Slot Machine Myths
Last update: March, 2018.
Slot machines are simple: the reels stop randomly, and the payback of the machine (e.g., 95%) comes from the number of symbols and the payout for each combination. I know this because I've programmed slot machines professionally, I have PAR sheets from slots that others have programmed, and I worked for the Wizard of Odds for years, and he's programmed a gazillion slot machines. I have a page which explains in detail about how slot machines work.
Unfortunately, there's a veritable ton of B.S. floating around
about how you can supposedly improve your odds, even though in
reality you can't. There are a few reasons why that B.S.
- It's no fun to think that you're completely helpless to change your odds, so people invent weird theories and then cling to them tenaciously.
- Writers on other websites promulgate their own B.S., because they want to appear authoritative, even though they pulled their "facts" straight out of their ass.
- Other writers dutifully repeat the B.S. they read elsewhere, simply assuming it's true, without bothering to verify it.
Amazingly, people with no actual knowledge of how slots work
will write to me and insist that I'm wrong, despite the fact
that they have zero experience, while I've programmed real slot
machines for hire. But I guess if some people believe (for
example) that Hillary Clinton was running a secret pedophile ring in
the basement of a pizza shop, believing some of the ridiculous B.S.
about slots isn't a stretch at all.
They don't. The odds are the same on every spin.
Sometimes, this myth arises from a misunderstanding of a machine's payback percentage. Let's say a machine is programmed to pay back 95% of the money put in. The misunderstanding is that if the machine has been recently paying back more than 100% (especially if a jackpot was hit), then it'll have to tighten up to less than 95% to achieve a 95% average.
In reality, every spin is completely random. It doesn't matter whether the machine has been running hot or cold, it doesn't try to compensate for that. Let's say you're flipping a coin and you get three heads in a row. Does that mean your coin will suddenly get tight with the heads and looser with tails so it can average the same number of heads and tails? Of course not. The coin can't control what it's gonna land on, it's purely random. The same is true of the slot machine: every spin is random.
Sometimes the myth comes from the idea that a slot will be loose when you first start playing it, to entice you into playing it, then as you continue to play it tightens up, to bleed you dry. Again, that doesn't happen. If your slot got tighter as you played it, that was just bad luck, not some nefarious psychological programming.
MYTH: Jackpots are more likely when they haven't hit for a long time
Jackpots don't become more likely to hit over time. The thinking goes that if it's been a long time since a machine hit a jackpot, the chances of it hitting become greater. In reality, because every spin is random, a jackpot is just as likely on a machine that hasn't hit for a year as it is on one that hit five minutes ago.
Conversely, players might avoid a machine that recently hit a jackpot, thinking that it's less likely to hit again soon. But the odds of hitting the jackpot don't change just because one was hit recently.
MYTH: Casinos constantly tinker with the odds
The thinking here is that casinos tighten the slots when more people are playing (like on the weekends) and loosen them during the week. There's no evidence for this, and there's certainly no point. However tight the casinos supposedly made the slots on the weekend, they could set the machines to the same tightness during the week, and people would play them anyway, because slots are so volatile that you can't feel whether the odds have been changed. So that's what they actually do: they set each machine to a level and it uses that level 24/7.
When Michael Shackleford did his infamous slot survey (decoding the paybacks on actual machines at every Vegas casino), he didn't notice any difference in paybacks on weekends vs. weekdays.
It used to be impossible for casinos to tinker with the slots
remotely even if they wanted to. Due to recent changes in the
law, they're now able to, but they'd be more likely to raise the
minimum denomination on weekends than to tinker with the odds.
Also, Nevada law says they can't screw with the odds while you're
playing, the machine has to be inactive for at least four minutes
before a change, and when the change is made the screen has to
display a message that the machine is being serviced.
Remember that we can figure the payback of a video poker machine by looking at its paytable, and tellingly, you don't see the casinos constantly changing the VP paytables. Now, if you did find a casino changing its VP paytables, it would be a fair assumption that they were changing their slot paybacks as well.
Finally, let's put this in perspective: When the Wizard did his survey of nickel slots, the payback range for casinos over the entire city was 87% to 93%. So, first, the very best slots weren't close to what I'd consider "loose". Second, that range was pretty tight. We're not talking 80% to 99% here. So if casinos were constantly screwing with the odds, we'd still expect the odds to fall within that range, meaning that your results wouldn't change very much.
MYTH: Certain areas of the casino have looser slots, like near the doors.
