I recently read an article where someone asked for advice on changing your bet size while playing slots. The idea was, when you get ahead, you raise your bets to try to hit a bigger win.
Over the years, I’ve also seen questions about betting more when you’re losing to try to make up for past losses when you hit a win.
These look like two different questions, but they’re actually the same question. And the answer should be the same to both questions.
In the article I just read, the answer was decent, but it didn’t cover the real reasons in enough depth. Anyone asking either of these questions doesn’t understand how slot machines work. They also don’t really understand how expected value and long term expectation works.
Slots and Expected Value
Every slot machine in existence, whether located in a casino or online, has a built in house edge. The house edge is how the casinos make money, and it’s impossible to legally overcome the house edge on a slot machine in total. What I mean by “in total” is that slot machines make money collectively.
A few players win more than they lose in the short term, and a few lucky players win a big enough progressive jackpot to come out ahead. But overall, the slot machine industry is wildly profitable.
Expected value is a term often used in gambling that is a way to express the value of a betting decision. It’s used most often in poker to determine the best way to play a hand in a certain situation. You can also use it in games like blackjack to determine the best way to play a hand.
In games like poker and blackjack, you can make strategy decisions based on expected value. Bets on slot machines also have an expected value, but they’re all negative. A negative expected value means that, on average, you’re going to lose money.
Here’s an example of expected value on a slot machine.
If a slot machine has a house edge of 5% and you bet $1 on every spin, the expected value is -.05 per spin. On an individual spin, you might lose your entire $1 or win something, but the expected value is the amount you expect to lose on average over thousands of spins.
Expanding this example, if you make 500 bets in an hour, you’re expected value is -$25. In other words, you can expect to lose $25 an hour playing this slot machine. Once again, this is an average, so in any single hour, you can lose more or win.
The house edge is the same whether you bet $1 or $100 per spin. It’s also the same if you lost the last three spins or won the last three spins. The house edge doesn’t change, so changing your bet sizes doesn’t help you win more often.
Slots Long Term Expectation
This is going to sound similar to what you learned in the last section because it’s closely related. The mistake many slots players make, like the ones asking the two questions in the opening section, is thinking past results in some way change future results.
But, if nothing you can do changes the house edge, how can you believe that you should raise your bets after a losing streak or after a winning streak?
The belief is that because the long term results must come very close to equaling the expected results that there must be a correction one way or another after a winning or losing streak. But the problem with this is that the house edge and expectation are based on a large number of outcomes.
Instead of it being based on 10 or 100 spins like many players act, it’s based on hundreds of thousands or millions of spins. Even if you win 10 spins in a row, it doesn’t change the odds of what’s going to happen on the next spin because the machines are based on such a large number of spins.
I’m trying to show you why without getting into complicated mathematical principles, but you can run the math on the effect of short streaks in large pools of results to prove what I’m saying is true.
The belief many players have about short term streaks is made worse when they guess correctly about the next result after a streak. This reinforces what they want to believe, even though the math shows it isn’t true.
If you win 10 spins in a row, what do you think is most likely to happen on the next spin? Some players say a loss, because the machine is due for a loss. Other players say a win, because the machine is hot. How can both opinions be true?
The fact is that neither opinion is true based on why they think they’re correct. The true chance of a win or loss is 100% based on how often the machine is programmed to produce a winning spin.
Is It Ever Correct to Alter Your Slots’ Bet Size?
When I play slots, I operate in what I call the “jackpot or bust” mode. I set aside a bankroll to chase a jackpot and keep playing until I either hit a jackpot or run out of money. Most of the time, I run out of money, but every once in a while, I get lucky and hit a small jackpot.
I know that, in the long run, I’m going to lose unless I hit a big slots jackpot. I’m okay with this, just like I’m okay with buying a lottery ticket chasing a big prize. The odds of winning are low, but I’m willing to risk a set amount for the chase.
I always bet the minimum amount on my chosen slot machine that allows me to qualify for a jackpot. I tend to look for machines that have a low bet threshold to unlock the jackpot, because I want to take as many spins as possible.
If you buy a lottery ticket, do you ever spend more money than the ticket costs? Do you give the store clerk $5 for a $3 ticket and not expect to get your $2 in change?
This is how I feel about betting more than I need to while playing slots. This is why I never bet more than the minimum to qualify for a jackpot while playing slots.
The question of changing your bet size while playing slots has two answers. The first answer is if you’re betting more than the minimum, then you should bet less. The second answer is that it doesn’t matter if you change the size of your bet for any other reason. As long as you understand that the more you bet the more you lose, you can do whatever you want. It’s your money, and you can play any way you like.
You’re welcome to change the size of your bet while playing slots any time you like. It doesn’t matter if you’re winning or losing, changing the size of your bet isn’t going to alter your chances to win. The only thing that matters is the house edge you’re working against and the average bet size of your wagers.
When you bet more after a win, you’re just going to lose more in the long run. When you bet more when you lose, you’re just going to lose more in the long run. The only way to lose less money playing slots in the long run is to bet less.
The best way to lose less playing slots is to stop playing. But that’s not much fun, and you’re never going to hit a jackpot if you don’t play. I don’t recommend that you stop playing. But use smart money management so your bankroll lasts as long as possible and you have the best chance to hit a jackpot before you run out of money.
The only way you can possibly come out ahead in the long run playing slots is to win a jackpot big enough to cover all of your previous losses. This doesn’t happen often. The best chance to do this is to make the minimum bet that unlocks the chance at the jackpot and hope for the best. Changing your bet size isn’t going to help in the long run.