by John Grochowski

Bonus events are the main attraction on modern video slots, regardless of whether they take the form of pick’em screens, free spins, wheel spins or any of the variations that spring from designers’ imaginations. They give the games the entertainment value that keeps us playing even when the wins are slow to hit.

There’s a dollar-and-cents value to bonus events, too. If you don’t get your share of bonuses, winning sessions are hard to come by.

That last thing any player wants to do is to diminish their chances of going to a bonus.

How could you diminish your chances of a random event? By failing to cover all the paylines on games that require bonus symbols to land on an active payline. If the trigger symbols land on paylines you haven’t activated, then it’s no bonus for you.

Pick’em bonus rounds help add to the overall payback percentage on slot machines

That scenario is off the table on most new slots. On the majority of modern games, you can’t affect bonus frequency. Most new games are what are known in the casino industry as “forced bet” machines. If there are 40 paylines, there’s a 40-credit minimum bet. All paylines are activated and you’re always eligible for bonuses.

Even if there’s not a forced bet, you’re bonus-eligible all the time on many games where bonus triggers are scatter symbols. It may take three special symbols to launch a bonus, but they can be scattered anywhere on the screen. They don’t have to line up on the same payline at all, active or not.

The trouble comes when you can choose the number of paylines AND all trigger symbols must land on the same active payline to launch a bonus. If you choose to bet on fewer than the maximum paylines, you risk missing out on bonus rounds.

That’s important from both payback percentage and speed of play aspects.

Bonus rounds offer slot players the chance to score extra big wins

Let’s look at payback percentage first.

The percentage of your return that comes from bonus events varies from game to game and manufacturer to manufacturer. As a guide, we can use information that came from an exec a slot manufacturer gave in describing his company’s lineup of new games for 2017.

He said one-third of the overall payback on the games came during bonus events. On a penny slot returning 90 percent to players, that means that of each dollar wagered, an average of 10 cents goes to the house, 60 cents is returned to players on regular spins, and 30 cents is returned to players on bonus events.

If you bet on all paylines, you’re playing a 90-percent return game. If you bet on only one payline, you’re playing something much closer to a 60-percent game. On a 15-line game, a one-credit bet means you’ll get to play an average of 1 of 15 bonus events, leading to an average payback percentage of 62 percent. If you play 14 of 15 lines, your average return rises to 88 percent.

Players who like extra volatility in their slot machines sometimes have asked if betting 15 coins on one payline will bring the same average as one coin on each of 15 lines, just with higher highs and lower lows. Actually, if bonus triggers must be on an active payline, concentrating your full bet on one line is a worst-case scenario with you getting a drastically reduced return.

The figures will be different on different games. Some put a somewhat lower share of the return on bonuses, while some concentrate even a greater share of payback into the special events. But regardless, if you reduce your chances of getting bonuses, you also reduce your payback percentage.

There’s a double whammy in that if you play fewer bonus rounds, you increase the amount of paid wagers per hour.

When you’re playing a bonus event, you’re accumulating credits without making additional bets.

Some slot machine bonus rounds require players to make pick’em choices from different symbols

Imagine you’re playing at a pace that would bring 600 spins per hour if there were no bonuses. That’s not difficult. On three-reel slots with no bonus events, a really dedicated player can spin the reels 800 to 1,000 times per hour. At 600 spins per hour, you have steady play, but a chance to take sips from your drink and stretch your arms once in a while.

Now imagine the game will average one bonus event per 60 spins, provided you’re eligible for bonuses. Duration of bonus events differs from game to game and event to event. A 10-free-spin event is over in about a minute. A successful run on a pick’em bonus such as Jackpot Party, where you keep picking as long as you avoid a party pooper, can go on for two minutes or more.

Let’s go for the short end and assume each bonus is about one minute long, plus an extra 15 to 20 seconds for the game to display that a bonus is about to take place before the event and display your winnings total after the event.

Now an average hour of our hypothetical game brings about 500 paid spins instead of 600.

Again, precise numbers differ with game and manufacturer, but the basics remain the same. If you don’t make yourself eligible for the bonus events, then you cost yourself money by playing more paid spins per hour as well as playing for a reduced payback percentage.

John Grochowski has been covering casinos and casino games for nearly 40 years. He is the author of six books
and his work appears in newspapers, magazines and websites around the world.

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