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We expose some famous Slot Myths

  • Published date04 May 2023  
  • AuthorJohn Grochowski

Practically since Charles Fey invented the Liberty Bell -- the first three-reel slot machine in the 1890s, there have been myths about the slots as players try to fathom how they work.

Some old myths have become outdated. One example: Some players used to think you'd get low payoffs with warm coins because a machine would sense you were replaying coins from payoffs heated by a slot's internal workings. It was always incorrect, but is a non-issue when coins aren't even used at the games.

Mythology has evolved for the age of video and online slots. We can't see how slots arrive at results the way we can see cards dealt or dice rolled. The mind works to fill the gaps and doesn't always hit on correct explanations.

Let's do a little Myth Busting for misconceptions about video and online slots.

Video and online slots are just fixed computer programs:

Slot Software
All modern slots use computer software.

THE MYTH: Video and online slots are just computer programs, so they're more easily fixed to beat you than three-reel slots.

THE FACTS: All modern slots use computer software and have results determined by random number generators regardless of whether they have physical reels or are images on a screen.

The potential for "fixed" results is the same on reel slots as on those with screens. It's certainly possible to design shenanigans into software, but in well-regulated jurisdictions such as U.S. states and Canadian provinces, rules, regulations, licensing and software checks work to keep results random.

Random number generators don't fix results either for you or against you. All the RNGs do is generate numbers, and those numbers are mapped onto possible outcomes.

The result you see on the screen is random, or at least as random as it's possible for humans to program them to be. Past results don't influence future outcomes. The possibilities and the odds are the same on every spin.

A corollary to this myth is that some players believe the programming leads to lower payback percentages on video and online slots than on reel-spinning slots.

That is not the case. In live casinos, video and reel slots of the same coin denomination pay players about the same percentages. Online slots tend to have somewhat higher payback percentages than either reel or video slots in live casinos.

The notion that software targets video and online players for lower returns is a myth, plain and simple.

Slot games have a predictable return and are also random:

Slot Payback
There is nothing to keep your number from coming up two or three times in a row.

THE MYTH: That casinos and game makers can advertise payback percentages on slots shows they can't be random. How can a game have a predictable return and be random at the same time?

THE FACTS: Slot machines are random and have predictable payback percentages like table games.

Odds are set so average results lead to the expected return.

Imagine the situation at roulette. On an American double-zero wheel, the game is “programmed” with 38 possible results — 1 through 36 plus 0 and 00. The numbers come up randomly, and when you win on a single number, you’re paid at 35- 1 odds, a bit less than the true odds of 37-1. That gives the house an edge of 5.26 percent. That’s the same as saying a payback percentage of 94.74 percent.

There is nothing to keep your number from coming up two or three times in a row, and nothing that says it has to come up within several dozen spins or more. But given enough trials, the random results and the odds of the game will lead to something very close to roulette’s expected percentage.

Slots work the same way, except there are thousands of possibilities instead of 38. For regular play on the reels, randomly occurring numbers are programmed, each corresponding to a reel symbol. To make up an example, the programmer might write it so that every time the random number one shows up, the reel shows a jackpot symbol; with numbers two, three or four, it shows a seven, with numbers five through nine, a triple bar, and so on. The possibilities are programmed, but when they turn up is random, just as it’s random when a 17 turns up in roulette.

After a big win, the machine doesn’t go into makeup mode. Over a long period of time, normal results according to the odds of the game will yield a normal payback percentage, and your big win fades into statistical insignificance.

The slot programmer sets the possible outcomes, and the pay table gives you back a little less than the true odds of hitting the winners.

The slot programmer sets the possible outcomes, and the pay table gives you back a little less than the true odds of hitting the winners.

Results are random, but over hundreds of thousands of plays they will lead to something very close to the programmed payback percentage.

Wheel-spinning bonuses are fixed so you get only low payouts:

Wheel of fortune Slot
Bonus wheels have random number generators.

THE MYTH: On games with wheel-spinning bonuses, such as Wheel of Fortune, wheels are fixed so you get only low payouts.

THE FACTS: Bonus wheels have random number generators just like slot reels. It is possible to win any of the amounts on the wheel, including the largest jackpots. A reader once even emailed to say she had won the largest Wheel of Fortune prize twice in a row.

However, more random numbers are assigned to lower-paying spaces, so you will win small prizes more often than the top jackpots.

Pretend you’re a game designer, and you’re setting up a game with a wheel divided into 22 segments, ranging from a $20 payoff to $1,000.You don’t want to be paying out $1,000 once per 22 spins, so you program a virtual wheel with 1,000 numbers. You could map it so that every time the random number generator spits out number 1, the wheel stops on the $1,000 space. You could map four numbers that will make the wheel stop on the $500 space, and so on until you use 100 numbers to make it stop on a $20 space.

