Headshot of freelance writer and author Phillip J. Boucher

Phillip J. Boucher 


Slot Machine FAQ's: Myths, Misconceptions, and Urban Legends


Q: Can you explain how a slot machine works in the simplest way possible?

A: A slot machine generates a series of random numbers. It looks that series up on a pre-defined table. If it matches, it pays, if it doesn't match, it doesn't pay. The end.

Q: Are there really such things as hot and cold or loose and tight machines?

A: Absolutely not. An EGM's (Slot Machine's) payout is determined by odds and probability only. If an EGM is hitting more often than not, some myths consider this a hot machine. These terms are from the old days when slot machines were purely mechanical devices and "tight" and "loose" were use to describe the way the reels were set up, so loose wheels spun more freely. "Hot" and "cold" refer to the myth that if the machine is paying out a lot, then the machine is in a "hot" cycle. If it is not paying, it is considered to be in a "cold" cycle. Also, if the coins coming out the machine are warm, the machine is hot and will hit a jackpot. If they are cold, the machine is cold and won't pay. Seems some player "discovered" this "secret" when he noticed that he had more winning payouts on a machine when the coins were warm. Pure coincidence and the result of an overheating hopper motor warming the coins. Whether a machine pays out or not is ONLY dependent on the results of the Random Number Generator.

Q: I've heard a lot about how one should look for machines with higher payback percentages because they payout more. Is this true?

A: Yes and no. Payback (the amount of money that is paid back to players) and Hold (the amount of money kept by the casino) percentages are simply accounting formulas used by gaming venues and regulatory jurisdictions to keep track of revenue. Percentages mean nothing to a player, as these are very long term figures calculated over ten million plays of the machine. Percentage is so misunderstood that even some people in the gaming industry believe this myth as well. Some people think that if they put in one hundred dollars on a ninety percent payback machine, they will get ninety dollars back. Not so. They may not get back anything at all. Cumulatively, the amount of money paid out to tens of thousands of players will be close to the calculated payback percentage, but for each individual player, percentage means nothing. There are many venues that take advantage of this myth and advertise having "99% machines!" They may truly have at least one machine with a payback of ninety-nine percent, but even if you happen to play it, you will not notice any difference between it and an eighty-five percent payback machine. This is an example of a venue using myth, misconception, and urban legend as a marketing gimmick, further perpetuating the myth.

Q: I always play the machines on the ends of the banks because they payout more and I know casinos put the better paying machines on the ends, right?

A: Some casinos may put higher percentage machines on the ends of banks for marketing purposes, either because they are naive, or they are purposefully doing it and subtlety advertising it as a marketing gimmick. However, the reason that it looks like end machines pay more often is related to human nature. Most people like to play end machines because it means there is only one person sitting on their other side. One side is open and therefore it is more comfortable to play the machine. Since more people play end machines, more end machines seem to win more often.

Q: I've noticed that the casino I play in does not have as many jackpots going off as they did a few months ago. What are they doing?

A: Since game outcomes are random, nobody knows when a jackpot is going to hit. So there may be more or less jackpots going off all the time and you just happen to notice the times when they don't. Another reason could be a marketing gimmick. What players call jackpots, we in the industry call handpays. A handpay occurs when the machine locks up, the lights flash and the music plays, signalling a large win by the player. In most cases, the wins are paid by hand by a slot attendant. It makes the player feel that they have "beaten" the machine and is visual marketing tool to other players. Handpay limits are an option operators can set according to the desires of the casino and/or regulating body. Handpay limits can be set at any dollar or credit amount. If set higher to the top award amount, the machine will only lockup when that combination is hit. If set lower, more winning combinations will lock up the machine. So the lower the handpay lockup limit is set, the more often the machine will lockup on lower win amounts. The odds and probability of the machine have not be changed at all. A simple limit setting can make it look like there are more or less jackpots. In actuality, there aren't.

Q: I've heard that if I play by 1) pulling the handle instead of pressing the spin button, 2) playing one or two coins instead of maximum, 3) waiting ten seconds between putting in my coins or bills and pressing the button, I will win more often and might even win the jackpot. Is this true or am I wrong?

A: You are wrong. Electronic Gaming Machines are purely random in when they hit a winning combination. It makes absolutely no difference how you play the machine whatsoever. When you spin, the machine simply stops the reels at randomly generated positions, determines how many credits you've played, and looks up on a table to see if you've won and what it should pay you. The handle is not connected to the reels at all. It is simply an aesthetic feature leftover from the old mechanical machines. A simple ratchet and bumper make it seem that the handle is spinning the reels. In reality, the handle is connected to the spin switch, and is, in fact, just a big switch itself.

Q: Do casinos set up the machines to pay at particular times of the day or week? I know that when I go to our local casino, there are more jackpots on Tuesday mornings and Thursday evenings than any other time.

A: Machines can not be set to hit jackpots at any preset time or date. Every single spin has a random outcome every single time. You may notice more handpays going off because that is what you are looking for. Maybe you visit the casino more often on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Maybe it's simply more busy during these times and more people are playing the machines.

Q: Why does my friend win all the time but I never do?

