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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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When Should You Ignore the Maximum Coin Rule at the Slots?

6 April 2005

"Let me tell you about the very rich," wrote F Scott Fitzgerald in the short story, The Rich Boy. "They are different from you and me." Ernest Hemingway, in The Snows of Kilimanjaro, responded, "Yes, they have more money."

Ponder this when next you read or hear a punting pundit pontificating that you should always play the maximum number of coins in a slot machine. There's a valid reason to do so. But there are also legitimate arguments for doing otherwise.

The incentive is that many, but not all, slots pay a big bonus for jackpots with the maximum number of coins bet. For instance, royals at jacks-or-better video poker may pay 250-for-1 with one to four coins, and 800-for-1 with five coins. The five-coin prize is then over triple that for lesser wagers, dollar for dollar. Further, this extra return raises the payback percentage or cuts the house edge on the game, which are two ways of looking at the same thing. Only the jackpot is affected, though. And it's no more likely to appear, but pays at a higher rate when it does.

So, say all else is equal. Maybe you have a choice between five coins in a $1 and one in a $5 game with identical payout charts for corresponding hands. In this situation, you'd be wise to pick the former. The trouble is, all else may not be equal.

For instance, a bit of scrutiny may show that the $1 machine pays 8-for-1 on a full house and 5-for-1 on a flush, whereas the corresponding returns on the $5 game are 9-for-1 and 6-for-1, all other payout ratios being the same. A five-coin royal in the 8/5 $1 machine gets you $4,000 at 800-for-1; one coin in the 9/6 $5 game brings $1,250 at 250-for-1. But, what if you go for a while with no jackpot? The effective theoretical returns for proficient players are 95.3 and 97.5 percent at the $1 and $5 machines, respectively ?? the difference caused by the 8/5 and 9/6 payoffs.

The phenomenon may be easier to visualize by assuming 100 solid citizens with $500 stakes, who average 10 hands per minute. If none hit royals, 50 should still be in action at the end of four hours betting one coin on the $5 9/6 machine, as opposed to 30 playing five coins in the $1 8/5 game. In such a case, wagering the same $5 per spin, gamblers have the opportunity to rough-hew their destinies. Do they try for a $4,000 as opposed to a $1,250 jackpot they've only a slim chance of winning, or opt for a much greater probability of participating in an extended session?

That's not all. And this is where Fitzgerald and Hemingway are relevant. Playing the maximum number of coins may be overbetting the bankrolls most folks can afford. It's tempting to make believe you're as rich as the players on either side of you. But remember, those people may just be pretending to be as affluent as they imagine you are. Say that the budget the 100 hypotheticals considered sensible before they left home is $100. On $0.25 8/5 machines, playing one coin at a time and not hitting any royals, nearly all can expect to enjoy four hours of action; betting five coins at once, $1.25, again not hitting royals, only an average of 21 will have four hours of thrills and chills.

The polarization increases on the newer multi-hand games. Picture those 100 hopefuls each bringing $100 to $0.25 8/5 machines with three one- to five-coin hands. The maximum bet is 15 quarters, $3.75 per spin. With no jackpots, statistics predict that only four will survive for four hours at this level. From the opposite perspective, for 50 to last the full four hours at the maximum, the 100 bettors would need over $500 in their fanny packs.

Do people who can really justify big casino bets differ from you and me? Yes. Are they, by some measure, finer human beings (notwithstanding what the smoothies who pander for the casinos try to convince the public)? Fitzgerald thought they were. Hemingway knew they weren't, recognizing that the distinction was merely one of bank balances. The beloved bard, Sumner A Ingmark, wealthier in words than wallet, put it plainly:

Protect your money, don't abuse it,
Unless you can afford to lose it.

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.