slot machines, with random number generators, bonus events and jackpots.
TV AND THE MOVIE THEMES
As much as celebrities have been a big attraction for slot players, the movies and television shows that feature those celebs have been an even bigger draw.
Live slots have been the trend-setters, but online casinos hear the call of player demand, too.
Players have sent the message loud and clear: They’ll give a game a try when it features their film and video favorites. Once players try a game, they don’t always stay. Just as with any slot, TV/movie games have to give players the right combination of entertainment and chance to win, whether on live slots or online slots. But when the gamemakers get the combination right – wow!
Here are some of the TV and movie themes that have resonated with players, and how gamemakers use show elements to keep us coming back for more.
WHEEL OF FORTUNE:
Wheel of Fortune
The original version of IGT’s Wheel of Fortune, with a bonus wheel atop a three-reel slot, is the most successful slot machine in history. It’s been a player favorite for two decades.
It incorporates the graphics and sounds of the TV show. The lettering is in the same font as the TV logo. When you win a wheel spin, there’s a clicking sound that’s the same as on the TV show. What the original doesn’t have is a puzzle-solving bonus, or the images of U.S. TV hosts Pat Sajak and Vanna White. But the original Wheel has inspired more than a dozen successor games, each with its own take on the long-running game show.
One that does incorporate a puzzle-solving bonus is the Wheel of Fortune Experience. It has a community-style bonus where three players are randomly selected to play. Video of Vanna White invites players to choose letters from among those displayed at the individual machine. All the letters are part of the puzzle – there are no misses. There will be more games in a very successful series of slot machines, but this is as close to the TV experience as IGT has come so far.
Another popular TV game show is the theme for a long line of successful slot machines for WMS Gaming. The Hollywood Squares slots incorporate the TV show’s tic-tac-toe board, with a celebrity sitting in every square, in a bonus event. In the original, Whoopi Goldberg sits at center square as you choose stars to answer trivia questions. If the stars get the answers right, your bonus builds. One of the successor games was Hollywood Squares Premiere Night. This time, a bonus took you to a Hollywood premiere with Joan Rivers announcing as a limousine pulled to the curb.
It was up to the player to touch car windows and choose a celebrity to award a bonus.
THE WIZARD OF OZ:
Wizard of OZ
One key in turning a successful slot machine into a successful series is having a source filled with elements game designers can use.
The Wizard of Oz has memorable characters, flying monkeys and memorable moments galore.
WMS Gaming has been turning them into bonus entertainment ever since its first game as a hit in 2007. In live casinos, Wizard of Oz games feature Sensory Immersion chairs for 3-D sound and motion effects.
The original Wizard of Oz game has players collecting characters in a journey down the yellow brick road toward the Emerald City.
Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow are all there to witness a little witchcraft and monkeys flying across the screen.
In a later Wizard of Oz game, called Ruby Slippers, each of the four main characters triggers a different bonus event.
With Munchkins singing, the Wicked Witch bringing thunder and lightning to the screen and, in the best of times, Dorothy enthusing, “It’s too wonderful to be true!” Even the tornado stars in a game called Not in Kansas Anymore. Your road to bonuses and progressive jackpots come through a “Prognado” – and amalgam of “progressive” and “tornado.” During bonus play, reels swirl around left to right, twister style, instead of the usual slot reels’ end over end. Characters and symbols whoosh past, in black and white in the top box, color on the main screen. You keep playing as long as the spins bring tornado symbols to the reels.
If you’re slot fan who loves the Wizard, you’ll want to give it a whirl.
The iconic animated flapper girl has had a long run on Bally Technologies games.
The first Betty Boop games were on slots with three mechanical reels. They were successful, but the main tie-in was strictly with the character artwork.
Video has allowed game designers to be more playful with Betty, using animation and creative bonuses.
On Betty Boop’s Love Meter, one feature is the How Hot Are You bonus. Images of hands appear on a screen, and you place your hands on the outlines. The hand outlines change colors a la the mood ring fad of the 1970s. Then a meter in the top box rises, from lovable to romantic to sexy to wild to smokin’ and beyond. The higher it rises, the hotter your bonus.
SONS OF ANARCHY:
Sons of Anarchy Slots
Aristocrat Technologies used this game, based on the FX television drama about an outlaw motorcycle club, their lives and challenges, to introduce a new way to play called Cluster Power.
With Cluster Power, any three or more adjacent symbols can form a paying combination. Matching symbols can be touching vertically, horizontally, in a line, on the first three reels, in a stack on the last reel alone – as long as you have three or more adjacent, that’s a winner.Having no matching symbols on the leftmost reels doesn’t eliminate your chances at a winner. With Cluster Power, you still have a chance right to the end.
There are plenty of video clips and sound bites as Aristocrat designers worked hard to focus on the personalities of Jax Teller and the rest of the Sons.
When first shown to the casino industry in sneak previews at the 2006 Global Gaming Expo, Top Gun had as much pre-release buzz as any slot ever made. Based on the 1986 Tom Cruise film about a hot-shot pilot sent to U.S. Navy elite flying school, Top Gun the slot put the player in the pilot’s seat. Top Gun introduced WMS Gaming’s Sensory Immersion series, with speakers in the chair for 3-D sound and motion effects that made you feel the soars and dips. In the main bonus event, you are the Top Gun, targeting bonus awards as they fly through the air. My first attempt, I tried to zero in on the big bonuses, zooming up, veering hard left, hard right. On a barrel roll, I FELT it, and exclaimed, “Whoa!”
A thrill ride of a game, Top Gun set the scene for many Sensory Immersion games to come.
BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S:
Breakfast at Tiffany Slot
Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly lights up the slot video screen just as surely as she lit up the silver screen in the 1961 comedy that co-starred George Peppard. The IGT slot machine version is chock full of video, and those who love the movie will have a great time at the game. Holly’s cat – just called “Cat” – walks across the screen from time to time. Pet the cat to earn bonus credits.
There are two sets of five video reels, so you basically play two games at a time. On the left is Holly’s Game, and on the right is Paul’s game, themed for Peppard’s character, Paul Varjak. They lead to five bonus events and four multi-tiered jackpots: the Gold and Silver progressives, Holly’s Party Progressive and the Five & Dime Progressive.
But when the video rolls, all eyes are on Audrey.
DEAL OR NO DEAL:
Deal Or No Deal suitcase
Atronic Gaming spotted this game show franchise when it was first a hit in Europe, and signed a licensing deal before the show ever hit U.S. screens.
Atronic is no more – a series of mergers has brought the company under the IGT umbrella. But Deal or No Deal lives on. There have been several successful games in the slot machine series, but the Suitcase Bonus is a vital part of each.
Just as on the TV show, there are a number of suitcases holding rewards big and small.
The player chooses one suitcase, then must decide whether to hold on as other suitcases are opened to reveal the prizes the player could have won. Along the way, a banker character offers compromise credit awards that grow if small-reward cases or opened and shrinks if the big payers are eliminated.
Ultimately, the player must tell the banker, deal or no deal. There’s a lasting attraction to a TV element that works extremely well as a slot machine bonus.
