Slots are continuing to evolve, driven by increasing competition for players. This competition has been a boon for players because it has been a driver of innovation, which has led to slots with enhanced graphics, designs and exciting bonus games. Combined, this has resulted in a superior end product that is highly entertaining. Look beneath the pretty packaging, and you might be surprised to learn that the engine that drives these slots are made up of the same principles. Slots are built to ensure that the house maintains its edge over us. This reality does not mean that it is not possible to win, which is why players continue to indulge in this past time for the dream of striking it big.
The purpose of this article is to examine the mechanics of online slots, to understand why winning is difficult, why we love playing slots, and how to better the odds.
Introducing the slot random number generator (RNG)
Critical to understanding a random number generator (RNG) is the fact that they are entirely random. The RNG is not affected by the amount or frequency that you have lost or won since they have no memory. Random number generators are designed to be exactly that – random!
A good analogy for an RNG is rolling a die, which has one of six possible outcomes. Each number has a 1 in 6 probability of coming up. What you rolled before will not affect what you roll next. This is how a slot works, but instead of numbers on the side of a dice, you have symbols. In place of a six-sided die, now imagine a die with thousands of numbers and a comparable number of possible outcomes.
Makes sense so far? Well, we next need to tell you about the concept of hit frequency because the prob-ability of each outcome on a slot is not the same, unlike the roll of a die. So what is hit frequency? This is when a value set determines the probability of an outcome. Going back to our die analogy, let’s imagine that the number 6 is the highest-paying symbol, while the number 1 is the lowest-paying symbol. The die is reprogrammed so that instead of having a 1/6 chance of landing the number 6 (highest-paying), there is a 1/12 chance. Effectively the chance has been cut in half, but the possibility of landing a 1 (lowest-paying) is now double with a 1/3 chance. The outcome is still randomly determined, but the probability of landing a lowest-paying symbol is four times higher compared to the highest-paying symbol.
To make it easier to visualize, we’ve created our own theoretical slot machine that we’ve called “The Lucky Aquarium.” This slot has only five possible symbols: red fishes, yellow fishes, purple fishes, golden fishes and treasure chests:
|Five treasure chests||2500||0.001%|
|Five golden fishes||1000||0.015%|
|Five purple fishes||400||0.05%|
|Five yellow fishes||50||0.5%|
|Five red fishes||5||7%|
The table makes it easier to see the probability (hit frequency) of striking a combination of five identical symbols and their corresponding payout. Notice the considerable drop-off in hit frequency between the highest-paying symbol (treasure chest) and the lowest-paying (red fish). Five treasure chests have a 1:100,000 chance (0.001%), while the probability of hitting any combination of five identical symbols is 1:13 (7.566%). Each combination will have a different payout and hit frequency, but you can imagine how the slot you play might appear. It is not uncommon for most slots to have a 40% probability of some combination of winning symbols.