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Debunking slot machine myths

John Grochowski

John Grochowski

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Updated: October 9, 2012 2:20PM

Some slot machine myths have faded into obscurity because of technology and players getting used to technology.

Nobody worries about whether a machine will go cold if it senses hot coins fresh from the hopper, since hardly any games use coins anymore. And players have gotten used to rewards systems — I don’t remember the last time I was asked if using your card brought lower paybacks on the games.

But some myths and misconceptions about the slots persist, decade in and decade out. Let’s look at a few that I’ve been asked more than once recently:

♦ Do casinos set machines to pay more jackpots when there’s a big crowd, so lots of people can see?

Game programming is no different whether the crowds are sparse or the casino is packed. There are more jackpots paid in big crowds, but that’s just because more people are playing. For any individual player, the chances of hitting a jackpot are the same in a packed house as they are when nobody else is playing.

♦ After a jackpot, don’t slot machines have to go cold for a game to hit its programmed percentage?

Nope. The machine keeps 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. Programmers don’t tell a machine it has to pay out a certain percentage. They set the odds of the game so that repeated play will lead naturally to that percentage.

♦ Don’t random number generators on the slots really generate two numbers, then pick one? That’s not random if when it generates a winner and a loser, it can still pick the loser.

That’s called a “secondary decision,” and it’s not legal in commercial casinos in the United States. Early computerized slots manufactured by Universal selected an outcome from a pool of all possible winning outcomes, along with a weighted number of losers. If it was a winner, that specific result was shown on the reels. If it was a loser, then a secondary decision was made to show what losing combination to show on the reels. Nothing in that program was cheating players or changing the odds. Winning combinations were not rejected in favor of losers. Nonetheless, Nevada banned secondary decisions. Other gaming jurisdictions followed suit.

John Grochowski is a local free-lance writer.

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