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Guide to slots

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Slots are the most popular casino game today. The basic rules of this game have not changed since 1899, when Charles Fay created the first slot machine. The player bets and spins a set of reels with symbols on them. Each of these revolving reels locks into a random position. The player wins when the reels come to a stop at a position that allows a line to form with the same symbols. The rarer the symbols, the higher the win amount. The winning amount for hitting each of the combinations is set out in the paytable.


Today, the randomness of the reels that were mechanically stopped has been replaced by random numbers generated by a computer, although the principles remain the same. These principles of randomness are honoured by all licensed game providers. The randomness of slots has several very interesting consequences and it is important that all slot players are smart and understand them.


“The principles of randomness are honoured by all licensed game providers.”


Most online slots use drums to represent the outcome of each round. Although the drums are rendered by a computer, the mathematics of the game still has 3 to 5 sets of symbols (virtual drums) that are immobilised in random positions. So why mess with something that has worked well for years?


Modern online slots have many new features that wouldn’t be possible with mechanical reels. Expanding Wild symbols, scatter symbols, free rounds, bonus rounds and more.


There is one thing that all fair slot games have in common: the outcome of each round is based solely on a random number provided by a Random Number Generator (RNG). The random number generated by the RNG “tells” the reels when to stop and therefore decides the outcome of the game. This means that the same game with the same random number should always give the same result.


The larger the amount of your bets, (in general) the higher the RTP of your betting system. We assume that all other rules of the betting system remain the same.


The RNG generates a random number. The mathematical module of the game uses the random number to calculate the position at which the reels must stop. The game places the reels in the positions determined and calculates the result of the round. The result of the round is then presented to the player.

Your victory (or defeat) in each round is determined solely by your luck. The result is not influenced by your previous win/loss, other players’ win/loss or any predictable event. It all comes down to you and the electromagnetic noise in the RNG – simply pure play.


The outcome is not influenced by your previous wins/losses, nor the wins/losses of other players or any predictable event.


This reminds me that I should explain how RNGs work. Modern RNGs that are used in online casinos consist of dedicated hardware to generate random numbers from electromagnetic noise. Just like an old TV with no signal – lots of black and white dots. A black pixel is a 0, a white pixel is a 1. Take a picture of a small part of a TV screen, convert the pixels to 1 and 0, write them into a text file and you get a random number.


The RNG hardware generates thousands of random numbers per second. So on the one hand, it will change the result of the next round if you press the Spin button a second later. However, on the other hand, it has no possibility to predict whether the result will be better or worse as a function of time. Therefore, fair randomness remains.


How do casinos make money?

Now you may be asking yourself: if slots are not manipulated, how do casinos make money out of them?

The answer is simple: slot games are designed to pay out prizes that are lower than the players’ bets on a long-term perspective.


Imagine a simple game: give me $1 and toss a coin. If it comes up heads, I pay you $1.50. If it comes up tails, you lose. It’s pretty obvious that the odds are in my favour. In your case, you might win if you get lucky and only play a few rounds, but I have a clear advantage in the long run. The randomness of this game is fair, but the long term odds are not.

Slots are similar, though much more complicated. The mathematics of a slot are defined by:

set of symbols on the virtual reels

win amounts on the paytable.

bonus feature rules and odds

definitions of all bonus features

The combination of the mathematics of the game and the random numbers gives the casino an advantage in the long run. And, this is how casinos make money.


Now that I’ve explained how fair slots operate, it’s time to bust some of the most popular myths about slots.


Myth 1: “Slot machines have cycles of winning combinations. You can win by watching those cycles and waiting for a new winning cycle.”

This is a myth, as slots effectively work on the basis of fair random numbers. The casino advantage is concealed in the mathematics of the game, and there is absolutely no need to complicate the whole system with any kind of cycle.


In reality you can observe tides of luck and bad luck. However, such fact is just the result of natural randomness and such tides are absolutely unpredictable.


Myth 2: “Slots are programmed not to pay out after a big win and to pay out more when they are flush with cash.”

This is a myth that probably comes from the days of standalone slots, which paid out directly to the winning player. But that was once a much bigger myth than it is now. If you won more money than the slot could pay out, the casino staff would pay out the missing amount.


Modern slot machines are connected to a central server and all wins are paid out by the casino staff, so there is no need to keep the amount of money on a slot machine balanced. Random numbers work perfectly and this myth is unfounded.


Myths 3 and 4: “The feature that allows automatic play pays less than clicking the button to spin manually” and “Pulling the lever on one-handed bandit machines offers better odds than pressing the button to spin.”

None of these myths make sense to anyone who knows how online slots work. The mathematics of the game remain the same and the random numbers remain fair whether you use the auto play feature, the lever or the spin button.

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