by John Grochowski

As long as there have been slot machines, there have been myths about how they work.

You can’t see random numbers being generated the way you can see dice rolling, cards being dealt or balls landing in wheel slots. So the mind tries to fill the gaps, with varying degrees of accuracies.

Machines have evolved. So have myths. No one thinks about whether games have heat sensors to tell whether you’re using fresh coins or recirculating coins warmed by a game’s innards. Slots that still take coins are rare, so the myth of higher payoffs on cold coins has disappeared.

On the other hand, myths about bonus events and whether results are predetermined have arisen, leaving a mix of old myths and news.

Let’s tackle five of the most popular misconceptions some players have about slot machines.

**MYTH #1 : Your winnings in pick’em bonus rounds are predetermined and your choices make no difference.

**FACT: A random number generator sets the possibilities in pick’em rounds, but your choices determine your prize.

Pick’em bonuses are those in which you choose icons to reveal winnings. A classic example is Jackpot Party, where you choose among a grid of gift boxes. As long as you keep picking winners, the round continues. It ends when your pick reveals a party pooper.

The RNG determines where the poopers are placed. Credit awards of different sizes, multipliers and games within the game also are placed in boxes randomly selected.

If a 200-credit prize has been randomly placed in the third box in the top row, then if you pick that box, you win the 200 credits. If a pooper has been placed on the left edge, fourth from the bottom, then touching that box will bring the pooper.

It doesn’t matter what boxes you’ve touched before. I’ve you’ve already won 2,000 credits and you touch the 200-credit box, you’ll still get that prize. If you’ve won nothing and touch the pooper … well, sorry.

When the round is over, the prizes in all remaining boxes are revealed. That is typical in pick’em bonuses, and it’s important. In U.S. jurisdictions with licensed casinos, all advertised prizes must be available. By showing you the possibilities, the game is telling you all those prizes were available, had you made those picks.

The game sets the possibilities, but results aren’t predetermined. Your picks determine your prizes.

In a small minority of games, however, the remaining possibilities are not revealed. In those games, it’s possible that your bonus is predetermined, but in most games, your picks matter.

**MYTH #2: Slots make up for comps by paying less when you use player rewards cards.

**FACT: Using your card makes no difference in wins and losses.

When you use your card, information is collected on how much you bet, how many bets you make and your results. That information is used to determine what you get in cash back, free play, meals, room discounts and other perks. It’s also used to guide the rewards program in making direct-mail or electronic offers for return visits and to offer invitations to special events and giveaways.

The software that collects your information does not communicate back to the random number generator. The RNG does not know you’re using a rewards card at all, let alone what comps you’re earning.

All the RNG does is generate random numbers. It works from the same number set regardless of whether you’re using a club card, so card use does not affect your results in the slightest.

**MYTH #3: Casino employees can reward favored players with jackpots or make machines go cold for players they don’t like.

**FACT: Casino employees have no access to anything that would alter your results on slot play.

Once the random number generator is up and running, it continuously generates numbers. Those numbers are then mapped onto reel positions. If the random numbers map onto a losing combination, there’s nothing a casino employee can do to change that.

Employees can’t award jackpots, they can’t induce cold streaks, and they can’t change results whatsoever. They can provide customer service that can make your day more pleasant – or less pleasant, on a bad day. But they can’t make you win or lose.

**MYTH #4: Video slots, as computers, adjust paybacks in ways three-reel slots can’t.

**FACT: Three-reel slots are as computerized as video slots. All modern slot machines use random number generators and reel maps to determine your results.

Neither video slots nor three-reel slots make any sorts of adjustments on the fly. The don’t go cold if you’re winning or heat up if you’re losing. The RNG keeps generating random numbers, and the odds of the game will take care of the long-term payback percentage regardless of any short-term streaks.

But video slots and three-reel slots work in very similar ways. The difference is mainly in the display, not in the ability to manipulate results.

**MYTH #5: You’re more likely to win a jackpot in a crowded casino.

**FACT: There are more jackpots in crowded casinos because there are more games being played, but the chance of any one player winning is the same regardless of crowd size.

Imagine a casino filled with slot machines that pay their top jackpot an average of once per 10,000 spins. That’s a high frequency jackpot that would have to be on the small side, but it will do for an example.

Results are random, so it’s possible for the jackpot combination to show up two spins in a row, or not at all for 20,000, 50,000, 100,000 or even more spins.

Let’s say on a slow Wednesday morning, 100 people are playing, each playing for 1,000 spins. In all, there are 100,000 spins. With average results for these machines, we could expect about 10 jackpots. Depending on where you are in the casino, you might or might not see a player win big.

On a busy Saturday night, 1,500 people each play 1,000 spins. There are 1.5 million spins, which with average results would yield 150 jackpots. Those 150 jackpots come in the space as the 10 jackpots when there are fewer players and more empty machines, so there’s a lot better chance you’ll witness a big win or two or three.

With all those big jackpots, the lights and sound effects from the slot machines and the hubbub with slot attendants, supervisors and security guards paying off the big winners, it will feel as though there’s a whole lot of winning on the busier night.

But notice that whether the numbers are 10 jackpots for 100 players or 150 jackpots for 1,500 players, it’s still an average of one jackpot per 10 players. The notion that there’s a better chance to win on busier nights is an illusion.

Real world conditions vary. Not all slots within a casino have the same jackpot frequency, many paying a lot less often than once per 10,000 spins.

But the principle remains the same. There are more jackpots on crowded nights, but the individual players’ chances remain the same regardless of crowd size.

John Grochowski has been covering casinos and casino games for nearly 40 years. He is the author of six books
and his work appears in newspapers, magazines and websites around the world.

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