Now instead of paying out $1,000 once per 22 spins, your hypothetical game will pay the grand only once per 1,000 spins. And instead of paying $20 once per 22 spins, it’ll be one out of 10. The game is random, but it’s skewed toward smaller payoffs.

Just as with basic slot games, the results are random but possibilities are set to lead to an expected average outcome.

After a progressive jackpot, slot machines go "cold":

Progressive Jackpot
Odds of winning are the same on every spin regardless of past outcomes.

THE MYTH: After a progressive jackpot or a big bonus win, slot machines have to go cold for a game to hit its programmed percentage.

THE FACTS: Odds of winning are the same on every spin, regardless of past outcomes.

Slots keep paying the percentage determined by the normal odds of the game. Over time, big jackpots, hot streaks and cold streaks all will fade into statistical insignificance.

Imagine a game is programmed so normal odds lead to a 90 percent return. You bet $1, and get extraordinarily lucky with a $10,000 jackpot on your first play.

Does the machine have to go cold to make up that big payoff? No. If it pays its normal 90 percent over the next million plays, it will take in $1 million and pay out $900,000.Add in your $10,000 jackpot, and it’s paid out $910,000 in a million-and-one dollars worth of play. The overall payback percentage: 91 percent. Go another million spins down the road, and the overall return becomes 90.5 percent, and after another million it’s 90.3 percent.

Big jackpots are part of normal results. They happen, and as long as the game keeps paying in normal proportions it will come very close to its expected percentage.

The paybacks on pick-a-prize bonus rounds are fixed in advance:

Pick a Bonus Slot
The idea of fixed results may seem to make sense, but really, it's just a myth.

THE MYTH: The paybacks on pick-a-prize bonus rounds have to be fixed in advance or they couldn't program a payback percentage.

THE FACTS: Your choices count on most manufacturers’ bonus events. The programmer sets the possibilities, and just as on the base slot game, that determines the odds of the game.

The programmer doesn’t have to fix the value of the bonus event; the odds of the game will lead to an average return. That average can be included in the overall game probabilities to calculate an average payback percentage for the game.

In licensed casinos, every advertised prize must be available. After you've made your pick, if the screen shows prizes behind other choices, it tells you those paybacks were actually available. Your choice made the difference, for better or worse.

The idea of fixed results may seem to make sense, but really, it's just part of a mythology that grows out of slot players being unable to observe how the games are played out.

Players Can Recognize When The Slots Are Loose

Loose Slots
Is it possible for gamblers to figure out when the slots are loose?

THE MYTH: To put it in simple terms, players can easily tell when the hold percentage is higher for some casinos or slots and smaller for certain others. This is an important concept as casinos boast to have loose slots and several gamblers harbor ideas as to where to find the loosest slots. But is it possible for gamblers to figure out when the slots are loose?

THE FACTS: According to a 2012 academic study that was published in the UNLV’s Gaming Research & Review Journal, players cannot really discern between slots that have different hold percentages.

In yet another study done by the professors at UNLV’s William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration, close to 10,000 players online made wagers on two slot games that were quite identical to each other than the hold percentage.

This study measured the payback that the online players won to check if there was a marked difference in a number of series of various playing scenarios.

As the entire study was virtual and in fact taking place inside of a computer, it was as though each player tracked and recorded the results of spins instead of relying on their memory.

The study also revealed that most virtual players struggled to find a difference in the payback percentages in any combination of two game pairings.

According to Steve Walther, the senior director at Konami Gaming, there a several schools of thought with respect to hold percentage and the ability of the player to determine the hold in each individual session. Though he does not despite the findings of the study, he opines that the debate on this matter is yet to be resolved.

With games becoming more complex, the different types of winning combinations has also grown exponentially. Older games only had a fixed number of slots on the wheel and hence was easier. Now, to be able to feel the hold in a single session is a lot more difficult. Again, experts opine that this may be different for repeat gamblers.

Lucas and Singh, the professors added that gamblers can only consider the outcome of certain numner of single trips.

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Contributor John Grochowski

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John Grochowski has been one of the world's most prolific casino writers since launching a weekly Gaming column in the Chicago Sun-Times in 1994. He writes about all casino games, but is widely recognized as a top slot machine expert through his work in Strictly Slots magazine and his "Slot Machine Answer Book." John is a career journalist who spent 29 years on staff at the Sun-Times after stops in the Chicago suburbs and in Colorado Springs, CO. As a gambling writer, he has written both for players and for casino industry professionals in magazine and online articles that number in the thousands.

John has had six books on gambling published, including the four-book Casino Answer Book series. Personal note: In 2000, John made it to the hot seat opposite Regis Philbin and won $125,000 on ABC's "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"

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