How Are Slot Machine Bonus Payouts Determined?

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Brian picking on the Thunder Drums predetermined bonus

What drives the overall value of a slot machine bonus? That’s the general concept of today’s question:

I have been getting pretty regular bonus wins but they always seem to be poor wins i.e 5 or 6x. This weekend my best bonus win was 12x. What decides the amount of the bonus win? Is it just as random as normal play?


The payouts of bonuses are decided by a few factors:

  • The distribution of money between the base game and features or bonuses. Games that are more bonus focused will put bigger wins in the bonus, while games that are more more focused on the base game will have less to collect in the bonus.
  • The frequency of a bonus. The harder a bonus is to hit, generally the more money that can be put into that bonus, since it doesn’t come around as often.
  • The type of bonus it is. Some bonuses are open ended while others, like a wheel spin or a progressive pick, can be finite and contained to a single award.

Bonuses also generally come in two flavors:

  • Predetermined: The amount you’ll win is decided at the start of the spin where you made your wager
  • Real-Time: Governed by the RNG in the case of free games or a wheel spin, or true pick based on which objects you pick on screen.

For all intents and purposes, it’s just as random as normal play, as whether it’s based on how the bonus shakes out in real time or when you press the button to win that predetermined bonus, it’s still based on randomness.

But the size of the bonus is oftentimes governed as much by the design of the game as it is the timing of getting that bonus. When you play older slots, the bonuses tend to be more frequent, but smaller. Newer games make it harder to get the bonus, but increase the potential when you do.

So if you’re playing a game that is delivering a lot of 5-15x bonuses, that may be just the way the game is designed – the average bonus outcome is designed to be lower for that particular machine. And if your preference is bigger bonuses, you might want to find a game that has harder to get bonuses, but when you do they’re more lucrative.

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