Playing Penny Slots

Close-up of a slot machine in a casino, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
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For decades, the most popular slot machines in U.S. casinos were nickels. In the late 1960's, Bally Manufacturing developed the Money Honey slot that could be played for up to five coins. Players took well to the slots, even if they were playing more per pull of the one-armed bandit's handle. More recently, casinos have filled up with penny slots.

The name “Penny Slot” might be best described by the expression, “A wolf in sheep’s clothing," because of the association of mental images or feelings to words when hearing the phrase "Penny Slot." In other words, it may be perceived that a penny slot should cost but a mere penny.

Penny Slots: The Newest Innovation

The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about penny slots is the image of sitting down and inserting a few copper "Abe Lincolns" into the machine and pulling the handle in hopes of winning a dollar or two. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The new penny slots are multi-line machines that accept many coins per line. They offer a lot of excitement: theme songs from popular game shows and movies, bonus screens, and special mystery payoffs. Of course, it all comes at a cost. The most popular Konami games like Race Driver and Beat the Field require a minimum of 50 coins per spin. That's a buck a spin. Several other manufacturers have games with up to 16 lines and up to 100-coins per spin. That's 1600 pennies.

Slot manufacturer IGT offers a penny version of its popular Megabucks game where one can play for just a few pennies. On the standard Megabucks machine, which is a $1 variety, the player must play three coins per spin, or $3. On the new penny Megabucks, the player must be playing the maximum 300 coins per spin. Here, the price is the same.

Play With Caution

To play the penny slot machines, the game should be approached with caution. It is recommended not to automatically hit the maximum spin button. Reading the help screen can help one find out how many coins it takes to have a bet on all the lines. Then, it is easier to decide how many coins and credits to risk per spin. One way to start is by choosing just a few lines or just a single coin per spin.  

The cautionary tale is that the machines are fun, addictive, and require a minimum of coins/lines to qualify for the bonus screen, where the bulk of the payoffs are made. Players can make sure to play enough coins/lines to get paid when the bonus is hit.

Human beings are creatures of habit and gamble because of instant gratification. Penny slots have a high hit frequency that ropes humans in. It's fun and exciting, but most of the time, the payoff is less than the initial wager on a spin. In other words, the bells and whistles go off on a regular basis, but for small payoffs. Much of the time, players risk something like 100-coins and get a payoff of 18 coins.

Psychology and Small Payoffs

When players constantly get small payoffs, psychology kicks in, and the mind thinks, "Great, I'm winning." In reality, the player's initial deposit chisels down to nothing.

The main issue with gambling and penny slots, in particular, is that one's own personal bankroll is considerably smaller than the casinos'. Players might budget $200 for their trip to a particular casino when playing a penny slot that takes 250 coins per spin. However, they won't get nearly enough spins to make a dent in the long-odds of hitting a substantial jackpot before their bankroll is exhausted.

When one plays a 25-cent video poker, they'll have to play 5-coins to qualify for a 4000-coin royal flush. That's $1.25 per spin to win $1,000. On most penny slots that offer payoffs like bronze, silver, and gold, the big payoff is much harder to win than the 45,000-1 odds on a video poker game. Plus, the player will likely risk $2.50 to $5 per spin to win it.

Overall, players should enjoy their slot play, but keep in mind that gambling is gambling, especially on the penny slots. A handful of pennies is still one dollar per spin. If players are playing more per spin, they'll bust-out fairly often, and it can happen very quickly.