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How Should You Play the New Multi-Line Multi-Coin Slots?

29 June 2005

By Alan Krigman

The newest wrinkle in slots involves games where players can bet varying numbers of coins on multiple "lines." An example might be a nickel machine which takes from $0.05 on one line to $0.50 on each of 10 lines, $0.05 to $5.00 per pull. Unlike payouts on older devices, there's often no bonus for betting the maximum number of coins per line or all lines. So return percentage doesn't depend on how a given total is apportioned: $0.05 on each of 10 lines and $0.50 on a single line are equivalent. If a machine has 95 percent payback, which insiders know is 5 percent house edge, the casino earns a theoretical $0.025 per pull either way. In 1,000 rounds (about three hours) in one mode or the other, the "handle" will be $500 and the bosses figure it as $25.

Of course, nobody plays like this expecting to lose $25. And, in fact, hardly anybody does. True, at the end of a long accounting period, the casino should be close to the statistical prediction. However, some individuals will win large or small amounts, others will lose a little or a lot. The average comes out in the wash.

A computer simulation shows how this might work for typical solid citizens, as opposed to the juicers, and may suggest how you may want to approach these games. Assume a hypothetical, simplified, 95 percent payback, nickel machine on which each line has these returns and probabilities: 1?for-1 12.5 percent, 2-for-1 6.5 percent, 10-for-1 3.2 percent, and 25-for-1 1.5 percent.

Say that 20 players try the machine, betting a total of $0.50 per spin for 1,000 rounds. Half toss it all on a single line, and half spread $0.05 on each of 10 lines. The accompanying tables indicate how these bettors fared in a particular set of games.

Simulations of hypothetical 10-line 10-coin $0.05 slot machines

$0.50 on a single line
session final result maximum minimum
1 -$1,035 +$35 -$1,140
2 -$665 +$320 -$665
3 -$505 +$160 -$670
4 -$855 +$100 -$960
5 +$150 +$290 -$350
6 -$205 +$120 -$820
7 $275 $735 -$275
8 +$255 +$450 -$155
9 -$885 +$205 -$925
10 -$120 +$90 -$440


$0.05 on each of 10 lines
session final result maximum minimum
1 -$64 +$122 -$187
2 -$440 +$2 -$440
3 -$224 +$74 -$298
4 -$216 +$20 -$278
5 -$204 +$7 -$432
6 -$220 +$15 -$307
7 -$217 +$65 -$220
8 -$50 +$15 -$122
9 -$62 +$70 -$124
10 -$95 +$15 -$137

Only a fool would risk the ranch based on data from 10 sessions played one way or another on a simulated simplified slot machine. Or on a real device, for that matter. But the outcomes for the alternatives do hint at where the strategies can lead. By and large, although not necessarily in any specific session, bankroll swings tend to be wilder with everything on one line than the total spread around. This is suggested both in the tallies after 1,000 rounds, and in the high and low points during the action.

Another effect, again more a tendency then a rule, is that single line players are more apt to finish sessions of moderate duration with a profit than their 10-line counterparts. One possible explanation is that the first group had 10 times fewer total decisions during the same time span than the second. And, fewer decisions raises the impact of volatility relative to edge, causing results to depart further from the "expected" $25 loss.

How should you play? The answer depends on your own situation. If you have the wherewithal to outride big downswings, won't be happy without a sizeable score, and will quit when you reach a sensible goal, you might prefer single-line play. If you sweat being behind, and would be satisfied quitting with a modest profit, distributing your dough over multiple lines might be more suitable. Think about your personal preferences, then see which set of data seems to fit better. You can pick a strategy at either extreme or somewhere in between and try it out. Just remember this advice from the punter's poet, Sumner A Ingmark:

A rising tide may elevate your boat,
But not if it's too rickety to float.

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 were focused on those interested in gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.