Smarter Gambling Understanding Comps

Using Your Free Play: Slots and Video Poker

Nickels royal flush on free play
Written by Joshua

One of the most common questions I see, and get asked, is around free play utilization. Players want to know the best way to utilize it.

I’ve previously advised to aim for cash conversion, because once free play has been played through once, the cash you end up with can be used to keep playing, register cash play, and earn points – that’s good for comp dollar earnings now, and offers layer.

But I realize that fits my goal, Other people have other goals. So I’m going to break out the options a bit differently, and cover the scenarios. This is in part because some players ask me if playing video poker is a better choice than slots. The reality is your choice of video poker, like slots, can have a major impact on the outcome.

There are generally a few factors to consider that will determine what decisions you should make, and these will be the same for both Slots and Video Poker.

1. How Much Free Play Do You Have?

You need to have enough free play to make things work, so if you only have $5 or $10, don’t stress too much about what you’re actually working with and just play it on something fun. When you begin to get into increments of $50, $100 or more, you may aim to be more strategic on your free play.

The amount of free play you have will determine what kinds of options you can ultimately take, such as if you should select one game or multiple games; whether you can play with one strategy or split it among multiple; etc.

2. What is Your Goal With the Freeplay?

On one extreme end, you have the goal of converting as much of the free play as you can with minimal risk. On the other extreme end is a swing for the fences approach where you try to get a massive win with your free play, but accepting the chances are higher that you may not get much, if anything, out of it.

Goal: Least Risky Way to Convert to Cash

With this goal, you may aim for a lower volatility game, or a lower bet level that allows more spins. For the purposes of this conversation let’s say you have $100 in free play. One avenue would be to aim for more spins at a lower bet, such as 100 $1 spins or 50 $2 spins.

100 spins is going to improve the possibility of a big win or bonus, although the amount will be based on a $1 bet. Even 50 spins gives you a good number of tries to make something happen.

Similarly, you could choose a lower volatility game, which gives you more payouts less often. Playing a game like Quick Spin, where wheel spins trigger on average every 56 wagers, may give more action and better chances for converting the cash.

Goal: A Chance at Greatness, but Willing to Lose it All

For the latter goal, heading to high limit and taking some spins at the $1 denomination on a $3 or $5 game can lead to a swing for the fences moment – you could burn through it fast or hit a handpay. If your risk appetite allows for it, it can be fun, and if you’re treating the free play like a bonus to your bankroll as opposed to being a core part of your bankroll, you can do it on the casino’s dime.

Similarly, you can pick a higher volatility game, such as Dancing Drums or Buffalo Gold, and hope for a massive payout. But combining the two approaches (high limit and high volatility) may mean 10 spins tops on a game that needs more than that to get anywhere. It also can be not fun to burn through it all in a few seconds. So make sure you evaluate your goal accordingly.

3. Slots or Video Poker?

Some players prefer to play Video Poker over slots for their free play, and that’s understandable – the element of skill, plus the tendency for Video Poker to have a higher overall payback, can seem attractive. Just keep in mind the same decisions in question 2 apply for Video Poker.

On the bet side, a single line, 5 credit quarters machine is $1.25 – 80 chances if you use the $100 free play on a single machine. At 50 cent denomination, it’s $2.50 a hand, or 40 tries. And at $1 level, it’s $5 a hand, or 20 tries.

There’s multi-hand machines that let you do 3 or 5 hands, many times at lower denominations than quarters, and that can spread the risk out further.

Similarly, game choice can have a lot to do with volatility. Jacks or Better and Deuces Wilds are on the lower volatility side, while Triple Double Bonus is on the other extreme end. Some specialty games, like Ultimate X, Super Times Pay/Double Super Times Pay and Hot Roll, increase the wager and bring in multipliers, adding volatility to the base games.

4. All in One Machine or Spread Out?

If you have enough free play, you can choose to meter it out over multiple machines, although that would be possible only if you don’t wager so highly that a few spins will burn through it all. You might decide to put half in a lower volatility machine and half in a higher one, for instance.

You can also choose to go different paths for different sessions, and vary it up so you don’t have the same experience each time with your free play.

5. Are You Coming Back?

For this last one, I bring back in my point from the previous article about comps. If you are not ever visiting this casino again, or aren’t soon enough that comps will reflect in your decision making, going for the big win at higher risk may be easier to select.

But if you’re coming back, remember that casinos expect your money from free play to generate a bit of cash gambling. If you burn through it and have nothing to show for it, your cash bankroll will have to do a bit of extra work to make up for the free play.

So while it may be tempting to do $20 spins with $100 of free play, You should based on average theo on slots generate something like $1,000 in wagers off that $100 on average (of which only $100 will be during the actual free play session, leaving $900 in cash wagers). A swing for the fences attempt could yield $0 in cash play if you don’t convert any to cash, so you could hobble your offers if you swing for the fences, or be selling your comps a bit short.

Hopefully this helps you as a player think about how you convert your free play. Since I moved to doing more low volatility video poker, and generating some additional cash play, I’ve seen my offers improve, which just means more free play to work with on the next visit. I’ve even made $200 off of $35 in free play once thanks to a well timed royal flush on nickels.

Remember the casino math, and good luck!

About the author


My name is Joshua, and I’m a slot enthusiast who works in tech as a marketer by day, and dabbles in casinos periodically during off-times. Know Your Slots will reflect my interests in understanding the various ways you can play slots, travel, casino promotions and how you can get the most out of your casino visits.


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