Multi-line slots offer spicy variety

Aug 21, 2001 4:29 AM

The slot machines dominant in the ’90s gave players little flexibility for tailoring games to meet meaningful personal preferences. Differences like symbols on the reels were cursory, and serious options were accordingly limited.

True, there was a pick of denomination ”” $0.25, $0.50, $1, and so on. Another choice was giant jackpots with infinitesimal chances of hitting, modest meed with merely minuscule prospects of prosperity, or somewhere in between. And there were alternatives that few folks ever fathomed, like machines where extra coins bought more confusing ways to win as opposed to bigger returns and bonuses.

The nickel and other multi-line machines now proliferating at punting palaces across the ever-widening wagering world offer solid citizens additional diversity. This, more significant in shaping session performance than most slot fans yet fathom. For a particular amount dropped into the hopper of hope per round, it’s the trade-off between more money on fewer lines or the converse.

Slot machines differ among games, to the extent that two devices may look identical, yet don’t necessarily have the same inner workings. Further, the relationship between what players do and what they get involves the unpredictable intervention of chance rather than the certainty of cause and effect. So a painstakingly precise analysis entailing the probabilities and payoffs of one particular machine won’t apply exactly to another. Intuitive understanding of what to expect, among any proficient gambler’s greatest talents, is far better served using a simplified model.

For this purpose, picture a hypothetical five-line nickel machine. Make believe it takes up to five coins per line and has only one return level ”” $0.15 for every $0.05 bet on a winning line. Experienced bettors know this means you win 2-to-1, a nickel earns you a dime, since the $0.15 includes your own money ”” the $0.05 bet you didn’t lose. Say you’re comfortable risking $0.25 per spin. You could do it in various ways, the extremes being a quarter on one line or a nickel on each of five lines.

If the chance of winning were 31 percent, this game would have a payback of 93 percent. About average for the nickel slots.

The 93 percent return isn’t affected by your decision to play one line at quarter or five at a nickel each. But, the net wins and losses per spin, and the chances associated with them, do change.

Betting $0.25 on a single line, you have 31 percent chance of winning $0.50 and the complementary 69 percent chance of losing your quarter. Betting $0.05 on each of five lines, probabilities and profits are as shown in the following list.

These figures demonstrate how distributed bets dampen expected ups and downs. Shifting the total from one bet to five drops forecast $0.25 losses from 69 to 15.64 percent, and only 50.77 percent of all spins are projected to lose anything. Big wins are also fewer ”” the chance of earning $0.50 is below one percent with $0.05 per line, versus 31 percent betting all-or-nothing. But, a nickel win in the multi-line mode is expected slightly more often than $0.50 going for broke, and the other payoffs bring the overall shot at winning something to 49.23 percent.

Smaller bankroll swings characterizing each round of multi-line play ultimately keep players in the game longer on a given stake. Say you start with $50 and bet $0.25 per spin. The chance of being in action for at least 2,000 spins, about three hours of fast fingering, is 78.8 percent with a quarter on one line. It’s higher, 98.5 percent, with a nickel on each of five lines. Sumner A Ingmark, celebrated songster of the slots, said it like this:

You cannot win if you don’t play,
So temp’ring risk may save the day.

Chances of various wins and losses on hypothetical machine, betting $0.05 on each of five lines

# of hits   probability   net profit or loss
0   15.64%   lose $0.25
1   35.13%   lose $0.10
2   31.57%   win $0.05
3   14.18%   win $0.20
4   3.19%   win $0.35
5   0.29%   win $0.50