Does slot payback % change with denomination?

Friday, June 22, 2012


By John G.

A shuffle through the Gaming mailbag:

Q. You always mention that the payback percentage for dollar slots is better than the 50- or 25-cent slots. How about in a multi-play slot machine where you can choose $1, 50 cents or 25 cents? Does the payback change as you change the denomination, or are you getting a lower payback for dollars because you can play the smaller denominations also?

A. Yes, as a rule, the higher denominations on a multi-denominational machine pay more than the lower denominations. Each game on a multi-denominational machine has its own random number generator and game programming.

I can’t vouch for there being differences in payback percentages in games on every machine, though it’s certainly true on the large majority. Casinos have options as to what payback percentages they have installed when they order the games from manufacturers. There is nothing about putting the different denominations on the same machine that sticks all permutations with the same payback percentage.

We can see that most easily on video poker games, where it’s easily visible that pay tables change as you change denominations on most multi-denominational machines. That tells us that it’s easy for the casino to offer different payback percentages on different denominations.

With slot games, we don’t have the same kind of visual cue that tells us which version pays more. But the standard procedure of putting higher payback percentages on higher-denomination games still applies.

Q. I used to play a lot of 10-7-5 Double Bonus Poker. Now the best I can find is usually 9-7-5. How much does the strategy change?

A. The drop in full house payoff from 10-for-1 to 9-for-1 doesn’t change Double Bonus Poker strategy by very much. There’s really nothing we can do to force the pace of full houses. If we’re dealt two pairs, we’re almost always going to hold them, regardless of the full house payoff.

There’s one exception, and that’s when your two pairs include a pair of Aces. In full-pay 10-7-5 Double Bonus, where your five-coin bet is going to get you 50 back on a full house, the better play is to hold both pairs. You have a four chances in the remaining 47 cards to fill out the full house, and your expected value is 8.83 coins per five coins wagered for holding both pairs. That nudges out the 8.82 EV for holding just the Ace pair.

That’s a close enough call that dropping the full house payback to 9-for-1 leads to a strategy switch. The EV for holding just the Aces drops a smidgeon, to 8.77, but the EV of holding both pairs takes a steeper drop, to 8.40. So when dealt two pairs that include a pair of Aces in 9-7-5 Double Bonus, we hold just the Aces and toss the other three cards.

Other than that one play, strategy in 9-7-5 Double Bonus Poker is the same as in the 10-7-5 version. There are bigger strategy changes should you find yourself playing 9-6-5 Double Bonus Poker, where the drop in the flush payback to 6-for-1 means we stop holding three cards to a flush and are less aggressive with three-card straight flush opportunities. In my neck of the woods, I’m even seeing 9-6-4 Double Bonus, where the drop to 4-for-1 on straights means the player has to rein in the urge to draw to inside straights without at least two high cards. But if you’re in a market that has 10-7-5 or 9-7-5 Double Bonus, there’s no reason to even think about playing the lower-paying versions.

Q. How good does a dice controller have to be to make money?

A. Let’s preface this by saying dice controllers don’t have to roll specific numbers in order to make money. A few can increase the frequency of specific numbers, and even increase the frequency of hardways and turn bad bets into big profit situations. For most who attempt dice control, however, the game is about making the good bets, and depressing the frequency of loser 7s.

Dr. Don Catlin took on that problem a few years ago, focusing on the place bets on 6 and 8. When rolls are random, the chances of rolling a 7 are 1 in 6, and the house edge is 1.52 percent on either 6 or 8. Catlin calculated that a shooter reaches the turning point, taking a slight edge, when he can depress the frequency of 7s to 1 in 6.1428. Depress the frequency to 1 in 7, and the players betting 6 and/or 8 take a whopping 8.333 percent edge.

That the gap from 1 in 6 rolls to 1 in 6.1428 is narrow doesn’t make it easy. There are a lot more random rollers than controllers at the dice tables, and even many who practice regularly never get to the break-even point.

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