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE:
All the classic comedy bits on the long-running NBC series gave given Bally ample material for a multigame series.
Slot games featured the Church Lady, Wayne’s World, Hans & Franz, the Coneheads – it ran on and on.
Remember the Coneheads lifting complete six packs to “consume mass quantities”? One slot event is the chance to Win Mass Quantities by bouncing your spaceship off planets to reveal bonus amounts.
Another: In the Senso-Ring toss, you could select either an animated version of Jane Curtin’s Prymat or Dan Aykrod’s Beldar to toss the rings over the other’s cone. Unearthly fun.
Star Trek Galaxy Slots
The Star Trek universe has become embedded in our pop consciousness starting with a 1960s TV show, then continuing through movies and TV sequels. WMS Gaming wanted to do something special with the franchise, and used to launch a line it calls Adaptive Gaming. When you play Star Trek in a live casino, you create an identity, just as you would on a computer game. On later visits, you can log in with this identity, even if you’re at a different casino.
That’s important, because Star Trek features unlockable games. The initial release was three games in one. You collect medals during bonus rounds to unlock new game themes.
The starting point was Star Trek: Explore New Worlds.
Fifty medals unlock a second game, Trouble With Tribbles, and 50 more unlock the third game, Trek Through Time. WMS continued to add game themes, and used Star Trek as a stepping stone to its next Adaptive game, Lord of the Rings. Lord of the Rings allows players to unlock some features and graphic packages by logging into a WMS website on their home computers or mobile devices. That’s a big step toward the merger of live slots and online slots. But it was Star Trek that started to explore this strange new world.
The 10 games above just scratch the surface of what’s out there in terms of TV and movie-themed slots. More are released every year. But you get the idea. When you see themes from the big screen or small screen, you can expect video, animation, sound and gameplay that incorporate key elements of the shows.
Slots with television and movie themes have been even bigger draws to players than those themed on individual celebrities.
When you see a TV or movie-themed slot, expect elements of the show to be incorporated in the game.
Movies and TV shows with a number of characters and iconic elements can spur long series of slot games.
BOARD GAMES COME TO THE CASINOS
Slot players love to see their favorite stars and their movies and TV shows on the games we play in live casinos and in online casinos. But we interact with board games in a different way altogether.
When we play Monopoly, Yahtzee or Clue at home, we’re active participants, pitting our skills against family and friends.
On live slots and online slots, we expect a degree of interactivity with a similar experience when we see the board game name, too.
That interactivity is the key to the success of board game slots, even when there’s no actual skill involved.
Monopoly slots have been player favorites ever since their introduction by WMS Gaming in 1998. It’s been the most popular board game-theme on the slots. There have been nearly 50 games in the series, and there’s no sign of the success stopping. Monopoly themes have been used on five-reel video slots, three-reel games, wide-area progressives and community-style slots.
Game elements such as railroads, hotels, Electric Company and Water Works have been used to build game themes and bonus events. But the event that has consistently kept players coming back for more is the around-the-board bonus. Atop Monopoly slots that have the board game bonus is a lighted game board, with all the properties, railroads and other spaces such as Go, Community Chest, Chance and Jail that are on the at-home game.
Dice roll on the screen, and you move around the board and collect properties for bonuses. The most common configuration allows one trip around the board, though a bonus with up to three trips around has been used. On the three-trips game, players could buy houses and hotels to collect bigger bonuses if they landed on the improved properties. That heightened interactivity. The board game was invented in 1903 and has never grown tired.
There’s no reason to believe Monopoly slots will fade away anytime soon.
One of the first games that included a test of skill was released in 2001 from Mikohn Gaming. Mikohn since has left the slot machine business, but a niche of players remembers Battleship fondly. In the bonus event, the player would see a 36-square grid, six squares wide and six squares deep. On the grid were hidden four ships: a carrier that took up five squares, a four-square battleship, a three-square submarine and a three-square destroyer.
The player’s job was to touch squares on the grid to fire up to eight missiles. Each time you hit a ship, it is revealed on the screen and you’d collect a bonus. There was an extra bonus for hitting all four ships. There was an optimal pattern for seeking out ships. It was best to start on one of the four center squares, then slowly extend the range outward.
Players who loved Battleship the board game also loved Battleship the slot, and it maintained popularity for several years.
This dice game has had two casino lives so far. Today, it’s available as both a live slot and as on online slot from WMS Gaming. Yahtzee’s big bonus is the Yahtzee Party, where you get three dice rolls to try for a Yahtzee – landing five dice on the same number.
During regular reel play, you collect bonus triggers. You can play a bonus after each trigger, but if you save five triggers, you’re also eligible for one of eight progressive jackpots.
In the early 200s, Mikohn’s take on Yahtzee included an element of skill.
In the main bonus event, five dice would roll, just like in the home game. You could choose which dice to hold and which to re-roll up to two more times. The object was to make the highest possible combo, such as Yahtzee, four of a kind, full house, large straight, small straight or three of a kind. There was skill in knowing which dice to hold, when to go for a big hand and when to settle for a lesser one. Game developer Olaf Vancura even wrote a booklet on the strategy.
Players get their chance to solve a murder mystery in another board game favorite. Did Col. Mustard commit the dastardly deed in the library with a candlestick? Was it Mrs. Peacock in the kitchen with a rope? Clue is not a community-style win-together game, but your actions do affect others.
In a bonus event played on big screens overhead, you choose a room to play, and at the end take a guess solving the murderer, room and weapon mystery. Wrong guesses are X’d out. That narrows down the possibilities for the next player to reach the bonus, and takes everyone a little closer to solving the mystery.
THE GAME OF LIFE:
The game of life
Here’s another that’s such a good concept with so many potential bonus elements that it’s had two lives. The latest version, from WMS Gaming, is a community-style slot filled with shared bonus features. One of them is Speed Spins, a quick spin bonus where everyone moves together along the board, but there’s also an individual pursuit element. You pick your career – do you want to be a doctor, an athlete, a lawyer? Then in the big event, if the lawyer gets called, the ones who picked lawyer get an enhanced payoff.
The first Game of Life slot was from Atronic, and it had a fivelevel progressive jackpot. The bonus round was a trip around a Game of Life board. Progressive award levels were placed throughout your trip on the board – the farther you went, the bigger the progressive you could win.
Atronic had a small success with the game, then let the license lapse. With the success WMS has had with Monopoly, it’s no wonder it’s trying another trip around the board.
Interactivity has been a key to board game-themed slots’ popularity with players.
Monopoly has been the most popular board game-themed slots, with nearly 50 games in the series.
Some board game-themed slots, such as Battleship and Yahtzee, have included elements of skill.
True or False: Early celebrity-themed slots focused on the current TV shows of the 1990s.
What are some ways celebrity-themed slots are tied to their celebrity?
In what ways are celebrity-themed slots like other slot machines?
Which Rat Pack member has had a longer run with a themed slot, Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin?
What television-themed game is the most popular slot machine of all time?
What movie-themed slot introduced WMS Gaming’s Sensory Immersion chair for 3-D sound and motion effects?
