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         This page was updated 10/06/08


Inside Slots

Part 1 - How Slot machines Work and Pay

These days, most all slot machines (mechanical and video) are controlled by internal computers. The result of each spin is determined by individual on-board computers within each slot machine.  

Let’s start with stops 

Using a typical, mechanical, three-reel machine as an example, each reel has “stops” on 22 symbols (cherries, bars, 7’s etc.); there are also 22 blank stops between the symbols. This makes a total of 44 stops for each reel. The computer circuitry controls motors that move the reels to one of these 44 stops. But the computer uses coding that gives it a table containing a 128-stop virtual reel. Example: stop 001=cherry, 002=blank, 003=double-bar, 004=cherry – and so on. 

Some newer slot machines have 256 and even 512 virtual stops.

How random is it? 

Very random, really - a random number generator chip (RNG) creates thousands of random 9-digit numbers every second. When you push the button (or pull the handle) you stop the RNG and it produces three 9-digit numbers (one for each reel). These numbers are then each divided by 128 and the remainder (which will be a number between 0 and 127) determines the stop to which the reel will be moved.

How ‘bout them odds? 

The odds are determined by how many cherries, bars and 7’s etc. are distributed among the 128 stops on the virtual reels. A tight machine may have only three or four stops for the coveted 7’s while a looser machine might have eight or nine.  

The casino can (by law) keep up to 25% of the money you put in the machine (75% payback to the player). This payback% is achieved over a long period of time (usually years). In a bank of six blazing 7‘s machines, the payback% might (probably will) be different for each one.

The average payback% for slot machines in the average casino is about 90%. 

Casinos often advertise their looser slots with “99% payback” signs. Beware and watch for the “up to” clause on those signs. If there is a bank of ten “up to 99% payback” machines, they are only required to have one of them set to 99%, the rest are probably dogs.  

But even if you knew the payback% of the various machines, you can still have a bad run. Remember, the payback% is for the life of the machine and your time on it is too short to see the difference.  

Can the casinos change the odds on my favorite machine? 

Casinos can change the odds on their slot machines, but not without the gaming commission coming to the casino and replacing the computer chip. The casino is charged a fee so they don’t do it often. The casinos have been known to move machines around (in the wee wee hours of the morning), often within the same bank of similar machines. So if you have a favorite machine, look for its machine# plaque and remember it.  

In the near future, casinos will have the ability to adjust the odds of each machine remotely (from an internal office). This new system is being tested at Harrah's Rincon in Southern California.       

What about the video slots? 

Video slots use the same computer technology as explained above but usually have entertaining bonus rounds and other fun elements.

Part 2 - Online Slots – How the Games Work

Online slots may be as popular as real casino slots due to their ease of use and potential for big payouts. If you like the idea of internet casino gaming, but aren’t sure what to play, slots online is a good place to start.

You can play stakes from as low as a few cents to as high as hundreds of dollars per virtual spin. There are a variety of different themed games with eye-catching symbols and fun bonus games (just like the video slot machines in the casinos). 

     Playing the maximum

Internet slots allows you to play one or multiple credits of the denomination you choose. In most cases, your best value comes from betting the max. If a machine allows you to play five coins at once, you generally should. There are a few reasons for this. For one, if the slot is a “progressive slot” (with a major jackpot for hitting a rare spin), you will only be eligible for it if you play the maximum bet. In addition, if it is a multi-reel machine where you get paid on multiple lines, you can only get paid on every line if you bet on every line. Often, you can play multiple credits per line. 

           Maximizing payback

The key to any live or online casino game is minimizing the house edge. The house edge represents the percentage of each dollar wagered that the casino will be paid, given enough time. The lower this edge, the better chance you have of winning or minimizing losses. With online slots, the house edge varies from game to game (see "How 'bout them odds?” above) 

      Online gaming in the USA

As of now, online gaming is not allowed in the good ol’ U S of A. But congress is working on it. If approved, internet gambling will yield millions of tax-dollars for the troubled US economy, so, write your representative and ask for it.




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