Reel-spinners or video slots?
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by: John Grochowski. Slots, Online slots gambling advice.
Ladies and gentlemen, in this bank, with big jackpots, easy play, requiring few coins per spin, with titles including Double Diamond, Blazing 7s and the original Wheel of Fortune, we have the reigning champion of the casino world --- the reel-spinning slot machine.
And in this bank, with high hit frequency, interactive bonus rounds and ever-increasing entertainment value, with titles including Jackpot Party, Little Green Men and video Wheel of Fortune, we have the fast up and coming contender --- the video slot machine.

Is your money on the champion, or the challenger? Reel-spinners, or video slots? Let’s break down the battle, and you make the call.


There’s nothing in the casino easier to play than a reel-spinning slot machine, and that’s a big reason for its rise to popularity. Slot machines account for 80 percent or more of gaming revenue in today’s casinos, and the majority of that comes from reel-spinning machines.

Drop in your coins or slide in your currency, push the button or pull the handle to start the reels spinning and you’re on your way. When the reels stop, it’s easy tell if you’ve won. Just read straight across the reels on the payline. Most reel-spinning slots have just three reels, and the majority have just one payline. Some have three paylines, and a few add in diagonals to give a total of five lines, but a quick glance at a three-symbol payline leaves little doubt whether you have a winner.

Video slots are just as easy at the start. Slide in the currency, push the button to start video reels spinning --- that has a familiar, comfortable feeling, doesn’t it? But most video slots have five reels, and the paylines aren’t so straightforward as on reel slots. When WMS Gaming’s Reel ‘Em In became the first video bonus slot to have mass appeal in the United States, it had five paylines --- three straight across the three rows of five symbols, along with a V and an inverted V. Nowadays the most common number of paylines is nine, and there are machines with 10, 15, 20 and 25 lines. Aristocrat Gaming has even introduced its 50 Lions game with 50 paylines. Even if you go to a help screen and see the paylines mapped out, you’ll probably not instantly recognize all the zigs and zags across the screen that represent a payline.

Is that a big problem? Not to those who fill the banks of video slots. They know they machine will let them know when they win, even if it then takes a couple of extra seconds to recognize exactly HOW they won.

Reel-spinning players are starting to get a taste of all those paylines, too. IGT, with its Reel Touch series, puts five spinning reels in the main unit, and also has a top box with a video representation of what’s happening on the reels. With games such as Bucks Ahoy and Uncle Sam, it enables IGT to give reel-spinning players the multiline, bonus game experience it offers video players. As easy to follow as a three-reel game? No, but that’s only Round One in this battle.

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Slot players have been told for decades that they’ll get the best payback percentage by betting maximum coins. Well, on video slots, betting the max is REALLY betting the max. On most reel-spinners, it takes two or three coins to make a max bet. On a nine-line video game that accepts up to five coins per line, make that 45 coins. Or on a 15-line game that takes up to 20 coins per line, that max bet is THREE HUNDRED coins. What about 20-line games? Or 25? Or 50? It seems the sky is the limit --- although on 50 Lions, each coin buys two paylines, so you’re really only betting the same amount as on a 25-line game.

Of course, the reality isn’t that extreme. Except for those with a progressive jackpot, few video slots build in an incentive for betting maximum coins. The payback percentage on most video slots is the same regardless of whether you cover all the paylines with one coin each or with 20.

And most video slot players wager lower denomination coins than they would on reel-spinners. Nearly all reel-spinning play in the Midwest is for quarters on up --- we have no tradition of reel-spinning nickels here. But vast majority of video slot play is in denominations of nickels and lower, with penny and two-cent games rising fast.  If you’re betting one coin on each line of a 15-line nickel game, you’re betting the same 75 cents as you would on a three-coin quarter reel-spinner.

So Round Two looks like a wash --- most players wager far more coins on video slots than on reel-spinners, but don’t wager much more money.


That video players wager about as much money per spin as reel slot players, but do it on lower denomination machines leads to a small problem. Lower denomination machines tend to have lower payback percentages than higher denomination machines.

In the Midwest, nickel and lower denomination games --- almost all video slots, average returns of 90 percent or less to players. Quarter games, mostly reel spinners with a few quarter video slots in some casinos, tend to hover around 91 to 93 percent paybacks, with variation from casino to casino and state to state.

Those who play maximum coins or close to it on low denomination games might get better average results by playing fewer coins at higher denomination games. If your casino has Jackpot Party in both quarters and nickels, and  you’ve been betting five nickels per line, you’ll bet the same amount of money and might get a better payback percentage by betting one coin per line on the quarter game.

Still, Round Three goes to the reel-spinners with higher payback percentages for the same amount of money wagered.


What do you want out of your time on the slots? Do you want a chance at a big jackpot, understanding that long cold streaks are part of the game and that you could be driven out of action quickly? Or do you just enjoy playing the game and want it to give you a longer run for your money, even though you’ll have less of a chance of striking it rich?

That’s one of the core differences between reel-spinners and video slots. Nearly any winning spin on a reel-spinning slot will be for several times your bet size, but the wins aren’t all that frequent --- IGT’s Wild Cherry, for example, will yield winners about 19 to 20 percent of the time, and some machines have hit frequencies considerably lower. The lower the hit frequency, the more likely it is that you’ll have a long losing streak. Those cold snaps will happen more often on a machine with a 12 percent hit frequency than on one where 20 percent of spins are winners. Still, those bad streaks can happen on any reel spinner, as anyone who’s gone through a $20 bill on a quarter machine without getting a single winner can tell you.

Copyright 2005 John Grochowski's material. It may not be published, broadcasted, rewritten, or redistributed.

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