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Best of Mark Pilarski

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On the trail of the best payout machine

20 May 2011

Dear Mark: How does one determine which machines are high-frequency payers or low-frequency payers? I gamble at three local Detroit-area casinos, and they don’t advertise the different machines as such. I would very much like to know how a player could differentiate. George B.

First, George, a quick review for those who may have missed the column on “hit frequency.”

What the hit frequency of any machine tells you is how likely it is to award a payout. The higher the hit frequency, the more probable a payout on any spin, but more than 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. A high frequency machine can have modest winning combinations show up every three, four or five spins, whereas a low hit frequency machine may have a winning combination appear only once every dozen whirls.

What the casino doesn’t make easy, George, is cruising the casino floor and determining which machines are which. You can somewhat identify high-hit frequency machines, but not necessarily the low-hit frequency/high-jackpot machines. You would need a gaming timeline of hundreds of thousands of handle yanks to compare paybacks and find high-paying machines. However, what I can do is give you some guidance as to how to identify high-frequency payers.

Begin by tracking your play on the machines you typically play, noting for each number of spins and number of payouts. After a few thousand spins, you’ll have a reasonable intuition as to the true hit frequency of the machines you’ve been playing.

Study the pay tables posted on the machines. If the lowest jackpot seems a tad high, the hit frequency is likely lower but richer. A slot machine that has numerous combinations providing smaller wins will usually be a high-frequency machine, while one that offers fewer winning combinations but offers larger wins is a low-frequency machine.

Most video slots tend to be high-hit frequency machines. How can you tell? Because you’ll notice by looking at the pay table they pay less than a push on any spin. For instance, you bet one coin each on all nine paylines, and all you get in return is five coins.

Progressives, especially machines with gargantuan jackpots, tend to be low-hit frequency machines.

Machines that are advertised to pay back more than 98 percent are typically high-hit frequency machines where you will end up with a lot of little payouts. You might eke out some buffet money, but a sizable payoff is less likely.

Which machines to play, George, is a personal preference. If you have a small or dwindled bankroll, you would want to play on a machine that offers a higher hit frequency to get more play from your limited funds. If you’re knee-high in credits, then play on a machine with limited lower payouts but one that offers you a shot at champagne wishes and caviar dreams.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “If it wasn't for all the money I keep losing, this poker thing could be a lot of fun.” —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.