For a large majority of players, a trip to the casino means some time on five-reel video slots. It's not just that they are an entry level game, easy to play with no strategy required. Most players stick with them. Electronic gaming devices account for about 80 percent of casino revenue nowadays - more in some jurisdictions. A walk through any casino will tell you video slots take up the majority share of the EGD category that also includes slots with mechanical reels, video poker, video keno and video blackjack.
That the games are strategy-free doesn't mean there's never any confusion about how to play. One reader who's new to the games emailed me to ask about conflicting advice he's received on how much to bet.
Check out the different things he'd read:
•Play one line, one coin at a time. Playing more lines or more coins doesn't change the payback percentage.
•Play all the paylines, but bet multiple coins per line only up to the amount you're comfortable with losing on a single spin.
•Bet just enough to qualify for the bonus rounds. The bonuses bring up the payback percentage of the machine.
There are elements of truth to each recommendation. Playing one coin, one line might sound pretty boring to most players, but if the game does not have a progressive jackpot and if bonus symbols don't have to land on an active payline to trigger the bonus round, then the game's long-term payback percentage is the same regardless of whether you play one line or 40.There's nothing in game programming that would make winning symbols come up more often on one line than on any other.
However, some games do require bonus triggers to be on an active payline. Precise amounts vary from game to game and manufacturer to manufacturer, but bonus events account for roughly a third of the payback on video slots. You don't want to play a video slot without being able to take full advantage of the bonus events, so my usual recommendation is to cover all the paylines, even if you're betting only one coin per line.
Some manufacturers seem to be taking care of the question themselves. Many new video slots have what is known in the industry as "forced bets." A 40-line game might offer wagers of 40, 80, 120, 160 and 200 credits. The minimum bet is one coin per line, covering all the lines. On such machines, there's no option to bet one coin, one line.
The second recommendation, to cover all the lines but play multiple coins per line only within your financial comfort zone, is reasonable. Multiple coins per line don't change the payback percentage. This is essentially the method I use. I start at one coin per line, move up to two per line if I double my credits, and leave the machine if I'm losing.
As for the third recommendation, that really ties into the answer to No. 1. By all means, bet enough to qualify for bonus events. That might just mean covering all the paylines. Some games require a separate bet to activate bonus features - a 25-line game with a 15-credit feature bet is one common configuration. If you're going to play such games, make the feature bet. If you don't want to bet that much, choose a different game.
The same rule applies to progressive jackpots. If you're going to play a progressive game, make the necessary bets to be eligible for the jackpots. Otherwise, play non-progressive games.
Gambling author and columnist John Grochowski's weekly newspaper column began at the Chicago Sun-Times and is now syndicated nationally. He also regularly makes TV and radio appearances about gambling. His column appears weekly.