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What are the chances of a jackpot at the slots?

3 June 2013

By Alan Krigman

Question: What are the chances of hitting a jackpot on a reel-type slot machine?

Answer: There's no single answer to this question. Modern reel-type slots are controlled by computers. They can be programmed so the chances of jackpots are just about anything. And machines that look the same don't necessarily offer identical chances.

However, you can get a reasonable idea of your chances by making two assumptions. First, suppose each window of the machine has one jackpot position. Second, imagine each window has an equal likelihood of displaying any of 32 positions.

If these assumptions were strictly true, you could find the exact probability of a jackpot by multiplying 32 by itself as many times as there are reels on the machine. Even if the assumptions are only approximate, this will give you a good ballpark estimate of the odds against the lollapalooza on every pull.

In case you don't have a pencil and paper or a calculator handy, I'll do the arithmetic for you. On three reelers, 32 x 32 x 32 is 32,768; your chances would therefore be one out of 32,768. Multiply by 32 again for four reelers, and your chances become one out of 1,048,576. Multiply by another 32 for five reelers; now your chances are one out of 33,554,432. Care to try a six-reeler? Your chances drop to less than one out of a billion. And, if the jackpot on one of these configurations is extremely high, you can be reasonably sure there are more than 32 possible stopping positions for the chances will be much smaller than those just calculated.
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 were focused on those interested in gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.