10 Things You May Not Have Known About Slot Machines
I play slot machines a lot to relieve stress.
Whether I’m playing in a casino or online, sitting in front of the screen and pressing the buttons calms me.
There’s a lot that goes into these machines — not just the electronics and the mechanical parts, but a lot of behind the scenes work.
This includes work like monitoring for wins and errors, emptying the machines (at a brick and mortar casino), and the security aspects that need to be adhered to.
And that’s just for starters.
Then there are the costs associated with the machines. The casinos have to pay the initial price, the labor to maintain it, and the electricity to run these machines.
And there’s much more that you may not know about slot machines.
1 – Only a Handful of Manufacturers Make Slots in the USA
The major players that provide the slot machines in the United States are as follows.
- International Game Technology (IGT)
- Scientific Games (SG)
- Video Game Technologies (VGT)
Federal, state, and local authorities regulate these companies to ensure that all games are fair and that there are no technical issues. Before a game is released, it must go through many quality checks. After their quality is reviewed, the machines are then tested for dozens of hours to see if there are any irregularities in the programming.
International Game Technology
International Game Technology PLC (or IGT) specializes in land-based slots. Most brick and mortar casinos have IGT machines on their floor.
IGT does also supply software for internet casinos, though. This allows them to provide many of the same options online that you can find in physical casinos. IGT offers many options from simple 3-reel slots to video slots with 5 reels and dozens of paylines.
In its current form, IGT was created in 2015. The companies Lottomatica and Gtech Corporation merged and became Gtech. Gtech then bought IGT in 2015 and rechristened the company with the International Game Technology name.
IGT has over 1,600 games for casinos to choose from.
These include the following.
- Skill-based slots
- Standalone slots
- Multi-level progressive slots (MLP)
- Wide-area progressive slots (WAP)
Scientific Games Corporation
Scientific Games (SG) is one of the largest manufacturers of slot machines in the US. They also offer table games, iGaming products, iLottery products, instant lottery games, lottery gaming systems, terminals, internet applications, server-based interactive gambling terminals, gambling control systems, social gaming, and sports betting technology.
SG is the parent company of WMS Games, Bally, and Bally Systems. Before their acquisition by SG, these companies were in the top four slots manufacturers in the world. SG continues to brand under these names.
SG and its affiliates offer hundreds of game titles for casinos. They offer standalone slots, MLP slots, and WAP slots.
Video Gaming Technologies
Since 1991, Video Gaming Technologies (VGT) has manufactured casino games for the Native American Casino industry.
VGT has since become a subsidiary of Aristocrat Leisure Limited, an Australian gambling machine manufacturer.
VGT has more than 20,000 machines in over 150 locations in the US.
Compared to other manufacturers, VGT has fewer titles available.
But they do make standalone slots, WAP slots, LAP slots, and video slots.
2 – Slot Machines Are the Biggest Profit Center of the Casino
I remember watching movies and television shows from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s that featured casinos.
An image of a little old lady feeding nickels to the slot machines was burned into my mind.
For years, that was the image Hollywood portrayed, and it was also how casino executives saw slot machines.
Slots were for the dabblers and the tag-alongs, while the real gamblers sat at the tables.
That’s no longer the case.
If you remember casino layouts from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s (and before), slots had wide aisles. There was a lot of room to maneuver. They had chairs or stools in front of them.
That’s no longer the case. Aisles are narrower. There are more machines.
Technological advances allowed for player cards to be inserted into the machines. Casinos can now track every penny dropped in a machine and where it came from.
These changes allowed for the casinos to start seeing big profits from slot machines.
Casinos now average about 75% of their income from slots and other gambling machines like video poker.
3 – Casinos Do Not Change the Slot Machine Payouts When Someone Wins
I hear statements like this.
- “When someone wins, the casino changes the odds on the slot machine.”
- “There are better times to play the slots than others. Casinos like to make it easier to win during slower times to increase foot traffic.”
- “This machine hasn’t won in a while. It’s due.”
All these statements are utter nonsense.
First, the law requires that the casino keep games fair. The local and state authorities inspect the games on a regular basis to make sure this is the case.
It would be unfair to set one set of odds for one person and another set for a second. So the changing of the odds or the house edge after every win or at certain times of the day would violate the law.
Second, slot machines are designed with a random number generator (RNG) or a pseudo-random number generator (PRNG).
The RNG is a device or program that generates a sequence of numbers or symbols. These numbers/symbols cannot be reasonably predicted better than by random chance.
