Back from Las Vegas, slot machine questions

We got back from Las Vegas late Thursday, and I’ve been thinking about various slot machine questions that our group came up with.

  1. One member of the group insisted that odds were better on machines out of the major traffic patterns. I thought this sounded unlikely and that all machines of the same type, say “Double Diamond” slots, would have the same odds. Which is true, or truer?

  2. Are the odds better on a $1 machine than on a 1 cent machine?

  3. Are the odds better if you play more than one line? (That is, will you make more money or, more accurately, will your money last longer if you play more than one line?)

  4. Do the payoffs posted on the machine indicate the odds of winning anything on that machine? In other words, two three reel quarter slot machines side-by-side. One has a maximum payout of 800 if you hit the big combination with one coin. The other has a maximum payout of 2000 if you hit the big combination. Will the first machine offer better odds in general or winning something?

  5. Do progressive payouts decrease the odds of winning something?

  6. I’ve heard that 21 is the only game that a player can consistently beat the house playing. Is that true? If it’s true, is a 21 machine the same way?

I probably have more questions, but I can’t think of any right now.

PS: I lost three dollars! Damn you, Las Vegas!

There is no game that a player can consistently beat the house playing. If there was, the casinos wouldn’t have them there. You have the best odds with blackjack, though - the house advantage is very slight.

  1. The odds can be set by the casino for each machine, but they are usually all the same far any given machine in any given casino.

  2. Yes. The casino makes its profit easier on a dollar machine than a penny machine.

  3. Yes. Always play the maximum. Otherwise you can’t win the biggest jackpot.

  4. Maybe

  5. No. Not that I am aware of.

  6. Blackjack and craps offer the best odds, and odds you can stack almost in your favor. No game has odds completely in your favor. Period.

If you are going to Vegas to spend money and have fun, why worry about the odds. If you are going to try to make money, stay away from the table games such as 21 and roulette in which the house has the advantage over you. You should probibly try low limit poker. I reccommend hold 'em. It will only take you a few minutes to remember the better starting hands and the house cannot set the odds in a poker game. You may have to pay a rake, or a drop at the table, but these are a lot lower than what you would pay in a game against the house.

Good luck :smiley:

IIRC slot machines are required by law to have a certain percentage pay out- I think it’s 98%.

Odds are all the same, everywhere- in the house’s favor, even if it’s only slightly.

We got back from Las Vegas late Thursday, and I’ve been thinking about various slot machine questions that our group came up with.

  1. One member of the group insisted that odds were better on machines out of the major traffic patterns. I thought this sounded unlikely and that all machines of the same type, say “Double Diamond” slots, would have the same odds. Which is true, or truer?

  2. Do the payoffs posted on the machine indicate the odds of winning anything on that machine? In other words, two three reel quarter slot machines side-by-side. One has a maximum payout of 800 if you hit the big combination with one coin. The other has a maximum payout of 2000 if you hit the big combination. Will the first machine offer better odds in general or winning something?


Post snipped.

About #1. The odds for the machines are the same across that line of machines. I recently had this arguement with my sister because she thinks that certain machines payoff more than others. I worked in a major casino out here and no, they don’t.

About #4. I don’t know about slots, never play them, but on video poker machines the payouts will tell you the way it is stacked. For example, if the payout for a straight video poker machine goes something like:

Pair (jacks or better)- 1
Two pair -1
Three of a Kind -3
Straight - 4
Flush - 6
Full House - 9
Four of a Kind - 25
Straight Flush - 50
Royal Flush - 250

That is pretty close to true odds. (I am going off memory here and could be off)

A machine that pays out something like:

Pair (jacks or better)- 1
Two pair -1
Three of a Kind -1
Straight - 3
Flush - 6
Full House - 8
Four of a Kind - 30
Straight Flush - 75
Royal Flush - 500

is stacked in the houses favor because the most frequent hands payout less while the less frequent hands payout more. With the payouts like this you are going to come out with less money unless you hit a big hand, in which case you get more. (note, I made up those numbers, but you get the idea)


They’re required to have a minimum pay out but they can go better.

I am not an expert, but I am an avid slot player and have done a lot of “research” on the way things work. Everything I say here has its exceptions, especially in slot machine placement, as a lot depends on the slot manager’s decisions.

