This article was written by ThePOGG.
When you play Blackjack, most of the payouts are pretty easy to understand. In most cases, if you win you get your bet back and the same again. Roulette offers some higher odd bets, but again it is usually pretty straightforward. The only complication is when more than one of your bets wins. Likewise with Video Poker – you can only have a single winning combination and the payouts are neatly listed in the paytable. Slot games however can be a mystery at times. With so many paylines – which you can win on simultaneously - and so many different possible winning combinations – all of which payout at different levels – unpicking how your win is calculated can be tough at times.
Figuring out how a win is calculated can be a real headache. And this can lead many players to conclude that online slots are rigged, which then results in complaints being submitted to this service. To try and help players address these issues by themselves, we are going to provide a quick guide on slot payouts below.
The first thing to understand about slot games is that they have come a very long way since the first one payline games (we have a whole article dedicated to the History of Slots) that first started to appear in the late 1800s. It is now absolutely normal for games to offer multiple ways to win on every spin. The most common format is the use of paylines.
Paylines indicate where on the grid matching symbols have to land to result in a win. Below you can see the paytable for the ever-popular Starburst showing the 10 lines on the grid where wins can occur in this game:
It is important to note that for most games, winning combinations have to start at the left side of the grid and follow the payline to the right continuously. So – for example – it would not be sufficient for 3 matching symbols to land anywhere on a payline. They would have to be 3 consecutive matching symbols starting from the left side of the reels and moving along one of the paylines.
You should always be able to find the paylines in the paytable of the game.
Above we discussed the most basic elements of understanding slot payouts. However, slot games are very varied in nature, so varied in fact that we could not possibly cover all of the different formats in any single article. There are some common variations on the themes discussed above that we can go through though.
Some games break from the norm of paying combinations from left to right and allow winning combinations both left to right and right to left. Starburst is a great example of this!
Scatter symbols are symbols that do not require a payline. Receiving scatter symbols in any position on the grid can trigger a win depending on the number of scatter symbols required.
Wild symbols are symbols that can be counted as whichever symbol in the paytable most helps the player (in most cases excluding Scatter symbols or symbols that trigger bonus features).
Some games have moved away from the traditional paylines that are described above and instead simply look for matching symbols anywhere on consecutive reels starting from the left side of the screen.
The next thing you need to know is how much a winning combination pays. For this information, we again need to look at the paytable of the game. There are two basic ways that paytables will express how much is paid out from a winning combination – in coins or in credits. Generally, the manner in which games will express the payouts – whether via coins or credits – will be standard across a software provider, meaning that all games released by a given developer will tend to use the same method of expression.
We will give some examples below.
Below you will see a screenshot from the hugely successful Immortal Romance:
Immortal Romance, alongside other games released by Microgaming, tells players how much they win in credits. So, for example, if you are playing and you receive 4 of the male character, you would win 1.00 credits. The big advantage to using credits to tell you how much you win is that the figures in the paytable change as you change your bet size. If you bet more, the figures will move up accordingly to ensure you always know specifically what you win for which combination.
Below you can see the paytable for Starburst:
NetEnt slot games use the less intuitive coin-based payout system. With the coin-based system, the values in the paytable never change. Your bet is based on a coin value that you select. You can see this at the bottom, towards the right or the screen:
So, if we look at the paytable:
We can see that 5 of the ‘Bar’ symbol pays 250 coins. To work out how much this is in money, we multiply our coin value by the number of coins being wagered, so 0.20 x 250 = 50 credits.
However, there’s another complication, specifically the following:
On any spin you can bet different numbers of coins. This can be seen at the bottom of the screen towards the left (it’s called ‘level’ when playing NetEnt games):
As the paytable tells us the payout for 1 coin, if you wager more than one coin per spin you will need to factor this into your calculations by multiplying by the total number of coins you wagered. For example, if your coin size was 0.20 and you were wagering at level 8 (8 coins) and you received a winning combination of four 7 symbols, the sum would be 0.20 x 8 x 60 = 96 credits.
