5 Lessons I Learned from Playing Penny Slots

by Jeff Harris
on March 15, 2018

Casino floors used to be filled with nickel and quarter slot machines. And casinos made healthy slots profits with these coin denominations for decades.

But nowadays, penny slot machines are the dominant game. These slot machines are enticing because they only require players to bet one cent on each payline.

Some might think of these games as mindless entertainment due to how you’re merely spinning the reels over and over. But I’ve actually learned some important lessons from playing penny slots.

Here are the 5 biggest lessons I learned from penny slot machines, including things I’ve applied to both gambling and real-life situations.

1. Always Understand What You’re Getting Into – Especially with Penny Slots

The name alone is what draws many players to penny slot machines. The term penny slots creates the idea that you can play for as little as one cent per spin.

But this isn’t the case at all, because most penny slots force you to play a fixed number of paylines. If you’re on a 50-line penny slot machine, then you’ll need to wager a minimum of $0.50 per turn.

This isn’t exactly what beginning gamblers have in mind when they sit down to a penny slots game. The same players are often shocked when their money quickly vanishes.

I myself fell for this the first time I played a penny slot machine. I automatically assumed that the game was going to be really cheap, but it drained my funds faster than a nickel or quarter machine.

I’m not saying that casinos are evil for putting these games on their floors. But you need to be aware of what you’re getting into with these games, just like anything else in life.

Here’s a dramatic comparison. You should always read through a contract before signing it, because failing to read a contract before signing could loop you into a bad deal. Likewise, you shouldn’t play a penny slot machine without first reading the help screen.

I realize that there’s more at stake when you sign a bad contract without reading through. But I want to stress that some penny slot machines are like bad contracts of the gambling world.

The first thing you should do when sitting down to one of these games is look at the help screen.

This explains how many lines you need to play along with minimum bets for specific bonus features and the jackpot.

For example, Aristocrat’s Game of Thrones slot machine requires that you make a 100-credit wager to active the Fire & Blood Bonus.

You can risk less than this on Game of Thrones. But most slots players don’t want to play a game where they don’t qualify for the best bonus features.

Some slot machines require that you play up to 300 credits, or $3 per spin for certain bonuses and/or the progressive jackpot, and $3 is hardly what players expect to wager on a penny slot machine.

Again, read the help screen to find out how much you need to bet to be eligible for every feature. This prevents you from being shocked when having to risk $1-$3 per spin to play.

The good news is that you can find cheaper penny slot machines in land-based casinos. Some of these games only require that you play 20 lines or less to qualify for everything.

2. Prepare Your Bankroll for the Worst

Continuing off the last point, many penny slots can be expensive. And this taught me both a life and gambling lesson in that you should always prepare for the worst.

Sometimes unexpected things happen that can rock you financially.

Nobody expects their heater to go out. But when it does, and the heater needs replaced, you’re staring at a $1,200 bill.

Hopefully no slot machine ever becomes this expensive for you. But on a smaller scale, you should always plan for the worst with slots.

This is especially the case with penny games that require playing 100-300 credits to unlock every feature. You’re risking between $1 and $3 per spin in this case.

Slot machines are already volatile, meaning they produce very unpredictable short-term results. Adding expensive bets on top of this volatility can create a bankroll nightmare.

How do you avoid this nightmare and plan for the worst? The best way is to do some simple bankroll calculations.

Here’s an example for a land-based penny slot machine.

  • The average land-based penny slots player loses 350 bets (units) per hour
  • You have a $500 bankroll
  • You choose a penny slot with 50 lines ($0.50 minimum bet)
  • 500 / 0.5 = 1,000 units
  • 1,000 / 350 = 2.86
  • You can expect your bankroll to last for 2.86 hours on this 50-line game

Keep in mind that this is only an average estimate, and you should have enough money to cover an even-worse scenario. As long as you only bring money to the casino that you’re fine with losing, then this won’t bother you.

3. Don’t Let Colorful Themes and Small Payouts Trick You

We all know that companies use clever marketing campaigns to get us to buy the products.

I accept this fact because businesses are out to increase their profit margins. And marketing is one of the best tools to make this happen.

But on the same note, I don’t want to be a slave to clever marketing and buy a bunch of things I don’t need.

Slot machines are similar in that gaming companies use colorful themes, 3D graphics, music, bonuses, and more to attract your attention. Slots makers know that their products will be placed in more casinos if they draw a large share of players.

I have no problem with people choosing slot machines based on the themes and surrounding entertainment. After all, the point of playing slots is to have fun.

But don’t get so sucked into the theme, graphics, and alluring music that you lose all sense of time and money. Instead, realize that these elements are designed to keep you playing longer than you initially planned for.

Another trick to avoid involves the numerous small payouts that modern slot machines offer.