  1. In any bank of machines, some may be set “looser” or “tighter” than the norm. A looser machine will not necessarily give up the jackpot more often, but you will see more smaller payouts on those machines. They are usually not placed adjacent to high traffic areas, but are minimally visible from high traffic areas, especially near those areas where people have to wait - buffet lines, cashier cages, etc. However, I’ve found very loose machines in isolated corners or among older machines that don’t tend to get much play, because a loose machine will attract other players.

  2. Yes. Overall slot playouts may be touted at 99% or higher, but generally, the higher the machine denomination, the higher the payout percentage. Progressive machines tend to have the lowest percentage payout because part of each play is put into the progressive jackpot and therefore not available for normal payouts.

  3. Sometimes. Check the pay table to see if the payout ratio remains the same across the board. There are so many varieties of machines these days that it’s difficult to give an accurate breakdown of how they each work. On some of the newer machines and progressive machines, you are unable win the jackpot unless max coins are played. On other machines, the payout ratio on max coins is above the ratio on lesser coins. Note: Pay attention to whether the jackpot amounts are stated in coins or dollars.

  4. No. The overall odds probably remain the same. A lot may depend on whether you’re playing “linked” computerized machines or stand-alone mechanical machines. It can be difficult to find stand-alone mechanical machines these days. Linked machines communicate with each other and with their master computer, and regardless of what’s supposed to happen, I’m convinced that they are more controlled than their un-linked counterparts. Some of the bigger progressive games are linked through all participating casinos (quartermania and others).

  5. This was partially answered in my response to #2, however, they do tend to give out more mid-level payouts at the expense of lesser payouts, reducing the overall odds.

  6. No. In table 21, a “shoe” is used. As cards are played and discarded, the odds of certain cards showing up get tighter or looser, depending on what’s hit the table already. I believe the machines give a clean, full deal every hand, so the odds tend to work against you. Also, the machine is programmed to always make the best statistical move while humans, even dealers, sometimes won’t.

If a joint claims to have the “loosest slots” in town, check to see if there’s a “u” in either word.

If a joint claims to have the “loosest craps” in town, they probably deal in colonic irrigation.

  1. Unlike what most posters have said, the law refers to the average payout. Some can be set to give a higher percentage of a payout and other can then be set to give a lower percentage of a payoff.

  2. The higher the cost, the higher the percent of payoff.

  3. Always play the max! The payouts are bumped up if you play the maximun number of coins.

  4. Not necessarily. You need to look at the payouts for everything. A machine might give low payouts for every level *except * the grand prize.
    Another problem is that you are confusing payout with probability with odds with expectation. Let’s say I can set the probabilty on any machine I want and I own two slots. I set up Dollar Slot A to give more payouts so 5.5% of the time you can win the prize of $10. The expectation is 0.055 x 10 = $0.55. Slot B offers a big payout of $50 but that probability is set to 0.001. The expectation on Slot B is 0.001 x 50 = $0.05. Slot A is the machine to play since you get 55 cents back for your dollar while Slot B only pays back 5 cents per dollar.

In this simplistic example, the odds of winning are better with the lower payouts due to the higher probability of winning. However, in real slots there are multiple payouts possible and the total expectation needs to equal the payback listed. So let’s say I want to advertise “99% payback” with my two slots, I’ll make up the following payment schedule.

Slot A:
3 cherries = $1 with p (probability) = 0.10; 3 bells = $2 with p = 0.075; 3 stars = $5 with p = 0.038; jackpot described above.
Expectation = (1 x 0.10) + (2 x 0.075) + (5 x 0.038) + (10 x .055) = $0.99 :slight_smile:
Probability of winning = 0.10 + 0.075 + 0.038 + 0.55 = 0.763
Odds of winning = 0.763 to 0.237 or slightly better than 3 to 1

Slot B:
3 oranges = $1 with p = 0.94; jackpot described above.
Expectation = (1 x 0.94) + (50 x 0.001) = $0.99 :slight_smile:
Probability of winning = 0.94 + 0.001 = 0.941
Odds of winning = 0.941 to 0.059 or slightly less than 19 to 1

In this scenerio, your odds of winning are better with slot B (short run) but in both cases, you would make the same amount of money over the long run because the expectations are the same!
Math is Power!

