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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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How Much Should You Bet on Each Round at the Slots?

12 July 1999

How Much Should You Bet on Each Round at the Slots?

The single most important decision slot players can make is the amount to bet on each round. It influences everything from the sublime to the ridiculous -- from the payouts on jackpots to the perks casinos bestow on the patrons they hold in highest esteem.

Some players understand intuitively, or from experience, what size bets are right for them. Not so big they'll be anguished by the penalty when they lose, nor so small they'll be dissatisfied with the returns when they win. A few folks follow advice they read or heard somewhere, often presented as a secret the casino bosses didn't want anyone to know. Everyone else hasn't a clue.

Sadly, no one rule fits all situations. Maybe your main incentive to gamble is a shot at a jackpot worth $5 or $6 million; you may have no choice but three coins at once in a $1 multi-casino progressive game. Or, perhaps, you're on a junket which requires several hours a day at $10 or more per round for the house to cover all your expenses; so you play the max at two-coin $5 machines. You might even covet membership in a classy slot club, and a host explained that to amass enough "points" playing video poker once a week to be invited, it'll have to be on at least a $0.50 machine, five coins at once; $2.50 per round it is!

For the vast majority of players, though, the primary goal is to survive an entire scheduled casino visit on money set aside for gambling. That is, to get as many tries as possible at a big win, on a bankroll that seemed sensible when you were still at home.

Using this criterion, the wonderful world of math offers a map to show solid citizens the appropriate aisles. Statistics gives the fraction of a bankroll that can be bet per round, with pretty good assurance of not going broke during any specified time interval. Results depend on the particular machines played, the precise confidence a bettor wants of surviving the session, and speed of play. But ballpark estimates will do for most purposes.

A conservative appraisal can be made by assuming that players average 500 rounds per hour, and will be content if they're 99 percent sure of surviving a session. Differences among machines can also be largely eliminated by considering reel or video poker devices separately, this being where the major distinctions lie.

Making these suppositions, the following table shows fractions of a bankroll that can be bet per round, to be reasonably certain of outlasting three-, four-, and five-hour sessions on typical reel and video poker machines. To spare you the long division, maximum bets meeting this criterion are given for typical bankrolls of $100, $500, and $1,000. Rounding the bet sizes up or down to the nearest convenient amounts won't invalidate the conclusions.

 session  fraction of  maximum bet for typical bankrolls
 duration  bankroll  $100  $500  $1,000
 Reel-type machine

 3 hours

 1/345

 $0.29

 $1.45

 $2.90

 4 hours

 1/415

 $0.24

 $1.20

 $2.40

 5 hours

 1/475

 $0.21

 $1.05

 $2.10
 Video Poker machine

 3 hours

 1/210

 $0.48

 $2.38

 $4.76

 4 hours

 1/251

 $0.40

 $2.00

 $4.00

 5 hours

  1/288

  $0.34

 $1.74

 $3.47

Here are some examples of how to interpret the table.

You like reel-type slots and want to go at least four hours on $100. You're 99 percent certain to meet this goal betting as much as $0.24 per round. This is one coin in a $0.25 machine or up to five coins at once in the $0.05 slots. Or, maybe you prefer video poker, starting with a $500 stake and thinking that three hours is enough gambling for you. You can be fairly sure of not going belly-up betting up to $2.38 per round. A $1 machine, two coins at a time would be well on the safe side. To bet the maximum of five coins so you'd qualify for the jackpot bonus, you'd not be going far overboard dropping $2.50 at once in a $0.50 machine.

Most people learning these figures are surprised at how low the maximum recommended bets are for their bankrolls. They often express their astonishment while waiting in line to withdraw money from the cash machines in the casino lobby. It's as the bettors' bard, Sumner A Ingmark, so knowingly noted:

Little wonder when a blunder,
Rents an ill-wrought plan asunder.
Alan Krigman

Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.
Alan Krigman
Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.