John Grochowski

John Grochowski

A shuffle through the Gaming mailbag:

Q. If I had $5 to spend on a spin, would I be better to play one line on a $5 machine or five lines on a dollar machine?

A. There is no one certain answer to that question. It depends on several factors. Are you talking video slots or reel slots? Does the casino put higher payback percentages on $5 slots than on dollar games? Is the higher payback on $5 games dependent on the bet size, or does not betting the max drop the return below that on the dollar games? And by “would I be better,” do you mean strictly in terms of payback percentage or is hit frequency important to you?

Usually, $5 games have higher payback percentage than $1 games. However, each casino decides what it wants to buy from game manufacturers, and individual casinos may decide not to put the higher returns on the less-played $5 games.

Even if a specific $5 game has a higher theoretical return than a specific $1 game, that theoretical return includes optimal play.

On three-reel games – and most $1 and $5 machines are three-reel games – optimal play includes maximum bets. That’s because three-reel games usually include a disproportionate leap in the top jackpot when you bet the max. That jackpot leap causes the payback percentage to be higher when you bet the max than when you don’t.

A maximum bet on some $1 games will bring a higher payback percentage than a one-coin bet on some $5 games.

If you’re talking about video slots, then on the majority games, the payback percentage is the same on any one machine regardless of your bet size. It’s likely that a $5 video game has a higher payback percentage than a $1 video game regardless of bet size.

However, you have to consider hit frequency and what you want from a game. Your average winner will be smaller if you spread a $5 bet over five lines than if you bet it all on one line, but you have five times as great a chance of getting a winning combination. That’s a matter of personal preference, and each player must make a choice.

My choice would be not to put all my eggs in one basket on a $5 game, but there are enough possibilities that I can’t say for certain that either choice is better than the other.

Q. On the subject of roulette systems, what if you were playing at a single-zero wheel? Then are some combinations helpful.

A. Playing at a single-zero wheel is helpful in itself in that it has a 2.7 percent house edge instead of the 5.26 percent on double-zero games.

However, the house edge on combination bets is still that same 2.7 percent. You can design a system that wins more than 80 percent of the time – and a reader recently sent one to me – but when the losses come, they wipe out a ton of wins and the house gets its 2.7 percent.

If combination bets could beat the house, they would be banned. Instead, casinos welcome them, knowing the house will get its cut.

The best way to reduce the single-zero edge below 2.7 is to find a casino that offers the European en prison rule on even-money bets, or its close cousin, the Atlantic City half-back rule. En prison reduces the edge to 1.35 percent on red or black, odd or even and first 18 or second 18. On double-zero wheels, the Atlantic City half-back rule for those even-money bets cuts the usual 5.26 percent edge to 2.63 percent.

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