Do you love online gambling games but aren’t sure if the slot machines you adore are rigged? We’re here to dive into the truth about slot machines.
According to a 2010 American Gaming Association report, slot machines generate nearly 70 percent of a casino’s revenue. That is up from 45 percent in 1970.
Casinos love slot machines because they are consistent, popular money makers. But, at least at first glance, players should be suspicious of them for the same reason. Slot machines seem so good for casinos, it makes you wonder: are slot machines rigged?
The answer is no, and yes. Really, it depends on what you mean by rigged.
In order to decide whether slot machines are rigged, we first need to talk about what rigged might mean in this context.
The first version of rigged you probably think of is a game it is impossible to win. That’s the way shady carnival games might be rigged, or the scam version of Three-card Monte where there isn’t actually a Queen.
The good news is slot machines, including online gambling slot games, are not rigged like that. It is absolutely possible for you to win playing. People win all the time, and it would be illegal if you couldn’t.
Now for the bad news: there is a different sense in which slot machines are rigged. Basically, the casino, or house, gets to decide how often people can win.
The House Advantage in Slot Machines
Casinos (including online casinos) are built to make money and they could not stay in business if people won more money than they lost. So, slot machines are programmed to take in more money than they pay out in the long run.
That doesn’t mean that an individual person cannot win money playing slot machines. Some do.
What it does mean is that if enough people play, the casino will take in more from the losers than it gives to the winners. Likewise, if any individual person plays long enough, they will lose money to the casino.
That is how slot machines are rigged: the house always has a built-in advantage. All casino games have varying house advantages, not just slots.
In slots, this advantage is represented by the return-to-player, or RTP. The RTP represents the percentage of your bet that you can expect to win back. So, if the RTP is 95%, then for every $100 you bet, you can expect to win $95 back. The casino makes its profit on the other $5.
Of course, things won’t follow the RTP perfectly in the short term. You could win more or less than the expected $95, and there are things you can do to help you win at slots. But in the aggregate, when you combine all the games of all the players, the machines will pay out at the RTP.
The casino is free to program the RTP based on the profit margin they need to stay in business. The RTP varies by machine, but in most cases, online casino gambling games and online slot machines have a more player-friendly RTP. Online casinos don’t have the same overhead, so they don’t need to make as much profit.
How Slot Machines Pick Individual Winners
So, RTP is one sense in which slot machines are rigged over the long term. But, while the casino can control the house advantage, it cannot decide who wins or when.
During an individual game, slot machines determine who wins based on random number generators (RNGs). RNGs are pieces of software that create billions of numbers a second. If the number it spits out happens to match a number associated with a jackpot, then you win.
(Technically, these numbers aren’t really random. Most machines cannot create truly random numbers so they are the result of a series of massively complicated math equations. But, these equations are so complicated that, for any practical purpose, the results are random.)
The RNGs are where all the action really is. The spinning wheels on digital or online slot machines are just for show. When the RNG spits out a winning number, you win a jackpot and then the wheels line up, not the other way around.
The casino can program the RTP, but it cannot manipulate the RNG. There are a range of third-party organizations, like eCOGRA, that make sure that doesn’t happen.
Ways Slot Machines Get You to Play More
Overall, the casino wants you to play as long as possible, since the RTP is only guaranteed to work in the long run. If you hit a big jackpot and then leave, the casino loses money. But if you keep playing, you’ll eventually give it all back.
With that goal in mind, there are a variety of ways slot machines are designed to keep you playing. That is another way you could say the machines are rigged.
Hiding the True Odds
As we discussed above, slot machines now rely on RNGs to determine winners, unlike in the old days when the machine had actual wheels with printed symbols. When slot machines had printed wheels, you could do a little math and arrive at a rough estimate of the odds of a jackpot.
But now, since there are no physical wheels, there is no way for a player to see the odds of a jackpot when looking at the machine. The wheels have no real relationship with the game.
Because there are no more physical wheels, casinos are free to program slot machines to take advantage of near misses, or spins that just barely miss a jackpot. This makes the player believe they almost won, when really they were no closer than any other miss.
These near misses increase playing time. B. F. Skinner, one of the most famous psychologists of all time, noted this in 1955, way back in the days of actual reels.
On electronic machines, casinos can program electronic machines to produce near misses more often than they would appear by chance.
A final innovation that came with electronic machines was multiline play. On modern electronic machines, players can bet on multiple different paylines, unlike old reel machines which typically had only one payline.
Multiline play can disguise how much a player is losing. If you bet $1 on four different lines, and then win $3 on one hit, you’ve still lost $1. But the slot machine will treat it as a winner and that, again, will encourage the player to keep going.
Find a Reliable Casino
These three techniques, along with the RTP, are ways a casino can use their slot machines to separate you from your money more efficiently. This is all the evidence you should need for how important it is to find a reputable, trustworthy place to play.
As we discussed above, online gambling games tend to have a better RTP, and the best ones avoid these sort of shady techniques.