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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Choose Slot Machines to Go for Broke or for a Modest Return

15 August 1994

Serious slot players usually have one of two goals. Some venture their whole stakes on the chance to strike it rich, viewing small profits as more grist for the greenback mill. The rest seek modest returns on money at risk, quitting when they can pocket a day's pay.

Random numbers

Certain machines are more appropriate for one type of player or the other. To see which is which, you should know that behind the glitz, slot machines are high-tech computers. Computers programmed to produce unpredictable, patternless gushes of random numbers. The value popping up at the instant you play seals your fate. A split second earlier or later, your number and destiny would differ.

The computer uses the numbers it generates to find corresponding payoffs. This is done with payback schedules giving ranges of random numbers and telling which return what. The schedules are "wired" into the machines, and can't be modified except by replacing parts. Sending a machine signals to override the random numbers or alter the payback schedule is technically feasible, but is illegal in most casino jurisdictions.

Symbols on the reels or screen are selected by the random numbers from a schedule like that used to find payouts, and serve purely as decoration. It's more interesting for players to see three pineapples and a kumquat than a computer screen displaying numbers akin to a list of lottery picks.

How they're used

Here's how it works for a hypothetical machine with a random number range from 0000 through 9999. Say one number is scheduled to pay out 1000 coins, four pay 500 coins each, ten pay 200, a hundred pay 40, and the remaining 9885 pay nothing. Over a long period, for every 10,000 coins played, the machine will pay out 9,000 coins (multiply 1x1000, 4x500, and so forth, then add the products). This configuration gives high payouts to few players. In the extreme, the payback schedule might return 9,000 coins for one number and none for the remaining 9,999 possibilities.

Smaller payouts to more players can be achieved with a machine that returns the same 90 percent of the "drop." For instance, the random number range could be 000 through 999, of which one returned 50 coins, five paid 20, ten paid 10, two hundred paid 2, two hundred fifty returned 1, and the remaining 534 were losers.

Because operations are embedded in the electronics, you can't positively distinguish machines with fewer/larger payouts from those having more/smaller returns. Still, some clues can point you toward slots most consistent with your gambling goals. If you're going for broke, look for more windows and "win" charts showing fewer payout combinations. If your goal is a modest profit, three-reelers with long "win" charts may be more suitable. Get another clue about a machine by test-playing twenty coins, one at a time. Machines most likely to give lots of players small profits will yield six or seven hits, none very large. Those more apt to bestow big bucks on the select few will have had no wins at all, or will put you over the top with one or two slammers.

Which is better? That's between you and your favorite psychiatry talk show host or personal 900-number psychic advisor. I can only explain why some machines pay off differently than others. It brings to mind the non-judgmental, politically-correct ode by Sumner A Ingmark, the one-arm bandit balladeer:

Some players drop coins in the slot
Determined that they'll win a lot,
While others think it's much more fun
To play a game of hit and run.
Though experts have debated long,
None have yet proved who's right or wrong.

Alan Krigman

Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.
Alan Krigman
Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.