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How Slot Machines Work
by Frank Scoblete
The industrial revolution of the late 1700s and early 25%0s saw machines displace man in the manufacturing of just about everything, except perhaps other human beings (but that’s happening now!). In 1811 in England, organized retaliatory groups of angry workers, both those who were employed and those who were unemployed, known as Luddites, went around smashing machines and decrying the fact that man was being replaced by soulless, heartless, inhuman, almost satanic devices. The jobs those workers performed are long gone, as are those workers. The machines that took their place, that outperformed them, have birthed a world that looks to machines not only to do physical labor but to answer some of the most profound questions of science.
Apocryphally, the slot revolution of the 1970s in America saw one poor worker who had just been let go at the Landmark in Las Vegas take a sledge hammer to a machine on the casino floor and scream: “You son of a bitch! You’re gonna kill all of us!” From our source (one of the most unreliable sources we have unfortunately), this dealer, or rather former dealer, got in two hefty whacks with the sledge hammer before he was carted off shrieking and foaming to Clark County jail. This poor dealer was worried that the machines were taking over the casino industry and indeed he was right. Today, fully two-thirds of the casinos’ profits are from the machines and in some areas of the country such as Tunica close to 90 percent of the hold is from the pulling of handles and the pressing of buttons.
Although human dealers have not as yet been replaced by machines (in fact there are more dealers today than ever before because of the explosion of casinos across America), the percentage of live gaming employees who deal directly with the games in the casinos has decreased in direct proportion to the increase in the number, scope and variety of machines. This change has even hit, well, the making of change. Thus, the women and men who cash bills for coin (the “change persons”) are being phased out by slot and video-poker machines that accept bills and make their own change. It makes you wonder if some casino Luddites might just be stockpiling sledge hammers.
And what has caused such consternation among the human casino workers? Why the very things which have lured more people into casinos than to live athletic events in the past decade -- those incredibly smart, incredibly charming, incredibly winning computer-driven slot machines.
The Luddites are dead and buried. Their factories are now places where men service machines who do the yeoman’s share of the work and create the royal share of the profit. So too in casinos. Slots are king. They are the mother-load of gold for the casinos. Even a superficial examination of the casino landscape will show this. For every billboard that extols a given table game or table-game option in the casinos, there are probably ten or more that extol the wonder of the machines.
Part Two: How Slot Machines Work by Frank Scoblete
An alien from another planet, if he/she/it were reading the ads in all the magazines and newspapers for casinos would think the following: Casinos are places where some famous humans sing or tell jokes or do magic or punch each other in the face and where all the rest of the nonfamous humans go to play with “loose” or “hot” or “high payback” machines with fanciful names. The alien, upon a close examination of the machines, would discover two very important facts. The first is that the machines are not really the lumbering, heavy pieces of equipment that at first they appear to be but rather, second, they are sophisticated, computer-controlled devices with programs that determine everything that will happen inside and outside them. While slot machines deal in chance, nothing inside the slots -- either physically or in terms of the programming -- has been left to chance. They are marvels of design and the casinos can take the execution of that design to the bank -- which of course they do.
Most slot players approach the machines with awe and respect for the potential gold mines contained therein. Yet, many slot players have no idea of how the machines work or, worse, they have strange conceptions based on idiosyncratic experiences and shared mythologies. Make no mistake about it, as graveyards and old houses in every town across America have myths and legends created about them, so too have the slot machines. When people don’t know the facts about a thing, they allow myths to make the explanations.
Today’s slot machines are programmed by computer to continually select a series of numbers at random, whether the machine is being played or not. The RNG or random-number generator (some writers call this the pseudo-random-number-generator) continually picks number series that correspond to the various symbols on the reels or to blank spaces. When a player puts in his or her coins and then either pulls the handle or presses the button, the computer spins the reels to tell the player which number series was “it” when that handle was pulled or that button was pushed.
Many players believe that the independent spinning of the reels is the selection principle. Sorry, no. In the old days the reels operated independently and spun until they stopped. In the old days, no one could predict where they would stop. Today, the reels will stop where the computer tells them to stop -- based on the number series that had been previously selected by the RNG for each reel. The reels have no independent action. They are being perfectly coordinated by the RNG and the computer. In fact, the spinning of the reels is merely a show, a diversion, an entertainment, as the reels could just as easily put up the symbols that have been selected immediately. Who knows but that in the future as slot players become more attuned to the true nature of their machines, the spinning of the reels will become a thing of the past. Instead, you will put in your coin, press that button, and instead of waiting a few seconds for reels to spin, you will be told pronto whether you won or lost. The time saved by eliminating the spinning reels will reap the casinos riches far surpassing anything they have today.
Since the modern slot machine is programmed to select number series at random, no amount of finessing of the handle can change what has been decided. Nor are there built-in win/loss cycles as some players believe. In any series of random events -- and the selection of the number series by the RNG is a random event -- all manner of bizarre patterns will develop. There will be machines so hot that will pay out for hours on end. Other machines will seem to be so cold that they could substitute for ice-makers. Still others will seem to hit a few, cool off a little, hit a few, cool off a little and so on. Yet, when you look at the performance of these machines in a given year, you’ll note that most come in at - or extremely close to - their programming.
And how are they programmed? The casinos cannot make money if they return to the player more money, or the same amount of money, that the player originally put in them. Instead, the machines return a percentage of the money put in them. Thus, if a machine is returning 92 percent that means that in the long run of that particular machine’s programming it will give back 92 cents for every dollar played. It keeps eight cents on the dollar.
Now, people would not play slot machines if every time they put a dollar in they got 92 cents back. What fun would that be? You’d be better off playing the change machine -- which is, after all, a 100 percent payback machine. Still the change machine is rather dull. You put in a dollar, you get back a dollar. Where’s the fun in that? Where’s the adrenaline rush?
Instead, the slot machines are programmed to return their percentages explosively. That is, sometimes nothing comes out (more often than not) and sometimes a hell of a lot comes pouring out (rare, but heart-throbbingly exciting). It is the lure of a great windfall (or even a little breeze) that excites the slot player. After all, inside the belly of that computerized beast are sequences that can make you rich and richer and even richer than that - and the heart pounds with that knowledge. And thus the casino can return its 92 cents on the dollar because it is giving us more than eight cents worth of anticipatory thrills with every dollar we plunk into the machine’s maw.
Frank Scoblete is the # 1 best-selling gaming author in America. His books and tapes have sold over a million copies. For a free catalog call: 1-800-944-0406 or write to: Paone Press, Box 610, Lynbrook, NY 11563.