Multiple studies have shown that a psychological effect kicks in when players receive small rewards after each spin. These frequent payouts convince players that they’re winning, even when they’re losing money overall.

Here’s an example to illustrate this phenomenon.

  • You’re playing 100 lines on a penny slot ($1 bet)
  • You win a $0.20 payout on one line
  • While the win is nice, you’ve technically lost $0.80 overall

Stepping back, anybody can logically see that this is a losing long-term proposition. And $0.20 payouts don’t make up for the loss of $0.80.

But it’s tougher to think in these terms when you’re engrossed in a game while making span after spin. This is another area where you need to be consciously aware of what game manufacturers are doing.

While it’s great to net lots of wins in each session, you also need to keep your overall winnings and bankroll in mind.

4. Playing Lots of Lines is Entertaining

I’ve already discussed how expensive penny slot machines can be. But one of the greatest benefits is that you can also win lots of payouts thanks to the numerous lines.

Every payline that’s in play gives you a chance to win. And while the odds of winning with each line aren’t great, it’s still fun knowing that you have 50 or more chances to win on each turn.

The same lesson can be applied to life in that people are sometimes willing to pay more for certain forms of entertainment.

One example is how you can race Ferraris and Lamborghinis around the SPEEDVEGAS track for anywhere between $50 and $80 per lap.

Driving go-karts is cheaper and also entertaining. But go-karts don’t give adults the same thrills as driving a Ferrari around a race track.

Playing penny slot machines with lots of lines doesn’t have to comparatively be so expensive either.

Instead, you can choose games with lower volatility that increase your hit frequency, or the odds of winning with each individual payline. Doing so boosts the chances that you’ll net frequent wins and better sustain your bankroll.

A small number of slot machines actually offer a volatility rating in the help screen. For example, you might see between 1 and 5 lightning bolts to indicate how much variance is involved.

Unfortunately, most penny slots don’t have volatility ratings. You have to look for specific factors in this case to determine the game’s volatility.

Here are 3 factors that can help you out.

  • Jackpot size
  • Number of large payouts
  • Number of small payouts

Low-volatility penny slots feature a smaller jackpot, fewer large payouts, and more small prizes than the average game.

A smaller jackpot combined with fewer large prizes means that a slot machine doesn’t need to make up for the top-heavy payout structure. In turn, the game can offer more small payouts on a frequent basis.

Of course, some players are only interested in playing for big jackpots and other prizes. This is perfectly fine if you don’t mind dealing with the chance that your bankroll will quickly disappear.

But if you want to extend your entertainment on a penny slot with 100 or more lines, then look for signs of low volatility.

5. Cheaper Penny Slots Alternatives Exist

Many of the lessons that I’ve learned regarding penny slots came in land-based casinos. But one more lesson I learned comes from the world of online penny slots.

When people can’t afford a specific item or form of entertainment, they seek out companies that can provide them for a cheaper rate.

Not everybody can purchase expensive Gucci or Chanel clothing. But almost everybody can afford clothes at Walmart or on Amazon.com.

And you can look at online penny slots as the Amazon or Walmart of the gambling world.

I’m not saying that the value from online penny slot machines comes entirely from how cheap they are. In fact, a great deal of people play these games just because they’re more convenient than going to the casino.

But it should also be noted that internet penny slots are perfect for anybody who finds land-based slot machines to be too expensive.

Some online penny slots truly embody the name, because the minimum bet is $0.01 (one cent on a single line). This is what many gamblers have in mind when they first hear the words penny slots.

Other games require you to play between 20-50 fixed paylines. While this is expensive for some players, it’s still cheaper than what’s seen in land-based casinos.

I personally like playing online slots that allow you to adjust both the number of lines and coin size.

On these games, I usually play anywhere from 20-30 lines at a penny apiece.

Also note that many online penny slot machines see you qualify for bonuses and the jackpot no matter how much you wager. This is good for anybody who cringes at being forced to play 100-300 lines for the features.

That said, check out online casinos if you don’t like the prospect of spending $0.50 or more on the average penny slot machine.

Conclusion

The main lesson worth noting about penny slot machines is that they’re not what the name implies. As long as you understand this fact going in, you’ll be perfectly fine with these games.

You should note that penny slots in land-based casinos have fixed payline amounts.

Brick-and-mortar casinos have more expenses to pay than online casinos. Therefore, they need to win back a greater rate from slot machine players.

Remember that casinos are businesses like anything else. And their goal is to earn enough money to make profits. That said, requiring 50+ pay lines and using entertaining themes to keep people playing doesn’t make them corrupt.

On the other hand, you want to know this all right away. By knowing this info, you’ll avoid having to learn the same lessons that I did through penny slot machines.

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