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Deal Me In: Bonus games and bonus multipliers

19 March 2010

By Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: On a slot machine that offers a "bonus," is there any rule of thumb as to how long or how much you should invest in that machine if you have not been given a bonus? John M.

Most new machines today offer some sort of bonus round which is usually triggered by getting a certain combination of symbols. But first, John, how about a couple givens before I talk about bonus machines and whether they are worth playing at all.

Anytime you play slots, know that you're up against a computer whose one and only purpose is to guarantee a profit for the casino. Also, as for "a rule of thumb" as to how long, or how much, you should invest in a machine that has not been bonus friendly, in essence, it doesn't matter, because the machine does not arbitrarily predetermine what or when you will win on the bonus round. Slot machines operate randomly, so past performance is not a guide to future performance. As to winning or losing on any machine, the rear-view mirror is not the place to look for your destiny.

Now, let's discuss what bonuses are, a seductive carrot, and what they are not, something-for-nothing. Bonus games induce in players the expectation they may get a little something extra beyond what they are entitled to get, but in reality, it's more like you, the rabbit, chasing an agile carrot. I use the word chasing, John, because casinos know these popular slot machines keep players playing for longer periods of time in hopes of reaching the bonus screen. Rumor has it, the longer someone plays, the more money the casino makes.

Which leads me to, which tree does bonus money comes from? It comes from the base game itself. There is no secondary currency in reserve for bonuses, so if a machine is programmed to return 92 percent to the player, bonuses are divvied out from that amount. But the return on bonus machines can be far worse, with the percentage being as high as 35-40 percent coming from the base game for the bonus feature. That means the amount of money the machine is programmed to pay for winning combinations outside the bonus feature suffers dramatically.

Now that doesn't mean that a bonus machine can't offer a positive expectation on a progressive like Wheel a Fortune when the running tote shows a gazillion dollars, and there's no denying that they can be fun to play, but dedicated slot players avoid these attention-grabbing bonus games in general, and stick to the traditional three reel game like Double Diamonds, where there is no bonus money taken out of the base game and the player return is considerably higher.

Dear Mark: How do you know when to play the full coin amount on a slot machine? Ellen G.

Simply by eyeballing the pay table, Ellen, and playing accordingly.

For instance, with one coin inserted, if a machine's pay table shows payment of 1,000 coins for 7's across, 2,000 for that second coin, and 3,000 for three coins played, then playing the full coin amount gains nothing. Payment rate for coins played remains the same. Such a machine is called a straight multiplier, and you can play any amount of coins.

If, however, the machine operates like the multiplier except that it offers a bonus when you play maximum coins, you are playing on a bonus multiplier and should play the full coin amount. For example, collecting dust in my attic is a Bally Mag 777 slot machine that with one coin inserted pays 1,000 for 7's across, 3,000 for two coins and 7,000 for that third coin. This particular machine offers a bonus for playing both the second and third coin so it behooves you to play the full coin amount, whenever you're in my attic.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "I think of how many thousands of times I've played a slot machine with nothing to show for it." --Barry Meadow, Blackjack Autumn

Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.