  1. Tricky question! Look at my answer for number 4 and take into account all of the other possible payouts. The key here is that the progressive is set to payoff with a certain (very low) percentage. Let’s say it’s p=0.000001 (1 in a million). How much is taken out of each pull to pay into the progressive. Let’s say it’s 1 cent out of the dollar. Then the payout would be 1,000,000 (1 million pulls) x 0.01 (1 cent) = $10,000 on the average and the expectation is 0.000001 x 0.01 = one hundred-millionth of a cent. In other words, the progressive would not have much of an impact on the probability (odds) on winning. :eek:

  2. Yes, 21 is the only game where a player has a positive expectation against the house - but to do this effectively you would need to be able to vary your bets based on the cards that have been played. In other words, be a card counter and get thrown out of the casino. Since the 21 video games reshuffle the virtual deck every play (I believe), there is no option for card counting, thus your advantage is eliminated.


  1. In my opinion, it’s unlikely that a slot manager would bother to adjust long-term machine return-to-player (RTP) variations based on this criteria.

  2. Dependent on particular game title, theme, and RTP configuration. Possible to configure a group of machines either way.

  3. All other things being equal, the odds are the same if you’re spending 1 credit at playing 1 line on a 25-line machine, or 25 credits playing 25 lines on the same machine. Some game themes require maximum play to qualify for certain jackpots or nonproportional increases - in those cases maximum play is required to get maximum RTP. Some game themes do have RTP differences for line combinations played.

  4. No.

  5. Usually not, when the progressive is taken into account - the RTP is generally the same as for a nonprogressive machine.

  6. Counting advantage comes mainly from not shuffling the deck between hands, so card frequency can be tracked by the counter. Video 21 likely shuffles its virtual multiple-deck “shoe” between every hand, negating any counting advantage.

Casinos make their money on long-run averages. They always deal in expectations, which is what the game will tend to pay out after many many trials. Hence on slot machines they can give back 99% of the money put in. If enough people play, they’ll always get 1% of all the money played (cf. SaintCad’s post).

Of course they have to work to get people to play their machines as well. A slot machine that just gave you a fixed percentage back every time wouldn’t be fun to play, even if it mathematically gave the casino just as much money. Another thing they want to do is take your money as fast as practicable without making you go away.

You as a player may not need to deal with expectation. You probably won’t ever play a slot machine enough to get a jackpot, just as you probably won’t ever buy 100 million lottery tickets. And even if you did play the slots that much, you’d still end up losing 1% (because then you’d be in the realm of large numbers that the casino deals with). Even a game with theoretically infinite expected payoff isn’t necessarily one you would want to play.

Back to the your questions. With the case of the combination line, it’s obvious that your money goes out three times as fast if you play three lines as opposed to one. The expectation is likely higher for the bigger game, though. At a bare minimum, all else being equal, the combo out to pay out three times as much (thus all 2000 to 800 is a bad bet if all else was equal). So if you want to make your money last longer, play the smaller bet.

On the other hand, if you’re not playing a long time, the best way to make the same amount last longer would be to go play on a 1-cent machine (even if it paid out worse than a dollar machine). This just isn’t very fulfilling for most people, who would rather feel like they’re really risking something.

So it all depends on what you want to get out of gambling. A bit more discussion on this (especially related to winning a large amount of money) can be found at my second link above, on the St. Petersburg paradox.

Quick question:

What does this mean? I’ve never seen a blackjack game where a dealer had any decisions to make.

Depends. The odds on any machine can be adjusted, and bear no relationship to the layout of the reels or how many different symbols are on them. Whether any casino sets up slots in high traffic areas to pay out more, I don’t know. If anything I would suspect that they’d set them up to pay fewer huge jackpots and more small wins, so people walking by would see more people hitting winning combinations.

Yes. The casino offers better odds on the more expensive machines to encourage players to play them. Because they make more money on a 1% advantage on a $1 machine than they do from a 3% advantage on a nickel slot machine. But note that even with better odds, the more expensive machines will cost you more per hour to play, because you’re putting more money into action.

If you play anything less than the maximum, the odds are probably still the same. But most games will give you a bonus if you play the maximum number of coins on a spin, for the same reason that they give better payouts on the dollar slots. If they can encourage you to play for bigger stakes, they’ll give you a slightly better deal because they still make more money from you.

The odds have nothing to do with the payouts. A modern slot machine has a decision table in software that determines what it will pay out, and a random number generator that runs constantly. When you pull the lever, the random number generator stops, and the number is used to look up the result in the lookup table, then stepper motors adjust the reels to land on the chosen combination. They can even do fun things like make the wheel look like it’s just about to stop on a big payout and then slowly click over to nothing. It’s all under computer control.