Frank Scoblete's 1994 book Break the One-Armed Bandits said that casinos place higher-playing slots in certain places, such as the ends of the aisles instead of in the middle. He based this on an interview with a single casino slot machine manager. That might have been true at the particular casino Scoblete visited decades ago (and it might not have been), but that's not the case today. Independent research by the Wizard of Odds confirmed that either all machines are set to the same payback level or placement is random. And a casino slot machine technician confirms that the casino doesn't put higher-paying slots in certain areas.
A cottage industry has sprung up reselling the information from Break the One-Armed Bandits. All over the Internet you can buy the "secrets" for finding out where the casinos put the higher-paying slots. But it's no secret, and it's not accurate anyway.
Lots of people still insist that higher-paying slots are located in certain areas of the casino, but not a single one of them has offered any evidence to back their assertion. And the evidence that is available suggests the exact opposite.
MYTH: The odds change depending on whether I have my player's card inserted.
They don't. The RNG (the random number generator) and the card system are totally separate. And they're required to be, by law.
MYTH: You should always play the maximum number of coins per line, because doing so gives you the best odds.
This is just a recipe for losing more money. If you're playing a machine with a huge progressive jackpot (like Wheel of Fortune or Megabucks), then by all means play max coin, because it's the only way you can win the jackpot. But for machines with more modest jackpots, it's usually better to play just a single coin.
First, the slightly better payback you get from betting max coin is just that: slight. In one version of Red White & Blue, it's a mere 0.3%.
Second, in most cases, that tiny difference comes exclusively from the top jackpot. If you don't actually hit the top jackpot (and you probably won't), then there's usually NO difference between the single-coin and max coin payback. And if you DO hit the top jackpot, in your session you'll blow way past the theoretical payback of the machine, which ought to make you happy.
Finally by playing full coin, you'll simply lose more, because you're betting more.
So, in general, for the same amount per spin, it's better to
play a higher-denomination machine for a single credit than a
lower-denomination machine for max credits.
MYTH: Someone got a jackpot on a machine that I just stopped playing. Had I kept playing, I would have won!
This is one of the only myths I have any sympathy about,
because it sounds completely plausible. But it's still
just a myth. The thing is, the machine is constantly picking
random numbers even when nobody's playing the machine. In
between presses of the Spin button, it's still sitting there,
picking away. So, there's just about no chance that you would
have hit the Spin button at the exact microsecond that the other
person hit it, triggering the winning combination.
MYTH: Thing "x" changes my odds.
Nothing changes your odds. The results are simply random. I know that nobody wants to hear this, but it's still the truth. As a casino manager, which situation would you prefer: buying slot machines that are simply truly random, so there's no way for players to game them, or buying machines with some odds-changing secret and hoping and praying that nobody ever finds out? The answer should be obvious.
MYTH: I missed out on a big jackpot because I wasn't playing maximum coin. If I'd bet the max then I would have won big.
This is similar to an earlier myth. If you'd been playing maximum coin, then your earlier wins would have been bigger, which would take longer to ring up, so it's extremely unlikely that you would have pressed the Spin button at the exact same millisecond while playing max coin as you did for not playing max coin.
MYTH: If you get a bunch of people to play a bank of slots then someone will get a jackpot, because they're all on the same circuit.
This is one of the more bizarre ones, but its believer relayed it to me downtown. Well, good luck with that.
Play slots online
I suggest you play something other than slots because the slot odds are so bad. You could also play online with fake money, because then it doesn't matter if you lose. A good casino for free-play is Bovada, since it requires no download and no registration—one click and you're in. You can play with real money too, though I hope you won't (or at least won't bet more than you can comfortably afford to lose).
All my slot machine articles
- Slot machine basics. How much it costs to play, how much you can win, expected loss, why they're a bad bet, why they're popular, how you can limit your losses, speed of play
- How to play slot machines
- Slot returns. How much they pay back.
- The Randomness Principle. Slots don't continually get looser and tighter as they're played. They don't have to.
- How they work. Explains the randomness principle, and runs through the math to show how a game returns a particular payback percentage. There's a companion page on Par sheets.
- Slot Machine Myths
- Slot Machine B.S. Wrong info that's published elsewhere.
- Strategies. Tips for increasing your chances of winning, and saving money.
- Slot Jackpots. Odds of hitting the jackpot, progressive jackpots, and other jackpot topics.
- Skill-Based Slots. The scoop on the new games in which your results aren't entirely determined by chance.
- Slot Machine malfunctions. How and why slot machines screw up, causing players to think they've won the jackpot when they really haven't.
- Slot Machine Simulator. I programmed an exact replica of the Blazing 7s slot (odds-wise). Click it to play thousands of spins in one second and see how you do.
- List of good Bovada slots. I spent a full day surveying Bovada's voluminous offerings and extracted only the few with nice, modern graphics and mobile-compatibility.