ShareThis Page

'Common knowledge' about slot machines often wrong

| Sunday, April 20, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Slot machines are the most popular form of casino gambling.

Here's a quick true-or-false quiz:

• The American Psychiatric Association recently declared that posting selfies is a mental disorder.

• Obamacare requires every participant to implant a microchip holding medical information and a link to the user's bank account.

• Oracle CEO Larry Ellison tops this year's Forbes list of “most punchable” CEOs, followed by BP's Bob Dudley, Amazon's Jeff Bezos and Rupert Murdoch of News Corp.

All are myths, the work of imaginative writers trying to be funny or make a point.

The danger is that they sound plausible enough that some people might take them as fact.

That sounds like a lot of the “common knowledge” about slot machines. Many gamblers, refusing to concede that machines are indeed machines, assign them superhuman powers to explain personal losing streaks and others' winning spins. Here are a few common slot myths:

Running hot or cold

It's a frequent question by players on the way to the casino floor: Are the machines hot today? Slots don't have cycles. With each spin, you have the same chance of hitting a jackpot, regardless of what the machine paid on the last spin or the last thousand spins. Each machine contains a random-number generator that constantly spews out combinations that determine the outcome of a spin. The instant you hit the spin button, the RNG locks in a combination that tells the machine whether to pay out. How the symbols line up and whether you advance to a bonus round are just entertainment for you.

That was my jackpot!

Some players wait for a big bettor to leave a machine after losing, figuring it's “due” to hit. Nope. While each machine is programmed to pay out a specific percentage of what's wagered, that's calculated for the lifetime of the slot, meaning millions of spins over years of use. What happens in an hour or two doesn't matter. Even if the newcomer hits a jackpot on the first spin after taking over the seat, the player who left can't legitimately claim “that should have been my jackpot.” The winning combination was set at the millisecond the second player pushed the button; even if the original gambler had stayed, it is highly unlikely he would have hit the button at the same instant.

The secret code

Some people swear casinos place loose machines on the aisles, while tight ones go near the restrooms. A gambling buddy used to insist that a meter sometimes visible underneath the reels revealed the machine's hit frequency. In general, players have no way of learning a machine's payout rate. The list of possible combinations and payouts is on a top-secret PARS (Paytable And Reels Strip) sheet, accessible to casino officials and regulators.

The Omniscient Machine

Some people say using a player's club card reduces the number of payoffs. Others swear the machine automatically pays less for free play than for cash. Those who refuse to use their player's cards throw good money after bad; not only are they playing against a high house advantage, they're refusing valuable comps. The points earn free play, free food, free drawings; in essence, you get back a portion of what you bet. Why give that up? The machine can't tell the difference between free-play credit and cash credits. Again, each spin is independent; you have the same chance of winning each time.

I never win

Never say never. You do win here and there, but most people put the winnings back into the machine. The occasional profitable visit gets overshadowed by a string of losses. Recognize that slots are a horrible bet; although big jackpots hit often enough to keep players hopeful, overall the house wins about 10 percent of all wagers. If slots are your gambling choice, play slowly to make your money last longer. You're better off learning games with a lower house edge, such as video poker or blackjack.

Mark Gruetze is administrative editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7838 or players@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.