If two machines have the same overall odds, but one offers a progressive jackpot and the other doesn’t, then the progressive machine will have fewer non-progressive payouts because some money has to come out to go into the progressive jackpot. Note that if the progressive jackpot is really big, you may be getting better overall odds on the progressive machine - sometimes the progressive jackpot can be large enough that you’re actually playing the game with an advantage over the house, but you have to hit the progressive to collect it.

Blackjack can be beaten by counting cards. Using basic strategy you cannot beat blackjack, but it’s generally the most player-friendly game in the house. Blackjack is actually a very inexpensive game to play.

Craps and Baccarat offer odds that are in the same ballpark, but they are faster games and therefore cost you more per hour to play (and after a weekend of play it’s less likely that you’ll be ahead, since the house has had many more trials for the law of large numbers to work in their favor).

Are there other games that can be beaten? Well, there are a few .25 video poker machines that pay out slightly over 100%. The casinos will use them as loss leaders to attract players. You can’t make much from them, though, because the stakes are low. If the stakes were higher, professional players would swoop down and play them.

Baccarat can possibly be beaten with a sophisticated count strategy, but not for very much. Generally, the professional players stick with blackjack.

As a recreational player, the games you really want to stay away from are the ones that are played very fast, and/or the ones with the really bad odds. Those are the ones the casino makes its real profit on. Games like that include the Roulette wheel, the money wheels, the Big 6 wheel, Carribean stud, and the proposition bets in craps and baccarat (the tie bet in baccarat has odds 10X worse than the player/bank bet, and some of the proposition bets in craps have absolutely horrendous odds).

Worst of all are the slot machines. For example, a $1 slot with a 2% house edge will cost you 2 cents per pull. You can pull the lever 400 times an hour, which will cost you $8/hr over the long run. But since a good chunk of your payouts come from the rare jackpots, if you don’t hit ‘the big one’ your cash will probably dwindle much faster. Moving to the 25 cent slots doesn’t save you much, because while the amount of money you play is less, the odds are proportionally worse. In contrast, a $2 blackjack game might have a .7% house advantage, and deal 100 hands per hour, costing you $1.40/hr to play.

If you play Roulette at $5/spin, with a 5.26% house advantage and 100 spins per hour, it’ll cost you on average $26/hr to play.

Game selection is very important.

Ha! I would rather feel like I’m not risking anything, which is why I came away only down $3. I had a $5 limit.

I’m such a gamblin’ fool. :smiley:

That would also depend on where you are and what the local laws say. I know I’ve seen slots in casinos here in New Mexico with a percentage payout of as low as 80%. They also play games by giving the percentage payout as a ratio instead of a straight percentage. Then again, I’m not sure how many people read the little labels of the minimium machine payout.

Not everywhere requires labels. I don’t have my reference material handy, but off the top of my head:

Nevada: 75%
New Jersey: 83%
Most other places in the US: 80%
Minnesota: 80% with a 95% upper limit
Ontario, Canada: 85%

Now, in practice you won’t find many machines out there lower than 87%. Any lower than that and nobody will play the machine, it “feels” too “cold”.

One clarification: On those machines where the payback (RTP) is variable depending on mode of play, the payout is not averaged across the modes of play to determine legality, the lowest RTP option will determine whether it’s legal.

For example, if I have a 15-line slot game and I can play it in 1-line, 3-line, 5-line, 10-line, and 15-line modes, and the RTPs respectively for those line plays are 82.8%, 83.4%, 83.8%, 84.1%, and 84.5%, this game would not be legal in New Jersey because the RTP for 1-line mode is below 83%, irrespective of the overall “average”. Also, when RTPs “spread” like this some other rules can come into play depending on the jurisdiction.

I havn’t seen a true 1c machine in years, most of them nowadays say one cent but you are encouraged to bet up to 5 dollars a round in pennies.

There are still nickle machines though. And according to my friend who works at a casino, it’s one of the few places you can stick it the casino. Not that you have a positive expectation, but that you win the war of attrition by costing them more. :wink:
He said that by the time they add in the cost of the machine, the maintenence, the empoyees time, and the floor space cost, it costs more to run them then then they make. But they keep them around as a loss-leader essentially, cause if Gramma wants to play nickels then the whole family betting dollars plays where gramma can play nickels. And since gramma doesn’t want to walk to far they stay in that hotel too.

I am immune to their blandishments to bet more than a cent.

My husband even hit the Death Star Bonus on a Star Wars machine betting only a cent. Woo!

True gamblers, the pair of us.