Just like any other casino game, there are a lot of myths and theories about how slot machines operate, and just as many theories about the actual odds of playing the game. It is commonly said that slot machines are one of the worst bets in the casino, but is that necessarily true, and even if it is, just how true is it?
The Random Number Generator
Before examining the odds, it is important to know how the modern slot machines work. When the player pulls the handle (or presses the button), a computer program in the machine chooses either 3 or 5 random numbers (depending on whether you are playing a 3-reel or 5-reel game). These numbers are mapped to a certain position on each reel, and the machine stops the reel at precisely that position. Once all the reels stop, their current layout is observed, and payout (if any) is awarded based on the icons showing.
A random number generator is exactly what it sounds like: a computer program designed to output a random number whenever asked. These are unpredictable by design, and so for purposes of slot machines, foolproof. That also means that the reels spinning and landing is all for show: the result, and how much you win, is instantly determined as soon as you press the button.
So what are the odds?
The answer to that all-important question is: no one knows. In most casino games, it can be mathematically determined what the odds are of getting a certain hand or rolling a certain combination of dice. But slot machines are based on computer programs, and the average player cannot know what the odds are of any given icon showing up, making it impossible to know the odds for any given machine without knowing the program running it (or getting a close approximation by playing the game many, many times and taking fastidious notes!).
Complicating the situation even more is the fact that every single slot machine can have a different program governing how it will spin. Any data gleaned about the operation of one machine might not apply to even the machine right next to it, and almost certainly will not to the slot machine in the casino across the street.
That said, there are still steps you can take to improve your experience and maximize your winnings. In general, the flashier and fancier the slot machine, the worse the overall odds: while still not the wisest choice in the casino, if you do want to maximize your chances, stick to the simpler-looking machines.
Gravitate toward machines with a higher denomination. For example, it is better to play just one line on a five-cent game than five lines on a one-cent game. If there is any kind of skill feature on the slot machine, you should usually follow the advice the game gives you. And if you are playing in a casino, be sure to use a player card. Since slots make the casino so much money, they are also the best-comped players in the building. While you never exactly make a profit on a comp, it can make the experience a lot more fun if the casino knows who you are.
Trent is a Gaming Enthusiast from Sydney, Australia. He says that slot machines are great for a bit of fun but you should always remember to gamble responsibly. Trent likes to play slots, without the risk of losing real money, at slots-free.com