John Grochowski

John Grochowski John Grochowski John Grochowski John Grochowski

The most-played games in American casinos are slot machines, and the most-played slot machines are the penny games

Naturally enough, questions about slots are high in the mix of email I receive from readers. Let's try to answer a couple that have come in recently.

**"What if there was an obstruction on a slot reel and the same symbol was stuck in place? If it was a multiplier symbol that multiplies all winning combinations, I think you'd want to stick around as long as it was stuck, right? What if it was just a single bar? Would you still want to stay?

If a symbol were stuck in place, there would be many combinations that seemed to be winners on which there would be no payoff. You are paid on the result determined by the random number generator, with the symbols just being a user-friendly way to display that result.

Nearly all the time, the symbols on the reels match the RNG outcome. The RNG spits out its random numbers, the numbers are matched to a map of reel symbols, and the reels are told where to stop to display the symbol indicated.

If a multiplier symbol is stuck in place but the RNG has generated a number that matches a blank space on the symbol map, then the outcome of the spin includes the blank space, not the multiplier.

I've never seen a machine with a reel stuck in place, but there have been instances in which players were not awarded apparent jackpots because the symbols on the reels did not match the outcome generated by the RNG. In the event of a conflict between the result indicated by the RNG and the symbols displayed on the reel, then the RNG outcome is official and the reel display is considered a malfunction.

That said, if in a hypothetical world one reel was set with a multiplier on every spin and combinations were paid as if that multiplier was included every time, then yes, I would want to play as long as the multiplier stayed in place.

**Every time I hear that slots pay 95 percent, 90 percent, even 85 percent, I wonder where mine is. I know I don't have 85 percent of my money at the end of the day most of the time. I can't tell you how many times a $20 bill on a penny slot has turned into zero payback.

Leaving aside the issue of balancing winning sessions against losers, and that one middling jackpot of a few hundred dollars counterbalances a whole lot of $20 losers, many sessions that you think of as zero paybacks aren't that.

Let's make up a hypothetical session in which you start with $20 on a penny slot and bet 40 cents per spin. In your first 50 spins — a total of $20 in wagers — you get enough payoffs to have $12 remaining. You then play that $12, and get $8 back. You bet the $8 and get a nice bonus round, so you're back up to $16. You bet the $16 and drop back to $12, bet the $12 and go up to $14; bet the $14 and drop to $6; bet the $6 and drop to $2; then bet the $2 and lose it all.

You have nothing left, but your payoff hasn't been zero. You've made $90 in wagers and gotten $70 in returns, a net loss of your $20. Your payback percentage is the $70 in payoffs divided by the $90 in wagers — that's 0.7777, or 77.8 percent.

Look for John Grochowski on Facebook ( and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).