A: Winning is an odd thing in life and you have to chalk it up to the belief of "luck". Some people are just more lucky than others. Whether someone is winning or losing when playing EGMs is really only a determination of that person's luck, not any relation to the actual machine.

Q: I know for sure that they set the machine up to not pay out after: 1) a technician has worked on it; 2) a slot attendant has filled it up; 3) it's won a jackpot; 4) they've collected the coins or bills. So I don't play a machine when any of these happen. I should always move to another one, right?

A: How do you know this? Did you read it somewhere? Was it in a book, on TV, or did someone tell you? Think about it. If you really know this to be fact, you would never play a machine. I've seen three jackpots hit back-to-back several times and I know of machines that have not hit a jackpot yet. Not one of the above scenarios has anything to do with the machine paying out. Each machine generates random numbers for the reel positions and this random number generator (RNG) is not affected by ANYTHING or ANYONE at all. The gaming chips and cards are sealed. Nobody can change or "set up" the machine. Each outcome of a play is totally random.

Q: I've read many books on the secrets of slot machines and how to beat them. These guys are experts, they've been playing slots for years and they know exactly how they work. What is your comment on that?

A: First of all, the only secret to EGMs is, if you want to beat them, don't play them. The odds and probability of winning even one credit are against you. That's how casinos make money and stay in business. Secondly, look at the authors of these books. They are players, as you've said. They have not designed EGMs. They have not installed, set up, maintained, or repaired EGMs. So would you really consider them experts? It's the same as saying that a person who drives a car every day but has never looked under the hood is an expert at mechanical troubleshooting and repair over a trained and experienced mechanic. Watching medical shows on television does not a doctor make, and playing EGMs does not a slot machine expert make.

Q: I've seen ads for devices, methods, and systems that can beat the slots and make you win. Do these things really work?

A: No. First of all any device that is even offered as a way of cheating a machine is illegal and not only won't it work for you but will get you arrested when caught with it. As for these methods and systems, if they really worked, then the people offering them for sale would be multi-billionaires and would be giving away their secrets for free. Well none of them are rich from playing EGMs, and all of them are charging money to give you the information. Maybe that is how they are getting rich.

Q: Can you elaborate on the tax implications of slots that you talk about in your book?

A: Governments license casinos and other venues to allow them to have slot machines, video slots, video poker, and video lottery terminals. They charge licensing fees for this privilege. Plus many also get a percentage of an EGM's take. So EGMs are a cash-cow for the government and operate as voluntary tax machines. For example, a regulating body may get 20% of a machine's income. So with every dollar you put into a machine, twenty cents goes right to the government. So do you see why governments love gambling and gaming? It really is a way of getting voluntary taxes! 

Q: You also touch on the addictive aspect of slot machines, something other writes avoid with a passion. Why do you do so? And why don't they?

A: Because it is a reality. People have lost their homes, jobs, family, and lives because of EGM addiction. Families have been destroyed, both figuratively and literally. Obviously I'm not anti-gambling. Gambling is good if common sense is involved. But with all the myths, misconceptions, and urban legends out there about slots, people who believe them can become very addicted. I've seen people spend $10,000 to win a $1000 jackpot because they feel that the machine owes them but  they also need that high from "beating" the machine. It's really sad but it happens all the time. You can't beat the machine. But it can beat you. Nobody who writes a slot machine book wants to talk about the negative aspects of slot machines, or tell the truth. Negative aspects and the truth are not what people are looking for and is not what sells books. They want to know how to win, so the books are written and published as such. For me, if I can at least get one person to think, "Hey, he's right. Maybe I am addicted," then I have done what I have set out to do. Educate. My book is truthful and controversial. And I don't care how the critics want to spin it.

Q: In your book you talk about the regulating that the government does on casinos. If the government or state is getting money from licensing and taxes, but is "regulating" the industry, isn't that like the criminal being in charge of the jail?

A: Yes, it may seem like the regulating body is regulating itself in a roundabout way, but in actuality, it isn't. The regulator does have a vested interest in maintaining a tax and licence income for itself. However, since the regulator can't afford to be the subject of lawsuits or bad publicity, they also make sure that any venue they licence runs the place in 100% honesty and integrity, and abides by all rules and regulations implemented by the regulating body. 

Q: Sometimes I can play a machine for hours and it rarely gives me any wins, especially if I play a few thousand dollars. Why don't casinos make the machines give you some wins or bonuses every now and then to keep you interested?

A: Outcomes on gaming machines are random, and that is why they are gambling devices. If they were designed to pay at certain intervals or with other such outcomes, they would no longer be classified as gambling devices. If you look on the machine, in any brochure or other literature, or on gaming venue and regulator websites, nowhere will you find anything saying that you are guaranteed to win, regardless of how much money you spend. The ONLY thing an Electronic Gaming Machine gives you, is a fair chance at winning. That's it. A fair chance. That winning chance might be very low, with odds stacked greatly against you, but you do get that chance. That's all a gaming venue is obligated to provide, and that's all you can expect, whether you put in a penny, or play off five thousand dollars in credits.

Entire contents 1998 - 2018  Phillip J. Boucher

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