Here are a few basics:
- Slots machine results are as random as humans can program a computer to be.
- Odds of the game are set so the house will have an edge
- Except in rare cases, slot machines are not games of strategy
The objective of this chapter is to introduce you to how slot machine odds work and what that means to your chance to win.
How many possible outcomes?
Slot machine odds work in a similar fashion to the roulette example, except there are many more possibilities on the slots. There are thousands, and sometimes millions, of reel combinations. There also is an open field for game designers to assign how much each winning combination pays. The number of winning combinations and the payoffs per winner work together to determine a game’s odds.
- On early three-reel slots with 10 symbols per reel, there were 1,000 possible combinations (10 x 10 x 10).
- If blank spaces between lines are used as stops, the number of combinations increases to 20x20x20, or 8,000.
- With bigger reels holding 20 symbols and 20 spaces, combinations increase to 40x40x40, or 64,000.
The change to virtual reels enabled programmers to make the reels to behave as if they had any number of stops. With 100 stops on each of three reels, there are 1 million combinations. The Megabucks three-reel slot that paid the world record jackpot of more than $39 million has about 50 million combinations. Most modern video slots have five video reels can be as long as the gamemaker needs them to be. With 100 symbols on each of five reels, there are 10 billion combinations.
IN SAMPLE GAME:
- Each of three reels has 10 symbols. Each reel has one 7 – that’s the top jackpot symbol.
- Each reel also has two bars, three cherries and four watermelons.
- There are 1,000 possible three-reel combinations – 10 symbols times 10 symbols times 10 symbols.
- Only one combination – or 1 x 1 x 1 – will be three 7s.
- Eight combinations will be three bars, 27 will be three cherries and 64 will be three watermelons.
- 900 of the 1,000 combinations mix different symbols.
If the game paid at true odds, then the payoffs would be set up so that each 1,000 coins wagered would bring 1,000 coins in payoffs. One way to do that would be to have payoffs of 170 coins on three 7s, 30 on three bars, 10 on three cherries and 5 on three watermelons. But the casino must have an edge, or it couldn’t pay the bills and offer the game. So instead it pays 160 on three 7s, 25 on three bars, 8 on three cherries and 4 on three watermelons. Multiplied by the frequency of wins, those payoffs total 832 coins. By paying less than the true odds of the game, the machine has a payback percentage of 83.2 percent, or a little less than today’s 1-cent games.
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
We can’t see the random numbers being generated, and it’s those numbers that really determine whether we win. In fact, there’s a list of things we can and can’t see that are important to our chance of winning.
- We can’t see the odds of the game.
- We can’t tell if one machine is higher paying than another.
- We can see a machine’s pay table, and that gives us a clue to volatility.
- We can see what kinds of bonuses are offered, and that also is a volatility clue.
Casinos don’t post payback percentages on individual games, and there’s no way for a player to calculate the odds since all the random number details are regarded as proprietary and not revealed. Even on different machines with the same game, we don’t know if the paybacks are the same. Game manufacturers make several versions of the same game available to casino operators, and each version has its own payback percentage. Two machines can look identical, but have different payback percentages.
However, a machine with a large top jackpot gives back less on smaller wins than a game with a smaller top prize, and that means the big jackpot games usually are more volatile. That’s not always the case – the big jackpot can be rare enough that the game still has a normal percentage of lower payoffs, but it’s a starting point.
In addition, games with free spin bonuses are more volatile than games with pick’em bonuses. Volatility matters in choosing what you want out of a game. Are you the type of player who wants to maximize chances at a really big win and are willing to accept that fast, bankroll-eating losses are part o f the game? Then you want a high-volatility game.
Would you rather have a game that gives frequent small wins and extends your playing time, but rarely pays big? Then you want a low-volatility game. But regardless of whether the game you choose has high volatility, low volatility or something in between, you can be sure the house has taken an edge with payouts that are less than the true odds of winning your bet.
If you’re going to play such games anyway, there’s no harm and some gain in delaying your play until the jackpot exceeds a targeted amount. However, profits are not guaranteed.
- Knowing the average size of the jackpot does not tell you the break-even point.
- There is no guarantee that you’ll be the one to hit the jackpot.
- Waiting for the jackpot to be a certain size does not increase your chances of winning the jackpot.
Let’s expand on that a little. Imagine a game where the jackpot usually hits at about $2.500. Unbeknown to you, the jackpot has to reach $5,000 before the game’s return reaches 100 percent. That means even if you start playing only when the jackpot is $2,500 or more, you still are playing a game on which the house has an edge. Waiting does ensure that when you do hit the jackpot, your average payout will be higher than if you started playing at the base level.
So if you’re jackpot hunting, good luck, but be aware there are pitfalls as well as big rewards.
SKILL-BASED BONUS EVENTS
Chapter 5, BONUS EVENTS, will deal more extensively with skill-based events. For now, understand that even though fully skill-based gaming has not yet launched in Nevada, there are games with skill-based bonuses. Among those marketed in recent years are IGT’s Centipede, where you play a version of the old arcade game in your bonus event, and GTECH’s Zuma, based on the popular online game.
Though your skill makes a difference in these games, they are not beatable slots. Even if you’re a Centipede grand master, the house still has an edge. With some variation by jurisdiction, a maximum of 4 percent of a game’s overall payout can be based on skill, and the house edge is high enough that getting the full 4 percent will not take you into profitable territory.