Hide Bonus Offers

Why Penny Slots Aren’t What They Appear to Be

By Randy Ray in Casino
| June 22, 2019 12:00 am PDT
Penny Slot Machines

Penny slot machines are the king of slots. After all, they draw more players than any other type of slot.

Gamblers’ reasons for playing these games vary. Some like chasing big jackpots on certain penny slot machines, while others are fooled by the name.

The latter crowd normally plays penny slots under the wrong assumption and doesn’t understand how they work.

The name indicates that these are cheap games. However, penny slot machines are anything but cheap for multiple reasons.

I’m going to discuss the problem with penny games and how you should actually approach them.

What Typically Happens on a Penny Slot Machine?

Again, many gamblers play penny slot machines under the assumption that they’re dealing with inexpensive games. What they don’t realize, though, is that these slots can take their money just as fast as any others.

A penny slot is named for the fact that it only charges you $0.01 per line. However, they usually require you to play a set number of lines.

Land-based casinos normally make you play anywhere from 50 to 300 lines per spin. You’re therefore wagering between $0.50 and $3 on each round.

Of course, you may not think this sounds so bad when considering that you have 50-300 chances to win. But herein lies another problem in that the lines have low odds of hitting.

Every penny slot differs in terms of the hit frequency per line. However, you can almost always guarantee that you have very low odds of winning on any given line.

Sometimes, you’ll spin the reels on a 300-line slot and wind up with nothing. You’ve gone zero for 300 in this particular spin.

Considering the low win frequency of the average penny game, many gamblers quickly burn through their bankroll on these slots.

Newer players may even think that they’ve been robbed when their funds quickly vanish. The same gamblers are very unlikely to sit down to a slot machine anytime in the near future.

Why Are Gamblers Fooled by Penny Slots?

Penny slot machines are perhaps the most deceptive gamble in the casino. They sound like bankroll-friendly games that allow you to enjoy hours’ worth of gambling.

In reality, they can be some of the most unforgiving games. This is why it’s good to know all the reasons why penny slots are misleading.

You Have No Idea How Often Each Line Is Programmed to Hit

I mentioned earlier how every line on a penny slot has low hit frequency. These games are programmed in this manner to make up for the larger payouts at the top.

Even still, many players are unaware of how low their odds of winning are with each line. They simply see that a game offers 50 or 100 lines and think that they’ll win something the majority of the time.

These gamblers might change their tune if they could actually see the hit frequency. Unfortunately, this information simply isn’t available in any game.

The Name Suggests a Cheap Slot

The very name “penny slot machine” creates the impression that these games are inexpensive. But the only cheap thing about them is the cost per line.

Brick-and-mortar casinos pay a lot of money for slot machines. They can’t allow gamblers to actually spin the reels for a single penny per round.

The name of these slots is accurate to some degree because you do only have to bet $0.01 on every line. However, you’ll find these games to be expensive when they have 100-300 lines.

Land-Based Casinos Don’t Offer RTP Figures

Return to player (RTP) determines how much a game is programmed to pay back over the long run. You can use this figure to pick out slot machines that give you a stronger chance of winning.

The problem with slots in land-based casinos, though, is that RTP isn’t available for individual games. This fact leaves you making vague guesses on payback based on coin denominations.

Many states release gaming reports that show the average payback for each coin denomination. Here’s an example from the Nevada Gaming Commission’s 2018 report.

  • Penny slots – 90.0% RTP (10.0% house edge)
  • Nickel slots – 94.39% RTP (5.61% house edge)
  • Quarter slots – 92.83% RTP (7.17% house edge)
  • Dollar slots – 93.61% RTP (6.39% house edge)
  • $5 slots – 94.46% RTP (5.54% house edge)
  • $25 slots – 95.14% RTP (4.86% house edge)
  • $100 slots – 93.80% RTP (6.20% house edge)
  • Megabucks – 86.88% RTP (13.12% house edge)
  • Multi denomination – 94.74% RTP (5.26% house edge)

While it’s helpful that you can see how much each coin denomination pays on average, you still have no idea on the RTP for any individual game.

If you’re playing a quarter slot machine, you merely have to assume that it offers 92.83% payback. It could, however, have even lower RTP.

The reason why developers of land-based slot machines don’t release payback figures is because casinos can order different RTP. Developers therefore can’t give you an exact payout percentage for their games.

What Can You Do to Make Your Bankroll Last Longer With Penny Slots?

I want to reiterate that penny slot machines aren’t cheap. You’ll spend just as much or more on these games as you would with low-stakes baccarat, blackjack, or roulette.

But that doesn’t mean you have to settle for the status quo and watch your bankroll quickly run out. You can instead take the following steps to make your funds last longer.