True or False: Gamemakers are looking for TV shows or movies with a tight focus on one really big moment to make an impact on slot players.
What is the most popular board-game-themed slot?
Do board-game-themed slots ever include elements of skill?
True or False: One key to popularity for board game-themed slots is interactivity.
False: Early celebrity-themed slots did not focus on the current TV shows of the 1990s. Many of the early celebs featured on slots were entertainers who had appeared in Las Vegas, such as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Elvis Presley.
Celebrity-themed slots are tied to their celebrity through images, graphics, sound, video and bonus events.
Celebrity-themed slots use random number generators, bonus events and jackpots, just like other slot machines.
Dean Martin’s Wild Party, a video slot, has had a much longer run of success than Frank Sinatra, a three-reel slot.
The television-themed Wheel of Fortune is the most popular slot machine of all time.
The movie-themed Top Gun slot introduced WMS Gaming’s Sensory Immersion chair for 3-D sound and motion effects.
False: Gamemakers are not looking for TV shows or movies with a tight focus on one really big moment to make an impact on slot players. They prefer sources with lots of strong characters and iconic moments that can lead to a series of slot games.
Monopoly, with nearly 50 games in the series so far, is the most popular board-game-themed slot.
Yes, board-game-themed slots sometimes include elements of skill. Among those that do are MikohnGaming’s Battleship and Yahtzee.
True, one key to popularity for board game-themed slots is interactivity. Players interact with board games at home, and expect a similar casino experience.
ETERNAL SLOTS: LONG-LASTING GAMES WE LOVE
There’s a rhythm to the popularity of slot machines and their themes.
Excitement over new games hitting the floor at live casinos or the screen at online casinos builds to a popularity peak as the games find their target audiences. During peak popularity, players flock to the games and explore all the sights, sounds and bonus features. Once players have seen all a game has to offer, they start to drift away and explore other games. In live casinos, that drifting away is a signal to start replacing the games. The most popular games remain on the floor in reduced numbers, but others are eliminated entirely.
Games can hold on longer in online casinos, where they don’t require physical space, but eventually even online slots are pushed to the sideline. A few select game themes seem to defy the rhythms and remain player favorites for years and even decades at a time. The original favorites might find their numbers reduced, but they retain a loyal following, and even inspire long series of sequel games.
In this chapter, you’ll learn about some of the most popular slot machines of all time, the eternal favorites that keep players coming back, and back, and back for more.
Talk about lasting popularity. Blazing 7s has been with us since the 1970s, developed by Bally in its old Chicago headquarters. It was designed as a rapid-hit jackpot game, with 7s symbols on fiery backgrounds and a volatility that has proved appealing through more than four decades of slot evolution.
Jackpots come fast and furious on Blazing 7s, originally designed as a dollar progressive three-reel game. On the class $1 games, the top jackpot for three triple Blazing 7 symbols starts at $1,000. Jackpots pay frequently, so they usually hit before reaching $1,200 – the level that in the United States means players must sign a tax form before collecting.
That’s intentional. Designers thought about that very tax issue as they worked on the math for the game. Blazing 7s is a buy-a-pay game, and players must be aware they should bet enough to unlock all game features. On a three-reel, three-coin game, each coin unlocks a set of winning symbols. It’s the final coin that unlocks the Blazing 7s symbols, and makes you jackpot-eligible.
Three-reel versions of Blazing 7s retain places on casino floors, though in nowhere near the numbers they once commanded. Still the Blazing 7s theme remains a major part of the slot experience, with a number of sequels including Blazing 7s 7x Pay; Double Jackpot Triple Blazing 7s; Triple Jackpot Triple Blazing 7s; and Diamond Line.
All feature the iconic symbols of one, two or three red 7s, engulfed in flame.
Bally, now a division of Scientific Games, has used Blazing 7s as a starting point for other innovations:
**Hot Shot progressives:
A huge hit in its own right, Hot Shot is a 40-line video slot that spotlights reel symbols depicting other Blazing 7s games. There’s a unique reels-with-the-reels bonus for each featured game.
Land three Double Jackpot Triple Blazing 7s symbols on the screen, for example, and the reels on those symbols start spinning for potential wins all the way up to a progressive jackpot.
**Blazing 7s Multislot:
This was a unique attempt to offer multiple games on a mechanical-reel slot.
Multigame formats are easy to do on a video format. Each time you choose a different game, you get a different set of reels with different symbols. That’s not possible on mechanical-reel games. The same symbols are going to be on the reels at all times. Blazing 7s Multislot changed the way the symbols were used on three games: Blazing 7s Free Spin, Blazing 7s Scatter and Blazing 7s Wild. They were just what the names implied – free spins were available on one game, scatter pays on another and wild symbols to create extra winners on the third. The symbols were the same, but how they worked together to form winners or bonuses was different.
With its elegant three-reel look, its diamond symbols and its jackpot multiplier feature, the three-reel Double Diamond slot machine has been with us since 1989. The format seems simple now, but it’s led to a whole family of games from IGT.
Most reel symbols are the traditional 7s, bars, double bars and triple bars that you find on many slot games. What gives this one its spice is the Double Diamond symbol that doubles winning combinations. Get a Double Diamond symbol and two single bars, for example, and you get twice the payoff of three single bars. Make it two Double Diamonds and a single bar, and you double the payoff twice – you get four times the payoff for three bars. And three Double Diamonds, well, that’s good for the machine’s top jackpot. Double Diamond wasn’t the first game with a multiplier, but it has had remarkable popularity and staying power. Among its many sequels:
**Double Diamond Deluxe,
a “nudge” game in which bar symbols with diamonds either drop down to the payline from above if the diamond points down, or nudge up if the diamond points up.
**Triple Double Diamond,
where instead of payoffs being twice the usual with one special symbol or four times with two, they’re triple the usual with one Triple Double Diamond, and nine times pay with two.
**Double Diamond 2000,
a five-reel video slot that brought the popular multiplier feature to low-denomination players.
**Double Triple Diamond Deluxe With Cheese:
A three-reel slot with Double Diamond and Triple Diamond symbols, this one also has the diamond-pointing nudge feature of Double Diamond Deluxe and a top-box bonus game.
In the bonus event, lighted dice roll in the top box they move you though layers of a cheeseburger – bun, burger, cheese – and you collect credits along the way. The success of the original Double Diamond also inspired Five Times Pay and Ten Times Pay, which use the same kind of multiplier format. Double Diamond is frequently used as a base game on IGT progressive and bonus systems such as Wheel of Fortune and Megabucks.
Slot players have been happily exploring the mysteries of ancient Egypt since 1998, when Atronic introduced the original Sphinx five-reel video slot. Sphinx and its sequels remain with us today through IGT, which acquired the Atronic catalog through its merger with GTECH. Sphinx was one of the first video slots with a two-tiered bonus round, kicking the fun up a notch from the first second-screen bonuses. In the Sphinx bonus event, the second screen takes players into the Pharaoh’s tomb where they must choose their path. The right choice leads to the inner sanctum, where more selections bring bigger bonuses.
