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Posted: 2006/02/06 by: John Grochowski. Slots, Online slots gambling advice.
As I walked through a casino not long ago, an older woman approached. She introduced herself as Marie, a longtime reader, and said she had one question: �Which are better, video slots or regular slots?'' I laughed, and said I assumed that by regular slots,'' she meant three-reel-spinning games.
“That's right,'' she said. Which is better?''

That depends on what you want out of a slot machine.

“I want to win, of course!''

Ah, the old bottom line. That's what everybody wants. The question is whether you want a lot of small wins to extend your playing time, or whether you'd rather take your chances on a large jackpot.

She smiled. “Can't I have both?''

That would be nice. I'd like a machine myself that on a small investment lets me play and play until the jackpot comes. But the casinos need to make a profit, so there are tradeoffs. Usually, games that give you frequent small payoffs will either have smaller or less frequent big jackpots, and games that give more frequent large jackpots will give many fewer small pays, leading to long cold streaks.

“Video games seem to pay off more often. But they take so many coins I give it right back.''

Five-reel video games don't just seem to pay off more often, they do. No one would bet
25, 45, 90 or 180 coins at a time if they were having 20- or 30-spin losing streaks as often occur on reel-spinning slots. Players need to have a good portion of those wagers coming back just to stay in action.

The percentage of spins that result in some return to the player is called the “hit frequency.'' Hit frequencies on video slots are very high. Forty percent is not unusual, and some games have hit frequencies in excess of 50 percent.

“And three-reel slots?''

There's some variation, but hit frequencies on reel-spinners are nearly always are in the teens, often in the low teens.

“That sounds better for the five-reel games.''

Yes, but keep in mind that on video slots, many of those frequent paybacks are smaller than the bet--wager 45 coins, get back 27; wager 45, get back 9. On reel-spinning slots, most returns are larger then the bet. And then there's the matter of volatility.

“What's that?''

To put it simply, it's the chance that any individual result will vary greatly from the average. A game that ties up more of its long-term payback in fewer, bigger wins is said to be more volatile than a game that puts most of its payback into smaller hits.

“Is volatility a good thing or a bad thing?''

That depends on what you want out of a game. If you want your wins to return more than your wager, along with a fighting chance at a good-sized jackpot, and are willing to expect that more often than not you're going to lose--sometimes rapidly--then you want more volatility.

"Three-reel games must have more volatility.''

Right. Even within three-reel-spinning games, there's quite a lot of variation in volatility. Some tie up more of their payback in progressive jackpots so large that it can be months between hits. You can lose for months on end, or win a year's salary or more on one spin. Now THAT's volatile.

Others have smaller jackpots designed for more frequent hits. When you see a dollar slot machine with a $1,000 top jackpot, you know it's less volatile than the big jackpot games, but still more volatile than most video slots.

“Does that mean I have a better chance of a $1,000 jackpot on one of those three-reel games than on a five-reel video slot?"

For a comparable investment, yes. Let's say you bet 45 coins at a time on a nickel five-reel slot. That's $2.25 per play, in between the $2 or $3 bets that are the most common maximum bets on dollar reel-spinners. But the comparable bet size does not bring you a comparable chance at a $1,000 jackpot. It takes 20,000 nickels to make $1,000. How often do you see jackpots of 20,000 coins? A dollar three-reel-spinning slot --- and�� remember, if you bet two or three dollars, your bet size is comparable to betting 45 nickels ($2.25) --- with a top jackpot of $1,000 is likely to pay that jackpot once every few thousand spins, but a video slot will pay as much as 20,000 coins only once in tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of plays.

“So are three reels better?''

I have to go right back to the beginning here, and say that it depends on what you want out of the game. The strength of five-reel video slots is that they allow players a longer time on device through a high hit frequency, as well as use of lengthy bonus rounds. Three-reel slots, on the other hand, give the player a better shot at a large, or large-ish, jackpot, but can take your money rapidly.

Which is better? Take your pick.

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