As late as the mid-seventies, slots was not thought of as serious game of chance. Slot machines were often played by the female companions of male gamblers; husbands often gave their wives money to play the slots while they went to play “serious” games. In those days a respectable table player wouldn’t be caught dead playing the slots. My how times have changed! Today slots is bar none (no pun intended) the most popular form of Las Vegas gambling. In the year 1996, the 19 largest casinos on the Las Vegas strip reported a total gaming win of over 3 billion dollars. Of this amount, 47% was attributed to slot machines; while it is estimated that on average some 75% of total casino profit comes from slot machines. Slots has sure come a long way. It come even farther with the introduction of the internet and the proliferation of online casinos competing for players with bigger and bigger bonuses.
There are a variety of slot machine models – Sizzling 7s; Red, White & Blue, Jackpot Jungle, and Slam Dunk are all quite common.
Each individual slot machine is called a “game”.
There are 3 basic types of slot machines:
1) Line Games – Line games permit the player to activate additional lines with additional coins up to 5 lines. .
2) Multipliers – games that pay on the horizontal line only. As more coins are inserted, it causes the payout per coins to, well, MULTIPLY.
3) Buy-A-Pays – a game that pays on the center line only, but allows the player to “buy” additional jackpot symbols. For example, with a single coin, maybe only Bars payout. With addition coins, maybe red 7s or sizzling 7s will also payout.
Each is available in video or mechanical styles.
What really separates slot machines from on another are the elements that determine its payouts. These are: coin denomination, payoff schedule/ reel strip combo, casino advantage, and hit frequency. Unlike other games whose probabilities are generally fixed, a casino management determines the mix of these factors.
Payoff Schedule/Reel Strip Combos – There are two basic types of reel strips: Ghost Strips and Fruit Strips (although, ironically it’s the Ghost strips that contain the fruit). Fruit strips contain a symbol for each stop, i.e. for 20 stops, there would be 20 symbols. Ghost strips have few symbols than they do stops for example it may have 20 stops, 11 symbols and 9 “ghosts”. Most slot machines are ghosts.
Casino advantage – this is the constant battle between the house and the player. The management wants to select the casino advantage that will maximize house intake while the player wants to do just the opposite. Slot machines can have a casino advantage that range from 0.5% to a whopping 30%. It is important to understand that it is often the low payout machines (e.g. .0.5%) that bring the house more revenues because these games attract more players. It is the job of the manager to find the right mix to maximize profits by attracting sharp players as well as uninformed players. Many jurisdictions require minimum payouts to prevent the house from sticking it to players. Online casinos have no such controlling authority so pay close attention to payout tables and word of mouth on who has the loose slots.
Hit Frequency – generally managers in the know feel that high hit frequency is exciting so to attract players; they make sure that the hit frequency is sufficiently stimulating. Hit frequencies for multipliers and buy-a-pays range from 5% to 30% while they can be more than 100% on line games.
In other words, slots machines come preprogrammed with a range of hit frequencies and paybacks that management can adjust. Click here to read about Slot Volatility.
It is important to note that while each pull of the slots handle will give a result independent (which means that it is not connected in any way to what came before), this does not mean that the outcome is random (random means that each outcome has an equal chance). Modern reels must be programmed to stop on a particular symbol and outcomes as weighted. This should come as no surprise as jackpots certainly don’t come as frequently as, well, bars or lemons. But this does not mean that the outcome is pre-determined. Modern slots use an algorithm called a RANDOM NUMBER GENERATOR that selects a number which in turn corresponds to a particular symbol. The algorithm is built in to the computer’s memory and ensures that each spin is independent and that the numbers are random (although the outcomes are weighted and therefore not random).
Slot machines generally arrive in the casinos after being ordered from a manufacture’s catalog that includes graphics of the machine’s top and belly glass. More importantly for you and I, it also includes a variety of options for hit frequency and payback. Typically, each model comes with as many as a dozen hit frequency settings. This means when you’re out on the floor, one Jackpot Jungle machine, for example,will not be the same as the next. And you’ll have no way of discerning which is which. It’s this mix that really brings the big returns for the casino because on machine can be set to pay back big time, and an identical one sitting next to it could have a payout set as low as 91% and a hit frequency of 13%. (There are regulations in most states that make sure the casinos don’t set the payouts too low so that it becomes “unfair” to players).
So which slots games are most popular?
Here are the results from a late 1990s census of Las Vegas casino slots:
Coin-in – a slot machines cumulative total of all money inserted into the machine.
Hopper – a slot machines internal coin bank. Slot machines payout through the hopper. The hopper is works like the tank on your toilet, when is gets full, a mechanism stops the flow so that there is no overflow. Management determines how the size of the hopper.
Drop – coins inserted into the machine after the hopper is full go into a bucket beneath the machine called the drop.
Casino advantage (par) – the theoretical percentage of each dollar wagered that the house expects to win. It’s the house’s EV (or expected value).
Hold – Since slot machines can keep coining-in (or keep taking in coins), the management is able to assess the amount won by the casino from the total amount wagered which is called the casino’s “hold”.
Progressive – these are the most popular slots machines. These machines feature deferred or cumulative payouts. A progressive may increase its jackpot, say, 5 cents for each dollar it takes in. This 5 cents represents an additional amount that the public will win.
Linked Progressives – Slot machines linked together that share a progressive jackpot. A coin is inserted into an individual machine and the progressive jackpot on all liked machines increases. Linked progressives were Nevada’s answer to the California State Lottery, Megabucks was the granddaddy of progressives with thousands of machines all over the state linked to a central computer in Reno.
Progressive Accrual – until won, the jackpot is held in escrow until someone hits the jackpot. Increases in the jackpot are recorded in the total.
Machine Fill – when machines run out of money (when the hopper gets empty) is must be replenished. Filling up a low or empty hopper is known as the fill.
Handpay – often the hopper does not contain enough coins to make a payout and the management must step into to “handpay” the difference.
Hit Frequency – the percentage of pulls that the machine pays least one coin is called the hit frequency.