Players loved it from the start, leading Atronic to bring out a sequel, Sphinx II. Sphinx II is basically the same game with the same mysterious, two-level bonus, but adds two-way wagering – increase your bet, and you can line up winning combinations from right to left as well as the traditional left to right.
Atronic built further on that with Sphinx Magic, adding another bonus round for a progressive jackpot. One of the most recent additions to the family is Sphinx 3D, which features some amazing three-dimensional video. In a bonus event that takes you on a journey through the Sphinx, stacked wilds are really stacked. The stacks are no mere columns of the same symbol. Coin-shaped discs depicting a scarab stack up on the same reel position – the stack looks like it’s rising right off the screen.
RED WHITE AND BLUE:
Red White and Blue
In the days that three-reel slots ruled casino floors, Red White and Blue perennially ranked near the top of the most-played games around. Now that video slots command the majority of play, Red White and Blue still holds its own. The attraction is the payoff on 7s combinations. The big jackpot is for a red 7 on the first reel, a blue 7 on the second and a white 7 on the third, but any combination of three 7s will bring out a nice payoff. Red 7s bringing the next biggest payoffs, followed by whites, blues and mixed.
The bar symbols are color-coded, too, with single bars being red, doubles being white and triples being blue. Red, white and blue bars in order bring bigger payoffs than mixed bars out of order. With colors as well as symbols making a difference, there are a larger-than-usual number of possible winners than on most three-reel slots. Red White and Blue was one of the first three-reel slots to draw players with a relatively high hit frequency – not as high as video slots made possible, mind you, but high for three-reelers. IGT has offered a variety of Red White and Blue-based games over the years, sometimes blending it with other product lines as in Five Times Pay Red White and Blue and Red White and Blue Double Stars.
Early in the video revolution, when IGT was adding LCD panels to its top box for bonuses, it used Red White and Blue in the Racing 7s bonus where the first 7 to cross the finish line brought a bonus.
REEL ’EM IN:
This WMS favorite has been mentioned a few times in this guide as a trend-setter that attracted players to video slots in the late 1990s. The game remains in play today with its original bonus event. You choose among five fishermen on a pond. The bigger the fish your choice reels in, the bigger your bonus. Follow-up games have built on the success of the original.
Among the sequels:
Reel ’Em In: Cast for Cash:
If one video screen is good, how could two not be better? You’re still picking among fishermen on a pond, but this time they’re on a screen in the top box. On the main game screen, you can see the fish swimming. When your fisherman drops a line in the water, you see a feeding frenzy below as the fish strike the bait. Again, the bigger the fish the better, but this time you can also win extras such as a fishing derby or a virtual trip to a global fishing hot spot. At each of those hot spots, there’s a special fish worth a big prize, such as the Monster at Loch Ness or the Legendary Elvis Fish at Lake Mead in Las Vegas. Gotta love those sideburns.
Reel ’Em In: Big Bass Bucks:
This time there are three bonus events, with the best being the Big Bass Hole. At the Bass Hole, you don’t stop at a single fish. You keep dropping your line in the pond until you fail to catch a fish. Each time you land a bass, you land a bonus, too.
Reel ’Em In: Compete to Win:
In a community-style bonus, you compete with other players to see who can land fish worth the most points.The popular fishing format has proved worthy of multiple trips to the ol’ fishin’ hole.
WHEEL OF FORTUNE:
Wheel of Fortune
Based on the worldwide hit TV game show, Wheel of Fortune slots have been a major presence in casinos since the original three-reel version debuted in 1997. The bonus-wheel games have been so popular there have been almost countless sequels. Rarely does a year go by without IGT bring out a new Wheel of Fortune game. Among the Wheel of Fortune sequels have been:
**Wheel of Fortune Ultra 3 Reels and Ultra 5 Reels:
Both are on video, but 3 Reels is designed for higher coin denominations and 5 Reels for low-denomination play. Both add stacked wild symbols to open possibilities for big, multiline payoffs. The Mini Wheels Bonus comes when three or more scatter symbols appear. The scatter symbols then turn into mini Wheels of Fortune, and when they stop spinning their values are added together for your bonus. The main event is the Ultra Wheel Bonus, and that’s played out on three wheels overhead. A bonus reel will reveal how many wheels will spin – one, two or all three. Even one wheel brings a nice prize, but when all three bring you a combination of credits and multipliers, it’s special.
**Wheel of Fortune Special Edition Super Spin:
Nine players sit around a giant wheel. More than one player can get in on the same bonus spin for a community feel.
**The Wheel of Fortune Experience:
A community-style bonus enables three players to choose letters to solve a word problem.
**Wheel of Fortune Power Wedges:
A wheel game with a progressive jackpot, Power Wedges gives bigger bettors a bigger chance at a jackpot. A video bonus wheel gives you a chance at winning either bonus credits or progressive jackpots. Configured for 1-cent players, the bonus wheel has wedges for bonus credits, but none for the progressives if you bet 100 or 200 credits.
Bet 300, and there’s one progressive wedge, bet 400 and there are two progressive wedges, and a max bet of 500 credits brings four jackpot wedges to the wheel. The bigger the bet, the bigger the jackpot opportunity. IGT has found a great deal of flexibility in what it can offer in the Wheel format, just as other gamemakers have found a great initial concept coupled with flexibility have led to enduring popularity.
Slot games have popularity cycles, but some games last as enduring player favorites.
Themes that last have initial popularity, but also lead to sequel games.
Among the slot themes with seemingly eternal popularity are Blazing 7s, Double Diamond, Sphinx, Red, White and Blue, Reel ’Em In and Wheel of Fortune.
Why can games hold on longer past peak popularity in online casinos than in live casinos?
True or False: Blazing 7s has earned its place in casinos for more than 40 years.
In Double Diamond games, if you have a single bar and two Double Diamonds, you are paid: A. The same amount as three bars, with the diamonds being wild; B. Twice the usual amount for three bars; C. Four times the usual amount for three bars. D. Nothing, you don’t have three matching symbols.
What’s the difference between stacked wilds on most games and stacked wilds on Sphinx 3D?
In Red, White and Blue, do the colors matter only for 7s?
Games hold on longer past peak popularity in online casinos than in live casinos because they don’t take up physical space. In live casinos, slots that decline in earnings are removed to make way for new games.
True: Blazing 7s, invented in the 1970s, has earned its place in casinos for more than 40 years.
In Double Diamond games, if you have a single bar and two Double Diamonds, you are paid: C. Four times the usual amount for three bars.
On most slot games, stacked wilds means a column is filled with wild symbols. On Sphinx 3D, with outstanding three-dimensional imaging, wild can stack up on a single space, seemingly reaching above the screen.
In Red, White and Blue, the colors matter not only for 7s, but for bar symbols where getting red single bars, white double bars and blue triple bars in that specific order bring bigger payoffs than three mixed bars in any other order.
You can’t see the random number generator at work as it determines your results on the slots.
That leads to a certain mystique as players wonder how to get the best of the games. The way to penetrate that mystique is to ask questions, and that’s something players do. This chapter provides answers to the questions players ask most. Some have been answered throughout this guide in explanations of how the machines work. Here, you’ll find some of the hottest topics gathered into one chapter with concise replies.
