Last week I explained how the number of credits bet, when playing a slot, video poker or video keno machine do not affect the outcome in any way. A spin, hand or keno draw with one credit bet would be identical even if you had bet 20 credits, as long as you had hit the spin or deal/draw button at the exact same time.
But what about different denominations? The only thing I can think of that’s more annoying than hitting a big win just after you drop the number of credits you’re betting is hitting a big win just after you decide to change from dollars to quarters, or from quarters to nickels. So the question is, would you have hit that same big win had you stayed at the higher denomination, or did switching affect the outcome?
Keep in mind this whole discussion only matters because of the proliferation of multiple-denomination machines. Back in the good old days when machines accepted coins, each machine generally only accepted one denomination, so changing denominations meant switching machines. Of course the results differed – you played a different machine. There’s nothing to discuss.
But nowadays you can play the same game on the same machine at any one of a number of different denominations. I’ve seen machines where you can play video poker or keno at anything from a penny to five-dollar denominations and everything in-between. If you look closely, even penny slots usually offer two-cent and five-cent versions, if you can figure out where to push on the screen to change it.
So how do you tell if your decision to switch denominations affects your results? If you switch from quarters to nickels and hit a royal flush or eight-out-of-eight soon after, should you be mad because you only got one-fifth of the jackpot you would have gotten at the higher denomination? Or, should you be happy because your decision to switch led to a minor jackpot that otherwise might not have happened at all?
As it pertains to slot machines, in most cases there’s really no way for the player to tell. You’ll never be able to know for certain if the machine uses the same program for pennies as it does for higher denominations just by looking at the machine. But there is a way to tell on virtually all video poker and keno machines.
The easiest way to tell is on a machine that keeps the last hand played, or the last keno numbers drawn, displayed on the screen between games. Most video poker and keno machines do this. They might show a "teaser" screen after a period of inactivity, like a phantom royal-flush draw or a lucky 10-out-of-10 keno hit. But once a player chooses a game from the on-screen menu, the machine will usually show the last play result of the chosen game.
On some machines, this last play result will change between denominations. On others it won’t. After you choose your game, you need to look at the cards on the screen for video poker or a few of the numbers that were drawn for keno. After a quick memorization of what you see, back out of the game to the main menu, choose a different denomination, and go back into the same game you just looked at.
If the cards or keno numbers have changed, a different program is in use between the two denominations and your results will differ from one to the other. If they stayed the same, the results will be the same regardless of the denomination you play. You now know whether you should be happy or upset if you just hit a big win soon after lowering your denomination. Be happy if they differ, be upset if they’re the same.
Another way to tell is to look at the paytables. There are more buttons to press this way because you have to go into the game and then into the paytable for each denomination, but a quick glance at each will tell you if they’re using the same program or not. If the paytables are different, so are the programs each denomination uses.
This method works regardless of what the machine displays on the screen after you go out to the menu and back into the game, so it will work on the few machines out there that clear the results of the last game.
By the way, this paytable comparison is something you should be doing anyway. You might find it’s often preferable to play one quarter rather than five nickels on video keno, for example, simply because the quarter denomination is set to a looser paytable.
The most important thing to remember is your results might differ between denominations because of differences in programs and paytables. It is not because casinos have the ability to "set" a machine to pay at one denomination and not another, no matter how many sore losers might tell you otherwise.
So even though this article and the last might not offer advice on how to win, they hopefully give you a little better understanding about how machines work. That’s my goal at least.
(Editor’s Note: Brad Fredella is General Manager of Stetson’s Saloon and Casino in Henderson,
FINDING the EDGE
Poker players who want to stand the test of time need to find an edge. This ability to find and exploit an edge is the main factor in who makes it and who doesn’t. The following story illustrates how you can have both earning power and an edge at the same time. I was heads-up with a player named Mike Harthcock in the last satellite for the World Series of Poker Main Event.
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