The difference between the RNG and PRNG is that an RNG is hardware-based and is truly random. A PRNG is software designed to mimic random numbers but is actually based on a formula.
The PRNG algorithm can be duplicated if the formula that created it is discovered.
Either way, the casino has no control over RNG or PRNG. Those are set up by the manufacturer.
Does the casino have the ability to change the house edge on a slot machine?
In some cases, yes, they do.
But it’s not a simple task.
A skilled technician has to open up the machine and reset the configuration. This takes a long time.
If they changed the payouts after each win, there would be few or no machines to play on.
4 – Japan Has More Slot Machines Than Any Other Country
Slot machines are popular in many countries.
Some countries have them in places other than casinos due to their popularity. The United Kingdom and Australia, for instance, have slot machines (or fruit machines as they may call them in the UK or poker machines as they call them in Australia) in local grocery stores, airports, and restaurants.
To some extent, that does happen in some parts of the United States, but not as often.
Still, the UK and Australia have nowhere near the number of slot machines that the United States does.
With over 1,950 casinos and 900,000 slot machines, the US dwarfs the UK and Australia.
To put that in perspective, that’s one slot machine for every 400 people in the United States.
But the US doesn’t have the most.
That distinction goes to a country where up until a few months ago, casinos were illegal.
Japan has a type of slot machine called a pachinko machine. Pachinko is a national pastime in Japan. Until recently, it was one of the only forms of legal gambling in the country.
And technically, it isn’t gambling because players play for pachinko balls, not money. These balls are then sold for cash. This is how they get around the whole gambling aspect of the game.
There are 12,500 pachinko parlors in Japan, and they contain over 5 million machines.
That’s one machine for every 25 people in Japan.
In July 2018, Japan legalized casino gambling, and they’re now approving the first three casino resorts. As more casinos open up in the Land of the Rising Sun, you can bet that slot machine number will swell even more.
5 – The Biggest Slot Machine Win Ever Was in 2003 in Las Vegas
On March 21, 2003, a software engineer from Los Angeles put $3 into a Megabucks Jackpot slot machine and won.
The progressive slot machine, connected to 157 casinos around Nevada, paid off $39.7 million.
This is the highest jackpot ever awarded on a single slot machine. It toppled the previous jackpot of $34.9 million, which was won three years prior at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas.
The previous winner won $22.6 million.
At his request, the engineer’s name was not released.
6 – Slot Machines Have a Bug That Can’t Be Fixed
Russia banned almost all gambling in 2009. This was their attempt to crack down on organized crime.
To keep from losing even more money, casinos sold off all their equipment at discounted rates as soon as they could.
Among the equipment sold off was slot machines. Several of these slot machines wound up in the hands of Russian engineers. These engineers studied the software on the slots. They reverse engineered the pseudo-random number generators (PRNG) to determine how to beat them.
The issue was first discovered in 2014. The Lumiere Place Casino in St. Louis noticed that one of their slot machines had paid out more than the average. None of the payouts were large jackpots. The software should have kept the winning well within the normal payback percentage.
They researched their videos and found the same man would play, leave, and then come back again. By the time they had figured out who he was, he was on a plane back to Russia.
The casino reported their findings to the state casino commission, and they sent out a warning to all the other casinos nationwide.
Soon, other casinos were reporting similar situations.
One of the security experts at another casino in Louisiana started comparing the information shared by The Lumiere Place. The investigator found 25 other instances where the same scam was used to manipulate slot machines around the world.
Eventually, the scammer was caught when he came back to the US along with his two accomplices. They were all sentenced to two years in prison.
The slot machine manufacturers were given the information about how the scammers worked. The manufacturers stated that they were working on a fix. That was in 2014. They still have not released any updates or software patches to prevent the same thing from happening.
The issue is with the PRNG. Because it is the backbone of the software in these slots, there’s no way to fix the issue without totally reconfiguring the entire game.
To this day, Russian operatives are still using this scam to win at slot machines.
7 – The Levers and Handles Don’t Really Matter
I was a big fan of the TV game show The Joker’s Wild. It combined slot machines with trivia questions.
The rapper Snoop Dogg recently re-imagined the show for the TBS network. The original was better.
Both the original and the new series have contestants pull a lever to determine trivia subjects or prize money.
That show, along with other shows of the time that showed casinos, created the image of “the one-armed bandit.”
But a lot has changed in the gaming industry since the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Back then, every slot machine had a lever that you pull to activate the spin.
Most of today’s machines have buttons to press. They still have levers, but they have the buttons too.