Among the questions asked most often are:
How can you win on the slots?
What is the best strategy for playing slots?
How can you tell when a machine is about to pay off?
How do you choose the right machine?
In this chapter, you’ll learn just what is possible and what is not possible with respect to the things players most want to know about slot machines.
which one is the winner?
FAQ NO. 1: HOW CAN YOU WIN ON THE SLOTS?
Answer: With extremely rare exceptions, you can’t beat the slots on any consistent basis. Slots are as pure a game of chance as there is in the casino, with random, unpredictable results.
There are a few things you can do to maximize your payback percentage, as detailed in Chapter 8: Maximizing Payouts.
You can be sure to bet the max on machines with large jackpot jumps at the top of the pay table.
You can scout progressives and play only when jackpots are at a high level.
Where machines with banked bonuses are available, you can look for partially completed bonuses and gain a small, short-term edge.
In addition, those who play well on the small selection of games with skill-based bonuses can get a higher payback percentage than weaker players, as outlined in Chapter 5.4: Mystery Bonuses and Skill-Based Bonuses. However, there’s no guarantee you will win a progressive; progressive jackpots rarely are high enough to cancel out the house edge; banked bonuses are rare and there’s no guarantee you will ever find one with a partially completed bonus; and while good play will improve your returns on skill-based bonuses, the house edge is high enough on the non-bonus portion of the games that players can’t gain an edge. Everybody who plays slots can win sometimes, but the wins are a matter of chance. Enjoy the wins when they come, but understand losses are part of the game and no one can win consistently.
FAQ NO. 2: WHAT’S THE BEST STRATEGY FOR PLAYING SLOTS?
Answer: There is no strategy that can change what you will see on the slot reels or screen. The best strategies involve money management and making sure you don’t risk money you can’t afford. Consider the following chart of wager sizes, typical payback percentage and average losses per hour when you make 500 spins per hour:
Slot Machines: Wager Sizes & Payback Percentage
Payback percentages are in line with the ranges listed in Chapter 1: Slot Machine Basics, though some casinos offer higher paybacks than others and there is room for variation. If you bet more than one coin per line on video slots average risk and loss increase proportionally, so that a 2-cent per line bet on a penny slot takes risk up to $300 and average loss to $45 per hour.
Note that as the money you risk rises, so does your average loss.
That’s something to keep in mind as you plot your strategy for a day in a land casino or a lengthy time in an online casino. If you have $100 and expect to make it last, you can’t afford to play higher-denomination games. Penny slots are more your speed. Even if you start with $500, $1 slots are iffy and $5 slots are out of the question.
With a $500 base, a player who wants to try $1 slots needs to remain aware of the state of his bankroll. If you lose $200 quickly, it’s time to think about cutting back to 25 cents or to less expensive video slots. To have a 90 percent chance of staying in action for three hours without draining your bankroll, you should be prepared with about 250 bets worth of money. Therefore, the recommended session bankroll for the games listed above would be at least $75 on penny slots with a one-coin per line bet, $250 on nickels, $187.50 on quarters, $750 on dollars and $3,750 on $5 slots.
The recommendations rise as your wager rises. If you bet two coins per line instead of one on a 30-line video slot, then your base bet is 60 cents and the three-hour bankroll recommendation rises to $150. Even with adequate bankroll, there remains a 10 percent chance your funds will drain in less than three hours. There also will be times you win, and even win big. All that leads to the following strategy recommendations for playing the slots:
Choose games that fit your bankroll – don’t overbet.
If you find yourself losing early in a session, take a timeout to relax, and consider reducing your bets.
Set a limit on how much you are willing to lose before you play.
If you are winning, stop to make a conscious choice whether to add those winnings to your session bankroll or to put them away as money you’re sure to take away from the casino.
With any large win, bank at least half as money to take home.
A woman once told me she’d won a $1,000 jackpot on a quarter machine, moved up to dollars and lost it all. I told her there’s nothing wrong with taking a chance on dollars with some of the extra money, but the smart move is to take $500 of that $1,000 and put it away, not to be touched again in that casino session.
Above all, play for fun.
Slots are entertainment that is enhanced by the shot to win. They are not consistent profit-making opportunities. Enjoy the wins when they come, but stay within your betting limits so that the losing sessions are just a reasonable price for the day’s entertainment.
How can you well
FAQ NO. 3: HOW CAN YOU TELL WHEN A MACHINE IS ABOUT TO PAY OFF?
Answer: You can’t. Machines give no signal that they’re about to pay off.
There is no special sound, nor is there any clue on the reels or screen that a payoff is coming. Results are as random as humans can program a game to be. All results are possible on all spins, and there is no way to tell what’s coming next.
FAQ: NO. 4: HOW DO YOU CHOOSE THE RIGHT MACHINE?
Answer: A large piece of the puzzle is choosing a game that fits your bankroll, as discussed in FAQ No. 2. Beyond that, it comes to personal preferences.
If you want the best shot at a big jackpot, and are willing to accept a low hit frequency, then three-reel games with big jackpots or progressives are your games.
If you want a shot at a big jackpot, but prefer to balance it with a moderate amount of small wins, then look for big-jackpot video games. If you want a high hit frequency but with a shot at some big wins, video slots with free spin bonuses are for you. If you want very high hit frequencies that will extend your play with small wins and are looking more for entertainment than jackpots, then video slots with pick’em bonuses are your first choice.
Those are simplifications. There’s some overlap in playing styles, and many video slots have both pick’em and free spin bonuses. But that’s a general guide, a starting point when you ask yourself what kind of game you find the most fun to play.
FAQ NO. 5: IS IT BETTER TO PLAY VIDEO OR THREE-REEL SLOTS?
Answer: That depends on your preferences.
Three-reel games tend to have fewer winning spins, but a better chance at a big jackpot. Video slots tend to have more small wins, but a lesser chance at a lifestyle-changing payout. Odds are designed so the house has an edge, but results on video slots are just as random as on three-reel games.
FAQ NO. 6: HOW CAN YOU TELL A MACHINE’S PAYBACK PERCENTAGE?
Answer: You can’t.
Payback percentages on individual games are not published. Games are designed with several possible payback percentages, and it’s up to the operating casino to decide which to put on its floor or website. But the casinos don’t tell players which version they are offering. In many states, gaming boards publish payback percentages, but they are casino-wide averages for each coin denomination, not percentages for each machine.
FAQ NO. 7: IF A CASINO SAYS ITS MACHINES PAY 90 PERCENT, DO ALL MACHINES PAY 90 PERCENT?
Answer: No, such a figure is a casino-wide average.
All the wagers and all the payouts on all machines in the casino are calculated into a single average. Similarly, when a gaming board reports payback percentages broken down by coin denominations, what’s reported is a casino-wide average. For example, if a monthly report says a casino’s 1-cent slots paid 86 percent, that means all the bets and all the paybacks on all the casino’s 1-cent machines were lumped together to calculate an average payback percentage.