It is easy to work out what the total win is when there is only one winning combination. Let’s take a look at a more complex example:
As the above screenshot shows, I was playing at 0.20 credits, with 10 coins wagered per spin. Before going further, it should be noted that this spin was the last in a combination of 3 free spins, so the total win shown on the game is for all three spins. We are going to calculate the win just for the final spin. It should also be noted that when playing Starburst wins pay in both directions and the Star symbol covering reel 3 in the above screenshot is Wild.
We will break down the win one payline at a time:
Line 1 : We have 3 Red Crystals from left to right. So the win on payline 1 is 0.20 x 10 x 7 = 14 credits.
Line 2 : We have 4 Red Crystals from left to right. So the win on payline 2 is 0.20 x 10 x 15 = 30 credits.
Line 3 : We have 4 Purple Crystals from right to left. So the win on payline 3 is 0.20 x 10 x 10 = 20 credits.
Line 4 : We have 3 Red Crystals from left to right. So the win on payline 4 is 0.20 x 10 x 7 = 14 credits.
Line 5 : We have 3 Red Crystals from left to right and 3 Purple crystals from right to left but only the highest win is paid. So the 3 Red Crystals is the winning combination. The win on payline 5 is 0.20 x 10 x 7 = 14 credits.
Line 6 : We have 4 Red Crystals from left to right. So the win on payline 2 is 0.20 x 10 x 15 = 30 credits.
Line 7 : We have 4 Purple Crystals from right to left. So the win on payline 2 is 0.20 x 10 x 10 = 20 credits.
Line 8 : No wins here.
Line 9 : We have 4 Red Crystals from left to right. So the win on payline 2 is 0.20 x 10 x 15 = 30 credits.
Line 10 : We have 4 Red Crystals from left to right. So the win on payline 2 is 0.20 x 10 x 15 = 30 credits.
So the total win is 14+30+20+14+14+30+20+0+30+30 = 202 credits.
The credit-based system is clearly far easier for players to understand, but coin-based systems are also widespread, so you should be aware of them.
Another payout system that it is useful for players to be aware of is the Progressive Jackpot system.
As the name suggests, a Progressive Jackpot game has a jackpot payout that ‘progresses’. Unlike the payouts on other games, or indeed the lower payouts on Progressive Jackpot games, the Progressive Jackpot gets steadily higher with each bet placed on the game until a player wins the jackpot payout.
The system works as follows: The Progressive Jackpot starts at a ‘seed’ value that is determined by the game provider. For each bet that is placed on the game, a small percentage of the wager is set aside and added to the Progressive Jackpot. When a player wins the jackpot, the payout is confirmed and the Progressive Jackpot is reset to the seed value.
An example of the rules relating to Progressive Jackpot games can be seen in the below screenshot of NetEnt’s Hall of Gods:
Some negative practices have been deployed by operators when it comes to Progressive Jackpots. Many operators will employ a maximum withdrawal limit. As much as gambling is entertainment for players and the games are weighted in the operator’s favour, the operator is gambling as well. If the player wins a significant sum, the operator needs to ensure that they will be able to payout. This is where withdrawal limits allow an operator to control their cashflow and actually help protect players.
The blunt truth is that there are a large number of gambling operators that are insufficiently funded to be able to pay out any possible win immediately. If a high roller - a genuine whale who can win or lose millions without it being a significant issue - signs-up and plays, as much as most gambling operators want this type of player, they are also very capable of wiping the operator out. Or at least seriously impacting the liquid cash the operator has to pay players. If the operator were to try and pay this player out immediately - and remember that it is very likely in the operator's best interests to keep a player of this nature happy - this would detrimentally impact the operator's ability to pay other players. By capping the amount any one player can withdraw at a time, the operator ensures that they can always afford to pay all players. In this way, as frustrating as they can be when you are the winner, withdrawal caps actually protect players.
