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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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When to Break the Maximum Coin Rule at the Slots

9 June 1997

Modern slot machines let players bet one, two, up to some maximum number of coins at once. The casino creed says always go for the max. But the rule has exceptions. You may be happier following this dogma. You may not. It depends on the machine. And on you.

For casinos, multi-coin betting is a no-brainer. More action from the same machine per player-hour, therefore higher profitability.

For players, bigger bets mean greater returns. Not just because hits pay correspondingly more. Certainly not because machines can detect then reward, punish, or tease high or low rollers. Rather, most slots pay jackpot bonuses for maximum bets. As an example, a 3-coin machine might return $1,000 for four stars with $1 in play, $2,000 with $2, and $5,000 instead of $3,000 with $3.

This explains the rule. But the situation isn't as cut and dried as it may seem. Hence the exceptions.

Not all machines pay a premium for maximum coins. For instance, a faceplate may tout $1,000 jackpot for $1 in play, $2,000 coins for $2, and - in bigger, flashier, but not disproportionately higher numerals - $3,000 with the maximum of $3.

Likewise, a machine may have crossing or parallel "paylines," activated by successive coins. Symbols along any, some, or all lines indicate winning combinations. Extra coins may provide an incentive in more ways to win. Or, the highest payline may boast a bonus amount. But apparent bonuses may be bogus if jackpot combinations are less likely to occur along the higher paths. There's no way to resolve the uncertainty by looking, and staff members wouldn't tell even if they knew.

Further exceptions to the maximum coin rule result from machines with higher base bets having smaller house advantages. Why? The casino earns more by keeping 10 percent of every coin put into a dollar slot than 15 percent of every coin dropped into a quarter machine. Assume you're not one of the fortunate few who hits a homer. More favorable edge means more money returned when you play one coin in a dollar machine than four coins at once in a quarter slot. This sacrifices hopes for a big payday, but fuels longer play and a better shot at a modest profit.


Similarly, imagine two machines, each having a "hold" of 15 percent. Big Benny bestows a $100,000 bonanza for the maximum number of coins; Little Lulu has a $10,000 jackpot with no bonus. Say that after 1,500 solid citizens have dropped $1,000,000 into the slots, the casino keeps $150,000 and dispenses $850,000. At Big Benny, one lucky winner gets $100,000 and 1,499 other players split the remaining $750,000 - much of which they recycle back through the machine to account for the $1,000,000 "handle." At Little Lulu, one jackpot winner gets $10,000 and 1,499 players split the remaining $840,000 - much of which, again, they recycle back through the slot.

On one casino visit, you bet the maximum at Big Benny and lost your entire $100 stake in an hour. With what you now know, what would you do next time? Still go for $100,000-or-bust on Big Benny? Or play Little Lulu, hoping for the $10,000 while giving yourself more of a chance to play longer and grab a small profit?

As often in gambling, there's no simple answer. But here are two scenarios that can help guide you in your decisions.
1) You know you won't be satisfied with less than a big payday. Then look for slots with bonus payouts, preferably progressive jackpot machines, and play the maximum number of coins.
2) You'll be content with a modest gain. For instance, if you double your money, you'll continue playing but quit before you give back half of your peak profit. Then find the highest-denomination machines you can afford, with no bonus for maximum bets, and play one coin at a time.

As Sumner A Ingmark, recalling a poetic past when rules were remembered by writing them in rhyme, reminisced:

To eliminate confusion,
State a rule, brook no exclusion,
But know certainty's delusion.

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.