Player Reward Cards
FAQ NO. 8: CAN YOU OVERCOME THE HOUSE EDGE WITH PLAYER REWARDS?
Answer: No, player rewards aren’t large enough to make up the difference between slots’ payback percentages and 100 percent.
The most generous player rewards club I’ve ever encountered returned the equivalent of 1 percent of wagers in cash back and another 1 percent in comps. Even if you assume a $5 machine paying 96 percent, 1 percent in cash and 1 percent in comps takes you to only 98 percent. That’s with an exceptionally generous club. More typical are cash back and comp rates ranging from 0.2 percent to 0.5 percent.
FAQ NO.9: HOW DO PAYBACKS ON SLOTS COMPARE TO OTHER GAMES?
Answer: Payback percentages are inverses of the house edge. That is, a game with a 90 percent payback percentage has a 10 percent house edge.
Analyses of table games usually use house edge instead of payback percentage. The following chart compares house edges on a number of games, including slots:
Slot Machines vs. Other Games: House Edge
Blackjack house edges change with house rules and video poker returns vary widely with available pay tables. But you can see that slots have a relatively high house edges. The tradeoff is that you can play with smaller wagers than on tables, and that the games offer entertainment value beyond your paybacks. Those factors make slots popular favorites with players.
FAQ NO. 10: HOW DO CASINOS DECIDE WHEN YOU WIN? CAN THEY TELL A MACHINE TO GIVE YOU A JACKPOT?
Answer: No, casinos can’t decide when you win. That’s between you and the random number generator.
For a long time, there has been a popular myth that casino operators can reward players by pressing a jackpot button from a remote location. There is nothing to that myth. The casino’s control over results starts and stops with deciding which version of a game to purchase, with odds leading to a desired payback percentage. In regulated or game-certified casinos, there is nothing an operator can do to influence results on a given spin.
FAQ: NO. 11: CAN THE CASINO MAKE THE MACHINE GO COLD IF YOU’RE WINNING TOO MUCH?
Answer: No. Hot streaks and cold streaks grow out of the normal odds of the game and random results.
Smart casino operators wouldn’t even want to stop a player on a hot streak. Casinos need winners to spread the word to friends, co-workers and acquaintances. Without winners, no one would play. Operators also understand that over many thousands of plays, the inevitable losing spins will balance out the big winners and the machine will pay something very close to its expected percentage. Let’s imagine you’re a player on a hot streak at a machine that normally would pay 90 percent.
In this hypothetical example, you’re betting $1 per spin, and in the last 10 minutes or so, you’ve wagered $150. You’ve also had a hot streak, with 10 $5 wins, four $10 wins, two $20 wins, a $100 win and a $3,000 jackpot for a total return of $3,230 for your $150 wagered. Now let’s say players come and go over the next few weeks, spinning the reels 200,000 times and getting the normal 90 percent return. That means their returns total $180,000. When your play is included, that’s $200,150 wagered, and $183,230 returned. The payback percentage, even including your hot streak, is 91.5 percent. Your streak has moved the return only 1.5 percent. With 500,000 plays at normal payback after your streak, the payback percentage is down to 90.6 percent.
As long as the machine keeps paying its normal return, your streak eventually fades into statistical insignificance. The same goes for long cold streaks. Eventually, normal paybacks will bring the overall return close to expectations. Hot and cold streaks are both normal parts of the game, and both eventually fade into insignificance. There is no need for the casino to force cold streaks after a hot one.
FAQ NO. 12: DOES IT MATTER WHEN YOU PLAY? DO SLOTS PAY MORE AT LESS BUSY TIMES?
Answer: The odds on slot machines remain the same no matter how busy or how slow the action at a casino.
In order to change the odds so that games paid more at less busy times, operators on land casinos would have to stop the games and change them – and they’d have to have approval from regulators. In most slots in land casinos, that would require opening the game to change a chip, and that’s usually done by removing the central processing unit and taking it to a back shop to make the change. On some server-based games, it’s possible to make the change remotely, but regulators require that the machines be halted and a message displayed that a change is being made. The busy/not busy time doesn’t really apply to online casinos.
There, players aren’t influenced by what they see from other players, and that’s the basis of this myth.
The reason for higher pays at less busy times, according to the myth, is that players want to feel they’re in a casino where people are winning.
Paybacks are the same
In a crowded casino, you’ll see other players winning just because there is a lot of play happening. In a less crowded casino, it can be a longer time between observed wins because less play means fewer opportunities. However, regulators would frown on changing games routinely day to night or weekday to weekend. Even with approval, a double dose of down time would be unprofitable, with one change to increase payback and one to bring it back down, every day to night and night to day, or every weekend and back.
Jackpot Minimum Bet
FAQ NO. 13: ARE JACKPOTS TIMED SO THEY COME WHEN YOU BET LESS?
Answer: Jackpots aren’t timed at all. They are random.
This is an old belief among players, and it’s the result of selective memory plus word of mouth. It’s not a far leap from a player winning while making minimum bets to a firm belief that the wins come only win minimum bets. But if players actually kept track for thousand plays with results after minimum bets and results after larger bets, they’d see that wins and losses come up in the same proportion no matter what size the bet. The random number generator isn’t fed information on how much you wager. It just keeps generating random numbers. What you see on the screen or reels isn’t affected by the size of your bet.
Slot wins are random, and no strategy can change what you see on the screen or reels.
The best strategy for playing slots is to play games appropriate to your bankroll and set limits on losses.
Slot paybacks are lower than on some other casino games, but slots have low minimum bets and emphasize entertainment value
True or False: Players can’t get an edge on slot machines except in rare circumstances such as large progressive jackpots or partially completed banked bonuses.
The best strategies for playing the slots: A. Look for a pattern in wins and losses. B. Conserve your bankroll so that even losing sessions are a fair price for entertainment. C. Size bets at one coin per line for the first 10 plays, then go to bigger bets after the machine has been primed.
What signals should you look for that tell when a slot machine is ready to pay off?
How can you tell a slot game’s payback percentage?
Can you beat the slots if you include player rewards along with your payouts?
Casinos can make sure valuable players win a jackpot by: A. Pushing a jackpot button from a remote location. B. Steering players to games that are reader to pay off. C. Keying in a code at the game. D. None of the above.
If you’re in a hot streak at the slots, can the casino make the games go cold?
Do slots pay more at less busy times so others see more jackpots to entice them to play?
Do slots pay off more often when you bet less
True, players can’t get an edge on slot machines except in rare circumstances such as large progressive jackpots or partially completed banked bonuses.
The best strategies for playing the slots: B. Conserve your bankroll so that even losing sessions are a fair price for entertainment.
There are no signals to look for that can tell you when a slot machine is ready to pay off. Results are random and all results are possible on all spins.
There is no way for players to tell a slot game’s payback percentage. While casino-wide averages often are published by gaming boards, individual game percentages are not.
No, you can’t beat the slots if you include player rewards along with your payouts. Player rewards are not high enough to make up the difference between a game’s payback percentage and 100 percent.
False, the house edge on slot games is not lower than on table games. In fact, the house edge on slots tends to be on the high side compared to other casino games.
