Slot machines are the biggest money spinners at any casino – land-based or online. And by money spinner we mean they are the games that bring in the most money FOR the casino while every now and then paying out a reasonable to big win for players.
For anyone who has ever spent time on a slot machine or online slot game, the times you win are definitely a lot scarcer than the times you lose. You can spin that reel ten times, twenty times, without getting a single hit. Or, when you do hit a payline, the amount you win doesn’t make up for how much money you’ve put in.
So, are slot machines and online slot games rigged? Are casinos cheating us out of our cash?
Simply put: probably not.
Firstly, modern casinos do not have it in their power to cheat legitimate online slots games or physical slot machines. Modern slots are run by computer programmes and Random Number Generators that the casino has no control over.
Are the developers cheating?
Again, in general, no. If their games are known for cheating players, no one will play them and they will go out of business.
Secondly, legitimate casino, land-based and online, have to prove that they are offering players a fair chance. They have to prove, continuously, that they are honest and above board with their dealing and their games. And they are checked up on all the time.
This I where the ‘probably’ and the ‘in general’ come in. If you are gambling in real life or online, always, always, always, make sure you are playing with a licensed and registered partner.
Because there are shady operators out there who will try to cheat you. They will take some quick cash and disappear into the night not understanding that real casinos don’t need to cheat players – ever!
There really is no reason for a casino – land-based or online – to ever cheat the players. There’s a reason that land-based casinos are so huge and glam and filled with the trappings of luxury and opulence. There is a reason that entire cities have been built around casinos. There is a reason for the huge rise in online casinos.
Because gambling and games of chance are always weighted to the casino.
The house always wins!
It’s not about cheating, it’s about probability and mathematics. To understand how a slot machine works, and why it’s the biggest earner for casinos, you should understand probability first.
Probability is the mathematical likelihood of something happening. For example: If you flip a coin, it will either come down heads or tails. You have a 50% chance of heads and a 50% chance of tails. That means that you have a 50% probability of calling it right when you choose either heads or tails.
Probability is what makes gambling possible – and also risky.
Without the chance of winning – or losing – there would be no point to gambling. But every gambler knows that there must be a chance to win otherwise it’s just a waste of money. Betting someone that the sun won’t rise tomorrow is not a very intelligent bet – unless you live in the really far Northern reaches of the Arctic circle where apparently the sun sometimes DOESN’T rise for days! But even then, you’d have to be betting against someone who doesn’t know that there are days of darkness in the dead of winter.
Anyway, casinos and game developers have spent decades refining games like slots to ensure that the probability of a win is always there but it’s very heavily skewed to go the way of the casino.
Probability at its most basic is the number of desired outcomes divided by the total number of all outcomes.
We’ll use dice as an example.
A die has six sides, numbered from 1 to 6. Every time you roll the die there are six probable outcomes (1 or 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 or 6).
You want to roll a 2.
There are 6 possible outcomes, only one them is a 2.
You get a probability of 1/6.
If you want to see the probability of more than one outcome, say getting a 2 or a 4, you add the probabilities together.
The chances of getting a 2 are 1/6. The chances of a getting a 4 are 1/6. 1/6 + 1/6 = 2/6 or 1/3.
If you roll two dice and want to find the probability of getting a 2 on both, you multiply the probabilities.
A simple slot machine has 3 reels with 3 symbols on each reel. To hit a jackpot you have to line up 3 symbols, one on each reel.
1/3 X 1/3 X 1/3 = 1/9.
So, you only have a 1 in nine chance at lining up symbols. But keep in mind, this does not mean that every 9 spins means you will line up symbols at least once. Every time you spin the reels the probability is reset to 1 in 9.
Now add in the casino’s secret weapon: the payout.
Our symbols are a star, a bar and a car, line up 3 stars and get a 4 for 1 payout. Line up 3 bars and get a 3 for 1 payout. Line up 3 cars and get even money.
Probability of winning 4 coins is 1/9.
Probability of winning 3 coins is 1/9.
Probability of winning 1 coins is 1/9.
Probability of winning 0 coins is 6/9.
You put in 1 coin for every spin and you spin 9 times. You get every combination once.
You win: 4 coins + 3 coins + 1 coin. You get nothing for the other 6 spins. Your total? You bet 9 coins and win back 8.
This is the house edge. That 1 coin that you never win back. This is how casinos make money without having to cheat the slot machines:
They always have the edge.
In real terms and using online slots as an example.
When you go to a favoured or new online slots game, do you look at the RTP? The RTP (Return To Player) is the mathematical total amount of money the player can expect back after a prolonged period of play.
Your favourite slots game has an RTP of 98% which is on the average to high side. In real terms, and just like the probability example, this means that you will be getting R98 back for every R100 you spend over an extended period of time.
The casino will always be making R2 off you on that game.
This is how casinos make their money. Not through cheating, not through illegitimate practices, but by playing the numbers game. And they do it really well.
Because that’s the thrill. Every real and responsible gambler knows that the house always wins. Every gambler knows that odds are in the casino’s favour.
But then, of course, you could hit a bonus game, free spins and a progressive jackpot that changes your life. Lady Luck could look your way and you could be that one gambler, that one lucky player, who beats the odds, who laughs at probability and walks away with the win!
But what are the odds of that happening?