However, applying withdrawal limits to Progressive Jackpot winnings is a totally different matter. While withdrawal limits generally protect players by ensuring that the operator is not wiped out by a big winner, the operator does not pay a Progressive Jackpot win. Progressive Jackpots are made up of the jackpot contributions that are taken off of each wager placed by players playing the game. These jackpot contributions should be set aside and ring-fenced, specifically so that when the jackpot is won it can be paid immediately. That being the case, paying a Progressive Jackpot when it is hit does not in any way impact the operator's financial liquidity. Yet you still see withdrawal limits being applied to Progressive Jackpots.
Why do operators do withhold paying out Progressive Jackpot wins if it does not make any difference to them financially. They do this because it can make a difference to them financially. If the operator can frustrate the player into playing with and losing back a significant portion of the Progressive Jackpot win, this is pure profit for the operator. By delaying payout of these wins, and leaving the funds playable in the players account this is exactly what the operator is hoping to do.
This is a predatory practice that we are genuinely surprised more regulators have not cracked down on yet. We have even seen some groups build into their terms and conditions that they will forego the withdrawal limits if the player will agree to give up a percentage of the win (in this instance half). This is financial hostage-taking at its lowest with the operator simply exploiting its power over the player.
Consideration should be given to the difference between the payouts (as described above) and the Return to Player (RTP) of a game. The payouts stipulate the amount that any winning combination will return if received. The RTP of a game is different. It defines the cost that the game charges all players on average to play. We have published a very detailed article about RTP figures for players who want to learn more – Online Slots RTP Explained.
We would strongly recommend that players know the RTP of any game they are considering playing.
Players should also be aware that the ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ categorisation of games, or showing short-term ‘real’ RTP figures do not offer any insight into the likelihood of receiving a payout playing a game. These categorisations are intended to reinforce the faulty belief that previous outcomes impact future events. This is called the Gambler’s Fallacy.
Finally, another piece of information that can help players understand how slots games are likely to payout is called “volatility”.
Before going further it should be noted that far from all software developers include information on volatility, so this is not universally available, but where it is it can help players understand the type of game they are playing.
The volatility – which would be more commonly known as variance within mathematical fields – is used to describe how big the balance fluctuations are likely to be when playing any specific game. It tells you if a game is likely to payout small wins frequently (low volatility) or have rare big wins alongside long periods of losses (high volatility).
To put this in context with other games, Blackjack, which tends to be mostly even money bets, would be considered low volatility. It is unlikely you will win a life-changing sum of money playing Blackjack. Video Poker – with its high payouts for a Royal Flush – is a lot higher volatility than Blackjack. Lotteries, with their big jackpot payouts that are extremely rare, would be considered very high volatility. Very few big winners and lots and lots of small losers.
When thought about in this way volatility can help players select a game that they are going to be comfortable playing. If you really want to chase that life-changing jackpot, and don’t mind if your bankroll gets depleted quickly in the process, high volatility games might be for you. If however you are looking to stretch the most playing time out of the money you have, you may be better choosing low volatility games.
There are two further considerations that any player should keep in mind when considering volatility. The first is that comparative to other casino games, almost all slots game would fall into a ‘high volatility’ category. The ratings being given to slots games are given in comparison to other slots games. It is very unlikely that you will ever encounter a slots game with a volatility similar to Baccarat or Blackjack. So you should keep in mind that while the game may be listed as ‘low volatility’ the swings are still likely to be significantly bigger than playing other types of casino games.
Second, there is no currently accepted standard for volatility ratings across the industry. This means that each software provider is giving their own categorization of what is a low, mid or high volatility game and that what one software provider considers a mid-level volatility game may be high volatility to another software provider. That being the case you should be aware that the volatility ratings you see are only comparable to other games produced by the same software provider.
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