Know That Each Line Offers Low Odds of Winning

The first thing you want to do is thoroughly understand that you have low chances of winning on each penny slots spin. Don’t let the dozens or hundreds of lines fool you, because you’re not going to win on a frequent basis.

Any winnings that you earn through these games will be sporadic. You might lose lots of money before finally hitting a prize worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

The bigger prizes are the reason why penny slots have low hit frequency in the first place. They pay out less often in order to make up for the prizes at the top.

Set Up a Bankroll Management Plan

You should always have a bankroll management plan in place, regardless of if you’re playing slots or another game. But this process is especially important with penny slot machines, given how inconsistently they pay.

Bankroll management for slots isn’t a perfect science. You’re dealing with inexact variables with hit frequency and payback.

A good way to start this process is by estimating your hourly losses. Provided you don’t have any big payouts, you’ll often lose an average of 200 bets per hour.

Other factors to consider include your bankroll size and how long you wish to play. Here’s an example of using these aspects to determine how long your bankroll will theoretically last.

  • You have a $1,000 bankroll
  • Your average bet size is $0.25
  • You lose 200 bets ($50) per hour
  • 1,000 / 50 = 20
  • Your bankroll will theoretically last for 20 hours

You should remember that this is only a simple guideline on slots bankroll management, but performing these calculations at least gives you a ballpark figure.

Take Frequent Breaks

Slot machines are among the fastest games in the casino. Assuming you play at a consistent pace, you’ll spin the reels 500-700 times per hour.

This fast action keeps you locked into the games. It doesn’t help matters that slot machines are also designed to hold your attention, thanks to their exciting sound effects and engaging features.

You can break yourself out of a slots trance, though, by taking frequent breaks. These breaks accomplish two goals by slowing your play rate and making sure that you don’t become entranced with the game.

If you have trouble pulling yourself away from slot machines, try setting an alarm on your phone. This ringing will shock you back into reality and indicate that it’s time to take a break.

Play Online Slots

Internet slots commonly feature better RTP than land-based games. Online casinos don’t have as high of overhead costs as their brick-and-mortar counterparts, thus allowing them to offer higher payback.

Most online slots feature between 95% and 97% RTP. You can look forward to these high payout percentages regardless of if you’re betting one penny per line or $5.

Internet games are superior on two fronts.

  • They give you a stronger chance to win
  • You don’t have to bet big to achieve higher RTP

Also keep in mind that some online slots let you adjust your coin size and paylines. You can play as cheaply as $0.01 per spin (one line/$0.01 coin) on such games.

I don’t personally like playing just one line per turn. But it’s nice that some of the top online slots sites offer this option.

Don’t Fixate on Comps

The pursuit of comps can be a big motivator when playing slot machines. You may want to continue playing for hours to upgrade to the next-best reward.

Be forewarned, though, that any comps you earn aren’t worth anywhere nearly the theoretical losses you’ll face when going after them. In comparison to theoretical losses, many rewards are only worth pennies on the dollar.

Here’s an example.

  • You play a slot with a 7% house edge
  • The comp rate is 0.1%
  • You bet $2,000
  • 2,000 x 0.07 = $140 in theoretical losses
  • 2,000 x 0.001 = $2 in comps
  • 140 / 2 = 70
  • The theoretical losses are 70x higher than the rewards

You should, of course, take advantage of comps whenever you can. Brick-and-mortar casinos require you to actually sign up for their VIP program before you’re able to accumulate rewards. I suggest that you visit a casino’s website or their player’s desk to sign up and get started.

The overall point is that you shouldn’t ever overvalue rewards. Instead, simply play slots like normal and let comps come naturally.


Penny slot machines may sound harmless regarding how much you’ll end up betting. But they’re very misleading in this manner.

They usually require you to play a lot of lines, which increases the cost. It doesn’t help matters that each line has a very low hit frequency.

Taking all of this into account, you should never sit down to a penny slot under the assumption that you’re playing a cheap game. You instead want to take a more proactive approach that involves various aspects.

First off, you should realize that the chances of winning on each line are very low. Don’t expect to win frequently on penny slots, even when there are hundreds of available lines.

You also want to set up a bankroll management plan. Performing these calculations allows you to properly budget for your slots sessions.

Frequent breaks are another aspect that can help preserve your gambling funds. Breaks slow down your rate of play and get you away from a slot for a while.

You might also consider dedicating more time to online slots. Many of the best online casinos have hundreds of games to choose from. These games pay more on average than land-based machines and also cost less to play.

In summary, penny slot machines are still worthwhile games despite their costs. But you want to take the right precautions before playing them so that you don’t burn through too much money.



Back to top