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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Deal Me In: High hit frequency doesn't necessarily mean higher payback

25 March 2011

Dear Mark: Is it better to play on a machine that offers a high hit frequency or one with a higher payback percentage? Or, am I to assume that slot machines that have a high hit frequency by design offer a higher payback percentage as well? Mike R.

There is usually no direct correlation, Mike, between payout percentage and hit frequency. High payback machines tend to have low hit frequencies, while a high hit frequency machine does not also offer higher payback percentages.

What the hit frequency of any machine tells you, Mike, is how likely it is to award a payout. The higher the hit frequency, the more probable a payout, but likely on the low end in value. When a machine has a low hit frequency, it means that the hits on the machine are going to be fewer and farther between, but for higher jackpots.

The payout percentage of a machine tells what percentage of the money played through it will be returned to the players “over the long haul.” The operative idiom here, Mike, is "over the long haul." Since each reel spin is random, to verify the machine's actual performance would take a whole lot of spins, something in the millions, to get to its true payout percentage. On the plus side of this volatility is that your jackpots tend to be larger than the hits you get on a high hit frequency machine. Ah, but with a dry spell, Mike, and we’ve all had those, a low hit frequency machine can consume your billfold lickety-split.

So, what’s the better play, a machine that offers a high hit frequency or one with a higher payout percentage? It really depends, Mike, on preference and your bankroll.

If you thoughtfully parse your bankroll and it doesn’t stretch past a few hundred spins, you’ll probably want to be on a machine that offers a higher hit frequency to get more play from your limited funds. The larger the bankroll, the more you can absorb dry spells, so the appropriate play would be a machine offering a higher payback percentage. Here, payout percentage always outranks hit frequency.

The bottom line, Mike, is that if you prefer a machine with limited lower payouts but one that offers larger ones, look for a low hit frequency machine. But if your bankroll is limited and you want to maximize your playing time, then look to a high hit frequency machine.

Dear Mark: In video poker, are all 10 cards pre-drawn, so your results are already determined, or does the machine draw cards once you discard specific cards? I have read conflicting answers to this question. Nate P.

When I first wrote on this subject a dozen or so years ago, I stated that the majority of video poker machines operated using parallel dealing, meaning that all 10 cards are dealt simultaneously with the outcome being that the display cards and all draw replacements are selected, dealt and held in a single movement once you pressed the Deal button.

Today, most machines employ serial dealing where the machines draw only the first five needed, then to continue to shuffle their electronic decks, and then draw only the cards needed to replace the discards when you press the Draw button.

Although you have read differing responses to your question, Nate, be it parallel or serial dealt, neither way would have any effect on the outcome as the cards are shuffled and displayed randomly.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “In poker, as in life, there will always be bullies who will try to take advantage of your weaknesses.” —VP Pappy
Recent Articles
Best of Mark Pilarski
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.
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.