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Slot Machine Facts and Myths

The average slot machine has thousands, even millions, of different possible outcomes. And it seems like the only things more plentiful than possible outcomes are myths about slot machines.

"Hot" or "cold" machines, cash vs. cards, playing the same machine vs. moving around -- many gamblers have long-held beliefs about slot machine strategies, and many of these beliefs boil down to one simple fact: The gamblers don't understand how the machines work.

Here are the basics. Inside the slot machine, there is a random number generator (RNG). The RNG randomly comes up with hundreds of different numbers every second, with each number corresponding to a particular outcome on the reels. When you pull the handle or press the "spin" button, whatever numbers the RNG had at that precise instant, the corresponding outcome is what you'll get. (The reels spinning round and round is just for show; the outcome is determined as soon as you press the button.)

Knowing that, you can already see the illogic behind some of the common slot machine myths.

If someone gets a big payout right after you leave, that payout most likely would NOT have been yours if you had stayed. The jackpot happens when the "spin" button is pressed at the exact moment the RNG has come up with the numbers corresponding to the jackpot. If the winner of the jackpot had pushed "spin" 1/100th of a second earlier or later, he or she wouldn't have won.

A machine is never "due" to pay out. Machines are set to pay out as much as 98 percent -- but that's over the lifetime of the machine, not over the course of the next hour or day that you're sitting there playing it.

Since the RNG comes up with numbers randomly, each spin is entirely separate from the one before it. Statistically, coming up with the worthless Lemon-7-Orange five times in a row is just as likely as coming up with the jackpot 7-7-7 five times in a row.

The number of coins you put in the slot machine has nothing to do with which numbers the RNG comes up with. In addition, playing faster won't help you. The RNG chooses hundreds of numbers between spins, no matter how fast you're playing.

Some people believe using warm or cool coins, or old or new coins, affects the outcome. Common sense dictates that such factors have no bearing whatsoever on the RNG.

Do casinos change the machines from "loose" to "tight" and vice versa? No, they do not -- at least, not without a lot of time and trouble. The looseness of the machine (i.e., the percentage it pays out over its lifetime, usually between 85 and 98 percent) is determined by the microchip inside it, which is set at the factory. For a casino to change the payout rate, it would have to replace the microchip. This can be done, but there's little reason for it -- the casino might as well just buy a whole new slot machine with the desired payout rate -- and besides, it must be overseen by the local gaming commission and be handled by professionals. The maintenance man fiddling with a slot machine is only making sure its stocked with coins and working properly. He can't do anything to make it looser or tighter.

Don't forget: It's supposed to be fun! Resign yourself to the fact that the slot machine operates on principles of randomness, and realize you can't force it. Just have fun!