Casinos can make sure valuable players win a jackpot by: D. None of the above. Casinos have no control over who wins jackpots or when jackpots are won.
No, if you’re in a hot streak at the slots, the casino can’t make the games go cold. Results remain random.
No, slots don’t pay more at less busy times so others see more jackpots to entice them to play.
No, slots don’t pay off more often when you bet less. The random number generator doesn’t know how much you bet.
SLOT MACHINES ETIQUETTES
Casino visits aren’t just about winning or losing; they’re also about having a good time.
That’s especially true on slots, where losing sessions greatly outnumber winners and it’s the entertainment value that keeps us coming back between big wins.
Other players also are there to have a good time. Sometimes the interests of players conflict. That’s when we need to follow a few rules of etiquette to make sure your good time doesn’t interfere with mine, mine doesn’t interfere with yours, and neither of us interferes with casino employees’ right to do their jobs without abuse. In this chapter, you’ll find a few rules of etiquette. Most apply mainly to live casinos where there is more customer interaction, but there a couple for online casinos, too.
Playing multiple slots
PLAYING MULTIPLE MACHINES
When crowds are sparse, there is nothing wrong with playing more than one machine at a time.
However, at busy times when playing space is at a premium, limit yourself to one game. Many casinos even have signs asking you to limit yourself to one machine in busy times. Playing multiple machines is more common on three-reel games than on multiline video slots. I once watched in fascination as a woman played an entire row of six machines, hitting the max bet button on one game after another without stopping to see the results.
She’d find out whether she won when she got back to the machine a few seconds later. Even on video slots, some players position themselves to hit the button on a second machine while the first is still spinning.
That’s fine, as long as space is available and you’re not keeping someone else from playing. When there’s a wait for games, stick with one machine and give others a chance.
SEATS ARE FOR PLAYERS
Slot machines generally have one seat at each game. If you take that seat and don’t play, you’re taking that game out of commission. That both denies others the opportunity to play, and interferes with the casino’s opportunity to make money. A game not played generates no revenue. That said, sometimes you just need to take a load off your feet. If the casino’s not busy, no one will quibble over a short break at an empty machine. For a longer break, though, you should head to a lounge, snack bar or some other area with seating for non-players. Similarly, when one person in a couple or group is playing and others are watching, it’s bad form to scoot chairs over from other machines for the watchers. Others who want to play the games shouldn’t have to stand, or ask a watcher to give up the seat. If you’re watching rather than playing, stand. Seats are for players.
SIGNAL YOUR BREAKS
Taking care of basic needs is important. Players are going to take toilet breaks, and in casinos with self-serve beverage dispensers, some will break to get a drink. If you expect to come back and play the same game after the break, you need to leave a sign that you’re coming back, lest someone take your seat while you’re gone. For many years, the most common signal that a game was in use was a coin cup atop the screen on a slant-top machine, or over the handle on an upright game.
Now that payoffs are in tickets rather than coins, few casinos have coin cups. Other methods are needed. Some slot manufacturers build a “waiting” mode into the machines that will deactivate the game and signal that it being saved. Time periods such as a 20-minute maximum are specified. However, the wait mode is not popular among U.S. casino operators, and they do not activate the feature on games that have it. One widely accepted signal is to tip the chair forward so the back rests on the machine. That tells other players the game is occupied.
Players club cards left
Another way to do it is to leave a drink or inexpensive personal item such as cigarettes or a players club card on the screen. If there are other players at the bank of machines, it is OK to ask another to watch your game while you’re gone. However, you need to understand that if the other player hits a cold steak and runs out of credits, or needs to leave for any reason, he or she is not obligated to stay and watch your machine. Do not leave anything of real value at the machine. If you leave a purse, wallet, coat or full shopping bag at the game, you’re might come back to find yourself without a purse, wallet, coat or shopping bag. Do not leave credits on the machine unless you have someone you know watching it for you. With ticket pays, a thief can cash out and be away with your credits in seconds.
PLAYERS CLUB CARDS LEFT IN MACHINES
If you leave your players club card in the machine’s reader, do not expect others do read that as a signal you’re still playing. Players club cards are left behind all the time by forgetful players. If you meant to come back and left a card as the only signal, don’t be surprised if another player is at you game when you return. The other player in that situation has done nothing wrong. You can ask the other player if you can have the game back, but he or she can refuse. If you’re in the opposite situation, and there is someone else’s players card in a game you are about to play, it is OK for you to go ahead. Take the other player’s card out of the reader and place it on top of the machine so they can collect it quickly if they remember where they left the card and come back for it.
KEEP BREAKS SHORT
Holding the machine while you take care of personal needs is fine for 10 or 15 minutes. It is not fine if you want an hourlong lunch break or need to make a business call that will take a half hour or more. If you’re not playing, the game is best used to give others another playing option.
SMOKING AT THE SLOTS
If smoking is permitted at the casino where you play, then there is no problem with puffing at the games. Nevertheless, a little courtesy toward others is called for. All of these etiquette tips are things most smokers do as a matter of course. However, there are enough transgressions every day to trigger customer complaints and sometimes confrontations. Don’t blow smoke in the face of another player. Exhale away from others. Keep your ashtray on your own machine. Other players don’t want you reaching toward their game to flick your ashes. Use the ashtray. Finding ashes in a game tray or on the button panel is a serious turnoff to other players. Do not smoke in designated no-smoking areas.
In casinos that permit smoking but set aside areas for non-smokers, there are far more gaming options in the smoking areas than in the non-smoking rooms. Give the non-smokers the break they’re looking for and don’t light up in their designated area. Do not smoke in non-smoking casinos. In some jurisdictions, that’s not just casino policy, it’s the law. The U.S. State of Illinois, for one, has banned smoking in public places that include casinos. If you smoke in that situation, you not only irritate other customers, you leave yourself open to arrest and fine.
Slot players don’t interact with dealers on every play, as table games players do. There are far fewer situations in which tipping casino personnel is common behavior. On slots, the main tipping situation comes with hand-paid jackpots. Most slot machine payoffs just add credits to the meter. However, large jackpots are paid by a slot attendant or supervisor, sometimes accompanied by a security guard. Tips always are optional. You do not have to tip those who pay you. Nonetheless, most players tip after large hand pays.
How much is open to question.
One common amount is $20 on a $1,000 jackpot. The first time I ever had a $1,000 win, I was paid with nine $100 bills and five $20 bills. Clearly, the attendant was hoping one of those $20 bills would come her way. But you don’t have to tip $20 per $1,000. I know players who tip $5 or $10 per $1,000, and the tips have always been accepted graciously by the slot attendant.
There also is decision to make when you’re being paid by multiple people. If I’m being paid by a slot attendant and a security guard, I ask the guard if he’s allowed to accept tips – some casinos permit tips to guards and some do not. If he can accept, then I’ll split the amount of my intended tip between the attendant and guard. Occasionally, especially on very large jackpots, there will be three people in on the payoff, with an attendant, guard and a slot manager or executive. Managers and executives often are not allowed to accept tips. If you’re of a mind to offer, ask if they’re allowed to accept. I usually do not tip execs, who are better paid than attendants and who are not reliant on tips to make a living. In the end, it’s up to you. It’s your money, and you can decide how much to spend on those who are providing you with a service.