Some think that by using the buttons on these machines, you’re less likely to hit a jackpot than if you use a lever.
This isn’t true.
The buttons are replacing levers, not to remove advantages, but to increase the speed of the game.
One of the secrets of the casino industry is that slots make most of the money for the casinos.
To stay profitable, the casinos need to try to get you to spend everything you are willing to in as short a time as possible.
Time is money.
If a lever takes you three seconds to pull, then you can only do 20 spins a minute.
If a button allows you to make that same spin in one second, you can do 60 spins a minute.
So let’s do the math.
- Lever: 20 spins per minute x 60 minutes = 1200 spins/hour
- 1200 spins x 24 hours = 28,800 spins per day
- Button: 60 spins per minute x 60 minutes = 3600 spins/hour
- 3600 spins x 24 hours = 86,400 spins per day
- That’s a difference of over 50,000 spins per day
If each of these spins were worth $1 each, and there were 500 machines in the casino, that would be a difference on the casino’s bottom line of millions of dollars per day.
Can you see why the casino would want you to use the button versus the lever?
The button is not there to make you win less; it’s there to make you lose more.
8 –Who Really Invented Slot Machines Is Disputed
There are two stories about the origin of slot machines.
The first story is that the first slot game was created by a company in New York called Sittman and Pitt in 1891. The slot machine games had 50 different playing cards in total with five different drums. After inserting money, the player pulls the lever to play the machine. All the standard cards from a deck were used except two — the jack of hearts and the 10 of spades. This was done to increase the house edge.
In these games, payouts are made for lining up poker hands on the reel. Payouts were not for cash, but for prizes like free drinks.
The second story is that Charles August Fey is the person that invented the first slot machine. Most people believe it was between the years 1887 – 1895. He created a machine that would allow automatic payouts.
But he designed the machine to reduce the complexity of reading a win for the machine.
Fey replaced the existing five drums with three reels. He also replaced the playing cards with symbols like spades, diamonds, hearts, liberty bell, and horseshoes. The machine was named the Liberty Bell because the highest payout was awarded for three bell symbols.
Unfortunately for Fey, he never tried to patent the design before it gained huge popularity, and the idea was stolen by others.
9 – The Player’s Club Card Isn’t Affecting Your Ability to Win
Player’s club cards have no impact on the house edge of a slot machine. They help casinos track your play so that you can get cashback and comps. Using a slot club card allows you to get more out of the casino, but it does nothing to the house edge of a slot machine.
The card itself has no interaction with any parts of the slot machine that determine the result of a spin.
Also, player’s club cards have no impact on taxes. They’re not tracked by the IRS.
A casino will automatically take out federal taxes on wins over $1,200.
The idea behind the card is the same behind comps themselves. The casino wants to keep you playing in their casino, and they want you to be a happy patron.
The rewards that these cards offer are only a small fraction of what the casino actually takes in.
Here’s an example.
A slot machine may have a house edge of 10%. The payback in comp points on cards is closer to 0.2%.
There are other advantages to these cards, too. They give the casino the opportunity to mail you offers to come back into the casino. You can get free rooms and free money to play with.
The only reason not to get or use a card is if you aren’t a fan of ads or if you don’t like sharing personal information.
10 – Slots at Brick and Mortar Casinos Are No Different Than Those at Online Casinos
Some people believe that because of the computer programming, online slots are designed to pay out differently (either less or more) than land-based ones.
The truth is that the random number generators governing physical slots and online slot machines are identical.
Many slot machine manufacturers also make the software for online casinos. That’s why you can go into a casino in Las Vegas or hop onto an online slots site and see the same game. The software for both the online version and the physical version is the same.
It doesn’t matter if you’re playing on your phone, your tablet, or with a physical slot machine on the Vegas Strip; the odds of winning aren’t much different.
Slot machine technology has grown a lot in the last two decades. Once thought of as a distraction placed at the casino gaming floor to please fair-weather players, slot machines have grown into prominence.
This change has made lots of money for the casinos.
In the 1980s, slot machines only contributed 25% in overall profits of the casino, but now they account for more than 75% of their overall profits.
Because playing slot games doesn’t require a lot of gambling knowledge, most people are not aware of the inner workings of the slots.
Many gamblers explain the loss or win at slot games with false logic. And like any myth, it is passed from person to person until it becomes believed as gospel.
A lot of these slot machine myths and misconceptions are harmless.
But believing these myths can build frustration, which may ruin the fun of your casino visit.
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