Interaction with other players
INTERACTIONS WITH OTHER PLAYERS
Keep it friendly, as best you can. Disputes between players are a lot more common on tables than on slots.
Slot players don’t have strategy to argue over and they can’t really accuse another player of ruining their shot to win. Disputes come mainly over personal space (“Could you please keep your legs under your own machine?”), spilled drinks and the occasional jostle when someone is not-so-carefully hustling past. When the bumps, spills and encroachments happen, polite, profanity-free requests and apologies usually will keep things on an even keel. On rare occasions, disputes will arise that players just can’t – or won’t – sort out for themselves. I once witnessed a scene where a man stood at a slot chair, hand on back, as he reached into his pocket for his wallet. He clearly was getting out cash to play the game, but another player darted in and sat down before him. The first player immediately said, “Hey, did you not see I was holding this seat?” The second shot back,”What I saw was an open seat and I took it.” The incident degenerated from there, with shouting and name-calling on both sides. A slot attendant stepped in and told the first player, “Sir, we have the same game right over there? Can I show you?” She led the player away and defused the situation. Most of the time, a little common courtesy works best, but sometimes a casino employee will be needed to resolve a dispute.
INTERACTIONS WITH CASINO EMPLOYEES
As with other players, polite and friendly works best with casino employees. Whether you’re being paid by hand, signing up for a players club card or requesting a comp, you’re receiving a service. Workers who provide services tend to do so more eagerly when treated with respect. I once saw a player who already had been served a couple of drinks by the same waitress shout, “Hey, waitress! Over here!” A slot attendant clued him in. “Her name is Jill.” Casino personnel wear name tags, and it helps humanize your requests if you call them by name. There may be times that you’re having a problem with a game that didn’t pay when you thought it should, or by a players club meter that you think isn’t tracking your points properly. By all means, ask a slot attendant to look into the issue. Every casino trains its employees to deal with any problem. But if the attendant tells you there is nothing they can do, don’t scream at the attendant. If the attendant can’t provide a satisfactory explanation, then it’s OK to ask to see a supervisor. But screaming at the attendant accomplishes nothing but creating a little ill well. Polite, respectful requests usually bring the most favorable attention.
When you’re playing online slots, interactions with others are few and far between. For the most part, it’s just you, your computer or mobile device, and the game. Some online casinos provide chat activities, so you can converse with others as you play. These are more common on table games, including poker, and are especially popular in online bingo rooms. If you find a chat function while playing online slots, the same basic rule for interacting with others applies as in live casinos: Be polite, friendly and respectful. One problem specific to online play sometimes arises: Do not use the chat function to promote outside products, particularly other online casinos.
The online casino that is hosting your play has a right to expect it to be free of attempts to drive business to competing casinos. Reserve the chat function for friendly messages about the games and casino stories.
Respect for others is the key ingredient in slot machine etiquette.
Do not take extra machines or chairs for non-players during busy times.
If you intend to return to a game after a break, leave a signal that you’re coming back and keep breaks short.
Playing multiple machines is: A. OK when the casino is not busy. B. Always OK. C. Never OK.
What are some ways to signal that you’re taking a short break but will be returning to the same game?
What should you do if you find someone else’s player’s club card in a game you are about to play?
True or false: It is widely accepted that you should tip slot attendants 10 percent of any large jackpot.
What is one important thing to avoid in chat areas of online casinos?
Playing multiple machines is: A. OK when the casino is not busy. In fact, many casinos have signs asking players to refrain from playing multiple machines during busy times
Some ways to signal that you’re taking a short break but will be returning to the same game include tipping the chair so it rests on the machine, leaving a drink or inexpensive personal item on the game screen, and asking other players to hold your game.
If you find someone else’s player’s club card in a game you are about to play, you should remove the card and leave it on top of the machine so it can be picked up easily if the other player returns.
False: It is not widely accepted that you should tip slot attendants 10 percent of any large jackpot. Tips are entirely up to you, and most players tip much less than 10 percent.
One important thing to avoid in chat areas of online casinos is promoting outside products, especially competing casinos.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION
Slot machines and how they work remain a mystery to many players.
One of the goals of this guide has been to take some of the mystery out of games that are the most popular way to bet in American casinos and are growing in popularity in international markets and online.
Whether you’re playing in online casinos or live casinos, slots give you a chance to win big for a small wager. That’s an important reason for slots’ popularity, along with the fact they’re easy to play with no complicated strategy to learn, have affordable minimum bets and are fun, entertaining games to play.
Slots have a long history, going back to the late 1800s, and have continually evolved to take advantage of new technology.
Let’s summarize a few key things to remember when you play online slots or live slots in modern casinos.
Random Good Slot Times
• Wins and losses on a slot machine are determined by a random number generator.
What you see on the screen or reels is a user-friendly interface; a representation of an inner game you can’t see. When random numbers are generated, they are mapped onto results that tell the reels what to show you.
• The odds of winning are the same on every spin.
There are rare exceptions with “must win by” mystery jackpots, but on nearly all games the odds are the same from spin-to-spin.
Regardless of whether you’ve just had a big win or gone dozens of losing spins in a row, the slot odds are the same.
• You can’t make winning combinations come up more or less often, nor is there a strategy that can give you an edge on the games.
Slot machine results are every bit as random as craps or roulette. There are rare exceptions in slots with skill-based bonus rounds, but even in such games, odds are set so that your skill can’t make you a consistent winner
• The old adage that you must make maximum bets to get the highest payback percentage still applies on three-reel mechanical slots, but not on most video slots.
Three-reel games offer a large, disproportionate jump in the top jackpot when you bet the max, so max bets bring the highest payback percentage. Most video slots do not offer such a disproportionate leap, so you get the same payback percentage if you bet one coin per payline as when you play multiple coins per line.
• If you’re going to play progressive slots, bet enough to be eligible for the progressive jackpots.
On three-reel games, you almost always have to bet the max to be eligible for the progressive. On video slots, you sometimes have to make a side bet to be progressive-eligible.
You don’t want to play a game and not be eligible for its main feature. If you don’t want to bet enough to be jackpot-eligible, play a different game.
• Some players try to chart progressive jackpot levels to get an edge, but there’s no guarantee you’ll win.
Jackpots have to get quite large to overcome the house edge, and on the overwhelming majority of machines, you’re no more likely to win when the jackpot is big than when it’s small.
• One goal of slot designers is to make games an entertainment experience so that you can have a good time even when you’re not winning.
Bonus events such as wheel spins, pick’em events or free spins are part of that entertainment experience. Also adding to the entertainment are graphics, music, sound effects and pop culture themes.
With all that in mind, the best approach to playing the slots is to pick a game that you find fun.
If big jackpots are what you’re after, those games are available. If you want extended entertainment, video slots with pick’em bonuses are designed just for you.
Enjoy the big wins when they come, but don’t bet more than you can afford to lose. Relax, enjoy the entertainment and have fun.